cj#559> On Saving Democracy (draft)


Richard Moore

Dear cj,

        Attached below is a draft article, soon to be submitted for
publication in New Dawn magazine.  As a representative sample (:>) of world
citizenry, I invite you to comment on the article.  Any suggestions or
critiques would be appreciated.

        The topic is admittedly ambitous -- where angels fear to tread, and
all that -- but it's a topic that definitely needs discussion.



                         ON SAVING DEMOCRACY

The companion piece to this article, "cj#547> The Rise & Fall of
Democracy," presented an interpretation of modern history (since the
Enlightenment) which seems to offer little hope for a happy future
for mankind.

Our "democracies" have been deeply corrupted by corporate power, and
the very existence of democratic institutions is being mortally
threatened by the current neoliberal campaign for a globalist
corporate state.  Not only is the current situation contrary to the
interests of humanity, but all the trends are in the direction of
even worse times.

But it's always darkest before dawn, and hope arises from the very
corporate dominance that is so threatening.  The point is that nearly
everyone is being harmed by the corporatist schemes, whether it be
the First-World worker squeezed between frozen salaries and reduced
social benefits, or the Third-World farmer being shoved aside by
agribusiness interests.  Through its all-pervasive power and
arrogance, the elite has sown the seeds of a potentially powerful
counter revolution.

It is the citizens of the First World who may be in the best position
to initiate progressive global changes.  First-World countries
provide the primary infrastructure for corporate operations, and
First-World political systems, while they last, offer the greatest
opportunity for effective political action.

If broad-based citizen coalitions in First World countries could
bring truly progressive governments into power, it would be possible
to reverse the global dominance of the corporate elite, re-vitalize
democratic institutions, and re-align First World agendas along
progressive lines.  This could in turn create a climate in which the
rest of the world would be better able to pursue progressive agendas
as well.

             Obstacles to Progressive Political Action

If you look at the fundamentals, the conditions are right for a
democratic resurgence: the elite corporate danger is acute and
ominous, and the opportunity for an effective popular uprising exists
-- in our tattered democratic institutions.  But the likelihood of
this opportunity being pursued seems unfortunately remote.  There are
three primary reasons for this: ignorance, organizational malaise,
and the absence of a comprehensive progressive agenda.

By ignorance, I refer to a general unawareness of the true nature of
the corporatist danger, and of the imminent threat to democratic
institutions.  This ignorance can be over-stated -- the number of
people who have managed to grasp the situation may be much larger
than the media-projected image of "public opinion" would seem to

But it is fair to say that people generally are kept in ignorance,
mesmerized by the corporate-dominated media and distracted by
manufactured crises and phony issues.

Nonetheless, there is considerable popular support for progressive
changes, and a great many progressive organizations fighting for this
or the other "cause."  But overall, progressive organizing is in a
chaotic state.

Energy is split up among so-called "special-interest" groups, whose
cumulative effect is mostly neutralized by one another, and by the
corrupt political process.  There is insufficient effort directed
toward building broad-based coalition movements that could promote a
progressive agenda and exert effective political influence.

Perhaps most crippling is the absence of an adequate progressive
agenda.  It may be true that the journey of a thousand miles begins
with the first step, but with no clear destination in mind, even the
first step cannot be taken.

A sensible, comprehensive political agenda is necessary.  Around such
an agenda could be organized a broad-based coalition movement, and
such an agenda could provide the basis for a positive program of
societal regeneration and true democratic reform.

                 Toward a Progressive Reform Agenda

Conditions vary from country to country, and no single reform agenda
can apply everywhere.  But everywhere the central issues are
corporate power and the corruption of the democratic process -- and
progressive agendas need to focus on solving those central problems.

These systemic reforms need to be accomplished first: if the
democratic process itself can be made functional, and the controlling
corporate fingers pried loose from politics, then the means would
exist for a broader progressive program to be democratically defined
and pursued.

For want of a better focus, reform will be examined from the
perspective of the U.S. situation.  This focus is not all that
unreasonable, given that it is the U.S. model that is being
increasingly foisted on the rest of the world.

        Media Reform -- An informed citizenry is absolutely essential
to the sound functioning of a representative democracy.  For the flow
of public information and discussion to be monopolized by the
corporate elite, as it is in the U.S., is utterly corrupting of the
democratic process -- the result is that "public discussion" serves
to distract and manipulate rather than to inform and empower.

Citizen perceptions are filtered through the lense of corporate
interests, and democracy is corrupted at its very roots.  There need
to be alternate sources of news, information, and entertainment which
are not warped by corporate interests, and which provide a broad
spectrum of viewpoints.

The BBC might be an appropriate model for such an independent media
venue in the U.S.  BBC is dependent neither on government nor
corporate funding -- it is funded through a modest television license
fee paid by all media consumers.  BBC is thus able -- in theory, and
often in practice -- to manage its operations and its programming
independent of government and corporate control and free of

        Electoral Reform -- Elections are the primary transaction in
the representative-governmental process.  The selection of
candidates, the carrying out of campaigns, and the voting rules --
these processes determine the people's role in selecting leaders, and
hence determine how representative (or not) the government will be.

In the current U.S. system, the voting rules are slanted to favor the
two-party system, the two parties are dominated by corporate
interests, and the campaigns are corporate-managed PR shows.  The
electoral system is thus deeply corrupted by corporate interests, and
voters choose among corporate-sponsored propagandist-politicians
rather than expressing their democratic intent.

Fundamental societal issues are never allowed to surface during
campaigns; instead, colorful peripheral topics are selected for mock
debate in a charade of a campaign.

In order for elections to serve their democratic purpose -- the
expression of popular will -- it is essential to break the major-
party monopoly over politics.  In order for new parties to arise,
they must be allowed to compete effectively when they are still small
-- otherwise they can never achieve public recognition and begin to
build up their constituencies.

Under the current plurality-wins system, people are afraid to vote
for small parties -- they feel compelled instead to choose the so-
called "lesser of two evils" among the major parties.

There are various mechanisms which could help encourage effective new
parties.  One such mechanism is the requirement of a majority for
election, which can be accomplished either by run-off elections or
(more efficiently) by a ranked-voting scheme.  Another mechanism is
proportional representation, which gives each party a number of
seats, in proportion to their share of the votes.

Reform of campaigns would be partially achieved by the measures
mentioned above: an independent media venue and the accommodation of
small parties.  Both of these would broaden the scope of debate and
encourage the development of leaders who are more representative of
popular will.

But in addition, it is necessary to remove the PR hype from the
campaign process and to end the role of corporate money in
determining what issues are debated and which candidates receive
favorable media exposure.

Some measures which could, in some combination, help in this regard
are (1) much smaller limits to campaign spending, (2) public
financing of campaigns, (3) strictly equal access to media by all
candidates (and their surrogate organizations), (4) restriction of
election coverage to the public media venue.

        Political Reform -- Elected politicians, in a democratic
society, are supposed to represent the will of their constituencies.
In our corrupted system, it is fairer to say that politicians are the
representatives of their corporate backers, and that part of their
assignment is to hoodwink citizens into voting for them.  With media
and electoral reform, along the lines mentioned above, much progress
would be made toward restoring the democratic role of politicians.

But in addition salaries of officials should be raised to be in line
with private executives with similar levels of responsibility, and
all potentially conflicting outside interests and income sources
(consultancies, board memberships, remunerated speaking engagements,
etc.) should be prohibited.

Further, the corrupting influence of corporate lobbying on the
legislative process must be ended.  This is a complex topic, and I'll
offer only a single example of a possible reform measure.

When a Congressional committee holds public hearings on a bill, the
democratic intent of those hearings is to solicit a representative
sampling of public opinion and expert advice regarding the bill.

What happens all too often in practice is that some interested
industry association hires a PR firm, and dramatic testimony is
staged so as to slant the views seen by the committee.  Scores of
carefully selected "witnesses" and/or "experts" are flown at
corporate expense to Washington, in order to create the desired bias
in testimony.  Thus the legislative process is corrupted by corporate

What might help here would be to have a special public fund which is
used to bring witnesses to hearings, and which is sufficient to
insure that a wide range of viewpoints can be heard -- especially
from those who would be most affected by the legislation.

        Corporate-Role Reform -- At the heart of any agenda must be a
sensible policy regarding corporations and their proper role in
society.  It would be folly to think in terms of eliminating
corporations, replacing them with, say, some kind of utopian
socialism.  Not only would this create the insurmountable problem of
designing (and agreeing on) an entirely new society, but it would
back the corporate elite into a corner -- forcing them to fight to
the death for their survival.

The corporation is an efficient machine for exploiting opportunities
and optimizing the operation of the economy.  As such, corporations
can be of value to society, and preferable to a centrally-managed
economy.  The problem is that the role of master and servant has
gotten reversed: instead of the corporation being chartered to serve
society, we've reached a situation where society is managed to serve
the goal of corporate enrichment.

What is needed is a radical reversal in the relationship between
corporations and the larger society.  A corporate charter should be a
privilege, not a right, and the interests of society at large should
be represented on corporate boards, not just the financial interests
of stockholders.  A corporation is defined legally to be an
artificial person: what is needed is to turn these corporate
"persons" into good citizens rather than greedy exploiters.

One important aspect of this "relationship reversal" has to do with
cash-flow.  Currently, we have an absurd situation in which corporate
profits are at an all time high, corporate taxation is obscenely low,
and government is essentially bankrupt.  Not only should corporate
tax rates be raised to a higher, fairer level, but the whole tangle
of loopholes, depletion allowances, and corporate subsidies should be
pared back to the bone.

In particular, a business-like review of the value of public assets
such as radio spectra, oil leases, timber holdings, mining licenses,
publicly-funded inventions, etc. is long overdue.  All too
frequently, such public assets are given away at a fraction of their
commercial value to private operators.  Such sweetheart deals amount
to corruption on a grand scale -- the corporate theft of immense
amounts of public property -- but such deals are typically not
perceived as corruption...

             The law doth punish man or woman
                That steals the goose from off the common,
             But lets the greater felon loose,
                That steals the common from the goose.
             - Anon, 18th cent., on the enclosures.

If private operation is deemed to be the most efficient means of
exploiting a public asset, then government should bargain from its
position of strength, and attain maximum public return on the deals
it makes.  It can seek higher direct fees, a stronger oversight role
in operations (to represent the public interest), and a public share
in revenues derived from operations.

                 Toward Effective Political Action

Regardless of the agenda details, progressive change can only come
about through effective grass-roots political organizing.  As
mentioned earlier, there is not so much a lack of popular political
fervor or activity, as there is a lack of focus and coalition.  The
People, one might say, are scattered in all directions.

Again, for want of a better alternative, the focus will be on the
American situation. Given the U.S. dominance of international
arrangements, and the increasing role of the U.S. military as a
globalist "police" force, the fate of progressive politics in America
is of direct importance to citizens around the globe.

The phenomenon of "single-issue movements" deserves special
consideration.  It is undeniable that such movements have achieved
desirable reforms for causes like environmentalism and civil rights.
But the political arena has evolved to a point where single-issue
organizing in the U.S. has become impotent, and serves mostly to
"divide and conquer" the people.

Environmentalists are pitted against labor groups; the women's
movement is fractured by the abortion debate; civil libertarians are
portrayed as abetting crime; campaigners against corporate power are
painted as being luddite xenophobes.

The corporate elite has learned to play movements off against one
another, to limit their effectiveness by slanted media coverage, and
to manufacture its own counter-movements -- thus making grass-roots
politics largely impotent.

Only a broad-based coalition movement, with a comprehensive and
persuasive political agenda, has any chance to revive democracy and
reverse the trend toward corporate domination.  Such a coalition must
seek to include labor, environmentalists, civil libertarians,
feminists, minorities, students, unemployed, elderly, etc. --
literally everyone whose interests would be served by a responsive
representative democracy.

The first hurdle such a coalition will need to overcome will be
divisiveness itself.  The single-cause approach has so pervaded
society that it has become almost synonymous with political action.
People, especially activists, need to become aware their movements
have been backed into cul-de-sacs, and that broad popular solidarity
is necessary to face the the well-organized corporatist onslaught.

Emphasis on coalition among existing organizations, labor groups,
etc., might be the best approach to building a more comprehensive
movement.  By that means, existing organizational structures can be
leveraged toward broader objectives.

A strong agenda and credible, competent leadership are critical to
attracting organizations into coalition.  As organizations join the
coalition, the agenda will need to be discussed and refined to
accommodate additional concerns.  But the central focus on democratic
reform and the global corporatist threat must be maintained, lest the
movement become strategically irrelevant.

The second hurdle facing any budding coalition will be the inevitable
demonization/trivialization campaign carried out against it by the
mainstream media.  Foibles of leaders will be dug up and
sensationalized.  Unity will be challenged by reports that some
"causes" are taken more seriously than others within the coalition.
Scare stories will portray economic catastrophe as the inevitable
result of any agenda that doesn't cater to corporate interests.

The more successful the coalition, the more intense will be the media
campaign against it.  The movement will need to develop its own
internal communications infrastructure, and find a way to get
movement news out to its constituencies without depending on help
from the mainstream media.  Rallies, newsletters, local chapters,
door-to-door canvassing -- even the Internet -- all can be used to
create a "counter media."

If despite all these obstacles, a progressive movement succeeds in
building a formidable constituency -- one that threatens to elect a
significant number of progressive candidates at all levels -- then
two final hurdles must be surmounted: co-option by the major parties,
and over-attachment to the electoral process.

Time and again in American history, strong popular movements have
dissipated when a major party (usually the Democrats) adopted the
rhetoric of the progressives, or when the popular movement was tied
too closely to the goal of winning some "key" election.  These
seductions to rapid "victory" may be the most dangerous hurdle of

The Christian Coalition, unfortunately, is an example of an
organization with both a comprehensive agenda and a sound attitude
toward the electoral process.  It does not stand on its laurels when
favorable candidates are elected -- instead it leverages its position
toward greater victories in the future.  And it most certainly
doesn't allow its organizational structure to weaken in the face of

It is essential that a progressive movement be organized as a long-
term political force -- it must be aware that its strength comes from
its ongoing existence, as a continuing channel of democratic
expression.   Success in electing supported candidates is a sign to
pursue implementation of its agenda, not a sign that the movement has
achieved its goals.

              Global Solidarity and National Focus

Successes in one nation can provide invaluable encouragement, and
even material assistance, to movements in other nations.  The
corporate elite operates on a global scale, and progressives must
have global consciousness as well.  Cross-border communication and
solidarity is of strategic importance.

The recent massive demonstrations and work stoppages in France, and
the similar protests in Germany, represent strong popular sentiment
against the effects of globalization.  But of course they weren't
reported that way in the mass media, and no sense of international
solidarity was generated.

Strong progressive organizations could have picked up this connection
and used it to build greater confidence and self-awareness within the
global movement.  At the international level, there is a natural
focus of shared concerns: the economic and political destabilization
caused by globalist institutions (GATT, IMF, World Bank, etc.)

Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize the nation-state as the
primary unit of political organizing.  Progressives must avoid the
twin traps of premature internationalism and premature devolution.
Until corporations are brought under democratic control, elite power
is most dominant over very small nations, and at the international

Strong national sovereignty, including economic self-determination,
must be at the heart of progressive politics everywhere.  Democracy
is difficult enough to achieve in a large, modern nation -- larger
scale units (such as the EU) simply make it easier for the elite to
gain control.  And smaller, balkanized, states are too weak to stand
up to multinational pressures.


Greider, William, "Who will tell the People - The Betrayal of American
     Democracy" (New York: Touchstone, 1993).

Parenti, Michael, "Make-Believe Media - The Politics of Entertainment" (New
     York: St. Martin's Press, 1992).

Parenti, Michael, "The Sword and the Dollar - Imperialism, Revolution, and
     the Arms Race" (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989).

 Zinn, Howard, "A Peoples History of the United States" (New York: Harper &
     Row, 1980).

    Posted by Richard K. Moore  -  •••@••.•••  -  Wexford, Ireland
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