Is This Any Way To Run A Representative Government?

There is a petition afoot to extend the number of weeks that America’s unemployed workers are allowed to receive unemployment benefits, beyond the current 99 week maximum. 99 weeks is not quite two years, and many of the earliest victims of this giant economic slowdown have been unemployed for far longer than that. Statistics show that they are not lazy or shiftless, they simply cannot find work in an economy where there are relatively few jobs opening up and where there is heavy competition for every one of those openings.

Whether or not you agree that the petition to extend jobless benefits is a good idea, you almost certainly agree that the right to petition Congress for redress of grievances is an honorable American tradition. Let’s see now … how is it going?

The petition organizer says he “was encountering a lot of unexpected obstacles trying to organize getting the petition to Congress, and I began to think it wasn’t going to come together. People in Washington were saying they’d ‘get back to me,’ but even if they did, we just didn’t have time for that. Next week is when the ‘unemployment extension of filing deadlines’ is expected to be raised in Congress, and we hope to get weeks added to Tier 4 at that time. Then Congress leaves again the next week. There’s little hope of getting another bill other than that one because they are discussing such big issues before they leave.

“….the idea is to send a person [to Congress, in Washington, D.C.] on our behalf. This person is known to them, has press credentials and is familiar with the Senate. He will bring the printed petition with 900 pages of signatures. The Senate requires 6 copies which is one of the obstacles I encountered.

“Our emissary knows the ins and outs of the Senate and can arrange appointments with key senators. In addition, because he already has clearance, he can enter the Capital and question staffers in other offices, too. In addition to delivering the petition copies, he intends to ask questions on our behalf both in the Capital and in the ‘haunts’ he knows where staffers go after hours. Like I said, he’s familiar with the scene! …

“Now our part. We have to finance his trip. …

“Below is the site that has … the donate button. … I believe that for now, this is the best shot we have at getting additional benefits. …”

I included the link in case anyone reading this is moved to donate. But the point of this post is not to beg for donations, but to decry a system in which even a popular petition can’t get delivered to Congress without significant financial backing. Is this any way to run a representative government? We talk about one person, one vote. But mostly what we actually have is one dollar, one vote.

The evidence is all around, so I won’t reproduce it here. But a little investigation will show you that there are dozens of active lobbyists working on each of our elected representatives in Congress, and that these lobbyists are spending millions of dollars every day to influence our elected representatives — to influence who they listen to, to influence the legislation they vote on, and of course to influence which way they vote. That constant need for money to get elected and then re-elected is one of the biggest reasons our representative government does a better job of representing the needs and desires of large corporations and monied interests than it does representing the needs of the average voter.

As long as that need for money remains central in the way we do government, those with the big bucks will benefit from a government that works for them more than it works for the vast majority of Americans.

Next time you have a chance, vote for changes that will take the big money out of politics. If you don’t, pretty soon your vote won’t matter much, at all.


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