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Citizen's View: At this crucial moment in history, we must re-establish a balance of power

The Iowa caucus is behind us. Oregon’s primary comes May 17. By Nov. 8, the 15 most visible candidates for president (1,513 filed a Statement of Candidacy) will have been reduced to two. How should I vote, knowing that no president can really resolve any of the issues, from terrorism and health care to police violence, the national debt and more? Even Obama’s attempts to close Guantanamo (a solvable problem) has been stymied.

For some voters, the process is a no-brainer. They reduce every election to a single cause, such as abortion, guns, Wall Street reform or immigration, and vote accordingly. But while the tactic makes the decision easy, it has the unfortunate effect of putting short-sighted people in office, scrappers who are incapable of seeing beyond petty squabbles.

The result: gridlock.

If the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1887 had steadfastly championed only their own personal issues, they’d never have worked together and written the Constitution. And without it, the federal government would have had too little power to unite the 13 colonies, and there might be no democratic republic called the United States of America.

We now stand at a similarly significant moment in history. Like the colonials, we are deeply divided, and like the colonials we are joined in a single experiment, which in our time is building an environmentally sustainable culture. We created the conditions that force us to reduce carbon emissions and preserve Earth’s life-sustaining resources; we must create a way out. Oddly, and disappointingly, none of the candidates, including the Green Party’s, campaigns exclusively for the environment.

Why? Because, like the delegates to the Constitutional Convention who, even after putting aside their regional differences, disagreed over the balance of power between citizens, states and the federal government, we must re-establish a balance of power first.

Alexander Hamilton wanted a strong central government, including a president for life. The new nation, he said, should be run by the “best people,” by which he meant those who owned most of it. Thomas Jefferson, concerned that Hamilton’s proposal would lead to tyranny, argued for term limits and a small federal government. He had “so much confidence in the good sense of men” that every citizen should have an equal voice in deciding the fate of the nation.

For nearly 200 years, the Constitution they signed protected us from the tyranny Jefferson feared. Then in the 1980s came trickle-down economics and hands-off policies toward banks and Wall Street. The wealth of financial insiders rose dramatically, while the incomes of 90 percent of the population shrank against inflation. Excess monies flowed from the rich into the campaigns of politicians, effectively buying representatives and indirectly buying votes against any regulations that might impede, much less reverse, the disparity of wealth.

In 2010, the Supreme Court gave Jefferson’s America the coup de grace with its Citizens United decision, enthroning the rich (the owners) in power forever. Wealth has no term limits. The wealthy contend there aren’t enough of them to cause too much environmental damage, so why should they care? Really, the masses do all the damage. The wealthy just change out their puppets every few years. Is that so bad?

Hamilton has won.

So how will I vote, given the fact that all but two candidates are beholden to big money, and one of those two is big money? Thankfully, I have nine months to decide if Bernie Sanders is my man.

Peter Wright is a resident of Lake Oswego.