Sunday, March 18, 2007

And more harm ...

The American populace is largely moderate and increasingly it is registering non-partisan (a very good thing) or receding from the political world (not a good thing at all). According to a CNN poll at the end of the 2004 presidential campaign, “Nearly half of all respondents -- 47 percent -- said Kerry's political views are too liberal. Four in 10 said Bush is too conservative.”

The book Culture War exposes the fact that the only red/blue divide in the U.S. is in the political class, not in the general electorate. Wattenberg demonstrates in The Rise of Candidate-Centered Politics that straight-ticket voting has declined drastically since early last century and the number of citizens who self-identify as Democrat or Republican has fallen 11 percent since 1952. In 1988, independent voters outnumbered any other sector of the electorate.

Does our electoral system satisfy the needs of these realities? Hardly. The party demagogues hold on to the process to protect their main interest: maintenance of party control.

There are those who argue against my position on party by saying that their representative (a member of a party) does not “toe the party line on every issue.” Sure, but the national party structure has taken on an organic function that its proponents claim is democracy in action – that is, within the party, a majority controls the direction of all of its members. Yes, this is democratic, but it is a second-level filtration of democracy.

The electorate, given the choices, is forced into one of two groups and within one of those groups, a majority controls policy. Think about that … about 25 to 30 percent of the representatives control all of policymaking. Is that really democratic? If the same set of representatives were free to express the wishes of their constituents on each individual issue – with no party discipline or control hanging over their heads – wouldn’t that be a truer measure of democracy?

In other words, an individual Democratic or Republican member of Congress can claim to be “independent” (one often hears this claim during election season), but functionally, when those members get to backrooms on the Hill, they discover that other members control the direction of positions taken by their club. Any deviations (with the rare allowed exception) are kicked to the back burner because, of course, if you are in the majority party, your view is a minority opinion and if you are in the minority party, of course, the way to displace the majority is to assimilate into a group that does everything and anything in the political handbook to besmirch members in the majority.

It becomes a game literally for the benefit of party (either one). Nowhere in sight is the representative democracy that the Founders envisioned – the slow coalition building on each issue, coalitions that reformed when the next issue arose.

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