Monday, June 25, 2012

When some folks get more votes than others, that's not democracy

As expected, the Supreme Court declined to take another look at its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. You can (and should) read about the decision here to get some information on why this case is back in the news today.

I've already written on the case in an op-ed in The Lamron (I swear I didn't write it as one long paragraph! For some reason it shows up with a couple of kinks online...) when the decision was first made two years ago, so I won't re-hash that. Rather, I want to make one small, quick point.

In a country where how one spends one's money is equal to an expression of free speech, economic inequality is in fact antithetical to the very core of democracy itself. And by extension, I believe we can see that capitalism and democracy do not in fact conceptually fit together as nicely as they seem to.

Let's consider. As citizens of a democratic republic, we each have the right to have our voice heard and opinion counted, and no one of us has a voice that counts more than another voice. Since we are all equal citizens, we all ought to have equal say in political discourse. One citizen, one vote. Right?

But what happens when we consider influential political speech other than votes? What happens when we consider the fact that monetary contributions to campaigns and advertisements are forms of political "speech" insofar as each dollar sent to a political campaign is an expression of support for that campaign? I think we get a picture where a dollar spent on politics is a kind of vote.

And the more I think about it, this analogy between dollars spent and votes cast isn't so strange. I mean, we live in a kind of capitalist economic structure in which consumers vote on which products they want to survive and which ones they want to let die out with their dollars that they spend or don't spend. This is the theory behind boycotts. If a business makes use of practices which consumers find unacceptable, consumers can elect to stop spending money on that business, thus putting pressure on the business to change its policies or die out. That's voting. Consumers are saying that "We don't approve of you, so we're going to vote for your competitor by spending our money there/on their product instead."

But another fact of a capitalist economic structure is economic inequality among all of the members of the society which it organizes. So some people have more dollars than others. But if dollars are in very real ways equivalent to votes when it comes to both the commercial market and the political arena, then one result of capitalism is that some folks get more votes than others. But a central tenet of democracy is equal citizenship merits equal voting efficacy. That seems like a bit of a contradiction to me. How can some people get more votes than others and we still call it a democracy? How can the opinion of a huge corporation matter more than the opinions of thousands of individual citizens insofar as its opinion carries more weight because it's expressed by more money contributed to political campaigns and we still call that a democracy?

I don't think we can unless we admit that the tenet that in a democracy all people are equal citizens deserving of equal say in their government is a sham. Unless we admit that some people/organizations matter more than others -- not because they're more educated, intelligent, or informed, but simply because they have more money -- we cannot continue to call this a true democracy.

Either we admit our hypocrisy or we admit our mistake and SCOTUS reconsiders and reverses the Citizens United decision. But right now, we exist as a country of conceptual contradictions so long as this decision remains validated.   


No comments:

Post a Comment