One of the nice stories we tell ourselves is that we live in a democracy. We even get smug about our democracy as we seek to import it to all those countries we are involved in ‘stabilizing’ such as Iraq. The Merriam Webster defines a democracy as follows:
1: a: government by the people; especially: rule of the majority, b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections 2: a political unit that has a democratic government http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy
The part about majority rule throws me. I think you’d have to incredibly naïve to think that a Senator or Representative that receives huge contributions from an industry is not influenced by those donations. It is also naïve to think that the industry heads selected the politician without analyzing what committees in Congress that politician is a member of and how susceptible to suggestion a politician might be. In many ways, the democracy planned and hoped for by the Founding Fathers does not exist and it is our job to try to retrieve the good that has been lost because of the transition. These are some of the issues I have with applying what we believe our democracy is and what actually happens. These issues include:
- The filibuster. The filibuster’s been around for a very long time but its increased use in the Senate has killed many bills. As you are undoubtedly aware, the filibuster rule and aggressively invoking it changes the support of a bill from over 50 to over 60. As you can see from the chart, half the time cloture (the filibuster) was not invoked – it was just the threat of a filibuster that led to the withdrawal of a bill.
- Gerrymandering. The New Yorker makes the case that gerrymandering, making more safe zones for politicians, makes seats safer for a point of view, most likely a conservative point of view. This ends debate, even discussion especially in those zoes, as politicians can safely get re-elected as long as they cow-tow to the parry lie of the substantive majority of their district. Please note when you read the article below that one of the effects is that gerrymandering can lead to an imbalance in election of one party’s candidates over another and that is what we are seeing today. Gerrymandering has protected the Republican majority in the House even if 4 million more people voted for Democrats over Republicans for House seats. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/01/ending-gerrymandering-and-building-a-better-democracy.html
- The Electoral College. Bush v Gore – need I say more? How about Trump v Clinton? As we saw in the 2000 or 2016 election, it is possible to win the popular vote and still not be elected President, due to the Electoral College. California, according to the site listed below, more than four years ago, has an approximate population of 37,253,956 while Wyoming’s population is 563,626. Given minimum apportionment, the least populous states such as Wyoming are over represented in the Electoral College. (Or the House of Representatives.) In addition, the Electoral College makes sure a definite loser state for a Party not be visited by the candidates. In a population driven election, politicians would have to compete everywhere. http://www.ipl.org/div/stateknow/popchart.html#statesbypop
The Founding Fathers did not have to plan for such disparate populations. For example, several years after Independence the first U.S. Census occurred. The Census showed the population range in the colonies from about 60,000 to about 747,000, a ratio of about 12.5 to 1. In the current extremes the ratio is about 66 to 1. The Senate vastly under-represents those who live in California and over-represents the citizens of less populous states like Wyoming and Montana.
The Founding Fathers, aware that some inequality might occur with 2 Senators per state no matter the population of the state, decided that the House of Representatives would be apportioned by population but with one caveat – a state has to have at least one Representative. Wyoming is once again over represented as California has 1 representative per every 700,000 + in population (more the norm) while Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota have a population that is less than the 700,000 + for California. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/1790.html
- Voting suppression. We heard more than one official of the Republican Party gleefully state before the last election that they would make sure their State was taken by the Republican candidate, Romney, by making it more difficult for segments of our society to vote. Is there anything more un-American and anti-democratic than this? http://www.aclu.org/voter-suppression-america
- Voting holiday. Hillary Clinton supports it. So does John Kerry. Yet every year it languishes without being seriously discussed in Congress. We should celebrate Voting Day – it’s our Democracy Day. We celebrate our democracy by voting and having the opportunity to vote. So why make it hard for those who work long hours or two jobs or travel hours by public transportation? For a country that can have a national holiday for someone who didn’t discover anything, just managed to land his ship here, it’s pathetic that we don’t have a holiday for when we reaffirm our democracy. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-02-17-clinton-vote_x.htm
For a democracy to stay alive and for it to remain vital we need to strive to make it better. In some cases, such as the Senator or Representative apportionment, the issue is difficult, but the Voting Holiday, and the closing of the Electoral College should be no-brainers.