Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Foibles of Representative Governance

ON EDIT: The most up-to-date version of the foibles can be found here.

The following 28 foibles of representative governance, especially with respect to the U.S. Congress, illuminate why the people must work to make serious strides toward more public-oriented citizen-directed governance.

  1. Ideology Over Practicality. Ideological wars and game-playing that defer or neglect the honest problem solving that citizens deserve. Much of this is due to increasingly uncompetitive elections due to increasingly gerrymandered representative districts—See Gerrymandering and Questionable Representation below. Moderates who simply want to do the best job for all the American people are being increasingly swept away from the halls of power in this country.
  2. Partisanship Over Practicality. Ossified, irrelevant political parties, secretly controlled by elites who virtually pre-choose our leaders, while actively working to dilute, pollute and obfuscate the issues. Parties aren't interested in solving problems... only managing them with empty public relations, incorporating them into their worthless platforms, overly simplifying them under the guise of partisan warfare, and conducting sweeping attacks on anyone who seeks real positive change (in other words, threats to the elites' undeserved power).
  3. Gaming the Constitution. Representatives are consistently (albeit periodically) passing laws they know to be unconstitutional. Oftentimes, though, bills just aren't properly reviewed for constitutionality before being considered. The following laws are excellent examples of hideous, unconstitutional laws that must be either partially or fully repealed as soon as possible:
  4. Elitist Dictatorial Behavior Between Elections. Politicians who act as "elected dictators" between elections, often neglecting the ongoing concerns of the citizenry. Elections simply don't give citizens a voice as significant as the politicians want us to think we have.
  5. Citizens Left Out of the Process. There's oftentimes no practical way for ordinary citizens to directly participate in the building of public policy. Most citizens have to spend most of their waking day working (in real jobs) and/or raising a family; meanwhile, their potentially valuable civic input is lost.
  6. Unabated Shameless Financial Corruption. The vast corruption in campaign finance. Even after passage of McCain-Feingold, there are many politicians and bureaucrats cooking up schemes to work around it. Shameful.
  7. The Public Interest Be Damned. Lobbyists and special interest groups coercing politicians into decisions that work against the public well-being.
  8. Non-lawyers' Ideas Not Respected. The best ideas for solving problems are being ignored or drowned out. When we have essentially a lawyer class running government, the rest of us who might have helpful ideas on all kinds of topics are often disdained.
  9. Political Fear and Lack of Conscience. Politicians make too many statements (read: lies) and decisions based on fear from political repercussions rather than doing what's best for the public. Being direct, factual or conscientious is assumed by many politicians to only lead to their electoral downfall.
  10. The Useless Fourth Estate. The news media is in the pocket of this "rule by elites" system as well as greedy corporate types who flout FCC requirements by consistently refusing to report continual, detailed political information that citizens need to effectively participate (especially at the local level). Politicians effectively work in the dark to make many of their decisions because they can count on constituents not fully understanding the issues, thanks to the dysfunctional press. And when the infotainment press does engage in its meager political coverage, they allow politicians to gloss over issues and avoid direct answers, while acting especially excited about poll numbers and "the horse race." There appears to be an implicit conspiracy between today's press and the government to defraud the people. Our daily news diet of "murder, weather and sports" needs to be fortified with "news that active citizens can use."
  11. Pork Barreling—The Mad Rep Disease. Because of the constant demand on politicians to act as if they're serving their constituents back home, they create too many wasteful or unneeded programs that deplete our [tax]] dollars and/or super-size the public debt. Congresscritters love PORK. Oink oink.
  12. Opaqueness of a So-Called "Open" Government. Politicians exhibit too much of a tendency to keep secrets from the public, even when those secrets have nothing to do with security matters. Why should a bureaucracy's dealings and decisions not be fully open to public scrutiny?
  13. Gerrymandering and Questionable Representation. The contorted gerrymandering of representative districts is creating an anti-democratic joke of a system where politicians pick their voters, rather than vice-versa. Combined with the natural power of incumbency, we've got an ossified, polarized body of elites who don't truly represent the people of their districts.

    "In 2004, only 30-40 congressional seats are likely to be truly competitive—a quarter of the number in the 1990s. Since 1964, the share of House incumbents re-elected with over 60% of the vote has risen from 58% to 77%." — The Economist, November 6, 2003

    "[Due to the persistent, computer-mechanized gerrymandering being conducted in recent redistricting efforts,] Members of the House now effectively answer only to primary voters, who represent the extreme partisan edge of both parties. As a result, collaboration and compromise between the parties have almost disappeared." — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, December 8 2003

  14. Growing Illegitimacy. With at least 50% (and growing) of the citizenry opting out of elections and each representative "representing" on average over 600K constituents, the legitimacy of our representative system is becoming increasingly questionable.
  15. Minorities and Small Parties Hopelessly Underrepresented. Due to the lack of true proportional representation alluded to in the last two foibles, and also due to the lack of an instant-runoff mechanism in elections, both minorities and small political parties are largely shut out of the political process. The system is actually set up to protect a non-inclusive bipartisan arrangement that has clearly failed us all.
  16. Pride and Old Shitty Laws. Pride in ownership prevents representatives from taking a second look at their poor decisions and/or reversing earlier bad laws. They just refuse to clean up after themselves and their predecessors.
  17. Nonstop Overreach on Criminal Law. Lawyer-representatives resist turning back any criminal law, even when harmful to society and/or disproportionately enforced. Consider the war on poor, black people and their hard-won suffrage, otherwise known as the miserably failed "War on Drugs."
  18. How on Earth Can They Keep Up? Representatives, even with their large staffs, are having increasing trouble keeping up with a faster changing society, esp. as the rate of change accelerates. Further, there is ample evidence that representatives often don't read much of the legislation they are voting on. This is fact is even documented in the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 with respect to the PATRIOT Act!
  19. The "Do Something, Do Anything" Syndrome. No politician gets brownie points for using laws already put in place by another politician, possibly even one created by a (gasp!) member of another party. Thus, they have to be seen as doing something... doing anything... even if it's incredibly bad policy.
  20. Nothing Can Ever Be Simple. Forgetting or ignoring that sometimes small/simple solutions work best, and that government doesn't always have to be the solution provider.
  21. Enforcement Is Somebody Else's Problem. Passing new laws because enforcement of old one(s) was inadequate, or passing laws known to become unenforceable or unevenly enforced.
  22. The Insensitivity of One-Party Government. When one party takes control over too much of the government (or when both the parties act too much the same), there's a single-minded determination to ignore various sets of stakeholders with respect to building public policy that is supposed to serve the whole public.
  23. Candy and Budget Bombs. Representatives place expiration dates into "constituent candy" laws, such as tax reductions, knowing that even though the budget numbers add up better, that politicians wouldn't have the nerve to let the tax breaks expire and would ordinarily renew them.
  24. The Great Separation of Money and Mouths. Many representatives say all the time they want to cut spending but simultaneously refuse to name all the programs they would cut. Instead, they play games like "starving the beast." Likewise, many representatives speak of bold, new programs they would create, but again they refuse to detail how they would be financed.
  25. Illusory Support of Issues. Sometimes there are too many competitive bills on issues representatives will claim they support even if no law ends up being created (e.g., term limits) because of the competition. And of course, the reps know in advance that nothing was going to pass. This phenomenon of course can also happen with bills having widely known upcoming parliamentary and constitutionality obstructions of various sorts.
  26. Stealth Legislation. Everyone has heard of the pay raises and other stinkers the Congresscritters pass in the middle of the night. But many citizens don't pay close enough attention to the details of the laws that are passed (unless the media does its job... once in a blue moon)—many of these details can be well-hidden using lawyerly or deceptive language. Details like this often join bills as last-minute riders that escape the attention of the legislators voting on them.
  27. Unfunded Mandates. Representatives often pass legislation that forces states and localities to take various actions, but don't provide enough (and sometimes no) funds to pay for them. Especially at a time when many states are facing severe shortfalls, this practice borders on immoral.
  28. Toying with the Emotions of the American People. When politicians throw out issues or non-issues for the public to chew on or get flustered about to obfuscate underlying issues that the public actually cares about, so the politicians don't have to deal with them. Prime example: Terri Schiavo.
And this list potentially has no end.

Anyway, in the near future I would like to write up a companion piece called The Foibles of Corporate Dominance, unless I come to the conclusion it will take me years to write. :) But you can help. And it won't even cost you the daily equivalent of a cup of coffee.

By the way, Dana “Dan 'Malano' Seum” Stephenson is still sitting in her 37th district Senate seat... unconstitutionally. Republican leaders successfully usurped the Kentucky Constitution. Bravo for them, but the people of Kentucky are the losers.

1 comment:

Steve Magruder said...

Since posting this article, I realized I had made a serious omission, in that I don't mention how Congress cedes too much power to the executive branch, esp. with regards to war powers. I probably left it out because I wanted the list to be generic enough to apply to all legislatures. Be that as it may, giving Bush the power to go to war in Iraq without justification is about the biggest foible imaginable.