The American Family Gazette
Vol. I, Issue 0905
In America today the term “politics” is almost considered a pejorative term. Why?
For decades now polls tell us Americans continue to express significant dissatisfaction with and lack of confidence in their elected representatives in Washington, and with the results of government generally. Yet, the re-election rate for incumbent is greater than 90%, just about all the time. We just keep sending the same people back to D.C. If so many feel this way, why?
If we’re not happy with government, why do we keep re-electing (mostly) the same people responsible? Ask yourself, if they don’t seem to represent the interests of the voters, who do they represent, if anyone? Two answers to this latter question: First, it would seem they mostly represent themselves. As professional politicians, it’s their objective to get and then stay elected. Many will do what they have to, in most instances, to accomplish this objective.
Secondly, they represent their political party. They have to, because without the continuing support of the party, their”job security” is strongly undermined come election time. This might seem like a circular argument, because the parties are supposed to be a reflection of the interests of the people. If the voters’ representatives support the party, aren’t they—in the end—really supporting the people who voted for them? In actuality, it would appear, only if you believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy!
Political parties mirror the political, social and economic views and preferences of some of the people much of the time, and a few of the people all of the time. But they hardly ever represent the political, social and economic views of most of the people any time. By definition, conservatives—Republicans—don’t support liberal—Democratic— policies, and vice-versa. This seems too obvious today to require further demonstration. But the result of this is that little of significance in government wins approval by the “representatives of the people”. This is especially true on issues that tend to be ideological, such as most approaches to how government carries out its responsibilities, and the limits and legitimacy of those responsibilities. Issues disputed become ones of what government should or shouldn’t do and, in those cases where it’s agreed that it should, how it should. I cite taxes, Social Security, medical security, economic security, defense, education, immigration, international economic relations, business practices and more as descriptive of this conservative vs. liberal mentality toward governing that has the two—and for all practical purpose only two—political alternatives we have to work with unable to govern for at least most of the people any of the time. It’s simply not possible under current political conditions.
Does this mean our two party political system doesn’t— even can’t— work in producing the kind of government America needs? No, but it does mean that, currently, the system isn’t working to do so. What’s the difference? The difference is that it “can” do the job; it’s just not able to do so under current conditions. This means we need change to correct conditions. How? By, basically, selecting different people to do the job. And how do we do this? To paraphrase: At the ballot box, stupid! Yes, I can see eyes roll at this suggested approach and, in fact, under present “conditions” this is really not possible. Result: “Catch twenty-three!”
But, let’s back up a step or two. I said our two-party system can’t do the job needing done under “current conditions.” We need to understand—and agree—to just what these conditions are, if we are to attempt change to correct them. And on this issue, I guarantee that we can generate many, many suggestions as to what needs correcting from a wide range of American voters. But we can concentrate on just a few key points or conditions here to make our case. These are (1) the role of ideology, (2) political influence, and (3) a decline of the role of the party in the minds of many voters. Let’s examine these.
First, ideology. We all have ideologies, i.e., values and belief systems we depend upon to live our live
s. So, it doesn’t make sense to say ideology has to go. It won’t and can’t. But it does obstruct, or get in the way of, constructing a government for all of the people, at least most of the time. We speak of the radical right and the socialistic or far left. These represent the extremes of our political spectrum. Representatives drawn from these extreme ends of the political spectrum are zealots. They can see no position but their own. There is no measure of value except theirs; compromise is seen as weakness. Moderation is surrender. Now, by definition, these extremes represent minorities of the American electorate. So if and when elected, they attempt to govern in the same way, for minorities of the American electorate. This is not necessarily by design, more by default: In their value systems, everyone should want what they want. That’s not workable in a pluralistic republican form of democracy.
Next, political influence. In concept, there is nothing either morally or legally wrong with rallying “your side” to win. It’s in our nature to support what we value, want or agree with: Get out the vote! Support your candidate! Rally around your cause! Where this concept rolls off the rails is when we allow influence that is either undue or clearly in conflict with our rules and regulations or common sense for electing our representatives. Here is not the place to go into great detail about this further than highlight it. Today, we mostly see undue political influence in the form of money; how money is demanded, used and where it comes from. Money of course is not the only political influence that needs questioning, but many would agree it’s a prime influence to deal with. Money in our society represents influence, power and might. Politically, “might” in the form of money does not always make right, and it seldom makes for a government that represents most of the people any time.
Finally, the decline of political parties in the minds of many. In large, this is a reaction to the influence of both ideology and political influence. It’s an individual attempt, even if unconsciously, to “get around these distorting influences.” Parties, by nature, are partisan. They reflect the values and ideologies of those who chose to have them represent their interests at the table of government. But given our broad political spectrum, why do we only have—for all practical purposes—just two political parties? Because of our electoral system.
Our electoral system is built around a single-member district plurality election concept (SMDP) using a first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. Every presidential election after 1824 has been won by one of just two major parties. This primarily holds true for the Senate as well. In the 2004 presidential election, the top two parties’ candidates got a combined 99% of the vote! No other party or candidate got more than 0.38%, with all the others combined getting just one percent. This trend develops out of the inherent qualities of a SMDP that discourages the development of third parties while rewarding the two major parties. The reasons are both psychological as well as mechanical.
There are third-party alternatives for those with extreme or single-minded political objectives. But these have not, historically, been major political influence, with a couple of exceptions. Historically our two major parties, representing either a broad conservative or liberal political outlook have accommodated the vast majority of us politically within their folds. This was the “big tent” philosophy we often refer to. But of late, these parties seem to be attenuating towards the outer extremes of their political philosophies. Partisanship has become sharper, the “big tent” getting smaller. Where does that leave those who now do not feel they “fit” in the tents? It leaves many adrift; unsure of just what represents them; unhappy with what “their party” appears to stand for. What can they do? They can put less emphasis on the role of the party, and increase their “hopes” on the promises of individuals. How do they express this? Many by registering to vote as a political independent. Think about it.
But if these now political independents are not all that happy with the party that primarily professes to represent their political, social and economic values, why do they continue to vote for them come election time? Why do we keep sending the same people back to Washington who time and time again we profess are not representing all of the people any time? Is it because of our electoral system? No, it’s because of our political parties. Think about it.
Ask yourself, why?