Our elections
Run on lies,
Best distortions
Bucks can buy.

There’s no small irony in the United States forcing “democracy” down the throats of our adversaries around the world while our own democracy is teetering on so many perilous brinks. Given the shaky system here, what nation abroad would want to take direction from us?

We seem to feel that the American system is above reproach because that’s essentially what we learned in school. But the rest of the world is not so easily deluded. There’s widespread understanding that money rules Congress, both by promoting specific candidates and by fawning over them when they win. That’s why a few enlightened lands have imposed strict contribution limits and much shorter campaigns. They view our experience with horror.

And it only promises to get worse. The Supreme Court recently expanded the political rights of corporations so that they now exceed those of humans. Astonishingly, companies may contribute as much as they like to candidate campaigns. But don’t worry: They’ll only back pols they hold in highest regard. You can bet that even as we speak, the Office of Congressional Ethics is examining eight lawmakers whose votes show a remarkable congruity with the corporate donations they receive.

The Court’s next action may be to dispense with the human middlemen altogether. This would allow Bear Stearns and ExxonMobil to compete directly for the Senate without the inconvenience of needing actual warm-blooded politicians to represent them. They might run on, say, the Chamber of Commerce ticket. Presumably the AFL-CIO could run individual unions as candidates too, though by comparison that would plainly be a very minor party.

At least having corporations as candidates would rescue us from our current celebrity/plutocrat mode. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be about done, but Michael Bloomberg goes on forever. Mr. B. learned his term-limits strategy from Hugo Chávez and seemingly expects to be New York’s mayor-for-life. In California Carly Fiorina, having been bounced as head of Hewlett Packard, is now seeking a new career in the Senate. Maybe incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer can drum up some endorsements against her from the exasperated HP board.

But it took tiny Connecticut to come up with Linda McMahon. Ms. McMahon, the recently retired head of World Wrestling Entertainment, is good at orchestrating planned outcomes. She has $50 million of her own to drop on her Senate bid and is already flooding the airwaves. Her policy positions make Schwarzenegger look like Ted Kennedy. This might be called the Silvio Berlusconi School of Politics–where money is really the only thing that counts. For some reason, most such candidates happen to be Republican.

And if you think our elections are rigged, take a look at our lobbying. The 2009 figures are in and total lobbyist spending cracked $3.5 billion, the vast bulk from business. Then, for all you conspiracy theorists, consider that the two largest voting machine manufacturers have just merged. And for those who believe that the press is democracy’s core problem, take heart. You have a case. It turns out that ACORN was innocent of those bizarre Republican campaign charges after all, but by giving them saturation coverage the media succeeded in driving ACORN out of business nonetheless.

So if you happen to be a distant nation being harassed into adopting U. S.-approved democracy, tell Washington, “You try it first!”

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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