After Wall Street, Can We Please Repair Our Democracy?


The United States is deep in debt and it’s getting worse. We’re not only in a financial hole, our country is also experiencing a deficit in democracy.

Last week, Sen. John McCain said he couldn’t attend the Mississippi debate because he needed to work on fixing the financial crisis. This led to much confusion regarding the debate, and many wondered if the event was going to be canceled. Our two-party system is so integrated with our government that it’s assumed the Republican party will be part of any presidential debate. But there are other people running for president besides the two major-party candidates. If Sen. McCain couldn’t make it, why not invite Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, or Chuck Baldwin? Any of these candidates would have jumped at the chance to express their policy proposals at the Mississippi debate.

The debate between the two major-party candidates went forward. It was billed as a foreign-policy discussion. The nation is suffering an historic economic crisis and the bailout/rescue had to be addressed. In this regard, both the Republican and Democrat were on the same pro-government page. A third candidate could have argued against the bailout. Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama could have, presumably, given more details on why they’re supporting the rescue.

Even though the debate was exclusive, it was good to see McCain and Obama go head to head. I believe there is a real difference between the two candidates. When the topic got back to international affairs, Sen. McCain proposed a new effort he called a League of Democracies. Russia would not be invited to join the League because Sen. McCain said it’s an "apparatchik-run government.”

Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party does indeed dominate their government. Some are criticizing his party for passing election laws that have hindered opportunities for small opposition parties to gain representation in government. New rules have increased the threshold to get a seat in the national assembly to 7 percent. The new rules also set up tougher requirements for parties to get on the ballot. Additionally, the government-owned media tends to ignore small parties.

A Council of Europe press release offers a litany of Russian anti-democratic offenses committed during last December’s election. Among them it states, “Voters were denied an open campaign, as United Russia chose not to participate in political debates, making it more difficult for voters to directly compare the platforms of the various political parties.”

In the U.S., the threshold to gain representation in state and national government is many times higher than in Russia! If there were a 7 percent threshold to get a seat in Congress or any state legislature, our various other parties would have a better chance to get their candidates elected. In many states, the requirements for non-major-party candidates to get on the ballot are designed to discourage participation in elections: another reason why third parties are so weak in our country. These barriers institutionalize the two major parties to the point at which it’s acceptable to exclude all others from important public forums like debates and other media.

The proposed League of Democracies seems like more of the same kind of distracting nationalistic illusions of grandeur that have gone on for too long in the U.S. There’s a lot of work to do here at home, reforming our democracy and economy to meet the demands of a global 21st century.

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