Dwindling Expectations of American Democracy

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American democracy was once hailed as the holy grail of government. It still is preached as such, but reality offers a murkier picture.

Candidates selected by popular vote represent the interests of their constituency. That was the idea. Now in many states, citizens only get to choose from two candidates who have made it out of the their respective party primary. This is colored further by various interest groups propping up their favorite candidate by donating hefty sums to their campaign, often to both parties just to cover all the bases. Voters are left selecting from the lesser of two evils, he or she who is not quite as deep in another organization’s pocket.

Though our expectations for quality candidates have seemingly plummeted to the depths of Hell, at least we the people could still vet candidates through public debates. No matter how much money was raised, there is little that can be done to save a babbling buffoon from themselves when questioned on stage in front of the voters. Granted this is not exactly the highest bar of democracy, but you work with what you have.

Unfortunately even the latter seems to be changing. In contests that polls deem to be lopsided, candidates have increasingly refused to debate. Even if polls suggest a close race, incumbents with superior name recognition might not see the benefit in potentially boosting their opponent’s profile – especially so when said candidate is just as capable of embarrassing themselves.

Ohio, America’s favorite state once every four years, unfortunately proves to be a worthy case study of the phenomenon of politicians seemingly okay with showing their disdain for our once holy democratic process.

Mandel Returns

We previously covered one Mr. Josh Mandel of suburban Northeast Ohio as a particularly heinous candidate during his challenge to Democratic incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown. His campaign made national headlines for his nonexistent relationship with the truth and willingness to completely ignore questions poise to him. He wasn’t merely ignoring questions shouted by reporters from a distance while in transit, mind you. Even face-to-face interactions were met with irrelevant, robotic responses that would make any viewer cringe. And let’s not forget that Mandel even changed his accent to a slight southern drawl when campaigning in Appalachian corners of the state.

This truly is a man whose only reason for serving in higher office would be to provide a constant stream of material to hungry comedians.

Yet he is poised to win re-election to his state treasure post, the very same position he planned on bolting just a few months into his first term, despite shady doings with North Canton businessman named Benjamin Suarez.

Unfortunately for the casually informed voter, Mandel’s ties to Suarez are difficult to unpack in a short amount of time. Republican strategists in Ohio have even banked on that fact.

Here’s Northeast Ohio Media Group’s (NEOMG) Henry Gomez on Mandel’s shady doings.

“Federal prosecutors accused Suarez, a North Canton businessman, of illegally funneling contributions to Mandel’s 2012 Senate campaign. Suarez denied wrongdoing and was acquitted of the campaign finance-related charges.

But the case exposed potential overlap between Mandel’s public office and his political operation. After letters on state letterhead that bore Mandel’s signature were sent on Suarez’s behalf, donations from Suarez and his employees began arriving. Mandel met with Suarez at the businessman’s home in 2011.”

Of course when confronted with this and pressed on what they discussed, Mandel cannot recall, blaming time.

“This was years ago,” Mandel told NEOMG editorial board. “Since that time I’ve definitely had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of meetings. Possibly thousands. I don’t recall specific details of every different meeting I’ve had over the years.”

Fair point… if we were talking about a haircut in April of 2012. But we are not. We are talking about a meeting that led to large-sum donations to Mandel’s campaign and political favors for Suarez. People remember those meetings.

Backing Out

Still, Mandel has never been one for candid interviews with the press and will likely remain tight-lipped on the issue. But at least there is no avoiding to court of public opinion, right? Voters would have their time to vet Mandel alongside his opponent in a broadcasted debate.

If you thought that, then you are a silly, ridiculous person with far too high of an expectation of democracy.

Earlier this week Mandel followed Ohio Republican suit by backing out of his debate at the City Club in downtown Cleveland. He joined Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, both Republicans, in declining their invitation to the debate. Rounding things out for Democratic representation was Marcia Fudge, who has also declined to partake in a debate.

Bi-partisan indifference to democracy, huzzah!

The City Club is perhaps the single most reputable organization for public discourse in the state, perhaps the nation. It is the longest continuous independent free speech forum in the country that remains non-partisan and welcomes speakers from a variety of backgrounds.

Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich is using his opponent, Democrat Ed FitzGerald, as his excuse for not debating. Citing the well-documented implosion of FitzGerald’s campaign, team Kasich has declared they are simply moving on without a debate. This will be the first time since 1978 that the state of Ohio will not have a gubernatorial debate.

Oh, and Kasich has also been tied (albeit more loosely than Mandel) to the aforementioned businessman who caught the eye of federal prosecutors. So he’s definitely in a position to point fingers at FitzGerald. Though for the record, whether or not FitzGerald deserves to be within 10 feet of the governor’s office is worthy of debate.

And there you have it, folks. Democracy in the loosest sense of the word.

If we thought our current batch of representatives was as worthy of Congress as a fifth grade class selected at random, what can we expect of the next generation as our expectation of democracy continues to dwindle?

 

About Joe Baur

Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe
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