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Opinion

October 3, 2013

Money, media, apathy got us in this mess

NORMAN — Americans are frustrated their duly elected leaders can’t figure out how to operate our government in a reasonable way. It may be no panacea for those folks, but it’s worth discussing how we let it get this far out of control.

American democracy and its practice have changed a lot since the last government shutdown about two decades ago.

Political parties have become more susceptible to special interests. Money flows more easily into campaigns, and individuals or small groups can now influence an election where once it required a large amount of people making small contributions.

Part of that influence has even driven court decisions in certain states that influence where congressional boundary lines are drawn. Critics argue the intransigence of the GOP House tea party movement is bolstered by more of these representatives coming from districts that are so dominated by one brand of political thought, the representatives have no worries about re-elections.

This kind of concentration of power without accountability also derails the power of political party leaders. One only needs to witness how little control Speaker John Boehner has over his caucus to see how this has shifted the power of political party leaders. These political leaders were sometimes necessary evils. They were key players because they knew how to work with the other side to get things for their members.

Those kind of power centers seem to be fading away quickly. The tools for some of that power wielding also have gone away. There are no more “earmarks.” While that kind of backdoor dealing was widely criticized, it often served a useful purpose for party leaders.

The changing media landscape plays another central role in this eroding of citizen democracy. The number of news reporters whose job it once was to serve as watchdogs for taxpayers and the public has been depleted by 50 percent in some news organizations over the last five years or so.

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