In the German Basic Law there is the 5% hurdle which a party has to reach before it can enter into the Bundestag. A main reason for this was the composition of parliaments of the Weimar Republic which were splintered into multiple tiny parties.
In the American system it is as if the hurdle for entry to Congress has been raised to 51%. The Founding Fathers may have deliberately set up the system in this way to restrict power to their social class.
In any case, the American system has no formal requirement for a minimum percentage of the vote for a party to enter into Congress. That is because members of Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate—are elected as individuals. There are no party lists such as in Germany.
Theoretically, there could be 535 different parties in the American Congress. In fact, there are only two parties—with a few independent representatives not aligned with a party. How is this so?
The American system is based on “winner takes all”. Take as a fictional example a Congressional district representing Berkeley, California. In the simplest case, Candidate A receives 51% of the vote and Candidate B receives 49% of the vote. Candidate A and the party s/he represents receive a seat in Congress, Candidate B and his/her party receive nothing. Therefore, 49% of the electorate in this district has absolutely no representation in Congress, no one to espouse and vote in favor of their interests.
On a national scale then, Congress could be made up of only one party representing only half the population.
In real life, the Congress is split between the Republicans and Democrats, generally evenly. Why are there no other parties?
Let us say in the Berkeley Congressional district there are candidates representing the Greens, the Peace and Freedom Party, the Libertarian Party and the American Independent Party. These are all real, existing parties in the U.S.
When the election takes place only the candidate who receives the most votes gets elected. There is no run-off election where the candidate must achieve 51% of the vote. The election results could be as follows:
Party of Candidate:
Peace & Freedom: 25%
Although Berkeley is a liberal city, the only winner in the election would be the conservative Republican candidate who would then be the only representative for Berkeley. Although the Greens and the Peace & Freedom parties represent 51% of the vote they would receive absolutely no representation and they cannot form a coalition to come into office.
In America, other than the Office of President, there is no party or campaign financing by the government. There are no free advertisements on television or radio or in newspapers. Everything must be purchased. All candidates and all parties must privately self-finance through donations. Enormous amounts of money are required for election campaigns. Each Congressional district has 710.767 people. Leipzig and Halle together have 785.000 residents. Under the American system there would be just one representative. Under the German system, Halle alone has three representatives.
Donations to political campaigns are allowed for both individuals and corporations. In America non-profit corporations are set-up and they can contribute unlimited amounts to campaigns. In turn, corporations in America have been granted ever more rights as “persons” under various court rulings. The most egregious court decision was the 2010 Supreme Court decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) which granted corporations unlimited rights to donate to campaigns. Quite simply, now in America all elections can simply be bought by corporations. (note: of course this is a simplification of the complicated legal rules for campaigns in the U.S.)
This huge amount of corporate money flows to the candidate most likely to win—whether they be Democrat or Republican. In fact, donations by corporations are often evenly distributed between these two parties. No corporation is going to finance or donate to the Greens or Peace & Freedom Party—or, indeed, the Libertarian Party. With scant resources, these parties must struggle to maintain their existence year in and year out—with little hope of ever actually coming into office.
In Congress itself, there are no coalitions, no party agreements. If the President is a Democrat and Democrats vote against a bill he supports the government does not collapse. Each representative or senator can vote the way they want. Party discipline is enforced through Congressional committee assignments. If a representative wants to progress up the ladder of his/her party, then, most of the time s/he will do the bidding of party leaders.
In contemporary America this is all academic as both parties are virtually interchangeable. Once upon a time the Democrats represented workers and unions and Republicans business. However, ever since the 1950s unions have been in decline as first jobs were shifted to the non-union South and then—especially the last 20 years—overseas.
The Democrats lost their electoral base and are now financed by the same corporate interests as the Republicans. “FIRE” is the acronym for Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. These are joined by the Military-Industrial-Scientific Complex. This massive concentration of economic and social power maintains its control over the political process because Money-Is-Everything in American politics and they have the money….and ever more of it.
The individual citizen and voter has no influence.
The scale of spending in American politics would shock a German if they knew. There is a non-profit group www.opensecrets.org which tracks the influence of money in Congress. In June the U.S. Congress voted on a bill named Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which gave the Executive Branch the authority to negotiate treaties with restrictions on Congress’s ability to change the treaties. It is a usurpation and surrender of Congress’s constitutional duty.
Just for this one vote nearly $200.000.000 were donated to Congress to influence the outcome. Representatives received hundreds of thousands into the millions of dollars—all for a single vote! http://economyincrisis.org/content/almost-200-million-donated-to-representatives-to-buy-yea-votes-to-pass-tpa
Mother Jones magazine prepared colorful charts of Congress showing graphically the influence of money in American politics. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/09/congress-corporate-sponsors
Top recipients of money in the House of Representatives received from $6.000.000 to $17.000.000 for their campaigns. Remember: in the U.S. Representatives in the House must run for election every TWO years! Most of their time is spent at fund-raising events. Top Senators in the money race received $16.000.000 to $75.000.000.
81% of Americans disapprove of Congress. No wonder! They know perfectly well that they are not represented. And voting for another candidate only brings the same result as the corporate money flows to the winners and once they are seated in Congress the Lobbyists are at the door and the corporate donations necessary for reelection flow in.
95% of all Congressional representatives are reelected. No outside party of person has much of a chance.
And any candidate who remotely challenges the system is blocked or threatened. Ralph Nader is America’s most well-known consumer advocate. He ran more than once for President. Lawyers for the Democrats fought to keep his name off the ballot in every state. Nader had to spend millions just to keep his name on the ballot.
In 1992 Ross Perot, a billionaire, ran for President using his own money to finance his campaign. He spoke out vehemently against the NAFTA treaty, the North American Free Trade Association, saying that it would lead to massive job loss via outsourcing to Mexico. He and his daughter were threatened with assassination, he withdrew from the race but later changed his mind and received about one-third of the vote.
What’s ironic is that Congress has become virtually irrelevant as each President since President Nixon (1968−1974) has claimed ever more “Executive Privilege” – meaning they claim the right to act unilaterally in foreign and domestic policy without the passage of enabling legislation. This has reached its lowest point under President Obama who signed an Executive Order claiming he had the right to assassinate American Citizens. Obama is conducting illegal wars in seven—or is it eight—countries, all without congressional approval or a declaration of war (or any legal basis at all).
Congress is supposed to pass laws which govern America. Ever since the 1930s ever more of this power has moved into the hands of federal government agencies which institute their own “regulations”, regulations which in earlier times were known as “laws” and had to be debated and passed in Congress. Just as the unelected EU Commission is the true power and controller of European lives, the vast federal bureaucracy is the real “law of the land” in contemporary America.
This sad state of affairs was recently confirmed by an academic study by Professor Martin Gilens at Princeton University and Professor Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. As Dr. Paul Craig Roberts writes:
Sie haben die Regierungsarbeit in Amerika untersucht und sind zu dem Schluss gelangt, dass die USA eine Oligarchie sind, die von mächtigen reichen Interessengruppen beherrscht wird, und dass die US-Regierung nur sehr oberflächlich demokratische Züge trägt. Ihre Analyse werden sie in dem Magazin Perspective on Politics vorstellen.
Ihre Schlussfolgerungen sind sehr eindeutig:
»Als zentraler Punkt schält sich aus unserer Forschung heraus, dass wirtschaftliche Eliten und organisierte wirtschaftliche Interessensvertretungen beträchtlichen unabhängigen Einfluss auf die amerikanische Regierungspolitik haben. Auf Interessen der Massen beruhende Gruppen und durchschnittliche Bürger haben dagegen wenig oder gar keinen Einfluss.«
»Wenn eine Mehrheit der Bürger anderer Meinung als die wirtschaftlichen Eliten und/oder organisierten Interessen ist, verliert sie in der Regel.«
»Unseren Erkenntnissen nach regiert in den Vereinigten Staaten keine Mehrheit – zumindest nicht im kausalen Sinne, dass sie tatsächlich die Politik bestimmt.«
»Die Präferenzen des durchschnittlichen Amerikaners scheinen nur winzigen, knapp über Null liegenden und statistisch irrelevanten Einfluss auf die öffentliche Politik zu haben.«
Dr. Roberts summarizes as follows:
Schaut man sorgfältig hinter den Nebelschleier aus Worten, stellt man fest, dass Demokratie in Amerika nicht mehr zu finden ist. Seit Jahren schreibe ich, dass die US-Regierung weder gegenüber dem Gesetz noch gegenüber dem Volk Rechenschaft ablegt. Die Verfassung bleibt links liegen, die Exekutive verfällt dem Cäsarismus.
Die Regierung boxt die Ziele durch, die ihr diktiert werden von der Symbiose aus neokonservativer Ideologie von amerikanischer Weltherrschaft und den wirtschaftlichen Interessen mächtiger privater Gruppierungen, Gruppen wie der Wall Street, dem militärisch-nachrichtendienstlichen Komplex, der Israel-Lobby, dem Agrobusiness und den Rohstoffbranchen (Energie, Bergbau, Holz). Dollar-Imperialismus, Drohungen, Bestechungen und Kriege – auf diese Weise wird die US-Hegemonie ausgeweitet. Diese Ziele werden ohne das Wissen oder die Zustimmung der amerikanischen Bevölkerung und gegen ihren Widerstand verfolgt.
In Fall 2008, one month before the presidential election, the financial crisis was at its height. Congress was presented with a bill to give a free gift to the bankers of $700.000.000.000. Every American was massively against this giveaway. Whether conservative or liberal the Congressional switchboards were flooded with millions of telephone calls against the bill.
One powerful Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, told how the phone calls to her office were 99% against the bill. She received over a million phone calls! She voted to pass the bill. So much for the influence of the average citizen.
Senator Barack Obama was running for President. Did he take this opportunity to strike back at the bankers? No. He voted for the bill. He went further than that, though. In Congress the African-American members have a group known as the Black Caucus. They were prepared to vote against the bill and the bill would have lost. Senator Obama called them into a private meeting and lobbied them to vote for the bill. They did. It passed.
Other Representatives were taken into private meetings and told that if they didn’t vote for the bill there would be martial law the next day. They voted for the bill. Such is democracy and the influence of the average person in the United States of America.
One last note: In the United States there is no Anmeldungsamt. No one knows where you live except through your interaction with the system: bank accounts, paying taxes, club memberships, school registration, credit card accounts. You are not automatically registered to vote.
To vote in America you must register to vote at the Registrar of Voters. Registering is relatively easy, you can do it by mail or, often, by visiting the local fire station or a local library. In addition, people set up information stands with voter registration cards. Getting people signed up to vote in the U.S. is very important. If you do not vote for several years you are removed from the voter role.
In 2012 219.000.000 Americans were eligible to vote. 146.000.000 were registered. 126.000.000 voted for President. 86% of those registered voted. Over 50.000.000 are not registered. As reported by demos.org:
Today, approximately 51 million eligible Americans are still not registered to vote. This represents almost one in four eligible persons, disproportionately low-income voters, people of color, and younger Americans. Among eligible voters, some 30 percent of African Americans, 40 percent of Hispanics, 45 percent of Asian Americans, and 41 percent of young adults (age 18-24), were not registered to vote in the historic 2008 election. http://www.demos.org/publication/why-are-51-million-eligible-americans-not-registered-vote
So, although citizens and voters have almost no influence on their government, the powerful political and economic interests want to make sure there isn’t the slightest chance of a change—by eliminating those voters they deem most likely to vote against the system.
Investigative reporter Greg Palast in his books “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”, “Vultures Picnic” and others (http://www.gregpalast.com) explains in detail how voters are kept from registering, and if they do register, finding a way to purge them from the voter roles, and if they don’t purge them, finding a way that to keep them from voting on election day. Many people believe computer voting is the main way votes are manipulated in the U.S. While computer manipulation definitely exists, the most effective way to control the election outcome is to make sure those who might vote against you simply don’t get to vote.
This very moment the purging of millions of voters is taking place in the U.S.
GOP-led Purge Threat to 3.5 Million Voters
Monday, June 1, 2015
By Greg Palast for Al Jazeera America
Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voter rolls, especially targeting minority voters.
Al Jazeera America has obtained 2.1 million names from the target lists, kept confidential until now. Experts reviewing the lists conclude it is suspiciously over-weighted with Black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters.
With this in view, look back to the 2000 U.S. Presidential election where Al Gore won the popular vote, that is, he received the most individual votes, but lost the Electoral College vote. He won by over 500.000 votes.
He lost the Electoral College vote because the President in the U.S. is not elected directly by voters. Instead “delegates” are selected to the College by each state on a…you guessed it…”winner-take-all” system!
Al Gore lost the Electoral College vote because he lost Florida. How did he lose Florida? He lost by a narrow amount. From Wikipedia:
The Florida election recount of 2000 was a period of vote re-counting that occurred following the unclear results of the 2000 United States presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, specifically the Florida results. The Florida vote was ultimately settled in favor of George W. Bush, by a margin of only 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast, when the U.S. Supreme Court, with its final ruling on Bush v. Gore, stopped a recount that had been proposed by the Florida Supreme Court. The outcome resulted in Bush gaining a majority of votes in the Electoral College, winning the overall presidential election.
Over 36.000 newly registered voters were denied the right to vote. Others were kept from voting by a demand for more than one piece of identification at the polls. Other voters were turned away because they were declared–almost always incorrectly–“convicted felons.” In several Democratic precincts, state officials closed the polls early, leaving lines of would-be voters stranded. Here is a summary by Michael Parenti of the sordid story: http://www.michaelparenti.org/stolenelections.html
He also describes how the 2004 presidential election was stolen. Greg Palast in his books tells these stories and many others in great detail.
In general, 60% of Americans don’t vote in elections. 80% of young people and low-income people don’t vote.
The first question is: Is the reason they do not vote apathy and an understanding that their vote doesn’t matter—or are they kept from voting via voter-roll purging and other methods?
In view of Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page’s study “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”, the second question becomes: does it really matter what the reason is?
Foto: Thies Streifinger 1998 Chicago