Tomorrow, March 4, 2014, is the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s effective date. By any measuring stick, America has had a pretty good run; by no means ideal, but sometimes striving toward the goals stated in the Preamble of its founding document. Those goals, which sound so lofty: to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the Blessings of Liberty…”
The undeniable flaw in the American system of governance, a flaw shared by every system, is that human beings must be empowered to actually govern. We select these individuals through elections in which, ideally, voters are offered a choice between competing philosophies.
Aye, there’s the rub. Will you actually have a choice when the voting booth curtain closes behind you on November 14?
America’s two-party political system offers little in the way of choice, Democrat or Republican. That’s choosing from two, nearly indistinguishable, sides of a single coin. The analogy employing currency is no accident.
I was intrigued, and a bit surprised, when I first read the February 19 Bloomberg News piece “reporting” that former Governor Edwin Edwards was going to run for Louisiana’s 6th District Congressional seat. My surprise was not because the octogenarian Edwards would consider a Congressional campaign while burdened with a felony conviction after being indicted for racketeering, mail and wire fraud, extortion and money laundering. Why, after all he’s been and done, would he want to?
I declare, here and now, that I will vote for him as my next Congressional representative, if…
Gonzales, Louisiana is my home and always has been. I grew up in the ‘70s when Edwin Washington Edwards (EWE) was Louisiana’s governor and it is his name which I still associate with the office; not Bobby Jindal, or Mike Foster, (or Huey Long, though he is a distant second). EWE’s first two gubernatorial terms lasted from 1972-1980 and he would serve two more, 1984-88 and 1992-96.
EWE dominated Louisiana’s Democrat Party, which meant he dominated Louisiana politics. In the south Louisiana of my youth, Republicans were like Bigfoot, or Baptists. I’d heard rumors of their existence but I’d never actually seen one.
EWE was not a popular figure in my house. He was too brash and flamboyant.
My daddy didn’t appreciate those qualities in a politician, or anyone else for that matter. Jimmy Petite gravitated toward the strong, silent type and always maintained a healthy cynicism about all things political. I’m not sure, but I think Daddy voted for Ronald Reagan in two presidential elections.
I adopted my father’s cynicism and perfected it to the point of contrarianism. All my friends grew up in Democratic households so it was only natural that I would go the other way. Scott Sheets, my best friend and quite a contrarian in his own right, grew up in a pro-Union house and he was a staunch Democrat. Politics was something else we could argue about and so, we did: ad nauseum.
During my senior year, I registered to vote at East Ascension HS. I checked the “Republican” box under Party Affiliation, not because of some deeply held political conviction or ideology (I have none), just to irritate Scott and everyone else I knew.
Nearly 30 years have elapsed since then and my contrariness has crystallized into a deeply rooted political philosophy. I opposed whatever faction happened to be in power at the time. This lends itself to no party affiliation.
Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that I was deluding myself. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter which of the two parties, Democratic or Republican, occupies the White House or enjoys majority control in the respective houses of Congress. Our so-called “democratic system” is inherently corrupt; a closed system, a power-sharing arrangement between the two parties, financed by billions upon billions of dollars from special interests.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” wrote Sir John Dalberg-Acton.
Popularly known as Lord Action, the 18th Century British historian/politician also said, “The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather, of that party (not always the majority) that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”
One hears a lot of palaver about the “unsustainable federal deficit” during campaign season, usually emanating from a Republican pie-hole. Republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility and cast Democrats in the role of tax and spend liberals. A quick glance at recent federal budgets unmasks this fallacy.
The Office of Management and Budget maintains records which track the federal deficit annually as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. In 2009, Barrack Obama’s first year in office, the deficit topped 10% of the GDP and over $1.4 trillion. The deficit has decreased every year since but remains over $1 trillion annually.
Democrats blame failed policies of George W. Bush’s Administration for this deplorable situation and there is some truth to that. The banking crisis in 2008 led to a bailout and stimulus package and, coupled with the burden of funding two foreign wars, a deficit was unavoidable.
George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from the preceding administration of Bill Clinton and ran the government at steadily increasing deficits. Under Bush, spending increased every year, even when revenues decreased. Compare that record to Democrat Bill Clinton, whose administration presided over four years of budget surplus.
Aside from the Obama years, take a guess whose administration ran up the largest deficits since World War II. The answer: none other than Republican hero, Ronald Reagan, who presided over an administration that ran up a deficit in 1983 that was 6% of America’s GDP. Spending doubled from Jimmy Carter’s last year in office to Reagan’s first.
Both parties lie to and mislead the American electorate. They do so in order to maintain control of a corrupt system infused with unseemly amounts of money which they divvy up among themselves. They demonize each other but join forces to squelch any and all third party opposition. The system never changes but they have one another’s doorstep on which to lay the blame.
The Supreme Court held that corporations have the same political rights as individuals, thus insuring the further infusion of cash into an already corrupt system. See Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).
The first American saw it coming all those years ago. George Washington said the following:
Political parties “may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the cause of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
In an October 2013 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans say that both major parties do a poor job representing the American people and that another party is needed. 42% of respondents identified themselves as “independent,” a 25-year high.
Louisiana voters who identify their party affiliation as “other” (one cannot register as an independent) are on the rise, but they vote less frequently than do self-identifying Republicans and Democrats. In 2010, Governor Jindal vetoed a bill which would have allowed Louisiana candidates to identify themselves as “Independent” on the ballot.
The system is set up to stifle meaningful debate and to cement the status quo wherein Republicans and Democrats share power. Third party candidates are excluded from political debates, media coverage and access to the ballot. It is near impossible to generate campaign funding.
The last two third party presidential candidates to receive any electoral votes at all were George Wallace in 1968 and Strom Thurmond in 1948. From Alabama and South Carolina respectively, each ran on anti-Civil Rights platforms. How is it that politicians can feed on our worst impulses so effectively?
What does this have to do with Edwin Edwards, you ask?
About a year ago, my wife and I had the good fortune to meet the former governor outside of a Chinese restaurant near his home when he drove up on a golf cart. He was charming, forthright and very generous with his time. During our ten minute conversation, he invited me to ask him any question I liked and answered without evasion or guile.
He spoke, with great expertise, about national, state and Ascension Parish politics, never hinting that he might rejoin the fray. The man I spoke to is no longer a part of the establishment and, if he runs for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional seat, I hope he does so without party affiliation. I hope he challenges the status quo.
EWE’s conviction aside, he seems an honest man to me. He offers his own ideas, freely expressed, and unclouded by party dogma.
I’ve had three opportunities to cast a ballot for Edwin Edwards and have yet to do so, not even when his opponent was David Duke in 1992.
Now might be the time.