A cherished right
When the first European settlers arrived in North America more than 500 years ago, they dreamed of living in a place where freedom would be cherished and revered more than anywhere else in the world. When their descendents drafted our Constitution following the American Revolution, they laid out a system of governance in which this idea of freedom above all other things was set into law.
Today, our system remains the gold standard, and our constitution and democratic system have been copied and emulated by just about every developed nation on the planet.
Anyone who has watched prime time television lately might wonder just how great our system really is. From offensive attack ad “hit pieces” to annoying jingles, our local politicians have been pulling out all the stops lately to get elected. That’s meant a nonstop stream of political advertising over the airwaves that in recent days has reached a crescendo nearly impossible to tune out.
Of course, this nonstop advertising blitz is nothing new. As long as there’s been democracy, there’s been political ads — you can even find them scribbled in the graffiti found in ancient Greek ruins.
However, it’s disturbing that our system has become one in which the candidate with the most money and loudest campaign often emerges as the victor. In modern politics, it’s not always the best man or woman who wins, but the candidate most able to raise money for more ads. This is upsetting because it means that candidates who don’t have a large war chest — no matter how good their ideas — often have little or no chance of getting elected when running against well-heeled opponents.
The Supreme Court has held that spending money on political campaigns — even by corporations — is a form of speech, and that anyone has the right to spend as much money as they’d like to get someone elected. While this ruling has opened up millions of dollars in new campaign funds, it has hardly elevated the level of discourse in this country. Instead, the rich have gotten richer, so to speak, and it’s gotten even easier for special interest groups to curry favor with their chosen candidates.
The thought that the best candidates with the best ideas will get elected is a nice one, but it’s far from today’s reality. Unfortunately, the candidates who usually win are the ones who have the most connections with the right people. This is a shame, because it means that party politics and back-room deals are much more important to many of our politicians than doing what’s right for their constituents.
These imperfections in our system need to be addressed. A democracy in which only the wealthy and well-connected can get elected runs the risk of collapse. We need to strive for a more fair system in which folks whose ideas are weighty — but their pocket books light — still have a fair shot at getting their message out to the people.
However, for all of its warts and blemishes, our system is still a pretty darn good one. When Nov. 6 rolls around this year, we’ll line up by the hundreds at our local polling places to choose the candidates who will represent us in government. Every man and woman who steps into a voting booth will have a small say in how their community, state and nation are governed. This is a right that many have fought and died for over the years, and it’s the most enduring example of how we have succeeded as a nation in creating a place where we truly are free to choose our own destiny.
No matter how much money is being used to create noise in politics these days, once you step inside that voting booth, yours is the only voice that counts.
It may not be a perfect system, but it’s far better than the alternatives.
Don’t forget to vote on Nov. 6!