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Revolutions are born of adversity.

Systemic change often proves


im
possible until a system proves itself unquestionably
dysfunctional. If it
ain't broke, don't fix it. Unless it's certifiably busted, why
change a
system in which so many have vested so much for so long? That's
why
my optimism grows with each passing day, as I hope yours will too
as
I chronicle how "the system" is broken-and how in your informed
participation lies the key to fixing it. Though this book
anticipated
much about the 2000 presidential election, that was not its
purpose.
My goal is to chronicle the dangers to democracy that accompany
to
day's de facto merger of political parties, particularly when
both have
geared their economic policies not to democratic principles and
to
the needs of future generations but to the peculiar appetites of
Wall
Street. Rest assured, I take no pleasure in foretelling key
aspects of
what I consider the 2000 non-election.

When writing this book in 1999, I had no idea that Ralph Nader
would rely on my manuscript to rebrand the U.S. Green Party as
"the
party of the new populism" and mount a presidential campaign
using
its themes. Nor did I imagine that I would be a candidate in a
special
election for Georgia'S U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of
Senator Paul Coverdell. Nor did I anticipate that I would be
roughed
up and arrested for requesting admission to a debate for a
federal race
in which I was on the ballot. Yet, in retrospect, that too is
consistent
with the steady rise in antidemocratic forces identified in these
pages.
Democracy is rapidly mutating into something dramatically
different
from what the founders envisioned.
Though Democrat Al Gore attempted (as predicted) to portray
himself a populist, he failed miserably (as predicted). Certainly
the
rich-get-richer policies advanced by him and by Bill Clinton
undercut
any credible claim to that mantle, except in comparison with the
poli
cies espoused by Republican George W. ("Dubya") Bush. Both par
ties have long embraced a policy mix that further enriches the
few
while leaving most everyone else behind-as I document. As critics
were quick to note, both Bush and Gore were "corporate
candidates"
happy to espouse policies far more relevant to financiers than to
fam
ilies.

In this new preface to the paperback edition, I want to leave you


with reason for both optimism and concern. I invite you to join
me
in pondering whether the events of 2000 qualified as a democratic
election. And, if not, what reforms will restore some semblance
of
genuine voter choice? For that purpose, we needn't turn to
Florida's
flawed voting, or even to the u.s. Supreme Court ruling that
halted
a recount. Critics such as James K. Galbraith cite those events
as evi
dence that we Americans now inhabit not a constitutional republic
but a corporate democracy, with a governing structure to match:
"It
is a system whereby a Board of Directors-read Supreme Court-se
lects the Chief Executive Officer. The CEO in turn appoints new
members of the Board. The shareholders, owners in title only, are
in
vited to cast their votes in periodic referenda. But their
franchise is
only symbolic, for management holds a majority of the proxies. On
no important issue do the CEO and the Board ever permit them
selves to lose." (The Texas Observer, January 19, 2001) You need
not
endorse this analogy to agree that the 2000 presidential election
was
not democracy's finest hour-not the process, not the way the
process was financed, not the media coverage, and certainly not
the
caliber of the candidates offered.

The Non-Election
We didn't have a presidential election in 2000. Elections are
meant to
be periodic efforts to guide our progress in this 225-year-old
experi
ment in the pursuit of happiness. Their purpose is to
periodically con
sider, tease out, and identify policy alternatives, confident
that citi
zens possess the critical capacity to make an informed choice.
That's
why a system designed to endure "for the ages" requires ongoing
ro
bustness in its political discourse to ensure that we confront
our
problems instead of passing them on to future generations. Only
the
enemies of liberty would suggest otherwise. And that, I fear, is
what
we now face.

No functioning democracy would choose the results chronicled in


the first few chapters of Democracy at Risk) especially when
those re
sults are not inevitable but policy induced. A functioning
democracy
would particularly shun today's concentration of wealth and
income,
and the ongoing environmental devastation. Yet how does a candi
date with those concerns inject them into the debate when the
elec
toral process has been closed to all but these twin parties? I
found my
answer the hard way at a debate venue held in a public auditorium
in
Albany, Georgia. There, I approached WALB- TV station manager
Jim Wilcox to inquire why I wasn't included in an election-year
event
that was billed as a debate but was limited to the nominees of
the two
dominant parties. The format has always been limited to the top
two
candidates, he patiently explained, and "we know that works
because
one of them always wins." I couldn't have put it better myself.
Only af
ter hearing this nonsensical response did I-with television
cameras
rolling-stand up in the audience after the "top two" were intro
duced, announcing simply, "My name is Jeff Gates. I am on the
bal
lot November the seventh. I respectfully request admission to
these
proceedings." With that, three people (including Wilcox) grabbed
me, rammed me through two sets of theater-style doors, and,
cursing
at mc., threatened me with a beating, L Wa5_ then. handrnfferl.,
and,
while the "top two" engaged in the predictable combination of
name
calling and issue avoidance, I was fingerprinted, mug shot, and
locked
up in the county jail.

Special elections in Georgia are nonpartisan; no party


affiliation is
noted on the ballot. After Paul Coverdell's death in the spring
of
2000, Governor Roy Barnes appointed former governor Zell Miller,
his political predecessor, to fill the vacant Senate seat,
pending the
November general election. Sporting a political brand name and
posing as what now passes for a Democrat in the South, Miller had
earlier announced that he was finished with politics. After the
an
nouncement of his candidacy for the seat that he was temporarily
filling, I called his campaign manager, Tim Phillips, whom I knew
from his handling of Max Cleland's successful Senate campaign in
1996. Having just seen a newspaper report that the night after
his
Senate swearing-in ceremony Miller had collected $200,000,
congratulated
Phillips on how quickly his client had settled into
Washington's fund-raising groove. He quickly corrected me, ex
plaining that those funds weren't raised during his first dinner
but
over grits and sausage at his first breakfast. I knew then that I
was in
deep trouble.

In truth, the race was over before it began, determined not by


free
and open debate but by brand-name recognition, by a cowed and
closed-down media, and, most crucially, by access to cash. That's
the
harsh reality, given the role that commercial media now plays in
reaching the voting public. Miller and I had met several times
before
the campaign at political events held. on the lawn of Ann Cox
Chambers, whose mansion lies directly across the street from the
gov
ernor's mansion, occupied by Miller for eight years. Chambers, a
member of the Forbes 400 and principal shareholder in Cox
Communications, the state's dominant media conglomerate, had ear
lier served as a Jimmy Carter-appointed ambassador, a traditional
po
litical perk for major fund-raisers.

Fund-raising posed for me a fourfold quandary. The first was how


to solicit funds as a political unknown and as Georgia's first-
ever
"Green" in a statewide federal race. The second was raising funds
as
a populist. Having worked in Washington for a dozen years
(1980-1992), I knew firsthand the favors that large contributors
of
ten expect in return. Third, I knew that any funds I raised for
media
advertising would further enrich a family already rich beyond the
dreams of Midas. Finally, I knew that political viability
mandated
that I make large payments to a media-owning clan that already
wielded political power completely out of proportion to what's
ap
propriate in a nation devoted to political equality. In short, I
realized
early on that debate in our erstwhile democracy has become pro
foundly dollar-dependent. It didn't help that the Greens had a
dicey
reputation, or that they were organizationally challenged and de
pendably penniless-though they raised my registration fee
($4,101). Those circumstances set the background against which I
launched a seat-of-the-pants statewide campaign in the largest
state
east of the Mississippi.

Miller, on the other hand, was a seasoned political operative


with
proven fund-raising skills, collecting more than $5 million in
just
three months. His name recognition ensured early on that none of
Georgia'S Republican members of Congress would risk a safe seat
to
run against him. Instead, former Senator Mack Mattingly was
enticed
out of retirement as the GOP's sacrificial candidate-which also
helped maintain the illusion of a two-party race. Early on,
Miller an
nounced his intention to represent both parties, a pledge he
quickly
fulfilled as the first Senate Democrat to break ranks with his
party (in
a chamber split 50-50 between Demopubs and Republicrats), when
he cosponsored conservative Republican Phil Gramm's introduction
ofDubya's massive tax cut for the well-to-do.
In truth, Democrats lost the South a long time ago. As Louisiana
Senator Russell Long told me when we worked together in the
1980s, Lyndon Johnson knew that the South was destined to be
come a Republican stronghold when he pushed Kennedy's civil
rights
legislation of the 1960s, a hugely unpopular program in a region
long
known to vote reliably democratic.
Miller's strong approval rating was based on his support for the
Hope Scholarship, a popular program funded by the state lottery,
which in Georgia, as in other states, has proven hugely
successful in re
distributing money from low-income blacks to middle-income, col
lege-bound whites. That program proved consistent with Miller's
criminal justice policy that, from 1986 to 1996, boosted
Georgia'S
African American imprisonment rate for drug offenses by 5,499
per
cent, even though research confirms that drug treatment costs
one-fif
teenth as much as incarceration for the same reduction in
societal cost.
By tripling the number of jail cells and promptly filling them,
Miller
was able to maintain Georgia's ranking as third nationally in
inmate
population, trailing only Texas and Louisiana. As you might
imagine,
some of my best campaign venues were Black churches. A late en
dorsement came from the state's gay community, a constituency
that
Miller had long denied even the dignity of a meeting.

Financing a Faux Election

Georgia'S Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president, sullied his hard


earned reputation for monitoring the fairness of elections abroad
when he declined to activate a team to oversee-or at least
critique
the U.S. election process, in which corruption is now subtle, en
demic, and institutionalized. For instance, as a member of the
Commission on Presidential Debates, one can only marvel that no
one at his Atlanta-based Carter Center looked into why Green
Party
presidential candidate Ralph Nader was denied admission-as a
spec
tator-to the overflow auditorium at the first presidential debate
in
Boston. Or why he was refused access to the University of
Massachusetts
Boston campus, where he had agreed to offer commentary on the
debate
for Fox News. These incidents suggest that, in truth, the so-
called
debate instead was the closed -access filming of a
political infomercial-a Demopublocratic joint venture, or a
"joint
appearance," as the two parties artfully describe these staged
events in
the commission's founding documents.
That realization should come as a relief for those who tuned in
to
what was advertised as a series of genuine presidential debates.
Now
we know better. The League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsor
ship, complaining that this two-party collaboration had become a
parody of democracy because of the restrictive rules insisted on
by the
dominant parties. But then, dual-party politicking was all that
the
events were ever meant to be. When the Commission on Presidential
Debates was formed in 1987, GOP chair Frank Fahrenkopf and
Democrat Paul Kirk (both remain as cochairs) conceded then that
the
commission's goal was to "strengthen the two-party system" (after
all, one of them always wins). That stance was confirmed when
Nader
(on the ballot in forty-four states) was banned from the general
vicin
ity of the debate and constrained even from alerting television
view
ers that another perspective is possible.
Does reform suggest that taxpayers be forced to fund politicians'
campaigns in lieu of corporate sponsors, as some incumbents
suggest?
I'm not so sure. As I discovered, incumbents are typically quite
well
financed, albeit invisibly. Much of the cost of elections is
already tax
payer funded; you just can't see it. Vast swaths of America's
private
sector are propped up by Washington. The annual tab for this
invisi
ble network of corporate welfare tops $125 billion, according to
Time magazine'S award-winning November 1998 expose document
ing the "free" in free enterprise (my research suggests that the
yearly
tab is closer to $1.5 trillion). Incumbents learn early on that a
portion
of the support they grant from Washington flows back to
Washington
as campaign contributions from assisted firms and their grateful
shareholders. Genuine reform requires an "ownership impact re
port," which tracks government subsidies to the recipients and
then
matches the subsidies against lists of political contributors.
Absent
such an ownership report, we have no way of knowing what portion
of federal campaigns is presently publicly funded.
Also, before we divvy up any alleged budget surplus with yet an
other round of tax cuts and defense contracts, true reform
mandates
that we identify who pocketed the nation's policy-induced
financial
prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s. Without this information, we
can't answer the most basic question: An economic boom for whom?
From 1980 to 2000, our elected policymakers voted to boost our
na
tional debt from $900 billion to more than $5,700 billion. We've
yet
to see an accounting of what we voters received in return for the
credit we extended. Nor have we seen an accounting of which
Americans benefited. Matching that list against campaign
contribu
tors should be easy. According to Federal Election Commission
records, less than 0.25 percent of Americans give $200 or more to
political campaigns-yet at least $3 billion was spent during the
2000
election cycle. Bill Clinton reportedly raised more than $1
billion
over his political lifetime. Firms factor much of the cost of
their po
litical activities into their normal business expense and pass
that along
to consumers. As a political phenomenon, campaign finance is
subtle,
multidimensional, and deeply embedded in the everyday workings of
the economy. That's why reform mandates an up-to-date tally of
just
who actually harvested the financial benefits of the 1980s and
1990s.
Policymakers are happy to take credit for this credit-stimulated
pros
perity, but just whose prosperity are we talking about?

Money and Media

Does reform require that taxpayers finance political campaigns?


Or
does it require easier access to the media by other voices? If
"big
money" already has too much sway, large dollops of taxpayer money
may not be the answer. The switch to taxpayer-funded campaigns
also
strikes me as naive and mechanistic: Change X to get Y Eliminate
this
source of funding and get that result. The challenge is far more
com
plex, the corrupting influences far more nuanced and
comprehensive.
Moreover, the prospect of Uncle Sam writing a check to today's
media moguls is not one I relish, particularly when Washington
re
cently gave broadcasters free digital TV licenses worth as much
as
$70 billion on the open market, according to the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC). Now those broadcasters want
the public to pay them to provide an opportunity to air
conflicting
views on issues of public importance-on the public's airwaves?
That's
keen chutzpah, I'll concede, but hardly the best use of
taxpayers'
funds. And hardly consistent with the FCC's Fairness Doctrine
gov
erning the terms under which they're granted exclusive use of our
hugely profitable airwaves. The taxpayer-funded approach to
reform
only confirms that finance, not fairness, has become the
misplaced focus.
How appropriate: two financially flush, media-dominant political
parties collabo
rating to recast fairness in financial terms so that media access
is
reduced to such questions as whether it's fair to charge a
candidate
more than the lowest available rate for a time slot. Without so
much
as a hint of irony, reformers refer to that stance as ensuring "a
level
playing field" -when I found that I couldn't even get on the
field. Of
course, shifting the issue of access back to the financial domain
works
to the benefit of the two parties,. with their built-in advantage
in
fund-raising and their proven capacity to outspend any potential
challengers.
The noncommercial airwaves are only marginally better. For the
most part, their coverage also has the effect of excluding the
views of
all but the "top two." My personal favorite is a federal ruling
(agreed
to, natch, by both parties) exempting "newscasts," including
those
that feature only the two major parties' candidates, from the
Fairness
Doctrine. With a long-ingrained two-party filter (following the
com
mercial sector's lead), the viewpoints aired on noncommercial
broadcasts are also radically narrowed, along with voter options.
Following the info-tainment focus of their for-profit
counterparts,
public broadcasters have given in to the temptation to reduce
elec
tions to an entertaining spectacle based on candidate
personalization
and issue trivialization.
Meanwhile, what democracy most needs is a process that dignifies
elections. A valid election must provide essential time for
reflection,
for voter education, and for media-induced consciousness raising
and
information sharing. The predictable result of the current rules
is to
day's staged and restricted debates, with their minimal
discussion and
superficial analysis. Elections thereby become impressionistic
and
simplistic, as both policies and politicians come prepackaged,
pre
dictable, even typecast. In the case of the three overproduced
2000
presidential "debates," even the stage set was designed to
suggest
electoral legitimacy, right down to studios adorned with the
trappings
of high office (eagles, bunting, banners, etc.).
Critics dismiss the presidential debates as a sham and a scam.
That's too harsh. What were they? The evidence suggests they were
the high-profile taping of a twin-party advertisement, including
even commercial sponsors (Anheuser-Busch in Boston). No wonder
the producers insisted on keeping tightly to the script. No
interrup
tions. No surprises. No input from a pesky public. No indication
that other viewpoints or other candidates might be available-or
even possible. The electoral effect was to produce the appearance
of
consensus that these candidates were the only choice. This deceit
was followed by an "election" that created the appearance of
popu
lar consent when, in truth, voters' opinions were not evoked by
open debate but dictated by a process designed to preclude
debate.
That's another reason that reform requires an accurate accounting
of how our government's policies divvied up the economic pie in
the 1980s and 1990s. An accurate accounting could tell us much
about just whose debates these really were. Brought to you by
whom? And for what purpose?

Enemies, Foreign and Domestic


Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy take an oath akin to the
inau
gural oath taken by the President that includes this pledge: "I
will sup
port and defend the Constitution of the United States against all
ene
mies, foreign and domestic .... " If domestic financial forces
have
indeed succeeded in commercializing vast swaths of democracy's
me
dia-including election-year access-then fundamental reform is re
quired if we as citizens are to meet that mandate to protect our
free
dom. The media's election-year "product" is currently
inconsistent-dramatically so-with the informed and free elections
es
sential to a free nation.
The only account of my attempted inclusion in Albany's Senate
"debate" was featured on the front page of the state's dominant
newspaper (owned by Cox Communications) as a three-by-five-inch,
above-the-fold color photo of me being hauled off to jail. The
cap
tion declared, "Debates Get Rowdy," and identified me as simply a
candidate unhappy at being excluded. End of their story, but not
the
real story. The morning of the debate, I called the Republican
candi
date, Mack Mattingly, eliciting his assurance that he would urge
that
the sponsors admit me to the debate. (Only Miller and Mattingly
had
been invited.) I knew Mattingly during his Reagan-era term as a
sen
ator (1981-1987), when I had served as counsel to the Finance
Committee (1980-1987). I sought his pledge of assistance before
making the exhausting 3-hour drive. I also alerted the debate
spon
sor. When Mack failed to fulfill his promise to me despite three
sepa
rate on-site requests, I also approached Miller three separate
times,
who also declined. Interviewed the day after the debate, Miller
as
sured reporters that he thought I should have been included.
Mattingly
wouldn't return my calls. No newspaper called for my ac
count of the fracas. Instead, the photo and the "story" had the
effect
(I must assume intended) of casting me as a maverick, a
contrarian, a
malcontent, even a misfit, or worst of all, "an angry young man"
political poison in the mannerly South. In short, the newspaper
seemed to be saying, this fellow has no right to be running,
because
this election is about a choice between the two people we already
told
you were the candidates.
Like the Senate "debate," the presidential debates were also a
clas
sic case of bait-and-switch advertising. The bait in Boston was a
pro
fessionally packaged production with but one goal: to maximize
"viewer impressions." How? Cast two brand-name politicos of the
two brand-name parties in an official-looking, debate-like
setting
with credible journalists. How else could these two preppy
political
princelings have garnered prime-time Nielsen ratings? Certainly
not
on their own, as we'd seen up to that date. In terms of
impressions,
it was a huge success. Hits? More than 50 million tuned in.
Doubtless, many thought it was an authentic debate, right down to
its sponsorship by a presidential commission-conceived,
chartered,
and controlled by these paired-at-the-hip parties, to whom
participa
tion was strictly limited.
How remarkably apt that the best-known consumer activist in the
United States exposed this state-of-the-art advertising ploy,
featuring
these two pitchmen for the twin wings of a single Wall Street
party.
Five of the top ten zip codes of political contributors-for both
par
ties-lie along the upper East Side of Manhattan, home to the na
tion's media and financial elite. If indeed the reason for
excluding
other candidates was to protect and strengthen a two-party
system,
then the commission must demonstrate that there still is a two-
party
system. An ownership-impact report is essential if we are to
evaluate
that claim.
Regardless of the flawed 2000 election process, the damage to
democracy is done. The question now becomes this: If media now
mocks democracy, does that discredit the very legitimacy of the
2000
election? Has democracy been reduced to the slick marketing of a
twin-party brand, a put-up job by commercial sponsors determined
to protect their political turf? Are the airwaves now so closed
down
that challengers are, in effect, closed out and shut up, with
voters left
to choose between candidates whose parties collaborated to
position
them as the only possible choices-utilizing our airwaves for
their
marketing campaigns?
Does that suggest the current administration is illegitimate,
whether it's led by Bush or Gore? Imagine the sole remaining
super
power led by an administration with such dubious democratic cre
dentials. The implications of widespread civic disrespect are
stupefy
ing, particularly at a time when a profound failure of economic
reform in Russia (based largely on U.S. advice, as chronicled in
Chapter 8) has the United States poised to enter a new era of
nuclear
tension. The stakes couldn't possibly be higher as we struggle
with
how to. reshape a balance of power that favors freedom.

Taking Back Our Airwaves

Genuine reform of today's dollar-drenched democracy requires a


genuinely holistic approach. Imagine, for instance, if we imposed
lim
its on corporate contributions and reinstated the rules-repealed
dur
ing the Reagan-Bush era-favoring local ownership of broadcast me
dia. Today's media megaliths pose a double danger to democracy,
combining huge market share with huge ownership blocks in very
few hands. Democracy-wise, that's profoundly dangerous. This
policy
is also destined to "dumb down" democracy as the diversity of
views
steadily declines. In the mid-1970s, fifty corporations accounted
for
50 percent of media outlets. By the year 2000, the number "vas
six.
The same phenomenon swept through publishing in the late 1990s.
Seven firms now account for three-quarters of trade book sales,
down
from fifty in 1993. I stopped by an Atlanta branch of a national
book
store chain to urge that they stock my books. The response:
"Sorry,
those decisions are made in New York."
Democracy loses all meaning unless it's responsive to communities
and to those who live there. Instead, today's political parties
agreed to
the rule changes that allowed our airwaves to become mega-
corpora
tized and Wall Street "marketized"; the airwaves have been
converted
into immense "conglomediates" with but one bottom line: financial
re
turns. That leaves the two parties sitting pretty with easy
access to the
funds required. to purchase airtime. It's no accident that the
parties'
agreed-to policy mix leaves challengers locked out unless they're
well
to-do, incumbents, or remarkably adept at raising enormous sums
of
money, leaving themselves politically indebted to those donors.
As I discovered, access to the airwaves requires that candidates
com
pete with transnational firms, including those buying airtime to
adver
tise fast foods, fish sticks, and deodorant pads. With our
airwaves now
thoroughly marketized, commercialized, conglomeratized, and re
sponsive solely to financial values, media has become just
another in
vestment property, traded alongside grain futures, financial
derivatives,
and pork bellies. Modern media is no longer responsive to locales
or
even to the need for open democratic debate. Instead, it responds
to
the distant call of values dictated by Wall Street's ever-
incessant ap
petite for investment returns. No wonder our democratic process
is
now so atrophied, with elections held hostage to big money in a
way
that favors the two entrenched parties while silencing the fresh
voices
so fundamental to the vitality of democracy.

One way to protect our airwaves is to relocalize and people-ize


me
dia ownership. Like democracy, the media was always meant to be
personalized and human-sized. If democracy doesn't work locally,
what's the point? As a kid growing up in Athens, Georgia, I could
hear the Friday night football star being interviewed on Saturday
morning radio. The teacher-of-the-month was honored. You'd even
hear an occasional lost-pet announcement. Was that financially
effi
cient? Probably not. Was it effective in building community? You
bet.
As we wean our airwaves off Wall Street's abstract version of
value,
the media will better reflect the diversity of real-world values,
tastes,
and cultures that democracies were founded to protect. Our
freedom
may well depend on it.

Free Access and Free Markets

Today's dramatic commercialization and capital marketization of


me
dia scoffs at democracy. If forced to choose between a free press
and
free elections, Jefferson advised that we choose the former. When
it
comes to holding public power accountable, an accessible media
plays
an essential role. Jefferson well understood that a free people
can ill
afford indifference toward either the ownership or the
utilization of
media. I quickly found what "free" now means when I was assured
that my campaign was free to buy as much time on the media as I
could afford.

The creative use of policy can tap market forces to nudge media
in
a more democratic direction. A change in the rules could make it
costly for broadcasters to decline access to legitimate political
candi
dates. We could, for instance, deny business advertisers a tax
deduc
tion for the cost of their ads unless the ads are carried on open
-access
media. We could raise their costs by stretching out the period
over
which closed-access firms are required to write off the cost of
their
broadcast equipment. Make closed-access media financially less
com
petitive, and they'll become democratically more responsible. If
we
rewrite the rules to favor locally owned, open-access firms,
market
forces can help rein in the rest. As we craft those initial rule
changes,
we'll get a better idea of the optimum ownership structure
required
for responsible media in the wired age.

Recent changes in the rules governing this essential element of


our
democratic well-being ensured that access to the political arena
is
now "financial-ized"-you must pay to play. From Tom Paine's revo
lutionary pamphlets extolling Common Sense, here vve are two cen
turies later-with profound advances in telecommunications, yet
forced to cope with a media that has morphed into a phenomenon
adored by Wall Street but perilous to the open debate required
for a
robust democracy. Instead, democracy is fast becoming a
commercial
parody of itself as our airwaves are used to sell us an
unsustainable
lifestyle-along with mediocre political candidates-instead of
expos
ing us to some much-needed common sense.

Reframed in those terms, campaign reform becomes-in substan


tial part-a search for how best to "ground" media so that it
reflects
values somewhere. The demands of democracy mandate that we ex
tract our airwaves from financial cyberspace and reroot them
some
place. The media must become responsive to a broader spectrum of
values than the limited bandwidth of money-measurable values that
Wall Street reveres. At present, owners of the media value our
air
waves as a pickpocket values someone else's overcoat. Genuine re
form may well require that we again insist on the widespread
disper
sion of media ownership. Moreover, media grounded in a certain
locale should be owned by people who live there.

How likely is a dispersal of broadcast ownership under the Bush


ad
ministration? In appointing Michael Powell (the thirty-seven-
year-old
son of Secretary of State Colin Powell) as chairman of the FCC,
Bush
served notice of his intent to further loosen federal rules on
broadcast
ownership, including the relaxing of bans on the ownership of
news
paper and television stations in the same market, or cable TV and
broadcast stations in the same market. Those steps are certain to
fur
ther marketize media and decrease the diversity of views. By
further
concentrating media ownership, the policy would ensure that
promis
ing new telecommunication technologies bring not more democracy,
more personal empowerment, or the promise of decentralization,
but
instead more mergers, more economic concentration, more
centralization,
and more commercialization. The financial value of media
properties
(versus their democracy-enhancing value) is certain to in
crease, along with political contributions from increasingly
powerful
media owners.

Looking to the Next Election

Reform requires a change in the election environment so that a


can
didate needs less funding to mount an effective campaign. Making
elections a national holiday would provide a powerful means for
turn
ing out the vote. Like the Australians, we Americans could fine
non
voters $150. Publish the nonvoter list and call it the "Shut Up
List."
If you're on it, quit your whining. Who can blame nonvoters,
espe
cially the young, and particularly now that the major parties
have
again displayed their clear resolve to avoid issues of concern to
future
generations-issues of least concern to financial markets. Younger
voters are learning the hard way that unless they turn on to
politics,
politics will turn on them. That's now clear to those who realize
that
the rules were written to ensure that no dissenting views were
aired
during the presidential debates-and certainly not during the
debates
for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia.

Holiday-induced voter turnout could transform not only elections


but also campaigning and even the funding required to wage a
viable
campaign. The danger for the dominant parties is this: The views
of
young people, working people, and the poor would then show up in
the results. Who from this disengaged group would endorse the
pol
icy mix that brought us today's fast-widening divide between the
have-nots and the have-everythings along with widespread environ
mental decline? Who embraced these policies? Both parties, that's
who.

Adding insult to injury, the have-every things are now polluting


politics. After spending $37 million of his daddy's dough in
1996,
Republicrat Steve Forbes ramped up another ego-trip/flat-tax cam
paign in 2000, blowing another $39 million plus $10 million more
from his supporters. We still don't know for sure why he
withdrew.
Perhaps someone finally explained to him that the largest tax
that
three-quarters of Americans pay is already a flat tax-the hugely
re
gressive Social Security payroll tax. N ew Jersey Demopub Jon
Corzine spent $35 million dominating a Senate primary ($61 mil
lion overall). Yet the total represents barely 15 percent of the
$400
million-plus bounty he bagged while working his way up Wall
Street's
ranks at Goldman Sachs, previously led by Clinton's secre
tary of the treasury, Robert Rubin. Rubin presided over the most
dramatic stock market boom in history-during which 42 percent
of the run -up in value was pocketed by just 1 percent of
Americans,
including Corzine, Rubin's former partner-cum-politico. It's
diffi
cult to imagine an election scenario that better epitomizes the
need
for reform.

Political equality? Imagine the capacity of these two candidates-


or
anyone with their wealth-to purchase "viewer impressions" on our
airwaves. Compared to any potential challenger, their campaign
fund
ing is unlimited, bolstered by a Supreme Court opinion that
equates
personal expenditures with free speech-free to buy as much as you
(and your parents) can afford. Today's claims of fair access to
the air
waves have echoes of Ronald Reagan's eerie pledge to end the
estate
tax fairly-for rich and poor alike. Democracy requires that the
finan
cially well endowed be precluded from spending obscene amounts of
personal funds on their campaigns and that instead their outlays
be
limited to some reasonable multiple of the typical voter's net
worth.
The disproportionate capacity of the wealthy to monopolize the
pub
lic's airwaves makes a travesty of democracy and confirms today's
dangerous abuse of that common asset.

Two other reforms could also help revive the robustness of elec
tions. First, ensure that "none of the above" appears as a voter
op
tion for every slate of candidates. That alone could turn out
reluc
tant voters in droves. Many voters view abstention as their civic
duty, the only means now available for registering disgust at the
consolidation of these political parties, their matched-set
candi
dates, and their resolve to avoid widely held concerns. Second,
we
should adopt instant runoff voting, which would allow voters to
rank candidates as their first choice, second choice, third, and
so on.
That way, if a candidate fails to receive a clear majority on the
first
count, the ballots are retabulated, and the candidate with the
fewest
first-place ballots is eliminated. Voters who had chosen the
elimi
nated candidate would see their vote transferred to their second
choice, just as if they were voting in a traditional two-round
runoff.
The process would continue until a candidate received more than
50 percent of the vote. In addition to ensuring majority rule
(versus
candidates who win with only plurality), experience confirms what
common sense suggests: Voter turnout goes up when voters have a
wider range of choices.

Our Threatened Future

Like my previous book, The Ownership Solution, this book is ambi


tious in its reach. But unlike the earlier book, with its
apolitical, pol
icy-wonk tone, Democracy at Risk throws down a political
gauntlet.
As a twenty-year veteran of national politics, I name names and
tell
tales, something we insiders are simply not supposed to do.
Though
my Rolodex is the envy of most, some of those in it now refuse to
take my calls. Or don't call back. That poses a political
quandary, as
I've yet to see a critique that challenges either the accuracy of
my di
agnosis or the practicality of my prescriptions. Nevertheless,
the dis
turbing and dangerous trends I chronicle have steadily worsened
since publication of the hardcover edition, trends that the
dominant
parties resolutely avoid. Of the two candidates offered in 2000,
the
one "elected" poses the greater peril. Let me offer a few
examples.

Newly released research shows that sometime during the 1970s,


humankind passed the point at which worldwide economic activity
outpaced the regenerative capacity of the earth. Living Planet
Report
2000 (United Nations Environmental Program and the World
Wildlife Fund, October 2000) chronicles the biologically
productive
areas that the world's human population needs to grow the natural
resources consumed and to absorb the carbon dioxide emitted. By
1996, the area required was 30 percent larger than the area
available,
which ensures the rapid depletion of nature's capital stock, the
basis
of life. Yet even with every natural system in decline and the
rate of
decline accelerating, the two dominant U.S. political parties
continue
their jockeying to claim credit for record-breaking "prosperity"
and a
decade -long "expansion."

Though I chronicle in the first three chapters the extraordinary


re
distribution of wealth and income in the United States (i.e.,
from
bottom to top), only now do we have figures confirming that the
global redistribution of biological wealth is also from the
bottom up.
For instance, the ecological footprint of an average consumer in
the
industrialized world is about four times that in lower-income
coun
tries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In all three ecosystems
suffer
ing the most severe declines (forests, freshwater, and marine),
the
most damage has occurred in the southern temperate or tropical
re
gions of the world. Thus, we must add to our own fast-widening
eco
nomic divide the fact that the United States and other rich
nations of
the world (located mainly in northern temperate zones) are
primarily
responsible for the ongoing loss of natural wealth elsewhere in
the
world. As yet, there's no indication that Bush either understands
or
intends to address these troublesome trends, even though they un
dermine both the foundation of all economic activity and the
politi
cal stability required for enduring prosperity. Instead, we see a
politi
cal stance endorsing the same economic theme that defined the
past
two decades: "Drink your fill and thirst for more."

With conservative Republicans in control of the White House, both


houses of Congress, and the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan's
Republican credentials date to Nixon's 1968 campaign), it's clear
that
"enough" is a word we're unlikely to hear. For instance, Dubya's
pro
posal to abolish the estate tax would cost approximately $48
billion a
year in foregone tax revenues when fully implemented. The estate
tax,
conceived, crafted, and intended since its inception as an
incentive for
recycling antidemocratic accumulations of wealth to the nonprofit
sector-particularly foundations and universities-is now routinely
recast and ridiculed by the Republican Right as an unfair and
ghastly
"death tax" destined to devastate family farmers and small
business.

Who, in fact, gains from its repeal? Half the benefit would flow
to
the nation's richest 2,400 families, who account for the bulk of
the
largest campaign contributors and who would each save on average
$10 million. To evaluate Bush's claim as the "education
president,"
commentator Matt Miller suggests that we compare the estate tax
savings per well-to-do family with the $235 outlay that Bush pro
poses for each of the nation's 3 million U.S. schoolteachers-for
training, recruitment, and reimbursement for teaching supplies
that
teachers now pay for themselves. Dividing the average estate tax
sav
ings for a wealthy family ($10 million) by the average outlay for
a
teacher ($235) gives what Miller calls the hypocrisy index-in
this
case, a whopping 42,553. In other words, the index reflects a
policy
mix that gives to an already wealthy family about $43,000
compared
with the one dollar it gives to a schoolteacher-and, by
implication,
to schoolkids.

The Bush campaign promised a massive tax cut of $1.3 trillion


(raised to $1.6 trillion after his inauguration)-more than the
rich
get-richer $872 billion deficit-financed tax cut that Ronald
Reagan
and Bush the Elder pushed to enactment in 1981. As counsel to the
Senate Finance Committee throughout that period, I detail both
here
and in The Ownership Solution the predictable impact of such
massive
tax cuts. Analysis of the Bush II plan suggests an
intergenerational
consistency: The lowest-earning 40 percent of households would
get
just 4 percent of the overall benefits when the plan is fully in
effect,
while the top 1 percent of income-earners would pocket roughly 40
percent. This latest ploy seemed a political pipe dream until
January
25, 2001, five days after Bush's inauguration, when Alan
Greenspan
gave a massive tax cut his stamp of approval. Why? Greenspan ex
plained it in terms of what he calls the "tyranny of zero"-the
possi
bility that the federal debt may be repaid and his fear that
Congress
would then use tax revenues to invest in private-sector stocks
and
bonds. That bizarre claim reflects Greenspan's little-known
passion
for radical libertarian Ayn Rand and her peculiar brand of
fanatical
free-market absolutism, captured in phrases she made famous, such
as
"the virtue of selfishness" and "the evils of altruism." In
throwing his
crucial support behind a tax cut, the nation's top banker joined
those
unwilling to acknowledge that today's economic health is
illusory.
Greenspan and other policymakers must realize that we face not a
sin
gle financial deficit (per the prevalent Wall Street-attuned
analysis),
but at least ten crippling deficits that beg for policy
attention-in
health, retirement security, education, environmental
restoration, de
fense-sector conversion, and so on (see Chapter 4).

Possibility and Peril

In the Chinese language, the word crisis comprises two ideograms,


one depicting "risk," and the other "opportunity." With
conservative
Republicans now heading all three branches of government, plus an
Ayn Rand Republican chairing the Federal Reserve, I'm reminded of
that ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."
Yet I
remain optimistic precisely because opportunities are certain to
arise
to convert these ideologically driven forces to the common good,
much as an Akido master upends aggressors with the momentum of
their own aggression. Certainly today's profound absence of
political
and economic common sense bodes well for those who agree on the
need for fundamental reform.

For example, as the only industrialized nation without some form


of universal health coverage, the United States has an
opportunity to
apply its flush fiscal resources to craft a cure. However, both
parties'
proposals for prescription drug coverage for seniors-a hot issue
in
the 2000 election-are curiously indifferent about the clear
wealth
concentrating implications in an economy in which Wal-Mart had
2,428 pharmacies nationwide as of2000. The Arkansas-based Walton
clan has already amassed more than $80 billion in personal
wealth.
Nevertheless, government-assisted prescription drug purchases
would
guarantee that this taxpayer-funded subsidy further boosts the
Waltons' bloated wealth, despite the fact that today's
concentrated
wealth is a key reason that so many seniors need this assistance.
Common sense suggests a preference for drugs purchased from inde
pendent, locally owned drugstores. Similarly, pharmaceutical
firms
are immensely profitable. If policymakers grant pharmaceutical
firms
access to this huge government purchasing program, the largesse
surely should be linked to a shorter patent-protection period-for
the
simple reason that the length of patent law protection is
intended to
give inventors time to recover their research-and-development
costs
from future sales. If public policy is changed to accelerate
sales, a rule
change should also decrease the patent-protection period.
Otherwise
it's yet another policy-ensured windfall for the well-to-do.

On another front, the push for a national missile defense system


is
widely acknowledged as a strategic nightmare-a technologically
mis
conceived response to a vastly exaggerated threat. The nagging
con
cern, however, is whether the issue at stake is defense or
defense con
tracts and defense-sector jobs in key Congressional districts. In
truth,
the U.S. economy has yet to unwind from the economy-wide milita
rization that accompanied World War II, the Korean War, and
Vietnam. Taxpayers shelled out $12.7 trillion in Pentagon
spending
during the Cold War (1948-1989) and approximately $3 trillion
since. Building a shield against rogue-nation missiles offers a
remark
able opportunity for government contractors, because we'd find
our
selves funding not only weapons in space but also "weapon systems
that operate in space and that can defend assets in orbit,"
according to
a congressional commission headed by Bush-appointed Secretary of
Defense Don Rumsfeld. That defense strategy would put today's
mil
itary industrial complex (Eisenhower'S cautionary term) in
lucrative
competition with itself to develop countermeasures to deal with a
threat that no other technologically advanced country has any
inter
est in posing.

Rather than directing our financial, human, and diplomatic re


sources to address the long-festering causes of unhappiness and
in
stability outside our borders-in particular, persistent poverty
and
fast-growing environmental ruin-our defense posture continues
to be reactive, addressing symptoms we fear while leaving well
known causes intact. "No task is more urgent for the United
Nations," according to Secretary General Kofi Annan, "than rescu
ing one billion people from abject and dehumanizing poverty."
The United States has ample financial resources for alleviating
ab-
ject poverty worldwide for a small fraction of its defense
outlays
(see Chapters 8 and 11). Bush's defense proposals, however, would
instead ensure another ramping-up of arms outlays worldwide, di
verting desperately needed resources while squandering scarce po
litical capital, guaranteeing more poverty and more instability,
and
ensuring that our fought-for spread of freedom will mean for most
people in developing countries the freedom to choose poverty.
That's a terrific strategy-for boosting the Wall Street value of
de
fense contractors, and for funding a job-creating payback for
their
political support.

Recovering Democracy

Today's Wall Street-attuned version of economic "science"


reflects a
cavalier and callous assumption stated simply as "Maximize
financial
returns and-trust us-everything will turn out fine." That
Newtonian-age, mechanistic model now serves as the compass by
which much of today's policy making takes its bearings. And now
we
in the United States are drawing on our hard-earned stature as
the
leader of the free world to spread that morally irresponsible
model
worldwide-on the flawed assumption that financial returns are a
suitable proJo...)' for democratic choice. Instead of a people
attuned to a
democratically structured system that's intelligent and
compassion
ate, today's finance-fixated model ends up being crude, even
cruel,
making even the trustworthiness of democracy questionable. Now
that this model has generated such profound economic disparity
and
environmental damage after the "boom times" of the 1980s and
1990s, just imagine what we can look forward to in a downturn.

Another "brand" of democracy is not only possible, but essential.

Today's capital-markets brand of democracy assumes that there's


no
malady financial markets can't cure and no problem that more com
petition can't fix. The unquestioned, unbridled pursuit of
financial re
turns is fast becoming the trait for which' this nation is best
known,
giving new life to Calvin Coolidge's somber assertion of the
1920s
that "the chief business of the American people is business."

At some point, quantitative change results in qualitative change.

With more than $17 trillion now in the hands of U.S. money man
agers, today's blindly mechanistic pursuit of financial value has
be
come certifiably perilous-to people, to places, and to nature-as
I
document in this book. A similar phenomenon now infects politics.
The trend, based on a 1976 Supreme Court opinion (mentioned ear
lier) that funds spent in support of a political campaign-
regardless of
quantity-are a form of constitutionally protected free speech
effec
tively ensures that ever-increasing quantities of money would
play an
ever-increasing role in politics, changing the very quality of
democ
racy. Happily, because "the system" is flawed by design, its
shortcom
ings can be remedied by design. That's cause for keen optimism
be
cause in a democracy, we are the architects and, as I
demonstrate, we
can design new rules.

The political forces now unfolding in the United States are


mythic
in their dimensions, akin to the battle between darkness and
light in
the Bhagavad-Gita, in the legends of King Arthur, or in modern-
day
Star Wars. With more and more certainty, people both in the
United
States and abroad are realizing just how flawed the current U.S.
eco
nomic model really is-and how dramatically our political
leadership
is out of step with values that are widely held and deeply felt.
Worldwide, more than 100,000 citizens' groups and nongovernmen
tal organizations are addressing issues that governments too
often ig
nore. These issues include environmental restoration,
conservation,
health concerns, renewable energy, corporate governance, and many
others. In this newly emerging worldview lies the possibility for
re
ducing and reversing today's democracy-threatening trends with
new
structures, new patterns, and new possibilities that can make a
posi
tive difference. They realize that the path chosen now may well
de
termine whether the legacy of globalization is decency or domina
tion. As Secretary General Annan argues, "If we cannot make
globalization work for all, in the end it will work for none."

Unorganized yet united around common principles, this vibrant


and fast-expanding constituency is the emerging tip of a global
move
ment to restore common sense to the policymaking domain while
crowding out those antidemocratic forces that presently exert
such
profound influence. As people overcome their anger and their
resig
nation at the hijacking of democracy by the forces of finance,
they are
joining others in resisting those who would have this nation's
values
determined by capital markets. Because no one started this move
ment, no one person leads it, anyone can join it, and no
government
can muzzle it. As in nature, the intelligence in this network is
dif
fused, distributed, and interactive. The mobilization of that
intelli
gence has profound implications for tomorrow's economic design
precisely because this networked intelligence is a key component
of
the social fabric from which tomorrow's democracy will be
crafted.
Plus, this intelligence has access to profound advances in
communica
tion technology, the most unstoppable of the forces driving
global
ization.

The illegitimacy of today's democratic process means that the


Bush
II administration must be endured, but that it need not be
respected.
Resistance is appropriate for any attempt to enact harmful
legislation
or to make poor judicial appointments that extend beyond his
term.
New political movements-the Greens, the Reform Party, the
Libertarian Party, the Natural Law Party, and others-will need to
prod the reforms now required. The challenge is not so much how
to
establish a third party as how to ensure we have a genuine second
party. Though the new economy's "networked society" has enor
mous potential, history suggests that only a limited set of
forces give
heft and sustainability to any reform movement. Typically those
forces have the resources to stay the course because they're
self
funded (often through dues) and possess the critical mass not to
wither away when the first burst of enthusiasm fades. The labor
movement, historically a source of reform energy, could be
invigo
rated to assume a key leadership role. To achieve the
breakthrough
that the times require, however, labor will need to expand its
hori
zons beyond the current jobs-and-wages model derived from the me
dieval era, when master-servant relationships were the rule.

What is the alternative to the jobs-and-wages model? For


starters,
employees can bargain for ownership stakes and take the lead in a
long-overdue debate about the governance of unaccountable, fi
nance-entranced, rootless corporations. Similarly, the
cooperative
movement-most notably in energy, agriculture, and food-has long
labored in the shadows of the corporate mainstream as a locale-
sensi
tive' self-reliant alternative. Its influence should expand.
Leaders and
thinkers in these disparate movements will need to convene
regularly
if they wish to make progress in the next election season. Even
the
Democratic Party, now badly adrift, has the potential to embrace
needed change. Such an initiative, however, may need to originate
at
the local level, particularly now that the national organization
has de
generated into a fund-raising machine, largely abandoning the
role
originally intended for parties as organs for political and civic
educa
tion.

The actions of these institutions, affinity groups, and


communities
of resistance supply the potential for the reforms required to
revive
our atrophied democracy. There lies the way forward-toward a pol
icymaking environment less enchanted by today's blindly mechanis-
tic, money-myopic worldview, and less plagued by a system now
cer
tifiably broken. As these institutions, networks, and communities
of
interest grow in connectedness, commitment, and confidence, we'll
witness the emergence of a reinvigorated democracy committed to a
future far better attuned to the needs of both people and nature.
It is
in that direction, I suggest, that the recovery of our democracy
lies.

February 2001