Systems of government
Oct 6, 212
Although watching U.S. politics during an election year is among the most exciting and addictive television experiences available, if one considers aspects broader than the mudslinging, handicapping, stumping, poll interpreting, and pundit analysing, one can’t help but question the fundamental realities of the actual system of politics that have brought us to this place.
Since any close look at United States politics in action will show an objective observer that the system of government and politics under scrutiny is a clear failure in its aims, it’s worth considering what went wrong and how it could be improved.
Right now, the U.S. system of selecting federal leaders is a contest played out for most of the incumbent’s tenure, and is characterized by rampant lying on both sides, systematic misleading of the public, vicious infighting in Congress, character assassination via biased and agenda driven media; the good of the nation and the needs of the people are considered only as talking points, and the country as a whole is only considered in terms of electoral college votes. The system is broken.
The United States Constitution when written was a remarkable document. It was written by some of the brightest lights and most profound thinkers of The Enlightenment, and was profoundly liberal, revolutionary, logical, and deeply human. In context, as a document of governance, it is virtually unparalleled and, for its time, was nearly miraculous in its intricacy and comprehensiveness. It is clearly a document that was written as a reaction to a system of governance which, although venerable, was illogical, unfair, and manifestly failing at that point in history.
Virtually every provision within the U.S. Constitution is reflective of the tyranny the document was meant to redress; the Bill of Rights, the first five amendments to the Constitution, signed at the same time as the main document, show the burning desire for freedom from the despotic rule of a hereditary monarchy. The freedoms guaranteed were clearly the freedoms quashed under British rule in a time of unrest; freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, freedom to bear arms. The colonists were clearly familiar with life without those freedoms and intended to ensure that they were guaranteed in the new constitution they were crafting.
But the thing is that as brilliant and as far-seeing as the Founding Fathers were, they were not prescient. They institutionalised, for example, the right to bear arms as the result of farmers being deprived of their farm implements by a government afraid of revolution. Modern gun-freaks and the constitutional framers were right about one thing; the founding fathers’ intention was to maintain an armed populace to fight against potential government tyranny. That seems to be lost on many of us liberals today who use sophistry and tortuous constitutional interpretation to suggest that such wasn’t their intention. Certainly it was what they had in mind; tyranny over an unarmed people was what they had seen and what they wished to avoid. The problem is that they were not perfect; they couldn’t, indeed they didn’t, foresee the development of easily acquired assault weapons, and they sure as hell never expected nuclear weapons that would fit in the trunk of a car.
Bottom line? The founding fathers were wrong about some things. The last thing the United States needs right now is a population with unimpeded access to any and all weapons from switchblades to weapons of mass destruction. Whatever it says in the constitution and despite the wingnuts in the NRA, it is the government that needs to be armed to protect itself from the homegrown psychotics as well as other enemies domestic and foreign. As the country is, nominally at any rate, a democracy not a monarchy; the government is the people and represents their majority interests. An armed civilian population bent on overthrowing the government is not conducive to the interests of the majority. Although the unfettered right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, the constitution is simply wrong.
With that in mind it is worth considering some of the even more fundamental places where the United States Constitution has proven itself to be demonstrably wrong.
In the first place, its fundamental structure, that of a two-party, fixed-term system is clearly unworkable. If that hadn’t been obvious for a long time, the Gore-Bush election should have removed any doubt. Certainly the current avalanche of bitter hatred and barefaced lying that characterizes the Republican lust for the White House makes it manifestly clear.
Because there are only the Republican and the Democratic parties for which to vote, many voices are lost. Because the presidential election in this kind of system is a zero-sum game, there are only winners and losers; inevitably nearly half (or more than half in the case of Gore-Bush) of the country goes unrepresented. The people of the United States, like every other large group of people in the world, have viewpoints that, when plotted on a graph, form a bell-curve. But the republican system as laid out in the U.S. Constitution is designed to represent only those to the right or the left of the curve; there is no provision or mechanism for electing a president who would represent the top two-thirds at the same time. And yet those on both sides at top of the bell have far more in common than do those who occupy the two extreme ends, only one of which will be fully represented after each election, while the other is ignored. The result is that nobody wants to be at the centre or represent the top of the bell-curve. To ensure that a partisan voice is heard, anyone with a viewpoint has to align himself with one side or the other, thus separating himself from other reasonable people who see things somewhat differently, and joining the total wingnuts.
This system is a recipe for polarisation. And that polarization is seen in the lengths to which those who have recently joined the flakes at the extreme end of the bell-curve will go to be recognized. Now the bell is upside down. Those who believe in no government, believe in Christian fundamentalism, don’t believe in science, want the borders closed, support severe pen
alties for non-violent crimes, don’t accept human rights, believe Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Communist, think that pouring money into the bank accounts of billionaires is good for the middle class and the poor, and believe that global warming is a socialist conspiracy align themselves with the party that comes closest to their views, and then lie through their teeth about the depth of their agenda. So determined are they to see their own views enacted as law that they vow to obstruct any opposition and destroy any chance of the government working; then they have their surrogates run against the incumbent on a platform that he failed to deliver what he had been elected to accomplish.
The cynicism is astonishing, but on a more sympathetic note, what can they do? Clearly they hold positions that are radical, verging on insanity. Nevertheless they are citizens and have the right to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous. Of course, in a two-party, zero-sum system, they haven’t the foggiest chance of getting elected if they are honest about their views; they see themselves as constrained to lie. And lie they do. Look at Mitt Romney who lied his ass off in an effort to appear acceptable to the middle of the curve, in the hopes that upon being elected he can obey his Tea Party masters and destroy the U.S.
In a multi-party system, and one that would allow votes of no-confidence to change governments when one becomes unworkable, there would be room for even the lunatic fringe to have their voices heard, to have a say in government; they wouldn’t need to use subterfuge and outright duplicity in order to get into the halls of power….even to destroy them. Canada, for example, allows the election of members of parliament representing the Parti Quebecois; a party vowed to dismantle the country. They wear their intentions on their sleeves and they are routinely outvoted and will never form a majority, although they always occupy a number of seats and have their concerns addressed.
The big problem in American politics is the fundamentals. The founding fathers never anticipated the vast number of lunatics who would demand equal time with the reasonable citizens; they didn’t build into their blueprint a pressure valve that would give their most disturbed citizens a chance to vent and at the same time hold their views up to the light of day where rational people can see them and deride them for the sophomoric drivel they are.
Instead, the system encourages vitriolic polarisation and supports the usurpation of a political party by the lunatic fringe; and it allows this to happen while the party denies the reality of the situation. Just look at today’s Republican Party and ask yourself, not what Abraham Lincoln would say, or Dwight Eisenhower; even their touchstone, Ronald Reagan would shake his head in bewilderment at those who refer to him as a saint and yet despise his policies, even the country he loved.