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There’s Nothing Naive About Wanting to Change Our Broken System

January 20, 2016 | Jeff Robinson

In a recent Boston Globe piece, political commentator Michael Cohen said Bernie Sanders has “a singularly naive and simple-minded understanding of American politics” for saying at the most recent debate that “Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do.”

Michael Cohen is out of touch and just doesn’t get it. But the American people do:

  • Four in five Americans—including 80 percent of Republicans—oppose the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, according to a Bloomberg poll.
  • A New York Times/CBS poll from June found that 85 percent of Americans—including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—believe we need fundamental changes to our campaign finance system or to completely rebuild it.
  • 72 percent of Americans, a broad, bipartisan majority, support small-donor solutions to overhaul our broken campaign-finance system, according to a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Every Voice.
  • A November poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC found that voters are angry at the political system. Another poll released in June from the Wall Street Journal and NBC found that money in politics is a top concern for voters ahead of 2016.
  • Two-thirds of Americans think the country’s political system is dysfunctional, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll.
  • A Bloomberg News/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa caucus-goers found that 91 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats are unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about money in politics.

So who’s naive about the way our political system is corrupted by big money. Cohen might as well have called a large swath of the American people simple-minded for believing big money is corrupting our political system and must be addressed.

The problem is, every issue discussed at the debate including gun control, structural racism, healthcare, income inequality, and reigning in Wall Street is tied to the problem of money in politics.

Big money’s grip on our political system perpetuates inequality and prevents everyday Americans from having an equal say in our democracy. Cohen’s the only one who doesn’t seem to understand this.

When union workers, farmers, and small business owners don’t have as much of a voice in politics as that enjoyed by bankers, CEOs, and lobbyists, we get a political system that is out of touch with the needs and wants of the America people

In a country that is increasingly younger, more diverse, and where women are the majority, we have a small, unrepresentative donor class consisting mostly of white, rich, older men who are calling the shots.

Bernie Sanders was right to say what the majority of Americans know: When big money—representing the interests of a wealthy, unrepresentative few—dominates our political system, politicians will not do what the American people want them to.

Not only are presidential candidates right to talk about the problem of money’s influence in politics, but they could do much more during debates, on the campaign trail, and when talking to the media to present solutions. The American public is clearly craving those answers.

The American people get it.

Michael Cohen: You don’t get it.

Jeff Robinson

Jeff is the political director at Every Voice.