Monday, March 19, 2007

Red vs. Blue

Time magazine once had a cover about the supposed Red vs. Blue divide in the United States population.

This is a lie.

Our politicians are polarized, and so is the media -- who can't escape the civics class brainwash that political parties have always been around and who meekly follow in the footsteps of the political class toward polar extremes.

But make no mistake -- the populace is not polarized.

I ran for public office some 17 years ago, went door-to-door for 10 months, put holes in two pairs of shoes, and talked to a lot of folks over the span of a large congressional district. Survey after survey supports the views I developed about the populace, which is pretty much divided as follows: 20% conservative, 20% liberal, and 60% moderate. [Moderate defined: mostly a mixture of conservative views on some issues, liberal views on others, and moderate views on some others.] Unfortunately, the populace thinks they only have the two major parties to apply their political philosophies when it comes to elections.

The Founders would disagree. In our nation's colonial period and for its first 40 or so years as a nation, there were no formal parties. Why? Because the Founders knew that party candidates, by their nature, would do and say anything to get elected. Ever since the Martin Van Buren presidency, when formal parties began, politicians have attempted to polarize the electorate.

The end result, for instance, is Bush/Cheney outrageously saying that terrorists will be more likely to strike if Kerry is elected and Kerry and Co. calling the President a liar at every turn.

This is where we have come, and the Founders would have predicted it. Some say when you vote for the man, you get the party. That on the face of it would have been ridiculous to the Founders. A couple of examples: Jim Jeffords and a U.S. Representative from Louisiana named Alexander. Both changed parties after having been elected, Jeffords from Republican to Independent and Alexander from Democrat to Republican. Did either man change their stances on ANY issue? No. Did the voters who elected them the previous election vote for their party or for their stance on the issues of the day? If it is the former, then that is an indictment of our current system of "representation."

A representative should be an advocate for 1) his constituents and 2) his country. Where in the Constitution is there any mention of allegiance to party?

The political parties, through their disciplining tools, have warped representation in this country. Discipline comes in many forms, including: committee assignments, placement of bills in the legislative pipeline, leadership PAC money, and threats of primary opposition.

Can this be fixed? You bet. Can any current politician fix it? Absolutely not.

For starters, we must implement open primaries (like Louisiana) in every state, so that we can push the parties back from controlling our elections. Next, we need to encourage competent, average citizens to run as Independents for all offices, and then we 60% of moderates need to elect them to office. Once there, they can use their new-found power to deconstruct the gerrymandering system of creating safe (safe for partycrats) districts.

Next, there should be real, mandated, public debates that require the incumbent to meet his challengers, with all issues being answered. Elections are for electing people to office, yes; but first there must be an open conversation for the benefit of the voters.

Finally, we need to remove from government all vestiges of partisan politics: no free caucus rooms (if partycrats want to caucus, they should do it across the street on their own dime), no separate committee staff for Dems and Repubs, committee assignments are to be done like the 1st Congress did it (sort of a voting process). Think of all of the tax dollars we'd save by removing all of the party-based overhead to the Legislative and Executive branches of government.

Remember Anita Hill? I'll never forget when she testified before Congress, she said that one of her jobs was to be Clarence Thomas's "political eyes and ears" at the EEOC. For what purpose does the head of EEOC need any "political eyes and ears"?!

The faster we reduce (and ultimately remove) the effects of party from our elections and government, the more democratic our institutions will be. And the polarization will magically disappear.

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