How about a little democracy for a change? Interview with Joel Hirschhorn
“Revolution is the Solution”
Joel Hirschhorn interviewed by Jason Miller
For several days I had been bedeviled by the recurring memory of a jingle from an out-dated television commercial. My recollection of the product they were promoting lay tantalizingly close to the edge of my consciousness, but remained stubbornly out of my reach.
So my “mind’s ear” was left listening to, “It’s time for a new beginning…” ad nauseam with no tangible context. (If I had had that, I would at least have known which company to despise for etching such an inane little tune into my brain).
“Beautifully harmonized” by a group of sickeningly enthusiastic twenty somethings accompanied by music undoubtedly composed during the “Age of Aquarius”, this little ditty molested my mind with more frequency than I care to recall.
At last I had an epiphany. Sometimes frustrated subconscious minds of Gen-Xers recovering from television addiction transmit their contents into our consciousness in markedly bizarre ways during our waking hours. Or to put it another way, if we ignore our dreams long enough, bad television forces its way into your unsuspecting brains. My hat goes off to Madison Avenue, Viacom, Fox, and the rest of the masters of the agitprop universe for their immense success in embedding their tripe deep within the human psyches of many of us.
My unconscious was obviously attempting to convey an important message with this horrid little refrain. My interview with Joel Hirschhorn, writer and political agitator, put things into perspective.
Joel provided me with a sober reminder that unless one has been dwelling under a pile of boulders in a cave reaching deep into the bowels of the Earth, it is painfully obvious that the United States and its nearly countless victims around the globe are in desperate need of a “new beginning.”
Shaken to its very core by the ravages of Military Keynesianism, neoliberal economic policies, crony capitalism, corporatism, corruption, and wanton disregard for the Constitution, international law, and standards of human decency, our Constitutional Republic is hanging by a very slender thread.
Even before plutocrats, corporations, lobbyists, and the rest of the malevolent cabal (who together represent a very small percentage of the populace in the United States) acted in concert to further their mutual interests by eviscerating the law of the land, the United States was far from being a democracy. Our Constitution, unique and progressive as it was prior to reactionary forces gutting it, was written as a framework for a limited form of representative democracy.
Like many activists, writers, Leftists, populists, and enraged US Americans of virtually all political stripes, occupations, and races, I have been longing to find a viable means of inciting or collaborating with a mass movement that will force the plutocracy to yield their stranglehold on wealth and power. I have come to the conclusion that dedicated and sustained individual efforts by tens of millions coupled with multiple collective actions carried out by substantial numbers of people will eventually reshape the political and socioeconomic landscape of the United States. If that fails, the increasingly hubristic, avaricious, and emboldened ruling class will most likely face a violent insurrection.
As he will tell you in the interview, Joel Hirschhorn has provided those of us in the “lower classes” with a tangible means of acting in unison to attack the entrenched power structure. His suggested strategy is peaceful, legal, and practical.
Here is Joel giving me the details:
1. Your biographical sketch indicates that you advocate a “Second American Revolution”. How do you envision this revolution playing out?
“Despite the massive gun ownership in our country, I only foresee peaceful revolution acting within the law. Specifically, my hope is for an Article V convention, requested by 2/3 of the states and, if Congress obeys the Constitution, called by it. For over 200 years Congress has resisted granting a convention. Such a convention could consider a broad array of possible constitutional amendments offering many needed electoral, political and governmental reforms. It would be such a historic event; it would receive monumental public and media attention. So many groups on the left and right have always opposed a convention. Status quo power elites obviously fear such a convention. Talk of a runaway convention is used to create fear; this is ludicrous, mainly because any convention proposals must be ratified by ¾ of the states. I co-founded Friends of the Article V Convention (http://www.foavc.org) to build national support for a convention.”
2. What are the implications behind the title of your most recent book, Delusional Democracy?
“My message is that massive numbers of Americans have deluded themselves about the nature of American representative democracy. If they think that our system is equitable, effective and trustworthy – or the best that it can be – they are truly delusional. The goal of my book was to breakthrough peoples’ psychological defenses, see the truth, and then become engaged to improve our beloved nation through many reforms.”
3. How did your work as a Congressional staffer influence your strong antipathy for the entrenched duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties?
“Those 12 years working for Congress gave me first-hand experience with all the corruption, dishonesty and wasteful spending that defines this institution. The enormous negative influence of big corporate and other special interest money is even worse than informed people see. It also gave me remarkable exposure to Executive Branch agencies and how awful the federal bureaucracies are. I helped put a presidential appointee in jail; that was rewarding. And I did help write a few statutes that I was proud of.”
4. Whom did you serve in Congress, what was your specific job, and with what party was your boss affiliated?
“I was there from 1978 to 1990, working as a Senior Associate at was then the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. I directed many studies on industrial and environmental issues, published many reports, and testified about 50 times before Senate and House hearings. I did a lot of work for specific members, including helping grassroots groups that had asked their congressman or senator for help.”
5. Your homepage for your book mentions that you offer practical solutions for peacefully repairing our broken republic. Would you briefly summarize some of these solutions?
“One of the most important is to spread the use of the Clean Money/Clean Elections approach for providing government funding for political campaigns; we must get big private money out of political campaigns. As an advocate for third parties, this policy approach is crucial to make third party candidates competitive with candidates from the two major parties. There are also a host of electoral reforms that we need to make voting easier and more widespread, such as making Election Day a national holiday. I also advocate making ballot initiatives and measures more widespread – among the states and at the federal level. This is a crucial element of direct democracy and because our representative democracy has failed the public interest, we desperately need some forms of direct democracy.”
6. One of the fundamental flaws in many “solutions” to the myriad problems facing our republic is that they ignore the obvious fact that the economic paradigm loosely referred to as American Capitalism represents a significant barrier to our political system even approaching a true republic, let alone a democracy. What potential systemic economic remedies do you suggest?
“An extremely important issue for me is the rising economic inequality. It comes to this: wealthy Americans (directly and through corporate venues) have taken over the political system and this has removed the necessary watchdog and regulator role of government in ensuring that our economic system is fair to working- and middle-class Americans. There really is a war on the middle class. We are rapidly approaching a two-class society: the rich Upper Class and the Lower Class for everyone else. We must stop corporate welfare, privatization of government that benefits contractors, illegal immigration that gives low cost labor to the private sector and drives down wages for citizens, and free trade that has already sold out many industrial sectors and put our nation deeply in debt. We must tax the wealthy much more, and limit the amount of profits made in the financial sectors – such as the obscene fees used by credit card companies.”
7. You have initiated a drive for an Article V Constitutional convention. Would this involve rewriting the Constitution or simply amending it?
“An Article V convention, just like Congress, can only make proposed amendments that must be ratified by ¾ of states – this cannot be circumvented. I cannot imagine any attempt at a wholesale rewriting of the Constitution. But I can foresee serious consideration of many possible amendments. There is too much concern about social issue amendments (like abortion and marriage), while the reality is that they have little chance of ratification. Convention delegates would spend much more effort on serious reforms to improve the quality of our democracy and government.”
8. How many have signed on to your movement so far?
“We really just got started with a website and still have not mounted a serious campaign to get members. But people are signing up everyday. We realize that we have to do a lot of outreach to inform and educate people about why we need an Article V convention and why we have a constitutional right to one, and also that Congress and many left- and right-wing groups have opposed a convention because they do not want to lose the power they now have to corrupt Congress and the presidency.”
9. Who would participate in such a convention? How would they be chosen?
“Article V leaves all the details of operation up to convention delegates, and the states are free to select their delegates as they choose. However, the very first Article V convention would be such a historic and newsworthy event – with global coverage – that attempts by corporate and other interests to pervert delegate selection and convention operation would be difficult to pull off. What I like to say is that the many millions of Americans that are truly fed up with the current state of our democracy and government that has already been taken over by evil and greedy forces should accept some risk and support an Article V convention. All revolutionaries must believe that there is so much to gain that the risk of making things even worse is worth taking.”
10. What specific changes are you advocating if such a convention comes to pass?
“My personal interest is in electoral, political and government reforms. Virtually all the reforms I examine and recommend in my book could be accomplished through constitutional amendments. People need to see amendments as an alternative form of lawmaking. Because Congress has failed the public as our regular lawmaking institution (and we have no federal ballot initiative mechanism to create laws), we are forced to use the Article V convention option the framers of the Constitution gave us – they correctly anticipated that the time would come when we the people acting through our sovereign states would need a way around Congress. One thing about Friends of the Article V Convention group that I stressed during its formation is that we should not make the mistake that all previous efforts at getting a convention made: namely, they all advocated a specific amendment. All that does is bring out opponents not just to the specific amendment, but to the convention idea itself. What I stress is that we must honor the exact words of Article V, and that means we have a right to a general convention. Convention delegates must be free to consider any possible amendments they think worthy of discussion. Our group will try very hard to avoid advocating specific amendments and stay passionately focused on getting a convention – period.”
11. What are your thoughts on electronic voting machines?
“I have always had a Luddite streak in me. And so I have always been skeptical of the trustworthiness of electronic voting. We need absolute transparency in our voting system to maximize trust in it. I have such a negative view of the two major parties that I think they (and their rich supporters) are quite capable of using any available dirty tricks to win elections. It may sound crazy, but if no can stop damn Internet spam and Microsoft can’t make reliable software, then why should we trust electronic voting?”
12. With your obvious disdain for the two party duopoly, I assume you are not supporting a presidential hopeful from either side. Putting reality aside, who would you like to see as our next president?
“I have zero confidence in ALL Democratic and Republican candidates; as long as they all take big money from corporate and other special interests they have no credibility and deserve no trust and public support. I have waited for some major party candidate to say that they would only take campaign contributions of no more than, say, $50 dollars from individuals and groups. I always vote for a third party candidate.”
13. You often write about the need for a vibrant and competitive third party. Of the existing third parties, which do you think has the best opportunity to break the duopoly?
“None of the current ones have a chance. That really saddens me. The two big ones, the Greens and Libertarians, never seem to have the capability of reaching a broad cross-section of Americans. They also delude themselves that winning a few local elections will, somehow, some day make them competitive on the national level; I just don’t see it happening. I am working with a new party: the Centrist Party (http://www.uscentrist.org) that has just been formed, and I also support the Populist Party of America (http://www.populistamerica.com). There is also a new Whig Party that merits attention ( http://thephoenixchronicles.org/).”
14. What do you say to critics who assert that voting for a third party candidate (i.e. Nader) is a waste or to those who contend that it robs a viable contender of a chance at victory?
“The only people who should feel ashamed and guilty are the ones putting Democrats and Republicans in office. To me, it is pure insanity to keep putting both of these totally corrupt parties in power. I am a proud dissident and would rather see more people not vote, than keep voting for the two major parties. Lesser-evil voting has already destroyed our country. In a perverse way, it would help the nation if voter turnout dropped to, say, 10 percent of eligible voters, so the two-party controlled political system and government would have absolutely NO credibility, certainly not as any type of democracy. At least voting for third party candidates sends some message to the power elites about the degree of dissatisfaction in the electorate. I also favor, as an electoral reform, having all ballots give voters the option of None of the Above.”
15. In light of the severity and extent of the Bush administration’s criminal behavior, how do you account for Pelosi taking “impeachment off the table” now that the Dems have control of Congress?
“Just proves my point that Democrats as well as Republicans do not merit any support by true progressives, dissidents, and politically astute people. Another constitutional amendment we need is one that broadens the scope of justifications for impeachment of the president. I also advocate prosecution of Bush and Cheney for criminally negligent homicide. I am sick of so many people calling themselves progressives (what I call neo-progressives) because for some reason they are ashamed of openly calling themselves Democrats. Of course, as Pelosi and most other Democratic members of Congress are showing, neo-progressives should feel ashamed for their support of Democrats.”
16. If you were sitting face to face with the reader of this interview, what are five things you would encourage them to do to aid in destroying the delusion and making democracy a reality?
“First, visit http://www.foavc.org to learn more about the Article V convention provision in our Constitution and why it is needed.
Second, become an active member of the group and help build support for a convention among citizens and state legislatures. Anyone who thinks of themselves as a dissident or rebel, or is just turned off by our political and government system, should become a member.
Third, read my book Delusional Democracy – Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. I can promise even the most politically engaged persons that they will learn a lot of new information about the decline of American democracy and the ways to restore it. People need to rally around a set of specific reforms to improve our nation. Emotions are not enough.
Fourth, stop voting for Democrats and Republicans. Either do not vote or find a third party candidate you feel good about.
Fifth, find a third party that looks like they have a set of principles that appeal to you, join and become active to make the party competitive at any level of government – local, state or federal – that they are active on.”
I offer many thanks to Joel for giving me the opportunity to pick his brain a bit and to share the results with you. We amongst the poor, working, and middle classes owe you a debt of gratitude for your efforts, Joel!
I have signed on as a member of the Friends for the Article V Convention and have read Delusional Democracy. Both acts helped sustain my hope that the United States has not “crossed the Rubicon,” as some have suggested.
Over 70% of us want an end to the illegal occupation in Iraq and desire some form of guaranteed health care for all of our citizens. Both are minimal prerequisites for establishing some authentic morality as a nation, are essential to the well-being of US Americans and Iraqis alike, and are readily achievable simply by slashing the obscene $600 billion per year military budget. How many times do we need to be able to blow up the world before we are “safe”?
Despite the will of the people, the entrenched opulent class is working feverishly to ensure the perpetuation of their genocidal war on “terrorism”, which is actually blowback they created through their innumerable imperial provocations. The ruling elites have fought with virtually every fiber of their collective being to fend off nearly overwhelming popular demand to divert our tax money from killing to healing. Profits, power, property, and the military industrial complex have superseded the needs and welfare of We the People for decades.
Mustering the support to force a Constitutional convention would greatly enhance our chances of re-empowering ourselves and emasculating the tiny minority comprising the governing plutocracy in the United States.
Let’s follow Dwight Eisenhower’s suggestion and “demand a convention to propose amendments that can and will reverse any trends [we] see as fatal to true representative government.”
You can help make it happen by signing on at http://www.foavc.org/index.htm .
Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government (http://www.delusionaldemocracy.com). His current political writings have been greatly influenced by working as a senior staffer for the U.S. Congress and for the National Governors Association. He advocates a Second American Revolution, beginning with an Article V Convention to propose constitutional amendments.
Joel Hirschhorn Website: http://www.delusionaldemocracy.com