2012 is almost here and once again we will elect a President, all of our Representatives and one third of our Senators. All the polls show that voters are unhappy with the status quo so we watch the debates and the steady stream of political ads etc., hoping to find those candidates who might make a difference, but we fail and our frustration with Washington continues. The vast majority of incumbents in a typical election year will retain their seats in the House and Senate. Lobbyist are entrenched with their checkbooks at the ready, and from the President on down, too much time is spent raising money for the next election. We talk about “throwing the bums out” but it’s not going to happen. They write all the rules regarding the electoral process. The entire system is stacked hopelessly against anyone who would actually try to change things.
In order to recover our lost democracy, you know, the “government by the people for the people,” perhaps we need to change our focus. Instead of looking for promising candidates maybe we should first focus on changing the system. In any endeavor, the best can not succeed if the machine they are given is out of date and badly damaged. You can’t get to the moon in a Boeing 707 or win the Tour de France with square wheels on your bike. Any well-intentioned, idealistic candidate elected will soon become discouraged because the machinery of government today does not work.
In order to actually make our votes count, a few simple changes would help. For starters:
1. Election day should be on a Saturday when more people actually have time to go to the polls. Politicians love Tuesday knowing their hard-core constituents [and beneficiaries] will make the effort to vote. In a Presidential election year almost half of all eligible voters don’t bother to vote, and it’s over 60% in years when we are just electing members of Congress.
2. Term limits. We have them for the office of President so why not members of Congress? The most important goal of a career politician is to get elected. And they should, it’s their career. They have bills to pay like everyone else. But are career politicians the best people to send to Washington?
3. The seniority system in Congress gives more power to those who have the longest career. Why should one Representative or Senator have more power than another simply based on their longevity? Here again, the career politician knows that their power in the legislative process is a valuable asset that helps them get re-elected.
4. Earmarks—Most will agree that earmarks are a flagrant abuse of the legislative process, but no one does anything about it. Successful earmarks can help keep the campaign funds rolling in.
5. Gerrymandering—drawing the political map to stay in power by devaluing some voters at the expense of others.
The list of abuses to our democracy goes on and on and I am certain a good high school civics teacher could give us many more ideas. We would like to think that we are a bastion of true democracy but are we really? I think not. And if we think our politicians are going to change the system, we are badly mistaken.
The goal of the career politician is to learn how to work the “system,” not to make America a better place. If we want our country to be a true democracy where everyone’s vote counts the same, it is time to start thinking about reforming the entire electoral process.