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The Dispiriting Choice

The lethal combination of big money and growing voter apathy are seriously imperiling the core foundations of American democracy.

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The very real possibility that the 2016 presidential election could boil down to a there-we-go-again contest between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton is downright depressing. The current presidential race speaks to the stranglehold that big donors, Wall Street and insider groups have on the American electoral process.

The democratic enterprise has always been susceptible to demagoguery, public deception, and media manipulation. But the lethal combination of big money and growing voter apathy are seriously imperiling the core foundations of American democracy.

In the 2016 presidential elections, we could be reduced to a choice between two spent dynasties, throwbacks from the past. It is something we are all too familiar with in India, where the Nehru Gandhi dynasty has monopolized national political power since Independence in 1947 and scores of regional political dynasties rule the roost at the state level. Thankfully, Narendra Modi — his political and Hindutva baggage notwithstanding — broke the Gandhi dynasty’s chokehold during last year’s national elections. For this reason, to see Americans elevate the Clintons and the Bushes in 2016 feels particularly eerie.

The principal reason the choice for Americans is so circumscribed is because American politicians are increasingly timid and allow themselves to be controlled by their pollsters and campaign consultants. As a result, almost everyone is rushing to the center or swinging just the right Milquetoast degree to the left or right. In this plastic universe, is it any surprise that voters turn to the best known and flaccid plastic amongst them?

At a time of widening income disparity, growing poverty and stagnation in middle class incomes, no serious candidate has stepped forward to propose radical new solutions to regulate Wall Street, impose controls on abuses by financial institutions, redistribute wealth and opportunity, and uplift the poor. The timidity that underscored Pres. Barack Obama’s two terms has percolated deep into the crevices of politicians of all stripes, but especially Democrats.

As a result, voters are discovering that the democratic process is unrelated to their lives and are tuning out. Elections are instead contested around peripheral social issues and cut throat, though trivial personal attacks. Public policy and social and economic issues receive only passing mention.

Governing has all but come to a screeching halt. Politics has become just a way stop to a lucrative lobbying post political career. Indeed both the Clintons and Jeb Bush (as indeed virtually every politician of any note) cashed in handsomely in their private lives. Even those who seemingly slunk away quietly into the woodworks were busy calling in their chips, as the recent scandal involving former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who built a lucrative multi-million dollar lobbying career, so vividly demonstrated.

The anticipation of future financial rewards virtually obligates American politicians to burnish their credentials with their future paymasters.

And, we the people, end up with the dispiriting choice between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

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Commentary | Politics | June2015

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