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Wanted: Modestly Enlightened Very Rich People
During election season, how often do you hear the phrase “vote for the least worst choice”? This philosophy has become the unfortunate mindset of too many American voters on their way to the polls. Just hold your nose and cast your vote and don’t disturb the status quo.
What has this trend gotten us? The Democrat and Republican two-party duopoly has led us down a road to a severely diminished and ineffective democracy. Look at the effects of the two-party grip on our elections — the common funding of mainstream candidates by the same privileged commercial interests, the exclusion of independent or third-party candidates through ballot access hurdles and litigious harassment, and exclusion from the big-audience debates. The use of gerrymandering by Republicans and Democrats has created one-party dominated districts and eliminated political competition in many states. Not voting at all out of sheer disgust is seen as a legitimate voting choice by many. There is, unfortunately, no binding “None of the Above” option on the ballot to allow for a no-confidence vote if the choice of candidates is unsatisfactory to voters.
Public expectations have declined to the point where belief is spreading that a reversal of this downward spiral is impossible. The two parties have created a walled garden — they set their own rules, make their own laws, appoint their own judges and even brazenly force taxpayers to finance their extravagant quadrennial political conventions.
So, short of a mass popular resurgence, how can we break free of this destructive cycle of same-old bought and sold elections and tired rhetoric that ultimately leads to gridlock government?
One option is for a very wealthy, enlightened person with ample resources to self-fund a run at the presidency. Such a modestly-enlightened billionaire could jolt our country’s political oligarchy. Such an independent candidate would not have to waste time dialing for campaign dollars and cozying up to fat cats with their own profit-seeking agendas. Our theoretical wealthy candidate’s resources would allow him or her to overcome the significant ballot access barriers erected by the two-party duopoly to prevent independent challengers.
The following suggested names are put forth in that First Amendment spirit and without any implication that I either support or oppose their particular candidacies or political beliefs. My public positions are known or, if not, are easily retrievable, and probably run counter to many of the views and actions of those persons mentioned below. The overriding point, however, is that these people have the resources to overcome the many barriers to free speech, assembly and petition, they have some public interest concerns, activity, or charitable experience that bespeaks of civic engagement beyond their occupations or professions, and they have not been reluctant to enter controversial spaces.
So who are some of numerous possible candidates to undertake this endeavor?
What about Oprah Winfrey? Bill Gates? Ted Turner? These three billionaires have the name recognition alone to make them major players in any presidential race, and they all certainly have the finances to do it.
What about Tom Steyer, hedge fund environmentalist, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and media executive Barry Diller?
What about wealthy businesspersons like Jerome Kohlberg (campaign finance reformer) and Steve Case?
What about well-known Washington D.C. philanthropists like David Rubenstein and William Conway?
Any of these super-rich people — only a few examples from a list of twenty that I recently compiled — running as a candidate could redefine the entry points to the presidential elections.
I sent this proposal to these super-rich people so that they can reflect on its aforementioned purpose. Some of them will probably describe any candidacy by them as absurd, impossible, ridiculous and completely outside their most fanciful imaginations. But it is also possible that a few will recognize the strategy behind their selection, and consider playing a part at some stage of the electoral process in 2016 in opening up our closed, stagnant, deadening system. (See the full proposal, including the entire list of twenty, at Nader.org.)
By merely indicating their interest in being a candidate, these major players could put forces in motion that send a strong message to closeted incumbents and their conventional challengers inside the Democratic and Republican parties that stiff competition could be on the horizon. This alone could put some long-ignored or marginalized issues on the table.
Issues like reducing specific governmental waste and bureaucratic rigidities, fighting crony capitalism, reforming tax policy, supporting coherent investment in public works, confronting climate change, waging peace, promoting living wages, creating jobs, reducing poverty, implementing universal Medicare, transforming education, prosecuting corporate crimes, freeing shackled health and safety regulators, increasing access to justice, protecting civil liberties (including privacy), abolishing the Electoral College, and reforming campaign finance.
Until something gives, these issues will continue to be put on the backburner by a government that is not working for the people or posterity.
With deep disappointment over the Democrat and Republican parties at an all-time high, 2016 is an ideal time for new challengers to step up and change the two-way conversation in American politics. Who will answer the call?
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.