The mariner is sure that most Americans are deeply concerned at this moment of failed national government. Something is wrong at the fundamental level – something that causes the national government to be disabled. The mariner suggests a few basic aberrations in our philosophy of government.
Foremost is the practice of allowing the two political parties to gerrymander voting districts. On the surface, this appears to be a temporary advantage of the prevailing party every ten years when the census is taken. It is true that States and Counties must recalculate the distribution of the population; within ten years, a lot can happen. But that’s not the issue.
Gerrymandering is an abuse exercised by both parties. Right now, the tea party demonstrates the effects of gerrymandering very clearly. The ultra conservative members of the House of Representatives have no fear of the normal democratic processes of government because they represent districts gerrymandered to be composed only of those citizens who share the extremist views of their elected representative. The need to negotiate for the common good does not affect the tea party representatives; they are doing what their district voters want them to do. They will be reelected precisely because they have stalled the democratic process of government.
Another dysfunction will occur in the long term. Already more than ninety percent of our Federal Representatives are continuously reelected and will have a lifelong career. This is not healthy. The government is not refreshed over time and Congress becomes an old men’s club. There are a few women most of whom are reelected for life as well but they are a small minority.
Over the years, Congress forgets what the real world is like and what the real issues are for the common citizen. Further, as most old folks do, they are not in touch with the realities of modern science, modern medicine or modern culture. Members of Congress benefit from the contributions of lobbyists and therefore can afford expensive reelection campaigns. It is difficult for a competitor for office to match that advantage. This makes it easier to be reelected time after time and only a rich person can compete.
What can correct the dysfunctions that derail our government elections is to remove redistricting from party politics and have districts drawn that make sense geographically and represent a balanced cross section of the population. Further, fund raising should be limited to contributions from entities and citizens within the boundaries of representation. Lastly, a very small group of political regulars determines who runs for office. This can be remedied if each voter attends party meetings and especially participates in party activities as an election grows near.
Another aberration is the common practice of making it hard for some elements of the population to vote. Voting by every citizen is what makes democracy work. Gerrymandering is one way to reduce voting rights; the other is to make it very hard if not impossible for the common citizen to vote. Tricks like:
not allow voting on a weekend; not allowing absentee ballots; requiring identification that the poor and nonwhite classes often do not have – or need; limiting the location of voting centers to the disadvantage of college students, citizens without automobiles and others who cannot spare the time to travel an hour or more to vote; setting voting hours limited to the work hours of the working class so that time off, which may be impossible or will reduce wages, is common.
What causes failure in our governments is lack of concern for the common good. Special interests and undemocratic practices at the grass roots level is what brought our government down. Each of you is to blame.
Book recommendation: On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good by Pastor Jim Wallis, the editor of the magazine Sojourners.
Magazine recommendation: YES!, a magazine dedicated to solving the world’s problems in the context of the common good.