Politics is a dirty business. Whether this truly reflects reality or is a popular misconception exacerbated by Hollywood excesses, the general sentiment towards our system of governance is that of disgust, suspicions or complete ignorance. John Doe believes that the average politician is more concerned with his own self-interest than that of his constituents – the term an ‘honest politician’ is an oxymoron subjected to a great amount of ridicule. The United States has widely considered itself the ‘champion of democracy’. Heated debates, inspiring speeches and even wars have been fought to assert this fact. In a truly democratic system, rule is by the consent of the majority.
Elected candidates will serve as ambassadors of the people, who will fight tooth and nail if necessary to defend the needs of their constituents. However, when even the people themselves view their representatives with this little amount of respect, then it begs into question the legitimacy of our political system. Perhaps the major problem lies in the election process. No doubt we have taken great efforts to ensure that elections abide by the sacred hallmarks of democracy; every vote counts equally and freedoms of speech, press and assembly without fear of persecution. Sadly, it is the unmanageable factors that compromise our system. Although in theory the American system calls for one vote per person, the low rate of turnout results in the upper and middle classes ultimately choosing candidates for the entire nation.
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Class bias occurs due to differing levels of income and education. Educated people tend to understand politics more, therefore are more likely to vote. Higher income and education also provide for more resources to control the candidacy, where else the poor tend to have low political efficacy. Then there are those who refuse to exercise their rights to vote. There are numerous reasons for this, ranging from the ‘legitimate (such as an extreme conflict of opinions) to sheer, utter laziness. Unfortunately, making no decision is a decision by itself – whether they choose to participate or not, elected candidates will ultimately create policies that will affect their lives.
As such, oftentimes it is a case of 60 percent of the people controlling 100 percent of the government. The establishment of the electoral college to elect the presidency is another focus of criticism. The “winner-take-all” approach in elections is unfair and undemocratic, as it does not necessarily present the majority view. Theoretically, a candidate that receives 40 percent of the vote can be elected as long as he gets more votes than any other candidate – even though 60 percent of the voters voted against him. As electoral seats are apportioned according to population, smaller states (with their few electoral votes) therefore have lesser influence and could be effectively ignored by a candidate. This is especially true when a state is particularly opposed to the campaign issues of a candidate.
In contrast, heavily populated states such as California and Georgia are given the most attention, although presidential decisions affect the nation as a whole. Somehow, this feels as if the candidates are more interested in getting elected than to actually represent the views of their fellow Americans. “Whose interests do the politicos serves Firstly, their own. Secondly, not yours.” This view has more than just a ring of truth in it. With the potential authoritative privileges associated with a national office and a disfranchised citizenry, political positions have become little more than vehicles to further self-interest. The great distrust in government could be largely attributed to the fact that candidates say many things but do very little.
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Once elected, an official is not legally bound to fulfill his promises to the people, although it would be in his best interest to perform as many as possible. Reports and rumors of corruption further aggravate an already difficult situation. This conflict of interest boils down to a matter of human nature. Despite the heavy emphasis of equality in American culture, the people expect their representatives to be selfless, super-humans that can and will serve all the diverse needs of their constituents. But the simple fact is that politicians are humans too, and humans by nature are selfish and greedy. Every official has first and foremost his own interest and self-advancement in mind.
Serving the every need of his constituents might not be conducive to a long and prosperous political career. They can rely on the fact that with poor voter turnouts, serving only the majority needs could garner the necessary votes for re-election. On the other hand, policy making must take campaign contributors into account. Special interest groups influence political decisions through means of supporting campaign expenses. In fact, the power held by these interest groups has grown substantially over the years, so much so that ignoring their demands could lead to a loss in the next election. The structure of the government’s bureaucracy itself is a problem.
Although Congress (Senate and House) is elected directly by the people, power within Congress is usually determined by the seniority system. In the majority party (the party which controls Congress), the person who has served the longest has the most power, a situation quite unfair in the democratic sense. Congress itself is of limited ability; it is good at serving particular individual interests, but poor when it comes to general interests (due to its fragmented structure of committees and sub-committees).
In fact, vote for a party / candidate only in principle, because in practice, there isn’t much difference. Bureaucracy is not unlike a great fast-moving train; even if another engineer takes control, it is incredibly hard to make any large adjustments without severely destabilize the train. Similarly, it wouldn’t matter which political party is in power, because any fundamental change would upset a lot of people (one of the unwritten laws of politics: to make an extreme change is to invite political suicide).
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America might be two-party in theory, but they are still two groups rowing the same boat. When a task is voluntary, there will always be non-participants. This applies to voting as well. Many feel it is not their responsibility to vote, although the outcomes affect their lives drastically. The general suspicions towards government could be a contributing factor, which is further fueled by instances of non-representation by elected officials.
Yet, in a system where rule is by representation, conflict of interests is bound to occur. To its defense, the American system of governance affords the most freedom and choices to its people. The many internal checks and balances make it difficult for officials to abuse their positions. Unlike many other ‘democratic’ nations, the press is under private interests and is almost completely out of government censorship.
As such, the American people are afforded an objective perspective of their government’s activities. Despite its faults, America still possesses one of the strongest and fairest system of governance in the world. Perhaps there will come a time in the future when a new system of politics will prove itself superior to what we have now. But such change will be gradual and continuously adaptive to the needs of its participants. Until that day, we can only hope for greater political awareness and a higher incentive to vote. We might not eliminate all the problems but we can reduce the needless ones.