How Do The Media And Interest Groups Affect The State Of Democracy?

Anthony Downs makes a five point argument against the current dual party system. The inherent flaws he has pointed out shows that the dual-party system excludes the interest of radicals on either side of the conservative to liberal spectrum. This is a large portion of important opinions that can’t make their views known. American voting patterns are popularly thought of as being represented by a bell curve: most voters fall closer to the middle of the liberal to conservative spectrum. That being said, moderate voters, especially those closer to the dividing line (between Democrat and Republican), will tend to vote either way depending on their priority of voting issues. Average American voters depend mostly on News media to gain perspective on these issues; the media’s framing of these issues determines public opinion. This curve enables groups such as the Heritage foundation to instill fear in voters using think tanks and the media to pull the center of the bell curve in favor of the Republican candidate. It follows that interest groups use lobbying and other tactics to control political campaigns and create a loophole for their trustees to quarterback the decisions made in government. This makes the current form of “democracy” anything but that, more so it perpetuates oligarchy.

Pluralism is a theory that asserts that a multiplicity of factions with competing interests within a state balance out representation of different demographic interests. This theory explains much of the logic behind having a multiparty system instead of a dual-party system because the popular opinion doesn’t come down to the interest of only two political factions. Instead of having a multi-party system, American politics depends on interest groups to represent the interest of the masses. If an individual feels passionate enough about a voting issue, their voice can be represented through joining an interest group. This logic is sound in theory, but I will show how it has miserably failed in practice due to the inequality in wealth distribution in America. In the Unheavenly Chorus, the following point is made about why the idea of interest group pluralism doesn’t work in contemporary American politics:

The interest group pluralist argument about the absence of barriers to the emergence of political groups was challenged by… E. E. Schattschneider and… Mancur Olson… ‘the flaw in the [organized interest] heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper class accent’… our concern with equality of political voice, he argued that we call the “pressure system” is biased in favor of groups representing the well off… broad public interests or public goods constitute the first kind of interest that is unlikely to achieve organized representation.

As theoretical as this may sound, there is a resounding amounting of evidence that this is true, and unbiased media sources have been more willing to write about the lack of political equality in America, due to its inherently unequal economic structure. A primary example that I will set up in this essay is the way in which the voice of wealthy interest groups deafens the voice of the masses, unless they speak unknowingly. Such interest groups don’t succeed in having their interests be advocated for in Washington without the help of a voting demographic. In the case of my argument, and the theory being argued in the Unheavenly Chorus, the Tea Party would be the subject of these wealthy interest groups as I will show.

The American political system is overwhelming understood as a representative democracy.  This conventional belief isn’t accurate for one main reason: voting issues, that affect constituents are their incentive to vote; their understanding of the priority to vote is determined by a hierarchy of institutions with different levels of power that heavily influence public opinion. Much of the time, elected officials are voted into office depending on the flexibility of their campaign to adjust it’s platform to reach as far left or right as possible for the primary, then go back to appeal to the moderates for the general election.  Inevitably, radical voters are forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. In many cases, this forces radical voters to abandon their actual position on certain voting issues and to vote for a candidate who may not have a stake in that issue. The example of this hierarchy of power is the controversy over the assumption made by the Heritage Foundation that “social security is failing”. In 2011, AARP came out with a report to assure their constituents that Social Security was not in danger of failing. This article reports on a poll that shows the public concern that SSID is failing: public opinion shows “fear ­ ­ — that Social Security has serious financial problems and can only fail”. This census is confirmed:  “A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted a year ago found that 60 percent of adults who aren’t retired expect to get nothing — zero — from Social Security in their older age”. The same way the Heritage Foundation and Fox News would later report “Social Security is going bankrupt”. AARP says:

No, it’s not. Even in the unlikely event that nothing changes and the program’s entire surplus runs out in 2033, as projected, checks would keep coming. Payroll taxes at current rates would cover 77 percent of all the future benefits promised. That’s true for young and old alike, and includes inflation adjustments.

Seeing as how AARP is responsible for a large portion of the country’s retirement plans, their reports are generally trustworthy. Additionally, note that the poll was taken by CNN, which doesn’t have a biased reputation (compared to Fox News). In this situation they tend to speak for moderate viewers and this is a Republican issue. Regardless of this report, the Heritage Foundation reported in April 2012, “Social Security Finances Significantly Worse, Says 2012 Trustees Report”. The report begins with a quote from the 2012 Social Security trustee report, (referring to their own trustees), saying, “‘lawmakers should not delay addressing the long-run financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare,’” the Heritage trustees writes: “If they take action sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare’ ”. In this article it is projected that “congress would have to invest $11.3 trillion today in order to have enough money to pay all of Social Security’s promised benefits through 2086. This money would be in addition to what Social Security receives during those years from its payroll taxes”. This article is harmful to public opinion because it is making its constituents worry about a potential issue that wouldn’t be of concern for another 53 years; essentially it is a red herring distracting from real issues. Fox News followed up this article by reporting, “Social Security’s disability trust fund could fail to cover all benefits early as 2016”. Their premise for this concern is that:

Because the programs are funded through payroll taxes, money will continue to pour in as long as the country has workers. But with the country’s large aging population expected to collect more and more from the programs than younger workers are contributing, analysts are worried that at some point the programs will no longer be able to pay full benefits as promised — unless changes are made, presumably either raising taxes or cutting benefits.

This is biased considering it is grounded in the conservative logic that raising taxes for the lower-class would make SSID less likely to fail in three years, as well as their conclusion that SSID is likely to fail at all. The fact that a CNN poll found that 60% of adults expected to get nothing out of Social Security towards their retirement, shows that public opinion isn’t in favor of tax funded programs such as SSID. What this means is that more moderate Republicans are more likely to believe that our government is incompetent and therefore they adopt an increasingly conservative stance. The effect of this is that moderate Democrats as well as Republicans become more conservative about fiscal issues; the curve is being pulled to the right.

This controversial dialogue shows how the current state of democracy in America is that public opinion depends on how bias news media frames issues in terms of their relevance. The way right wing media frames these issues depends on how think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation frame them. The Heritage Foundation frames these issues in accordance to the interest of their wealthiest trustees, as their report shows. The structure of the Heritage Foundation works in accordance to how much an individual donates to the foundation: “Basic Member: $25…Patriots Club: $100…President’s Club Member: $1,000…Executive Committee Member: $2,500…Founder: $100,000”. If you are considered a founding member once you contribute $100,000 that would make Charles and David Koch very high up on the list. According to Politico.com, they donated $500,000 to the Heritage Foundation in order to focus “on educating the public about reducing our nation’s debt and controlling runaway government spending”. In other words, they contributed to a discourse that is meant to convince moderate voters (who may be unsure of Obamacare to begin with), that the Obama administration is causing “the nation’s debt and controlling runaway government spending”. The article says, “the discussion about the Kochs’ financial contribution to Heritage Action comes as the group is pushing Republican lawmakers to make defunding Obamacare a provision in a deal to fund the government and raise the country’s debt ceiling”.

These examples of oligarchic control over public opinion show how both political parties and interest groups harm democracy by silencing the voices on both ends of the spectrum. In order for there to be a legitimate and successful democracy, each individual should have a say in government and their say should be equally considered. The mere possibility of this is entirely void if interest groups like the Heritage foundation are shaping the very way people view relevant issues. Each radical end of the conservative to liberal spectrum have voting issues that they are most concerned about: radical liberals want to raise taxes for the rich to fund a universal healthcare plan, radical conservatives want limited government intervention and lower taxes for the rich (supported by Reaganomics and the trickle down theory). As of recently, the voice of radical conservatives such as the Tea Party have become more represented in congress. This issue was brought up in the New York Times in 2010 in an article titled “The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party” by Frank Rich. This article claims that much of the Tea Party’s agenda is in place due to the interest of the Koch brothers, as I have been arguing thus far. In the article, the following is written regarding this high level of corruption.

Yet inexorably the Koch agenda is morphing into the G.O.P. agenda, as articulated by current Republican members of Congress, including the putative next speaker of the House, John Boehner, and Tea Party Senate candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and the new kid on the block, Alaska’s anti-Medicaid, anti-unemployment insurance Palin protégé, Joe Miller. Their program opposes a federal deficit, but has no objection to running up trillions in red ink in tax cuts to corporations and the super rich; apologizes to corporate malefactors like BP and derides money put in escrow for oil spill victims as a “slush fund”; opposes the extension of unemployment benefits; and calls for a freeze on federal regulations in an era when abuses in the oil, financial, mining, pharmaceutical and even egg industries (among others) have been outrageous.

While this article, as well as my argument may seem bias, the New York Times has been reporting news for over a century and has certainly earned its stripes. This being said, a reliable, non-bias newspaper, which people have trusted to report accurate news about everything from arts to politics, is drawing a clear line highlighting corruption at the highest level of government. If the Koch brothers have hijacked the G.O.P’s agenda, that means more or less, half of the issues being represented in Washington that Republicans advocate for, aren’t their sincere priority of concerns. This article connects the last of the dots by pointing out that the speaker of the house, John Boehner has expressed his concern for the Koch brothers role in essentially buying politicians with the freedom given to them by Citizens United.  Party members are aware of this corruption, making this no conspiracy or coincidence, but an absolute corruption of democracy.

Going back to the original question of whether interest groups and political parties are helpful or harmful for democracy, I think the answer is a resounding yes. Although it could be argued that interest groups are good for democracy because they allow freedom a faction of people with similar interest to change policy collectively, without the money and/or resources, these people need to align with a political party, and change the interest of the political party in order for their views to be debated in Washington. Much like the Tea Party has done through funding by wealthy interest groups, and change has certainly been implemented because of it. Citizens United, a Republican advocacy group much like the Heritage foundation, have used Tea Party and radical Republican support to implement a policy that gives  corporations the freedom to contribute any amount of money to any campaign. This inherently silences the masses by making them believe what issues are important using censorship and misinformation in the media, such as I have shown with the issue of Social Security.

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