The surges of former Gov. Howard Dean in New Hampshire and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California are taking place 3,000 miles apart, but reflect the same phenomenon: Voter disgust with the state of American politics.
The signs are everywhere for those who are not so obsessed with partisan advantage to see. Half of the nation’s voters stay home. Bush’s job approval has fallen one point every three days for the past two months. Last year, Minnesota voters were so disgusted by Democratic attempts to use the funeral of Sen. Paul Wellstone to elect retread Walter Mondale that this die-hard Democratic state voted Republican.
Why are voters so cynical, apathetic and downright surly? Count the reasons. In 2000, the supposedly nonpartisan United States Supreme Court voted, almost along party lines, to deny the voters a chance for a recount in the presidential election.
Every judicial nomination triggers a fight to the death and every bill starts a filibuster in the Senate. The political parties have conspired in a massive deal to protect one another’s incumbents by so drawing congressional district lines that only four incumbent congressmen were defeated by insurgents from the other party – less than 1 percent of the body!
Now an actor is defeating all candidates in both parties handily in the nation’s most populous state.
The politicians deserve to live in the world of voter antipathy that their antics have created.
In California on the right and in the Democratic presidential contest on the left, voters are demanding a return to direct democracy, taking politics out of the hands of politicians and their special-interest benefactors. Using the recall petition in California and the Internet in the Democratic contest, they are reaching out and insisting on reasserting their sovereignty over the political process that special-interest money has taken away from them. Even apart from Schwarzenegger, other candidates like columnist Arianna Huffington reflect this voter unrest and new militancy.
Voters know that the political system is fundamentally corrupted by special interests and their campaign contributions. They realize that Gov. Gray Davis can no more cut the budget or close tax loopholes than could one of a Roman galley’s slaves steer the boat. Davis is no less shackled to his oar by the favors he owes for the money he has received.
The line between legality and bribery has been so blurred by recent Supreme Court decisions as to make payoffs almost impossible to prosecute. So explicit must be the linkage between the donor’s bribe and the recipient’s actions that even a reprobate like Bob Torricelli can’t be convicted. Bill Clinton can exchange a pardon for a million-dollar donation to his library and Hillary can swap one for 1,400 block votes from upstate Hasidic Jews and neither gets prosecuted.
Sen. Chris Dodd of nearby Connecticut can push and pass legislation that enables the Wall Street scandals to take place by virtually barring private investor lawsuits against accountants, auditors and attorneys, and he escapes electoral punishment. Indeed, tens of thousands of investors his legislation helped to defraud will probably, in total ignorance, vote for their tormentor in the elections next year.
Bureaucracy on the one hand and corruption on the other are taking away our fundamental democratic rights. Can we vote on the leadership of the IMF, the World Bank or the U.N.? No way. And when we do vote, it’s often for candidates like Davis who forget to mention, as they seek another term, that they face a $38 billion gap, which amounts to one third of the state’s budget.
Is there a salvation for our democracy?
Yes. It will come through the Internet. Just as word of the Dean campaign spread virally through the ‘Net without the aid of huge expenditures and anti-globalism demonstrators mass together without publicity from any establishment news organs, the free communication of the Internet will create an alternative to top-down manipulation by opinion leaders. The flow of information on the Internet is opening the door to grass-roots activism. The lack of money for postage, phone calls or ads need not deter average people from mobilizing.
The message of Dean’s surge, Bush’s slippage and Schwarzenegger’s candidacy is the same:
This is a revolutionary era we are entering.

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