Politics & Government Today: Are They Really As Bad As It Looks?
Yeah, unfortunately, it does seem to most (if not necessarily to the politicians) to be as bad as it looks. Somewhere along the line, the purpose of government has gotten sidetracked. Our politicians now focus not on what to govern but ideologically how to govern. The result, as we see, is not pretty.
Two experienced Congressional watchdogs believe It’s Even Worse than It looks. That’s the title of their 2012 exposé on the matter. It’s also the opinion of any number of pretty qualified observers on political affairs, including most recently a sixteen-year veteran of Congress from the Conservative side of the aisle. Their consensus is that the lawmaking system in congress, the machinery to get things done, is effectively configured by the winning party to ram-through their own partisan agenda; that‘s seen as a basic problem. Largely shut out of the lawmaking process, the only avenue open to the minority—no matter which party—is to try and defeat almost all attempts to pass any legislation or confirm any government appointee requiring congressional approval, i.e. stymie all attempts to govern. Further, the results of on-going satisfaction surveys with the out-put of government by the citizenry seem to support this conclusion: It is as bad as it looks! Pessimism, or at least apathy, prevails.
Can anything be done about this? Maybe; but if those responsible aren’t at least minimally prepared to work together for common cause despite divergent views, and they don’t appear to be, then what are the chances? It would appear, to paraphrase an old saying, we have allowed ideology to wrest control of the lawmaking process, i.e., the nuts are running the asylum. It’s improbable then that corrective action is going to spring from within the two presently prevailing ideological political antagonists. In the vernacular, no way!
The purpose of government is to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. This isn’t simply a lofty philosophic goal, it’s an articulated civil principle once held by those in high office, including Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. In this endeavor, it seems defensible to hold that that government which needs governs less governs best. In a democracy the principle of majority rule seems well fitted for the purpose of governing while providing for the sanctity of established minority political rights. I see no conflict between any of these simple principles in a functioning republican democratic self-governing scheme. Why don’t they seem to work now?
What we are dished up regularly in the way of governments that attempt to convince us of at least some adherence to these governing guidelines is today a farce. The majority (voting) elects its preferred leaders, and the second-place minority—the loser, in our political system— is nonetheless easily able to thwart most of their efforts to govern as apparently a majority prefer, by jamming that machinery in place for lawmaking. That effectively makes for minority, not majority rule; for civil dysfunction, for stalemate. It makes for broad public disillusionment in both government and our political system. Most understand that our system of government is designed to invite contention, disagreement, dispute and a need for at least some compromise. But what we deal with today, politically speaking, has gone far beyond the reasonable in any of these areas—except compromise (That’s admittedly not an ideologue’s view of the situation). In all of this there is little hope of government providing the greatest good for the greatest number, over time. Why not?
Extreme ideological politics won’t allow it. Ideological political authority has become creedal, demanding it be an end in itself, rather than a legitimate if coarse guideline to pursuing an end. Politics has throughout our history been partisan, rough-and-tumble and largely self-seeking, by almost any measure. By various means, ideology through politics—on both sides of the aisle—has over time castrated democratic rule in America. It has emasculated the process of both our elections and our governing machinery in an attempt to serve its own purposes: power and the perpetuation of its power. Most voters now unwittingly and largely involuntarily serve primarily these ends of ideology, the self-serving goals of the parties. How bad is that?
It isn’t a matter of the Good battling the Bad, although both sides try to position it thus. It’s not necessarily a matter of conflicting long-term basic goals and objectives for the people and the country. It’s primarily a matter of difference of (philosophic) judgment as to the best ways to achieve what is generally agreed are mutually desirable if nonetheless abstract national civil, social and economic goals. But in their respective pursuits of their own preferred options, there’s less and less a sense of what they are trying to accomplish, and for whom. It is all about how they, not their adversaries, believe these goals should be pursued. Increasingly positions harden into we’re right, you’re wrong. As such, accommodation becomes impossible.
If I am convinced you are wrong and I am right, I can’t work with you. All I can do is to try and defeat your (wrong) actions. This is what we witness perennially in our party leaderships in Congress, and too often between our legislative and executive branches. Governing effectively for the good of the greatest number is simply ideologically out of reach—no matter which party we elect—it is out of reach. Accommodation or compromise in law-making is seen as betrayal of principles and from partisan citadels is taken as unacceptable apostasy, treachery. Individually, compromise is today equivalent to political suicide for most. Therefore, how many do you believe will consider such accommodation, even in all conscience, assuming they wish to” keep their jobs”?
Okay, conceding how bad it is, and agreeing on the need to correct things, where do we go from here?
First we confirm that this “ideological problem” we’ve accused is more than simply partisan gripping. If it’s not we can assume our problem isn’t the size portrayed. Partisanship is to be expected. However, the evidence (and there is evidence) indicates it is more than simple partisanship causing the broad disaffection with politics and the results of government. How do we determine this? By examining the two sides of the mainstream political divide, conservative vs. liberal: Do we, the greatest number, appear to be satisfied partisans on both sides of politics? That is, does our citizenry divide voluntarily and pretty fully between the parties traditionally representing these differing political views?
The answer is no, we don’t. We still divide pretty much along conservative to liberal leanings, but no longer along party lines. The evidence supporting this is political Independents, or those voters opting not to designate a party as their political choice when registering to vote. We are still mostly conservatives and liberals, but today, more and more of us are not Republicans or Democrats—about 38 percent have determined they apparently aren’t comfortable with either party. That’s visible evidence and it says a lot. Point-of-fact, Independents now represent a plurality of all registered voters, outnumbering registered party members. That says even more regarding the standing of the Parties. Want more evidence? Check out Gallup’s political opinion polls. They regularly list three political affiliations in their analysis: Republicans, Democrats, and Political Independents.
Today we have three identifiable national political blocs, but only two ideologically based electoral options, third-parties considered. It is unlikely that a majority of Independents are really “closet” Democrats or Republicans as many contend. Certainly they are mostly conservatives and liberals. Yes, most do vote for these two parties that between them purport to represent mainline conservative and liberal electoral political alternatives. But, consider this: What other option do Independents have? If today’s third-parties were acceptable alternatives, we would (should) see larger turnouts for them at the polls. This isn’t happening. If Independents wish to vote their general conservative/liberal leanings, they must vote one or the other of the two offered, like or agree with their approaches or not! They are for all practical purposes reluctant electoral puppets or pawns in never-ending ideological crusades.
If political Independents, and others, had a truly different conservative/liberal option to consider at the polls, would they avail themselves of it? What if it were an option that wasn’t so ideologically focused? What if it was an option that was demonstrably aimed at providing the greatest good for the greatest number—a classical Utilitarian concept—and its approach to lawmaking and governing was based upon such a clearly definable concept as well as upon those other simple principles spelled out earlier rather than the right or wrong, good or bad, of ideology? Is such an alternate approach (option) to governing—the greatest good for the greatest number—possible?
Yes, I believe it is. In fact, I believe it’s probable.
Thomas Richard Harry