Look Who's Acting Like the
Microsoft of Politics: This Monopoly's Not Even
by Steven Hill and
February 11, 2000
For the past year we have watched the U.S. government's attempt to apply
anti-monopoly laws to the business practices of Microsoft. Ever since the
Sherman Antitrust Act was passed a century ago, it has been widely accepted that
domination of a market by a handful of private corporations can be bad for
business, bad for consumers and bad for the nation.
The same is true in politics, yet the Department of Justice gives the
Republican-Democrat duopoly a free ride. The problem is that, unlike
corporations that are regulated by government, the Democrats and Republicans
themselves make up the political laws and regulations. The fox is guarding the
hen house. Two recent examples clearly demonstrate this contradiction.
Last month the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) established criteria
for who would be permitted to participate in televised presidential debates this
fall. Who controls the Commission? Why, Democrats and Republicans. Not
surprisingly, the criteria established are so severe that the only minor party
or independent presidential candidate who might have qualified in the last sixty
years was George Wallace in 1968.
The CPD would require candidates to have at least 15% of the vote in five
national polls a week before a debate. Ross Perot would not have qualified in
1992 despite ultimately winning 19% after he was include in the debates. Neither
would John Anderson, independent presidential candidate in 1980. Using this
criteria, Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota would have been barred from
participating in their televised gubernatorial debates.
The CPD would have us believe that the debates are not about serious
discussion regarding our country's future by credible candidates, but only about
choosing between candidates who can win. Yet even this standard is a canard.
Jesse Ventura's poll numbers did not rise until voters could contrast him with
his competition via Minnesota's televised debates.
It's not only minor party or independent candidates that are excluded by the
monopoly practices of the Democrats and Republicans. Sometimes their political
machines try to eat one of their own. Thus, we had the recent indefensible
attempt by the Republican Party of New York, which supports George Bush, to bar
front-runner John McCain from the New York state ballot. Since New York is our
third-largest state and an important prize for any candidate, the brazen
practices of these machine Republicans could have affected the right of
Republican voters all across the country to nominate their presidential
It took a federal lawsuit and popular pressure for the Bush forces in New
York to back down. But what that sorry episode proved is that, just like a
Microsoft or Rockefeller's Standard Oil, far too many political bosses will stop
at nothing to defeat their opposition.
It doesn't end there. Next year incumbent politicians will collude in
redistricting -- the decennial practice of re-drawing legislative district lines
-- to guarantee themselves safe seats and re-election. Behind closed doors,
incumbents will use increasingly sophisticated computer technology a to
handpick their voters before the voters have a chance to pick them. Even
campaign finance reform won't be able to crack the fortress created by these
Who is being hurt by all this? We, the voters, that's who. Because it results
in voters - political consumers -- having less and less choice at the ballot
box. Voters are being denied opportunities even to hear other candidates' ideas
and policies. Monopoly politics prevails in state after state, where safe
noncompetitive districts, uncontested races and unbeatable incumbents are
becoming the rule. Lacking sufficient choice, voters are becoming increasingly
alienated and turning out to the polls in fewer and fewer numbers.
Monopoly politics is no way to run our elections. The government regulates
big business, but who will regulate the monopoly practices of the Republicrats
who run the government?
Rob Richie is executive director of The Center for Voting and Democracy
and Steven Hill is the Center's west coast director. They are co-authors of
Reflecting All of Us (Beacon Press
1999). For more information, see www.fairvote.org, call 301-270-4616
or write to: PO Box 60037, Washington, DC