CenterLine: What's This About Democracy?


Have you ever shrugged your shoulders, sighed, and complained that the United States no longer feels like a democracy? Well, you may be right. In a recently published study titled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," Martin Gilensof Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University argue that the U.S. can no longer be classified as a democracy, and is in fact more closely aligned with an oligarchy.

In this week's CenterLine, Charlie provides his take on the new study and we work to strengthen your faith in American democracy

It's Official: In America, Affluence Equals Influence. In this week's U.S. News and World Report article, Charlie discusses the conclusions of the study, it's importance, and what the future holds.

"I read a lot of academic journals. The methodologies tend to be arcane. The questions examined tend to be of dubious social relevance. The writing is dense and opaque. This paper is the opposite of all that. It should be ammunition for groups working to fix the American political system and a wake-up call for those who believe that nothing needs fixing."

You Can Be A Part of the Solution. We don't want to live in an oligarchy. The Centrist Project is working to ensure that your voice is represented in Congress. Independents and moderates are the majority of US voters; let's reclaim our democracy. Fired up? Support our work HERE.

jefferson_smith.jpegIt's Not Too Late. We believe that good ideas and good people can make a difference. Here are some parting words to serve as a guiding light. If Jefferson Smith can do it, so can we.

"It's not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again!"
- Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Ever Forward,


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Showing 3 reactions

commented 2014-04-29 08:20:14 -0600 · Flag
And, here is a nice, concise explanation of what Gilens and Page are on about:
commented 2014-04-25 15:14:04 -0600 · Flag
The comment about marketing in my following (first) comment was not an argument to use deception, smoke or mirrors. It was meant to point out the great weakness that principled political dissidents must understand and deal with. Principled opposition that wants to break away from the two-party system are, in my opinion, greatly disadvantaged if they reject spin and deception as acceptable tactics in politics. Those nasty/dirty tactics are routine in the two-party system and they are powerful forces that maintain the status quo. I reject them completely and maybe others here will too.

If meaningful change is to come, it will probably need to come from people who are fighting with one arm tied firmly behind their backs. The fight isn’t fair, but nothing in the constitution or law says that anything in politics has to be fair. Principled dissidents have to to win on the merits, not on the spin. Getting change will not be easy, but it is nonetheless possible.
commented 2014-04-25 15:01:37 -0600 · Flag
I understand and agree with the complaints about democracy and how it works. However, those complaints sometimes come from the left, right, center and independents. Imo, a sharper but simpler dissection of what is going on is necessary if anything is going to change. Dr. Wheelan seems to have the “right” target in his sights. Good for him. But that alone will not persuade mainstream public opinion. Dissident politics isn’t just about clean facts and logic. It is about understanding perceptions that differing pints of view will at least consider without outright rejection.

Recent work indicates that work by Gilens and Page carry persuasive weight – link to a podcast of a recent interview with Gilens and some opposition is here ( Obviously, extreme caution in how one describes one’s colclusions, i.e., oligarchy vs. something else, is clearly warranted. Dissidents need to be extremely careful of how they frame issues or just outright lose whatever persuasive power the underlying data might have. Politics isn’t science. It is marketing, which is based on more on emotion, illogic, deception, smoke and spin than clean facts and unbiased logic. If that insight isn’t internalized, that misapprehension will largely (90%) neutralize dissident perceptions of reality and logic with the mainstream non-dissident public.

If the top 10% have much more power in politics than what the majority of Americans want (Gilens data says that is true), but that is framed as a bad thing, the opposing points of view and mindsets will rebel. The question is how to frame these things in a neutral way and then gently point out the ramifications, i.e., the power minority wields, say, 75%, of the power, while the minority wields the rest. How one posits that makes the difference between persuasive power and what many people dismiss as empty rhetoric.

Definitions are critical, e.g., how does one define oligarchy? Is it significant control by the top 10% or is it almost absolute control by the top 1%? Those questions are not trivial – they control whether they gain some traction or not. How the questions are posited are critical to getting as many people as possible to at least think about what is being asked. If that does not happen, you can argue all day long that America is an oligarchy, but the mindsets that are inherently opposed to that perception of reality will simply dismiss the real weight of the argument on the opposing side. We are not perfect thinking machines ( Human nature MUST be incorporated into the equation.

Be very careful. These things require extreme care and thought. Dr. Wheelan’s comments and the interview ( are worth consideration. IMHO, how one presents the data and conclusions to the public is worth much more time. That is where the battles are won or lost.