Throughout the following comments, consider Congress as the environment being described. But these problems can easily be ascribed to state assemblies, etc.
No matter which party corrals a working majority, Americans consistently fail to get respectable and representative government one election after another. The result: zigzag elections as one set of bums is kicked out in hopes that the other set will correct the incumbents’ excesses – this happens until the correction becomes unbearably out-of-whack with the public’s wishes.
Abuses of power occur quickly as the excitations of electoral victory unleash the most strident elements in the winning camp. Does a 51-49 majority in a legislative body constitute a “mandate” for sweeping and uncompromising change? You hear it all the time from the political class, and always in the context of their recent victories, never when the other guys get the majority.
Because the requirement to retain power is institutional and absolute, the majority party corrupts all facets of government operation to attain that end. How many times has Congress voted on a flag-burning amendment – just ahead of elections – when its proponents knew it had no chance of winning? How about gay marriage, gun control or some other divisive issue the partisans use to yank your chain during the upcoming campaign?
Your representative – the one citizens in your district elected to office to represent you (it doesn’t matter whether you voted for him or her) – is subject to discipline from people you did not elect. Party leaders control committee chairs, making them more powerful than all other members and making your representative beholding to them in all aspects of what would be normal democratic function.
When a representative does ascend to a committee chair, the pressure continues unabated from the party machine. The possibility of being unseated is an overarching concern, as Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, chair of the Ethics Committee, found out after he and other Republicans had the temerity to censure Texas Rep. Tom DeLay on three counts of clear abuses of power.
Want a bill that is important to your constituents to see the light of day on the floor of Congress? Better play ball; the same leaders control which bills even get to a vote, not to mention their influence over whether other members will vote for your bill.
Before going on, ponder what I just said: Other people's representatives have more power than yours. Are you OK with that? Is that democratic?
A severe misrepresentation of the concept of checks and balances has currency today: divided government – one party in control of the White House and the other party running at least one house of Congress. That’s not what the Constitution says. The real meaning is that each branch jealously guards its own prerogatives as an institution. The introduction of party has warped that meaning such that when one party controls both the White House and the legislative branch, no oversight of the executive occurs. That’s how we get bad, rubber stamp legislation. How is it that President Bush can claim to sign a bill and at the same time merely give a speech in which he states his intention to circumvent the clear meaning of the legislation? And Congress does nothing – except for the other parties’ mouthpieces who are not really guarding the precious prerogatives of the legislative institution in Article I of the Constitution. Rather, they are preparing for the next election cycle.
Money that you contribute to your representative is often given to other representatives and leadership political action committees to curry favor for chairmanships (see above), fending off primary election foes, and making even more campaign funds by courting more contributors who, while sitting down eating the rubber chicken, get a better seat at the ear of your representative than you do.
Your representative colludes with his or her party to scientifically dissect you and your fellow citizens into districts that resist debate during election cycles. Drawing district lines should be done by nonpartisan (not bipartisan, but nonpartisan) commissions which are barred from using political demographics to determine district boundaries.
The electoral system has been straight-jacketed so that no voices beyond those in the major parties can be heard, that small minorities of the populace decide the general election slate, and that nominees of parties are guaranteed a slot on the final ballot. The exception is Louisiana’s open primary system in which all candidates run against each other on the first ballot that is essentially the general election (if one candidate garners more than 50 percent, the election is done). The Louisiana system should be universally implemented ... as a fundamental starting point in surgically removing party from our goverment.