Sunday Extra | The myth of American democracy

Sunday Extra | The myth of American democracy

By JOSEPH BAUERS

During the presidential campaign of 2012, two women were arrested near the campus of Hofstra University. They were taken to an undisclosed location, where they were shackled to steel chairs and guarded for the next seven hours by as many as 16 men.

So what crime had these two grandmotherly, unarmed women committed? What threat to the republic had they posed?

They had made the mistake of attempting to speak truth to power. They were the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Green Party, and they were not welcome at the presidential debate that night. Indeed, they would never be welcome. Presidential debates, like many things in American politics, are rigged — and by rigged I mean totally controlled by the two so-called major parties.

How did this happen? If you're old enough, you might remember that the League of Women Voters once ran the presidential debates. They were unbiased, and they were committed to an honest airing of views.

But this arrangement was taken from them in 1987 by a power grab of epic proportions. Both major parties feared what a third or fourth party candidacy could mean to their own chances, so they snookered the American public, arguing that a commission controlled exclusively by the two parties was somehow preferable to the independent direction of the fine women of the league.

And immediately, the commission set benchmarks that made it virtually impossible for a third-party candidate to break through. Given that American presidential elections are determined more by television than anything else, failure to garner a spot on the debate stage puts an outside candidate immediately behind — which is, of course, precisely where the Democrats and Republicans want them to be.

If you believe, as I do, that both these parties are corrupted from within, that they both represent their donors more than their voters, then you would understand how deplorable this is. Jill Stein, the presidential candidate shackled to the chair in 2012, made the point that her name was on the ballot in states representing 85 percent of the voting population, yet her message could not be considered alongside those of the "major" party candidates.

The irony of all this is the oft-repeated fondness we have for "our democracy," and the hysterical fear that some foreign power has usurped it. Yet how democratic is it when candidates are strapped to chairs to silence them? How democratic is it when water protectors at Standing Rock have attack dogs and armed militia turned against their peaceful protest? Or when 78-year old former CIA analyst Ray McGovern is forcibly removed from the confirmation hearing of noted torturer Gina Haspel?

These days, if you're a protester or whistle blower, watch out. Edward Snowden sits marooned in Russia; Julian Assange is virtually imprisoned in London. Their crimes? Providing the citizens with what's needed to make informed decisions.

Jill Stein strapped to a chair might be the perfect metaphor for what has happened to our democracy — and to us.

Joseph Bauers lives in Champaign.