The ultimate oxymoron

As far as oxymorons go, “capitalist democracy” is one of the better ones. It’s much better than the more famous “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence” (neither of which are actual oxymorons).

The president will help us recognize this. He seeks revolution when he says, “Power is in the hands of an unelected few,” because this “unelected few” decides who runs in an election and if someone slips by who they disapprove of it really doesn’t matter. The elected officials don’t have the real power anyway.

The president’s statement makes sense. Democracy is impossible if a small group of people manages the elections and run them in their own interest.

He said this about the Islamic Republic of Iran, of course, but it should hold true everywhere else, particularly in the leading democracies. If we take the president at his speechwriter’s word and accept this reasoning, then the capitalist democracy of the United States is due for a revolution soon and for good reasons too.

In the U.S. we have two candidates from two parties. The major businesses, the “capitalists,” fund both parties, so both candidates, whoever they happen to be, serve the businesses’ interests.

Those businesses decide who the candidates are by giving them access to the media over the publicly owned airwaves, which the biggest businesses control.

When a candidate who would work for flesh and blood human beings instead of legally created “persons” (corporations) has significant support, like Ralph Nader did in 2000, the major businesses simply refuse him access to the media.

Someone who would criticize the political system is a danger to that system and the people who run it can’t afford to have it criticized, so they restrict debate to very narrow bounds where only pre-approved ideas are spoken: certain things ought not to be said.

Rather than go on television, for free, and talk about issues that matter, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on public relations campaigns to avoid meaningful talk about policy and instead direct attention to “regular Joe”, cowboy, or windsurfer imagery.

That candidate A can pull off a better “regular Joe” than candidate B can has no relevance to people’s lives, so that’s exactly what they present us with. They avoid issues and policies because both candidates’ policies are pretty much the same.

The president also says “people deserve a genuinely democratic system” in which “their leaders answer to them instead of the other way around.” And in a democracy the majority rules, of course.

In the US we go to opinion polls to find out what the majority thinks as the public officials avoid public debate of issues. A Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll released in March details how Americans would spend their tax money, if it were up to them. It says that Americans, “Would Reduce Deficit, Cut Defense Sharply, and Increase Spending on Education, Job Training, Renewable Energy, and Veterans,” and it’s very interesting.

Two-thirds would cut “defense” spending by an average of 31 percent, or $133.8 billion. The same number would cut Iraq and Afghanistan war spending by 35 percent, or $29.6 billion.

Americans would redirect money saved from war expenses and use it to meet human needs through social spending. For example, the poll shows increases of 263 percent, $19 billion, for job training and employment; 39 percent, $26.8 billion, for education; 53 percent, $15.5 billion, for medical research; 1090 percent, $24 billion, for conservation and developing renewable resources; and 40 percent, $12.5 billion, for veterans’ benefits.

Majorities of 57 to 70 percent of the population made each decision.

When election time comes around, however, no candidate mentions any of this as an option. If candidate A focused on issues that matter, like these, and made policies that reflected them, he would defeat candidate B in a clear (57 percent) to very large (70 percent) landside.

Winning is undesirable if the parties have to abandon their principles, however, and the main principle is to serve the major businesses interests above all, even if it means sacrificing victory. Since a capitalist democracy is a democracy of capital, “the people” simply don’t count. The other way around indeed.

Life in an oxymoron can be confusing. The president’s statements make life in America, the capitalist democracy of the United States, much less confusing. In Iran his statements mean revolution. We’ll see what the American people make of them.