Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Illusion of Choice

Tonight I would like to delve a little deeper into the choices presented by our political leaders and their respective parties. The media portrays the two dominant political parties in this nation as dueling foes, each representing half the country valiantly against their devious opponent. They are polar opposites: Good versus Evil, Truth versus Lies, Life versus Death. Yet, even with such diametric options, the majority of Americans sympathize with one or the other. Are we really a nation composed of two dissimilar types of people with an ever growing chasm between our views? I think not, but the evolution of our parties to represent this bisection is not a difficult transition to logically follow.

Following the emergence of the Republican Party to oppose the already existing Democratic Party in 1854, American politics changed forever. The new party was a coalition of anti-slavery activists in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Act would expand slavery to include the two new territories and, while popular among the southern states, was widely opposed in the north. With such explosive beginnings it should come as little surprise that the two parties have proverbially "butt heads" for over 150 years. The real division of the parties stems from a need to control the House of Representatives and/or the Senate to pass legislation. By garnering the support of as many legislators as possible, congressmen ensure that the bills they attempt to pass have improved odds. The result is a collective with the epitome of a "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" mentality.

It is clear that under this system, the wishes of the voters quickly lose power. When a politician wants a bill to pass, he or she must ensure that they have the support of their party. To achieve this goal, they must support the legislation proposed by fellow party members regardless of constituent concerns and desires. Opponents to the bill must rally support on their own side, ensuring nay votes in exchange for support or opposition of legislation in the future. The end result is a stagnant congress with animosity brewing on both sides of the aisle.

A deadlocked congress is obviously detrimental to our country but to exacerbate the problem, policy is becoming more and more polarized. With each new bill, legislators must differentiate their policy from that which they just voted down. The new legislation is written to reflect the opposite values held by their respective party, once again ignoring the wishes of their constituency. Reason and logical are replaced by partisanship for sake of support from fellow party members.

When election season comes to pass, radicalism again pervades the proceedings. Republicans face off against Democrats, each taking polar opposite positions an each issue so as not to be portrayed as concessionary or a "flip-flopper". Any history of crossing the aisle is condemned and vilified. The result is a devastating blow to voter representation in public office. We are forced to choose between to officials on antipodal sides of a widening ravine in policy. Only the most radical voters are truly represented and the majority is left abandoned in the middle, forced to vote for poor representation or none at all. The disconnect is startling and neither side appears willing to step towards the middle.

So what are we left with? A choice between two radically different principles represented by two radically different people? Not even so much as that. When the best option is to choose against a candidate rather than for one, the system is broken beyond repair. The solution is complete reform, away from two homogeneous parties and toward one heterogeneous whole. When each policy can be debated on its merits and voted on in accordance with voter inclination we will have made dramatic progress. A congressional approval rating of under 10 percent (as low as 6 percent in one Gallup poll) is very telling. The majority is not being represented, the minority is not being protected, and YOU are being ignored. Tell your representatives you're tired of it. Demand a change.

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