December 26, 1999 | C-Span's Washington Journal did a December 22 program about philanthropic organizations. Philanthropist Steven Kirsch telephoned the program and said his own foundation
supports "improving our political system so it is truly a representative democracy." He added that our political system is not presently a representative democracy.
Kirsch is right, of course. In a truly representative democracy, our elected representatives would not exclusively represent the interests of their corporate contributors at the expense of the rest of the
George W. Bush is big industry's choice for GOP front-runner. In the November/December 1999 Sierra magazine, Ken Silverstein reports on Bush's corporate-friendly environmental record as governor of Texas.
Silverstein says a University of Texas study shows that people living near TXI, a huge cement plant near Dallas, "are three times more likely to have respiratory problems than people living
The cement company took its own air samples, thinking it would prove the air near its plant was safe. TXI found instead that levels of at least four cancer-causing chemicals were much higher than the EPA recommends. The company then tried to cover up the results of its own study.
The polluting company, TXI, gave George W. Bush $10,000 for his re-election campaign, according to Silverstein. Jim Schernbeck of the Texas grassroots environmentalist group, Downwinders at Risk, says
George W. Bush "won't do anything to tie the hands of business." Schernbeck and other grassroots groups tried to meet with Bush about TXI's pollution, but Schernbeck says, "We never
got a foot in the door." Schernbeck probably did not try a foot wrapped in a $10,000 check.
If groups like Downwinders can not get a foot in the door with Governor Bush, would a President George W. Bush operate differently?
Would he meet with any other public interest groups if their concerns clashed with the interests of his corporate campaign contributors? Not likely. As president, G. W. Bush would probably not represent "the people" any more than he has as Texas governor. After all, there is no money in it.
Silverstein reports that George W. Bush governs a state which ranks first in all of the following:
"the amount of cancer-causing chemicals pumped annually into the air and water, the number of hazardous waste incinerators, total toxic releases to the environment, and carbon dioxide and mercury emissions from industry." Bush's corporate supporters must have salivated over their candidate after learning of those statistics.
Bush's choices for Texas environmental commissions include almost exclusively polluter-friendly appointees. According to Silverstein, the Bush choices include the following:
Robert Huston, a former environmental consultant for industry who has denounced EPA's tough ozone standards; John Baker, Jr., who often votes to deny the public hearings for new industrial plants; Ralph
Marquez (once with Monsanto and the Texas Chemical Council) who allowed the industrial polluters to write the regulations which govern industry's pollution � regulations the polluters deem
"voluntary;" and Barry McBee, oil specialist, who has decreased enforcement of environmental laws and limited citizen participation.
Silverstein says Ralph Marquez and two other Bush industry-friendly appointees gave TXI permission to pump 52 tons of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, and other hazardous wastes into the air. Do Bush and
his polluter-tolerant environmental board members represent "the people," or only the polluting corporations?
Grassroots environmental activist Lois Gibbs once asked, "Would you let me shoot into a crowd of one hundred thousand people and kill one of them? No?
Well, how come Dow Chemical can do it? It's okay for the corporations to do it, but the little guy with a gun goes to jail."* Tobacco companies recently accepted responsibility for their decades of wrongdoing. When other corporations knowingly cause widespread illness and death, they should be held accountable, too. In addition, politicians who take those corporations' money, and then knowingly allow the companies to release cancer-causing chemicals, should be called to account. At the very least, such politicians should not become their party's presidential front-runner.
How can voters make a difference? A mere 15 percent of eligible voters can decide an election's results. Only about 60 percent of eligible voters are registered to vote. Of those eligible, only half
cast ballots. If just 30 percent of eligible voters go to the polls, only 15 percent of those eligible can determine an election's outcome.**
Big business people are motivated to vote and participate in politics by the prospect of increasing their own financial profit. What can be the motive for average citizens?
The motive might be the fact this country can become a truly representative democracy if sufficient numbers of average Americans do two things: (1) Vote, and (2) Become politically aware and active both during and between election years.
* William Greider, WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE, 1992.
** Frederick Clarkson, ETERNAL HOSTILITY, 1997