By Rick Sherman
How many times in the past several years have we heard the question: “Why has our government become so dysfunctional, why can’t Congress get on with its assigned task instead of indulging in constant partisan warfare?”. And, how many times has one pundit or another told us: “Washington is suffering system failure due to______ (you fill in the blank based upon your chosen pundit’s opinion)? Well, being your pundit of choice for the next few moments, I say: Hogwash. The system hasn’t failed us, rather we’ve failed the system!
Let me explain. The structure and process of our elective democracy, designed 250 years ago by the ‘best and brightest’ (B&B)of the late eighteenth century, assumed two things:
1) there would be an informed and motivated electorate, and;
2) from that electorate would come a steady supply of qualified candidates to fill elective positions.
Also, the B&B deliberately designed into the system great flexibility and assumed everyone would understand that the structure could and should change to accommodate changing times. So, the designers envisioned good people would be elected to legislative bodies, people who could and would govern responsibly and with respect for the real-world situations they faced.
For most of our republic’s history what the B&B vision prevailed. Lately, however, that stream of qualified candidates has been greatly regulated by political parties which select their candidates based upon dogmatic loyalty to the party’s position on issues. To waver from these predetermined positions would be to lose party support -- to face all but certain defeat in the next primary. Ergo, we get candidates lacking that element the B&B designed into the system - independence and integrity.
Until recently congress was peopled largely by those who believed in and practiced independent decision-making. Even when they had to face breaking with party positions they would champion positions they felt were just. (Imagine where we’d be had not LBJ sacrificed the Democratic Party’s future on the altar of the Civil Rights Act). Unfortunately, this type of legislator is going the way of the gooney bird. Two recent examples of great moderates, ready to compromise to achieve good for the many, leaving the Senate are Richard Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine. In Lugar’s case the party defeated him in the Republican primary in favor of a loyal party-liner (Tea, that is). Snowe, another Republican, decided not to run for reelection due to her frustrations with seemingly unending congressional stalemate. The loss of these two ‘compromisers’ will be felt.
We have failed the system in another way. We have allowed small sectors of the electorate to dominate far beyond anything the B&B envisioned. Money has always been powerful in American politics but since the Supreme Court equated money with free speech, wealth has become THE determiner of who is elected and how they vote on issues vital to whomever is behind the money.
Another example of our failure is in not electing a Congress willing to respect changing times and eliminate or re-devise the second amendment to the Constitution. The B&B never meant that early modification of this seminal document grant every dingbat in the country access to his/her own automatic weapon with which to exercise a self-proclaimed right to kill dozens of his neighbors.
Come on folks, let’s support that system we were given by the B&B so long ago. We need campaign finance reform and we need to readjust the constitution to reflect the times. To do this we need to elect people willing and able to do the right thing -- not just follow party doctrine.