The Least of 20 Evils
The American political system these days is doing a terrible job of representing the interests of the majority of people living under it. The way in which districting of Congressional seats, the restriction of the voting rights of certain groups of people, the way in which ballot slots are allocated and the means by which political campaigns are waged and financed have all combined to de facto dilute the voices of or downright disenfranchise millions of Americans, while simultaneously augmenting the political clout of a much smaller number of people on the basis of wealth, income, gender, race and other arbitrary criteria. The ideal concept of “one person one vote” has become farther from realization with the passage of each successive election for decades.
The Republican Party, which has for the majority of its existence been viewed by most as the party of the wealthy business and corporate interests, no longer even seeks to hide that fact, continuing to preach the virtues of policies that have proven for decades to result in increasing income and wealth inequality favoring those already in positions of wealth and power while decimating the middle class and entrenching increasing numbers of people in an endless cycle of poverty with little room for true economic upward mobility. Decreasing investment in public education, health care, housing and other social safety net programs have helped to increase societal stratification instead of leveling the playing field by equalizing opportunities for advancement for everyone.
Political developments, such as the opening up the floodgates for campaign finance for increasingly large donations by wealthy individuals, corporations and other groups, along with the perceived need to court donations by such groups in order to not face being dramatically outspent by their opponents has resulted in a major decrease in responsiveness of many members of both parties to the needs and aspirations of their constituents less able to help them get elected and retain their elected status. The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has gone a long way toward unraveling the campaign spending/fundraising legislation which had been legislated over the course of many years to try to make political campaigning more dependent on policy issues and less dependent on the ability to overwhelm people with campaign advertizing noise. The more recent devastation of key elements of the Voting Rights Act has further suppressed voting by members of groups protected by that law.
Gerrymandering of safe districts, which allows the party in power when redistricting occurs to make it more difficult for the opposing party to regain a majority in Congress and/or state legislatures, makes it possible for one political party to maintain its majority status in the elected bodies despite garnering far fewer overall votes than the “minority” party. Changing voting legislation to make it selectively more difficult for certain groups of people to vote, restrictions placed causing voting to take more time for some people than others and even the way in which votes are made and counted all open up increased chances for election results to differ significantly from the overall will of the people directly affected by the outcome. Thus, election fraud of various kinds has become more prevalent while more attention is being paid to alleviating a perceived problem of voter fraud that doesn’t actually exist.
The current contest for the 2016 Presidential election makes a good case in point for how far our system is straying from the democratic ideals this country has professed (note I purposely did not say practiced) for centuries now. A bazillion people announced their candidacy for the GOP nomination (ok, maybe in was closer to 20). Five announced on the Democratic side. All of these received at least a little bit of national media attention and some free airtime in televised debates. Ever see a debate nationally televised that included zero participants of either party? They must exist, because those are not the only two entrants on the presidential ballots of most states.
Many candidates from other parties have better developed policy platforms than most if not all of those running for the Democratic or Republican parties. Some even seek to represent the interests of more people than the major parties’ candidates do. They simply don’t have the resources to force themselves on the general public by buying up airtime, and the two parties do everything in their power to shut them out of any nationally televised debates. The exception to the rule being those billionaires vain enough to buy their way into the race. This is certainly not the case in most parliamentary systems, where multiple parties participate and govern much more successfully than our system has been doing of late.
When all else fails, the candidates whose names ultimately occupy the Democratic and Republican lines on the November ballot resort to cajoling those of us who want neither to hold the office, or greatly prefer someone else we think would do a better job with the time honored tradition of voting for the lesser of two evils. Apparently, this time around, we were expected to vote for the least of 20-something evils. None of these people can claim the support of a majority of voters. Almost all have higher negative than positive ratings in popular opinion polls. That’s not even a goal most of them aspire to. Someone will win. Usually it ends up being the person who gets a majority of ballots cast in the election, but not always. Most of those voting against the “winner” who didn’t vote for the person who came in second will be excoriated publicly as having blown the election.
If we end up with an inappropriate winner this election, it will not be for the first time. I doubt anybody would disagree on that score. Part of the problem resides in how the candidates are chosen. When some of the largest states shutout up to a third of their residents from even voting in a primary, the chances of selecting a true representative of the majority opinion in those states is greatly curtailed. If parties wish to choose their candidates that way, that’s fine. Just don’t make it so gosh-darned hard for other candidates to get on the general election ballot and participate in public debates that it becomes almost impossible for someone other than one of those two candidates to win.
The two current parties in our two-party system each represents an ever shrinking portion of the population. Third party and independent candidates and voters get short-shrift from the system on purpose – the two parties don’t want to share power, and neither seems to want to do the right thing by representing the greater good for all instead of the easier path of serving the interests of the powerful few over those of the many. There are some who do that to various degrees of success. Bernie Sanders is an aberration, having never served in elective office after running as a party nominee. Others have chosen to use his campaign finance model, but none has garnered enough support to win the big prize yet.
If we want to establish a government that is truly democratic, we need to do more to level the field and make the contest more one of ideas and less one of money. The media needs to be made to act as more of an impartial third party conveying valuable information so that the general public can make informed decisions, not as a capitalistic money-making venture only interested in maximizing their own monetary profits. Having a process that leaves us with Trump, Cruz and Kasich on one side and Clinton opposed only by someone who never even officially belonged to the party before in Sanders – with the only outside contenders being people with single-digit name recognition – does not bode well for selecting a new President even capable of representing the majority of their own party, let alone of the nation as a whole.
For the record, my state (PA) primary is this coming Tuesday. When I voted in Vermont primaries, I’d show up, be asked which party ballot I wanted and vote. I could only vote in one. Here, to vote at all, I had to change my registration from independent to either Democrat or Republican. Only a very small percentage of people ever bother to do that. This primary will undoubtedly do a fairly good job of selecting candidates who went to the trouble of appearing on the ballot and preferred by declared members of the parties involved. It will not do a very good job of selecting candidates preferred by the people of Pennsylvania. Different states may do a better or worse job at that than mine, but what kind of mandate can a President have with the votes of a small minority of eligible voters, many of whom are voting only to avert what they see as a disaster if the other person wins?
Open up primaries, open up debates, open up ballots, reduce voter suppression and obstacles to voting. Get candidates who are more representative of the people whose votes they seek and less representative of those interested in maintaining an unfair and unjust status quo. End least of 20 evils voting and elect people to office who will do the jobs to which they are elected.
Suggested Further Readings: