By GRACE WINFIELD
Before reading my morning briefing last Wednesday, I glanced at the front page of the New York Times, and was not surprised to see that four of the five headlines were political. With the media’s ever-growing political obsession, it seems as though nothing in American politics is getting resolved, or will be. As my mind was flooded with thoughts of FBI investigations, gridlock, and scandal-galore, I really questioned our political system.
The question isn’t only if our political system is still effective, but if it serves the public interest—the short answer is no. The reason? America’s political duopoly and voter manipulation.
We can’t say we haven’t been warned. Most people are familiar with George Washington’s farewell address, where he cautions the formation of political parties and expresses his detestation. There’s also John Adams, who said “there is nothing which I dread so much as a division in two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
The two-party system is killing our democracy.
Party affiliation is a mere distraction that the government has successfully composed to keep us, the people, in an ongoing battle against one another. Political leaders are skilled actors. They learn their audience, they say the right things and make empty promises along the way only to ever truly have their own personal gain in mind in their conspiracies to seize power and fame.
Washington was right—political parties have created power-hungry monsters as leaders, those he described as “…cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men [that] will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Slowly, the system has been reconfigured to benefit only major political parties, and their private interests. The current duopoly has created a political competition that only those a part of the major parties’ political agenda and corporate America can benefit from. More specifically, the industrial allies and courteous donors that party leaders and representatives heavily rely on to support their campaigning.
The parties have established their own rules in the political system to further enhance their power while diminishing our democracy. One way we supposedly can preserve this democracy is by voting.
We are told that our vote serves as our voice—but what about those who have their voice taken from them? The people that choose not to affiliate as either Republican nor Democratic are known as independents. Approximately half of the states in the US prohibit independent party affiliates from voting in the primary elections. Does this not contradict the very definition of democracy?
An issue that certainly hinders democracy, pertaining to voting in particular, would be partisan gerrymandering. Partisan gerrymandering, according to NPR, “is the practice of drawing legislative and congressional district lines to maximize and perpetuate the power of an incumbent political party.” Essentially, this means that politicians have the unfair advantage of picking their voters, instead of voters picking their politicians, this goes for both the left and the right. The major goal is for a political party to manipulate district lines around a set of voters that will likely elect a certain party’s candidate based on the party affiliations of the people within a certain district.
You may wonder who draws these unfair boundaries. The process varies from state to state, though in most cases, a state’s district lines are redrawn by the state legislature, and the majority party control the process. While some states require bi-partisan or non-partisan commissions to oversee line-drawing, the state governor and majority party leaders control who is appointed to these commissions, according to Redistricting the Nation, a site ran by a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software design and development firm that specializes in web-based geographic analysis and modeling applications for the government, known as Azavea.
Reform starts with congressional districts. State-houses across the United States re-draw congressional districts every 10 years. To ensure one party gets elected over another, districts are made to elect one candidate further on the left or the right. Compromise is seen less and less, two sides of the ideological spectrum distance further apart.
Sure, there are third parties. But are they viable? Even if they are, it’s not as though they have a fair chance. These single seat districts, as previously mentioned, are to blame. There were once multi-seat Congressional districts, districts that could have two or more elected representatives. With the passage of the Uniform Congressional Districts Act, Congress eliminated multi-seat districts in 1967. The system allowed candidates from minor parties to win office and gain political traction.
The two major political parties appeal to their partisan supporters based on ideology, not policies that work. Parties divide voters based on hostility toward the other side, pushing voters to feel that they must choose between the left and the right. In turn, the two-party system successfully creates straight ticket voters, meaning, voters that will always vote in preference of the party, not the candidate.
We need to make up our own minds about how we feel toward certain issues. We shouldn’t feel the need to define ourselves as either liberal or conservative; we as people should not be defined by party affiliation, but rather by our individual convictions. The problem isn’t necessarily the existence of parties, but the political competition that the major parties have created only between themselves, not allowing new competition in the race that could potentially better serve the public interest.
The nation is granting money the power to slowly tear down the democracy that once built America. The great influence of money misrepresents competition, creating biased elections. The politics industry (yes, industry), and its chokehold on legislature is nullifying democracy.
It’s time for our voting mechanics and redistricting processes to receive some serious attention, to appeal the Uniform Congressional Districts Act and kill the two-party system, to eliminate partisan control; though even those are only some steps toward the major political realignment that America needs.