Friday, February 02, 2007

Election Reform, Part 3

Democracy isn't working in America. The democratic process should theoretically result in an elected government that a majority of the population is content with most of the time. It may not be the first choice of the majority, but it should at least be acceptable in most cases.
What we have instead is a government that the majority of Americans distrust, dislike, and disown. Why is this, and what can be done to fix it?

In the first part of this series (developed in the comments to these posts), I suggested a change to our method of voting. I feel that our "pick one" system leads many people to be too easily swayed by media pressure to vote for a prominent candidate they don't trust or like, so as to be voting against a candidate that dislike and distrust even more. I described some potential options that could change that situation, allowing voters to express their true preferences (thereby building momentum) while also protecting their vote against supporting a strongly-disliked candidate.

In the second part, I examined the dilemma we as voters face in evaluating candidates. We have only the information that we are presented through carefully-scripted speeches and debates, through polemic and exaggerated TV ads, and through highly over-simplified position statements. It is nearly impossible to evaluate a candidate's real abilities as a leader with such limited, skewed, and filtered information. Many things have been suggested on this score, but I added to the list a suggestion for a knowledge test, to give us an objective way of figuring out how much various candidates know about the situations they will be responsible for if they become leaders.

In this third part, I will look briefly at the two-party system, and make a suggestion (however unlikely it is to be actualized) about what could be done to improve our ability to be accurately represented in our government.

My thoughts were led this way by a post on Mark Byron's blog shortly after the November 2006 elections. He points out that, based on voting patterns, the majority of our national legislature is either strongly conservative or strongly liberal. As Mark puts it, "I don't think the population of the country is that polarized".

One of the reasons this happens is because of the two-party primary-election/general-election system. My first suggestion in this series, changing the method of voting, could have a major effect here. But, I also suggest the creation of another party.

Now, of course, there are other parties. The three main competitors are the Constitution party, the Green party, and the Libertarian party. The Constitution party is more strongly conservative than the Republicans; the Green party is more strongly liberal than the Democrats. So, neither of those is going to reflect the views of the politically-moderate American. The Libertarian party is an odd breed, ultra-conservative in certain areas and ultra-liberal in others, driven by an underlying philosophy that is so hard to live out fully that most of its proponents end up making notable exceptions... but it is still a significant force in American politics.

However, if (as we hear every year) the elections will be decided by the moderate, independent voters... why does that huge voting bloc not have a party of its own? Shouldn't there be a "Moderate" party?

The obvious problem with that plan was expressed by a commenter on Mark Byron's blog:

If one person supports gun control while opposing abortion, and the second opposes gun control and supports abortion, they're both statistically "middle." Good luck getting them into one party, though.

The middle is an ideological mish-mash, so building a party platform that would have any level of buy-in would be impossible.

But... what is a political party other than a group of people who share a particular set of values, and work together to identify a candidate who shares those values to represent them? Is it not possible to identify a shared set of values that would be embraced by the vast majority of politically-in-the-middle Americans? I think so... but the values would not be tied to political ideological positions.

Imagine a party whose platform said nothing about abortion, nothing about economics, nothing about immigration, nothing about homosexual marriage or health care of Social Security. Instead, imagine if it said:

  • We are committed to listening and responding respectfully to those who disagree with us, building consensus, giving and expecting compromise, working for pragmatic solutions for the problems that face us.
  • We are committed to being honest and law-abiding. We will never take gifts from special interest groups, we will never sell a vote either for money or for other considerations. We will never break the laws that we are committing to maintain.
  • We are committed to avoiding the abuse of power. We will avoid all power games, such as selling a vote for one item to get someone else to vote on something else. We will, as children are taught, accept when we cannot get our way, and not use procedural tricks to block the will of the majority. We will not cheat the democratic process by withholding our vote from an otherwise good bill unless unrelated items (which would not pass a vote on their own) are added.

That's a good start, I think. I imagine that's a set of values that the vast majority of moderate independent voters could get behind and committed to. In fact, most of us wish our candidates were committed to those things... but the party leadership, which should be filtering candidates based on what matters to us, is using a very different standard than that outlined above.

So, I suggest we start a party (I can't decide what to call it) with a platform of non-ideological, character-based commitments. The party leadership would have the task of carefully evaluating potential candidates to identify those who have demonstrated a commitment to the party's principles. We would then be able to vote, as a party, for a candidate to represent us in each election, one who we could be certain would be committed to doing politics in a fair, respectful, above-board manner, working within the democratic processes rather than trying to get around them.

Those principles are more important to me than nearly all the political ideological positions. Yet, neither the Democrats or the Republicans are committed to them. Neither the Democratic party leadership or the Republican party leadership is likely to put forward a candidate who is committed to avoiding power politics, which could then weaken the party's overall influence. Both groups clearly put their commitment to power over their respect for democratic principles. In so doing, both groups lose my trust and respect.

There are, of course, many potential problems with my proposal. Maybe, for most people, character issues of this sort are high priorities, but not as high as one or two key ideological positions. Maybe, for most people, power (getting their way in government) is more important than principle and fairness. Maybe most people vote based on who will do the most for them, who will lower their taxes the most or who will increase handouts the most or who will subsidize their business the most or who will get the most government contracts moved to their area... all without concern for how those ends are realized.

But, for my part, I'd join that party in a heartbeat, and I'd probably get more actively involved in politics with a party like that to support than I've been willing to consider with any of the current parties. I think that, if nothing else, the existence of the party would help to raise those principle-based issues in the national consciousness, which couldn't help but be a good thing.



Amy said...

Pardon me for commenting after only reading the first sentence. I just have to say, it made me laugh.

"Democracy isn't working in America." Of course not, thought I, the US a democracy but a republic.

Now, on to reading the rest of your post so as to comment in a more relevant manner.

Amy said...

So, okay, after that first sentence, I stopped laughing and really appreciated your post.

I agree that the moderates are out here, but too many of us are stuck, either feeling we need to make some sort of statement, so let's make a deal and choose the lesser of two distateful candidates or else we're simply caught in the middle, so weighted down by two parties we can't agree with that we don't move or vote at all.

Start your brotherhood of moderate statesmen (and women). That's a "political party" I'd be willing to register under.

Oh, and have you read Ash's thoughts on the subject? I think he might be willing to join your brotherhood as well.

Mark Congdon said...


I stand by my use of the word democracy, though of course you're also right. :)

Ash can be a charter member of our new party, most definitely. Thanks for the link! Now, if we could only figure out what to call ourselves.....


steviepinhead said...

Just call the new party The Mods.

The first substantial anti-mod opposition party will, of course, have to settle for The Rockers...

Mark Congdon said...

Showing my cultural ignorance (and the fact that I wasn't born at the time), I had to look this up to find out what you were talking about. :)


steviepinhead said...

Yessiree! I'm s-s-sooo ancient now, that if someone my age were to sign up for that there "opposition" party, they'd have to call 'emselves the "Walkers" instead of the Rockers.

Unless by "Rockers," it was understood that ya meant them chairs that you can nod back and forth in, instead of that old-time dancin' and prancin' music...!

By golly, Miss Molly!