Leading the World, Or So We Think
Our British brethren in the United Kingdom are as eager as us to see who will come out on top for the United States Presidential election. As the first Democratic Debate rolled out the top five contenders, many polls agree Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had strong performances. Yet, although the American people heard concrete campaign and Presidential goals during the debate, the problems of campaign and election processes remained unsolved. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reported this past September that American politics has lost its dignity and legitimacy. No longer are there firm-minded leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt; and virtuous, honorable Presidents like John F. Kennedy. The election process is more of a joke and people around the world are noticing. How can America, home of the free and brave, manifest itself as the shining pinnacle of democracy when it is crumbling right before our eyes? The voice of the true American people has been replaced with those who hold the money strings and tell us how to enrich our lives without grasping the extent of the everyman’s daily struggles and triumphs. To repair our system, our best option is to observe the proven system of a major ally, the U.K.
Many candidates have the right intentions. Some, including Clinton, urge for middle-class tax cuts and a raise on the upper brackets to provide a leveled playing field. Candidates also preach job creation and minimum wage raises. Yet, their campaign rhetoric is heavily governed by unscrupulous sources. Both donors and funds streamed in from the big name Political Action Committee (PACs) influence presidential candidates. These corporations and institutions unfairly balance money over the desires of the American people. Just recently, the New York Times reported that 158 families either privately or connected with their companies have donated $176 million to a range of Presidential candidates. 138 of these families have actually given money to Republican candidates. It is amazing to see the sway only a few families can have over millions living in the same country. Announced earlier this month, the National Education Association pledged support for Clinton, and the International Association of Firefighters backed Bernie Sanders. These politically powerful institutions dissuade American voters and cause a low turn out to the polls because votes no longer seem critical. Not only are voters being pushed aside for the big bucks but also some of the candidates themselves appear delusional. The BBC compares Donald Trump to a belligerent, loud ox, whose only selling point, ironically is that he extremely rich. The American presidential race looks from the outside like a train wreck bound to happen, and it’s true purpose to give the people a dedicated leader has faded to reveal a popularity contest powered by money. The New York Times poll also asked Americans their thoughts on campaign finance reform. 46% believe “the system for funding political campaigns has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it.” Not only do other countries, specifically the United Kingdom spurn our election process, but also Americans themselves are dissuaded by the inequality.
After the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, unions and corporations no longer had monetary limits on how much they could spend to build support for a candidate. Since funds cannot be given directly to candidates, they are mostly funneled into effective advertising. The amount of influence these subsequent ads have on persuading votes seriously diminishes the belief that American voters have a legitimate voice in elections. This past June the New York Times conducted another poll on the use of money in elections and how it correlates with the political views of the wealthy. When asking the 1,022 polling sample if they believed “all Americans have an equal chance to influence the elections process, or do you think wealthy Americans have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans?” 66% said the latter. Those who own the large corporations and businesses spending millions of dollars to promote a candidate are those members of the upper class. They throw around their money for candidates who will support their business ideals in office. The Times then went on to ask how much influence money has in American political campaigns? An overwhelming majority of 84% said “too much.” Politicians are too engrossed with amassing copious amounts of money to win than to run a campaign revolving around the needs of the American people.
It is important to discuss how the UK handles elections for their Parliamentary members, and what actions in America we can take to improve on our system. First, they have shorter campaigns. The candidates announce one year from Election Day their plans to run. Then there is the official campaign time of 38 days from the time Parliament is dissolved by the Queen until Election Day in May. This would certainly slow the amount of campaign contributions that could be made compared to the year-plus lapse in the US. This means that campaigns aren’t given a lot of time to breathe, so they are organized to give a candidate’s principles the focus it needs. Another interesting aspect in American politics is that third party candidates have little hope to dominate. In the UK however, small political parties are given weightier chances, and a significant number of seats in Parliament don’t belong to the Conservative and Labour parties. These include the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party, who can express a wider range of views and political beliefs. This allows for the British people to have more options for which they want to elect. In contrast, the American President and Congress is either Republican or Democrat.
The dissatisfaction many Americans have with the current political parties may have some relief if third parties were more widely accepted in political office. There is no perfect political system, but by incorporating some foreign aspects, we can accomplish a system in which every citizen’s beliefs and opinions are validated regardless of their financial influence.