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How to Overthrow the Government

How to Overthrow the Government by Arianna Huffington
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Powerful and enlightening. How to Overthrow the Government is an impassioned call to arms from one of America's sharpest and most independent commentators. In its pages Huffington breaks away from the party-line platitudes of Republicans and Democrats alike while challenging Amerians to rise up and take back their government. From the power of special interests to the ravages of the war on drugs, Huffington offers radical yet viable strategies for reclaiming our nation from the corporate and political powers that hold it hostage. For, as she argues, if We the People are to preserve and protect our more perfect union, we must stand up and fight for our country -- before it's too late.
HarperCollins; June 2009
352 pages; ISBN 9780061952166
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Title: How to Overthrow the Government
Author: Arianna Huffington

Chapter One

A Tale of Two Nations

We live in a democracy universally acknowledged to be the greatest governing system in the world. But a democracy is only as strong as it is responsive to all of its citizens. While our current government crows about the endless rain of profit on Wall Street, average Americans are sitting back and wondering, What about me? What about my children? What about their lousy school? What about my retirement, our health care?

And we have no faith in our elected leaders to do anything about it. The economic boom of the '90s has masked a looming national crisis: a corrupt political system that auctions off public policy to the highest bidder, and leaves the overwhelming majority of Americans feeling alienated from their own government.

American politics is broken--under the thumb of a small corporate elite using its financial clout to control both parties' political agendas. The founding democratic principle of "one man, one vote" has been replaced by the new math of special interests: thousands of lobbyists plus multimillions of dollars equal access and influence out of the reach of ordinary citizens.

From 1997 to 1999, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the number of registered lobbyists in Washington grew by 37 percent, to more than 20,000, while the amount of money they spent reached $1.42 billion. Crunch the numbers: That's roughly 38 lobbyists for each member of Congress. Like a swarm of ravenous termites reducing a house to sawdust, they are making a meal out of the foundations of our democracy.

And what are we ordinary Americans doing about it? Not much-- at least not yet.

Almost two out of three Americans didn't even bother to vote in the last election--115 million eligible voters failed to exercise a right for which a few months later people were willing to die in East Timor, where the turnout was 98.6 percent.

Back at home, among the 36 percent who did vote, many held their noses while voting for the candidate they abhorred the least. According to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, since the 1960s national voter participation has fallen more than 25 percent, the largest and longest slide in our country's history. Twenty-five million Americans who used to vote now choose not to.

And if a democracy is only as healthy as its voters, then its life expectancy depends on the involvement of its youngest voters. So it's especially troubling that youngpeople together with poor people, have the lowest out and the steepest decline in participation. Only 20 percent of Americans aged eighteen to twenty-four voted in the 1998 elections. Despite the Rock the Vote campaign, and MTVs growing political forays, as of 1996 fewer than half of America's eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds had even registered to vote.

Even the idealists are getting discouraged--they're pushing a product no one likes. "How do you sell political participation," Rock the Vote director Seth Matlins asked, "when the state of politics is just so repulsive?" The group's founder, Jeff Ayeroff, concurs: "If 1992 was about enlightenment, then we're in the dark ages now."

When turnout among the young shrinks from 50 percent in 1972 to 32 percent in 1996, it's foolish to keep pretending our democratic future is safe. With that rate of decline, in forty years nobody will be voting.

It's a stinging repudiation of the rotten spectacle our elections have become that despite a Motor Voter-fueled surge in voter registration--a net increase of 5.5 million from 1994 to 1998--voter turnout declined by 2.5 million. Registration drives have only increased the number of eligible people choosing not to vote.

The American people aren't satisfied by this-and they aren't stupid. Since 1964, the University of Michigan's National Election Studies has regularly asked eligible voters a simple question: whether, in their opinion, the U.S. government is run "for the benefit of all" or "by a few big interests." In 1998, nearly two-thirds--64 percentanswered "a few big interests," a complete reversal of theelectorate's opinion in 1964. Sixty-two percent--compared to 36 percent in 1964--agreed with the statement, "Public officials don't care much what people like me think."

The Michigan study also found that attitudes toward government are clearly divided along fines of class and education. The least-educated respondents agreed much more often (58 percent) than the most-educated (24 percent) that people have no say in their government. The same was true in terms of income. About half of all lower-income Americans feels disenfranchised from the political process, compared with only 18 percent of those whose income is in the top 5 percent. And unskilled workers are nearly twice as likely to feel this way as professionals--64 percent to 3 3 percent.

Shouldn't the opposite be the case? Shouldn't those with the most have the least to expect from our collective efforts, and those with the least have the most to expect? Isn't that what's meant by comforting the afflicted? If the least educated and the poorest among us--those at society's margins-have the lowest expectations of government accountability and responsiveness, what does that say about our society?

Millions of voters are feeling ignored by politicians more concerned with staying in power than with serving the people. And when a candidate wins, it becomes increasingly unlikely that he or she will ever lose. In 1998, House incumbents ended up running unopposed in 95 districts, while in 127 they faced only token opposition. It's no surprise then that a record 98.5 percent of them were reelected, collecting an average of more than 70 percent of the vote. In an ideal world, a people that reelects....