How to Fix the American Political System
Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 8:36 AM
Apparently, no one listens to George Washington. The first President of the United States declared the following about political parties, on September 19, 1796:
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."
Fast-forward 200 plus years and it is safe to say the most famous American with wooden teeth nailed it.
In 2012, the choices for the president of the United States were lackluster. The Republican Party nominated Mitt Romney, a businessman who denounced his accomplishments as Governor of Massachusetts to appeal to the base of the Republican Party who, in turn, offered lackluster support at best for the candidate they chose in the primary system. The Democrats supported the incumbent President, Barrack Obama, who presided over mixed economic results, even when inheriting a faltering economic situation with no previous executive experience. No other individuals could present themselves as serious contenders, nor could any ideas be presented outside of the spectrum of the rigid Republican and Democratic parties’ platforms.
The United States’ system of government was created for a more representative government across all spectrums of society and flexibility to adjust to the changing norms of societal and economic realities with the passage of time. Political parties are not included in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. They didn’t even make it into the Article of Confederation.
In the present, when the Founding Fathers, perhaps George Washington most of all, are revered to the point of demi-god status, two political parties have flourished and seeped into most mechanisms of government at the federal and state level. The practical applications of democracy in the United States need to be changed. The most insightful, empathetic and innovative individuals must be encouraged to seek higher office and find a balance in representing the political entity from which they were elected and the greater good of the United States as a whole.
The elephants and donkeys have a lot of bling
The local, state and aspects of regional interests have been usurped by the overarching goals and principles of two national parties, the Democratic (Donkey) and Republican (Pachyderm) Parties. The United States’ population has grown exponentially from 7.2 million in 1810, 76 million in 1900, to 281 million in 2000 and 307 million people by the last U.S. census in 2010. Despite the increase in the sheer number of people and the expanding geographic area in which Americans live, the two-party system is entrenched and inversely has grown inflexible to meet the complex needs of a democratic society with diverse backgrounds and economic standings.
According to 2011 Gallup polls, 27 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans and 31 percent identify themselves as Democrats. Forty percent of Americans identify themselves as Independents. The greatest political identifier in the United States is neither Democrat nor Republican. Why hasn’t a viable political party been organized to represent 40 percent of the U.S. population, greater than 120 million people? The answer, drumroll by using million dollar bills as drumsticks, is money.
In the 2012 election cycle, according to Open Secrets, $ 1.1 billion was spent by both major parties for House races and $680 million for Senate races. The Democrats and President Obama collected $732 million while the Republican Party raised $620 million not to win the presidency. To put that in perspective Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party Presidential candidate and a former Democratic Congressman from Virginia raised $110,000 and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson raised $2.5 million as the Libertarian Party candidate. Obama and Romney were sipping Cristal and eating caviar while Goode and Johnson had to Indian leg wrestle for the last chicken nugget at a kid’s birthday party.
Length is not everything
The quickest way to take money out of the system is to condense the time of an election cycle. The British election for the Parliament lasts on average about a month from when the election is called to the actual election. The Parliamentary election in 2010 was announced on April 6, 2010 and the polls were opened on May 6, 2010. The competing parties spent an estimated $33 million, far short of the billions spent during a modern U.S. election.
As stated before, there is a lot of money invested for the determination of U.S. elections. Super Political Action Committees (PACs) are essentially PACs that are allowed to accept and spend unlimited amounts of money for campaign purposes without disclosure of who the contributors are, whether individuals, unions or corporations. The only real stipulation for a Super PAC is they must not actively collaborate with a candidate seeking office. For the most recent election, Super PACs spent more than $645 million to advocate whether a Democrat or Republican should win public office. Former George W. Bush advisrr Karl Rove and his Super PAC, American Crossroads, raised and spent nearly $175 million for the Republican Party to lose seats in the U.S. Senate and have President Obama enjoy a second term in office. Comedian and “The Colbert Report” host Stephen Colbert spent almost $80,000 from his Super PAC, Americans for Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, as a lark.
A shorter election cycle could make not only make the PACs and Super PACs less influential if not inconsequential, as there would only be a finite amount of time to spend money, which would lessen the impetus to raise copious amounts of funding. It would either condense or eliminate the primary election process. The end result would be less money for the entry of either Independent or other party candidates.
Electoral College, not BCS worthy
This is easy. Get rid of the Electoral College. The popular vote is good enough to elect Senators. It is not like a candidate gets points based on winning a certain state county. Make every vote count in a presidential election. As of now, a Democrat in Oklahoma or a Republican in Massachusetts vote does not matter. All voters should be appealed to and believe that their election decision matters. If anything, it could possibly get more people involved in voting. According to CNN, the 2012 election had a lower turnout, 57.5 percent of eligible voters voting, than the 2008 and 2004 elections (that has to hurt 2012, the 2004 election had charisma machines John Kerry and George W. Bush).
Sure, gerrymandering or the construction or deconstruction of congressional districts by the political party in control of the state’s legislative body after the results of the U.S. census every 10 years has to be done. People have to vote. Populations change in all states; they lose and gain seats.
Like the Electoral College, it can go the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo bird and 7Up Gold. Make the election proportional with many top candidates becoming representatives. For example, Maine has two House Congressional districts, perhaps there are four candidates, all citizens of Maine get two votes, and the two candidates statewide with the most votes are the representatives.
In bigger states, such as Texas and California, divide the states into 15 or 20 large districts with top two or three candidates with the most votes representing that district. California has gone to lengths to make gerrymandering bipartisan through a statewide-approved referendum, with an independent commission appointed to draw congressional districts. It is a start.
In the 113th Congress, the Republican Party will hold a 33 member advantage despite Democratic candidates for the House receiving over 500,000 more individual votes nationally in 2012 Congressional elections. Gerrymandering manipulates the political process and reflects the preferences of voters from the previous decade, not the present political desires.
An America fixed?
George Washington is correct that political parties, when bloated with power and entrenched ideologically, are unwanted checks against individual political expression. It would be foolish not to expect like-minded people to gather and strengthen their resolve on issues that impact their livelihood or community. A voter should have options and multiple outlets if they change their stance on issues. Times change, technically the U.S. Constitution still allows for letters of marque and reprisal, i.e., state-sanctioned piracy, Article 1 Section 8. However, President Obama has yet to give anyone with an ocean kayak permission to board and secure Canadian shipping vessels.
While political entities such as the Tea Party and No Labels have challenged the norms of the two-party system, they still work within the paradigm of the Democrats and Republicans as the only two significant political parties in the United States. As less people take part in the politics, the country’s apathy will only increase. The Founding Fathers left avenues to evolve to face unseen future challenges. The United States is no longer 13 newly-formed entities searching for commonality; it is a trillion-dollar economy and the hub of business for the world.
For better or worse, elected officials are stewards over the colossal economic and military strength of the United States. These representatives should be amongst the best individuals and represent the interests of those who elected them considering all solutions for problem-solving before the ideological writ of a political manifesto.
Kurt Thurber is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.
Photos: New America Media; Donkey Hote (Creative Commons).