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Monday, 18 August 2014 08:16

Most US Voters Have Nearly Zero Impact on National Policy, New Study Concludes

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT lafolleteProgressive icon, "Fighting Bob" La Follette (Photo: Wikipedia)

Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, claims a new study confirms - to adapt Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address - "that government of the people, by the people, for the people" is perishing from the United States.

In an August 12 blog entry posted on "The Hill," Lichtman writes:

The new study, with the jaw-clenching title of "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," is forthcoming in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. Its authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.

The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a "non-significant, near-zero level." The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, "the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater" than their findings indicate.

Lichtman warns that unless voters who are less affluent become more organized on behalf of issues benefiting them - and vote in larger percentages as compared to the wealthy - the rein of the plutocracy will become even more firmly entrenched.
 
It is not that the new academic analysis comes to a conclusion that surprises the readers of Truthout and BuzzFlash. The assumption of federal rule by the elite has been intrinsic to our coverage for years. The Occupy movement was also an uprising against this oligarchical reality.
 
However, to have it confirmed that "the influence of ordinary [US voters] registers at a 'non-significant, near-zero level'" is a clarion call for a resurgence of a populist democracy.
 
It's not as if the United States has not been in this chokehold of wealth before. Take the Roaring '20s, for example. At that time, a person arose to challenge the financial and foreign policy duopoly running the nation: "Fighting Bob" La Follette. As John Nichols writes of La Follette's 1924 run for the presidency as the candidate of the Progressive Party:
 
Running with the support of the Socialist Party, African Americans, women, organized labor, and farmers, La Follette terrified the established economic, political, and media order, which warned that his election would bring chaos. And La Follette gave them reason to fear. His Progressive Party platform called for government takeover of the railroads, elimination of private utilities, easier credit for farmers, the outlawing of child labor, the right of workers to organize unions, increased protection of civil liberties, an end to U.S. imperialism in Latin America, and a plebiscite before any President could again lead the nation into war.
 
Campaigning for the Presidency on a pledge to "break the combined power of the private monopoly system over the political and economic life of the American people" and denouncing, in the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan's resurgence, "any discrimination between races, classes, and creeds," La Follette told his followers: "Free men [and women] of every generation must combat renewed efforts of organized force and greed to destroy liberty."
 
La Follette lost the presidency - although he enjoyed a distinguished career as governor of Wisconsin and as a US congressman and senator from that state - but his legacy can be traced through the Wisconsin uprising against Governor Scott Walker, the Occupy movement, and grassroots worker economic organizing, to name just a few progressive rebellions on behalf of equality and a robust democracy.
 
John Nichols asserts that La Follette was influenced by words Judge Edward Ryan - who rose to become chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court - spoke in 1873:
 
"There is looming up a dark new power. . . . The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marking, not for economic conquest only, but for political power. For the first time in our politics, money is taking the field of organized power. The question will arise, and arise in your day though perhaps not fully in mine: 'Which shall rule--wealth or man? Which shall lead--money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations--educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate wealth?'"
 
More than 130 years after those words defined an age, Judge Ryan's incisive political and social analysis is as relevant today as it was then.
 
When opportunistic politicians talk about "the American Dream," it will not be reached under the reign of "the feudal serfs of corporate wealth."
 
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