The Myth Of American
The Myths And Misperceptions That Have Given Birth To Unwavering, Dedicated Followers Of The Constitution Prevent Growth And Expansion Of American Political Discourse
Wax figures of founding fathers James Monroe, Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin from Potter's Wax Museum in St. Augustine, Fla. Photo by Cliff1066 and used under a Creative Commons license.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 10, 2012 — If there is one thing we Americans are good at, its creating tall tales, or myths.
Americans love the power of the myth so much they don’t even need to make myths from fiction. We even relish in mythical dimensions of historical events and figures.
This is not a new phenomenon. From the United States' beginnings, the major power brokers in American politics have nurtured specific mythologies — specifically blind adherence to the two-party system and a deification of the founding fathers and the Constitution — to propagate a more generalized mythology of American political freedom that engenders within the American people a misinformed adherence to the American political process. They use this mythology to maintain a status quo power imbalance between their select few and the majority of the United States' populace en masse by dividing the electorate through various disenfranchisement tactics and divisive techniques.
In order to achieve this imbalance, the powers that be — elected officials, government bureaucrats and the heads of the capitalist plutocracy — seek to divide the mass electorate (which is made up primarily of the middle and lower classes) by utilizing hate-mongering, irrelevant propaganda to prop up the two-party system and inundate voters in a quagmire of "political participation" that, in the end, does little to affect the outcomes of elections.
The Presidential Election is, while not perfect, a reasonable example of what is wrong in American politics and government. It shows the ways that citizens in this country have been disenfranchised from the very beginning, and tricked into believing they are free.
Propping up the Two-Party System
The two-party system is a major flaw in the American political system that few citizens actually recognize. It effectively removes discussion and variety from the political process by narrowing the choice to two very similar parties. While, in America, democrats and republicans seem extremely different, they are actually two sides of the same coin, representing opposing viewpoints from the same traditionally liberal center-right school of thought.
The differences between these parties are magnified due to the lack of diversity from any other area of the political spectrum. There are no socialists, fascists, communists, greens, or any of the plethora of other parties represented with any sort of strength in U.S. politics.
The system functions this way for a reason. In his book, The Right to Vote, Alexander Keyssar wrote that the two-party system began to fully develop as a force to limit viewpoints in America in the 1920s when those perceived as radicals and involved in "un-American parties" were pushed out of local politics. As the system matured, it, "…further was incorporated into the state through a system of partial public financing of electoral campaigns that was effectively available only to the major parties."
The major parties have successfully brainwashed the electorate into thinking that third-party candidates only serve to elect the candidate most out of whack with the voter by taking votes away from the other party's candidate. This argument was most recently put forth in 1992 as common wisdom contends that Ross Perot’s third party candidacy lifted Clinton over George H.W. Bush, and in 2000 when Ralph Nader siphoned voted from Al Gore leading to George W. Bush’s victory.
While it is true that these “fringe” candidates siphoned votes from the major party players, this is not a bad thing. Perot, Nader and their third-party brethren represent a wide swath of American that is not satisfied with the democrat/republican paradigm. Both Perot and Nader opened up a dialogue and forced the major parties to address issues that may have otherwise fallen by the wayside.
Unlike the past two presidential elections which rehashed the same-old, income-war battles, Perot's presence began balanced budget demands and a call to embrace direct democracy through technology. Likewise, Nader's green party run further enhanced the debate over renewable energy and climate change.
Third parties are not the problem. The problem is the two-party system. In order to cultivate a more accurate and equal representation of all Americans, the political system in this country needs to stop favoring the two major parties, which only serves to politicize even the most mundane of issues and create a climate of divisiveness and fear.
As it stands, the two major parties polarize the political climate by forcing voters to latch on to the one or two specific areas in which they can relate with one of the two candidates, further radicalizing already divisive social issues (gay marriage, abortion, birth certificates, etc) and creating a political stalemate surrounding almost any major issue that comes before Congress (the Fiscal Cliff).
Yet we put up with this system because it is the status quo. For as long as any living American can remember, two parties have dominated the political world. And in America, status quo = uniquely American.
Instead of viewing the two-party system as defunct and worthless, the United States' citizenry views it as a patriotic enterprise that is directly attached to our success as a democracy. We put up with it, despite its flaws, because of perceived, yet non-existent, benefits.
Deification of the founding fathers and the Constitution
Even in the event that an American voter completely identifies with one of the two major candidates, that voter's opinion is still largely ignored. Because of the Electoral College, individual votes do not matter. Individuals only vote for electors in their state who are supposed to back the candidate chosen by the electorate; however, electors are not obligated by the Constitution to vote in line with the popular vote (though laws and/or amendments in 26 states and the District of Columbia require electors to side with the electorate).
The founding fathers established this system for many reasons, one of which was to disenfranchise the masses while giving the guise of political freedom (to those who could vote, white males who owned land). While it is often seen otherwise by Constitutional wonks like the tea party, much of the legislation used to establish this country was made with the goal of taking major decisions out of the hands of the citizenry in order to empower what the Fathers perceived as more qualified decision makers — rich, white men.
The Electoral College is no different in that it is not made up of a body of voters that accurately depicts the American populace beyond party affiliation. There is no attempt to have the Electoral College accurately reflect the demographic makeup in the country as Electors are only chosen based on party affiliations, according to U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
As Paul Boudreaux wrote in "The Electoral College and its Meager Federalism" in The Marquette Law Review, the founding fathers expected the electors to utilize "independent judgment" when selecting the President.
Despite this, from elementary school on, American citizens have been taught that the founding fathers are infallible and that we are to completely trust their judgment. Rather than see the racism, sexism, and classism inherent in the Electoral College, we blindly accept it as a necessary piece of the Holy Grail that is the Constitution. In the same way that we view Christopher Columbus as a saint rather than a genocidist, we fail to question anything that is, in any cursory way, related to the Founders.
A Plutocratic Nightmare
In order to hide the nature of the Electoral College from an increasingly informed populace, the American political machine promotes the importance of voting to distract the electorate and make it believe the vote counts.
The plutocratic capitalist complex contributes to this problem, and the partisanship created by the two-party system, through the out-of-control use of ads that spew hate speak and promote misinformation. Despite the fact that more pressing problems exist, the political machine uses these ads to promote emotionally charged partisan issues that will distract voters from addressing real problems.
While the problem of deceptive campaign ads has long been a problem in American politics, it has only gotten worse since the Citizens United decision in 2008, which effectively allowed corporations and "independent" groups to use unlimited amounts of money to promote political causes as long as the money is not given to any specific candidate.
While the groups using this money are supposed to be independent, former associates of the major candidates, according to The New York Times, often fund and operate them.
The Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision under the guise of defending free speech, arguing that corporations represent the people that make them up, thus utilizing the myth of the sovereignty of the Constitution to give private companies increased influence in the political process. However, this decision actually decreased the right of free speech by giving the heads of large corporations (which are predominantly...rich, white males) the ability to drown out the voice of the masses.
In spite of these obvious attempts to disenfranchise the electorate, people still vote because of the aura attached to the action and the perceived consequences of not doing so. Instead of viewing a decision not to vote as an act of civil disobedience, Americans view it as an ignorant response.
America, the Beautiful?
By mythologizing the action of voting (while propping up the two-party system), the establishment essentially guilts the majority of the electorate into choosing one of the two major candidates, whether the voter agrees with either candidate on most issues. They promote voting in order to endow it with a special prominence that makes other actions, such as protest, seem trivial, thus paralyzing alternative avenues for political action.
America operates under the myth of freedom. And those in power need this myth to keep the majority at bay. The infallibility of the founding fathers and the Constitution. The necessary evil that is the American voting process. These myths allow the American populace, after some brief anger during voting season, to accept the problems in American Politics as the cost of doing business in a free society.
This country's aristocracy has so effectively preached the myth of American political freedom that it has become doctrine. It has tricked the American electorate into accepting and participating in its own disenfranchisement and prevented positive political activities such as the protest from ever becoming extreme enough to make a difference.
In America, the myth of freedom has watered down dissension to the point where it is little more than a momentary nuisance quickly put to rest by the status quo power structure.
In America, political freedom is little more than a myth, but no one seems to care enough to change that.
Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.
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