Thursday, February 04, 2010
Is Bi-Partisanship Good for the Voting Public?
As proposed while still a candidate, President Obama's version of bipartisanship envisioned a kind of Utopian ideal where reaching across the aisle would be a frequent gesture, not just an occasional product of odd bedfellows. My own interpretation of the concept is not nearly so pie-in-the-sky as much as it is practical in theory. Of course, I never expect to see it implemented because legislators hardly ever do anything practical these days, in theory or not. My modest proposal would seek to level the playing field between parties, particularly on a state-by-state basis, since even though running up the score might be satisfying to some, everyone at heart loves a close game. True party parity would certainly strike fear into the lovers of the status quo and the current office holders themselves, but the past several months have proven to me that many of the current batch of bumbling idiots are long past their shelf life and need to be thrown out altogether.
Though a handful of so-called purple states exist in this country, most states give primary allegiance to either one party or the other. As we know, the South is usually reliably GOP by default and the Northeast usually Democratic. I recognize that due to recent electoral decisions we know that this is not always the case, but taking into account the whole picture, this statement is largely accurate. The battles we fight with each other these days are partially a result of how we have dug in, trench warfare style, facing across an literally invisible, but still nonetheless highly perceptible partition. Purple states are certainly more prevalent now than at any other time before in our history, but their development is relatively slow and since government is indebted most strongly to historical precedent, particular when one observes the tortured and convoluted congressional and state districting schemes, the blue state/red state divide is still very much with us. Indeed, I cannot for the life of me envision a point where it will give way to something else altogether, though I would certainly rejoice if it were.
When any region or state calcifies around a particular party allegiance, competition for available seats is minimal and new blood rarely gets the chance to serve the people. In both red and blue states, running for elective office often requires one to wait for an existing Representative or Senator to die, whether they be in the State legislature or the U.S. Congress. While I of course recognize that my allegiance to the Democratic party is paramount in my affections, I also know that true democracy rarely makes any headway with de facto lifetime appointments of any legislative body. That sort of arrangement is for something else altogether and if we are to preserve the checks and balances of our Founders, we would be wise to start here. The bipartisanship I strive for would be something close to equality between each state party in representation, redistricting, and in funds. Even putting one of these proposals into effect would make a difference. To be sure, I don't deceive myself. This would face stiff opposition from all sides and even if it were seriously considered, likely not much would come of it. Still, we need to at least contemplate resolutions like this, even if they may not be workable in reality because they are the only way we're going to be able to begin to get the system to work for us, not against us from here on out.
One of the many ironies is that one would think that Republicans would embrace this plan, since it falls in line with their pro-private sector, pro-capitalist ideal. In a pure, unadulterated capitalist system, competition and innovation is essential to the success of the market and the economy. What's good for the goose must surely be good for the gander. Surely the GOP couldn't find much objectionable in this, my most modest proposal. Even so, many entrenched GOP movers and shakers would counter this suggestion by substituting term limits instead. To me, however, term limits would be a poor substitute and be far from effective, which is why I have always opposed them outright. If one never changes the political landscape of a state or a region, all term limits would really do is hand the baton off to another person of the same stripes and ideological identification. In that case it would merely be the latest example of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss".
If we really could manage something close to legislative and party parity, then it would be much easier to hold the feet of politicians to the fire. Certainly they would have to worry more about losing their seat and undeniably they would need to pay closer attention to constituent needs, but I don't think either of those outcomes are a bad thing. As it stands now, we have a still-majority, veteran Democratic caucus in the Senate who seem quite content to place its own needs and priorities above those of the average American citizen. If every Representative or Senator, regardless of party, recognized that unless Congress or any state legislative body produced clear cut legislative success that they were likely to no longer have a seat, then I daresay we probably would see some real reforms for a change. If members of both parties had to fear being booted out on not just or or two but every election cycle, we wouldn't see a constant tit-for-tat between Republicans and Democrats, nor any of these exasperating back and forth power swaps whereby the party in power obtains majority status purely by capitalizing on the mistakes of the opposite party, not by actually doing anything to win control based on merit. A drawback in this system would be that it would be easier for competent elected representatives to be swept out based on the irrational demands of an angry electorate, one much like the Tea Party members prevalent now, but much of life is some combination of luck and chance and why should politics be any different?
If we are a massively diverse plurality society of differing and competing points of view, I see more, not less gridlock and more demoralizing legislative defeats in our future. Arguably a lack of across-the-board equality in so many different areas is responsible for everything from crime to bigotry. We have underscored and articulated the problem time and time again and have gotten no further to really going after the real causes. Doing so would require unselfishness and sacrifice, of course, two qualities that are always in short supply. But what I do know is that we can't keep doing the same thing we've always done and expect a different result. I do believe in the power of reform, but I do also recognize how change often is a product of desperation and last-ditch-effort; I don't want things to get that bad before we really act. I'm not sure how much more dysfunctional our government needs to get before we adopt new strategies that will return power to the hands of an informed citizenry. The system failed us, certainly, but we are supposed to be the ones whose active hand in the proceedings puts us and everyone back on course. How we do it is not nearly as important as when we do it. I hope that day is soon.