The Struc­tu­re of the Ame­ri­can Poli­ti­cal Sys­tem in Regard to Elections

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:

Repu­bli­can: 28%
Greens: 26%
Peace & Free­dom: 25%
Demo­crat: 12%
Liber­ta­ri­an: 5%
AIP: 4%

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 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!

Mother Jones maga­zi­ne pre­pa­red color­ful charts of Con­gress showing gra­phi­cal­ly the influ­ence of money in Ame­ri­can poli­tics.

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

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.­li­on-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 ( 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 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:

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?

Rod­ney Thomas
Foto: Thies Strei­fin­ger 1998 Chicago


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