Sunday, November 08, 2009


Turned-off Independents

Roughly a third of the voters refuse to affiliate themselves with any political party. Polls indicate that they have a low opinion of the two major parties. In very rough numbers, Democrats have an approval rating of about 40 percent and Republicans about 20 percent. Of course these percentages change from time to time. It is likely that some time in the next year or two the Republicans will gain in approval. Probably the Democrats will lose. We will then have two political parties, each with an approval rating of the order of 30 percent. That is, thirty percent of the independent voters will think well of the parties - or at least of one of them. Seventy percent of the independent voters will disapprove of both parties.

In my opinion, the reason that independent voters have a low opinion of our political parties and of Congress is that they are frustrated by the fact that our government, particularly the national or federal government, is not structured to be truly representative. The Senate in particularly is skewed in favor of the small states and against the big states, especially states that contain the large cities: New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and others. It is skewed in favor of small states with low populations: Alaska, Montana, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, etc.

In addition to the ancient recipe for the Senate, with two Senators from each state, regardless of population, the also ancient system of single-member districts for the House skew the representation in favor of the winners. The residents of these districts who didn't happen to vote for the winners are unrepresented. Republicans do not try to represent the minority Democrats in their districts and Democrats do not try to represent the minority Republicans. In addition, the two major parties are divided along fundamental ideological considerations. Republicans believe in "small government," no matter what the cost. Our constitution was drawn up and approved in 1787. Ideally, our government should do no more or no less for its citizens than it did in that year. Democrats believe in "government that provides needed and useful services." Social Security and Medicare are examples of such services. Democrats believe that government should do what is needed to provide every American with adequate health care, regardless of the cost. Democrats believe that the cost of not providing such care is greater than the cost of providing it. Republicans distrust government's ability to provide such a service efficiently and fairly.

The writers of the constitution distrusted and despised political parties. The man (or person) representing a legislative district should consider the wishes and well-being of the residents of his district, not the ideology of a particular political party. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out the way the founding fathers wished. Members of the federal legislature are very closely bound to their parties for support in campaigns to be reelected. Party support means campaign money and advantageous committee appointments. A representative of a rural district in Nebraska wants to be on the Agriculture Committee. A representative of a district in Nevada or Montana may want to be on a committee that deals with mines or national forests. A representative who doesn't toe the party line may find himself on committees that his constituents have no interest in. Political parties are here and they are going to stay. They have developed in every legislature or parliament in the world. Even local "non-partisan" legislatures like the Los Angeles City Council exhibit political parties. Although the members of the body are legally "non-partisan," everyone knows the party affiliations of all the members. We know that the present mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is a Democrat. His predecessor James Hahn was also a Democrat. His predecessor was a Republican. And so on. Fortunately, party ideology doesn't play a major part in local politics and in forming local policy.

What can be done?

About the Senate, probably nothing without a new constitutional convention. Representation in the Senate can not be changed except by a unanimous vote of all fifty states.

About the House, some form of proportional representation would provide representation for the voters on the "losing" side. Such a change would entail multiple member districts. Party representation from such a district would reflect the proportion of votes each party's candidates received. This change would make it possible for minor parties, such as the Green Party, the American Independent Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Peace and Freedom Party to elect a few members to the national legislature. At present these minor parties are completely excluded.

Is it likely that such changes will be made in our national government during my lifetime?


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