(Editor’s note: The second segment of this multi-part series traces in part how we arrived at the greatest concentration of wealth disparity in American History. In Part Three, we begin to construct a practical solution.)
How do we restore meaningful equality of opportunity --- identified by Theodore Roosevelt as the third great crisis in our nation’s history? Consider that the power to do so derives in the place from which all legitimate power originates in a democracy --- from the ballot box.
The solution is at the ballot box. It involves strengthening the ordinary citizen’s vote to elect lawmakers accountable to the public interest. Strengthened and unshackled, the ordinary citizen’s vote is bound to improve equality of opportunity over time.
The solution accepts the plain reality that the omnipresent “influence” which Thomas Jefferson first identified cannot and should not be eliminated. It can, however --- and must be --- reasonably checked.
This can be accomplished by insulating lawmakers from the pressures and corruptive influences of special interests in today’s money-craving, material society. If the incentive for self-interest is effectively contained, chances are much improved that lawmakers will serve the people’s business, for they will be left with little choice. The very idea of service can be made to mean service --- and only service --- once again.
The good news is that implementing a sound, practical solution is not complicated. It also appears to be readily available. Consider the following proposal, which contains three components, the first of which is discussed in this segment.
The first component is tied to the front end of legislative service. Our democratic system is designed for voters to choose their legislators at the ballot box. But lawmakers have long chosen their voters in a self-serving custom by drawing arbitrary, movable lines around voting districts to make them “safe” from challenge by the other side. It’s opposite the way it’s supposed to work in a representative democracy and therefore must be abolished. [i]
By way of example, in the 2012 midterm elections, Democrats receive over 1.4 million more votes for the US House of Representatives than Republicans. Yet Republicans win control of the House by a margin of 234 to 201 [ii], using their distorted majority to frustrate the popular will on a range of important issues. This is not democracy, certainly not the way the founding fathers have envisioned it.
To be fair, Democrats have reaped the benefit of this unfair and imbalanced system for decades prior. The reality is that both parties are culpable. Both share blame equally. The system has evolved such that in the 2014 Congressional midterm elections, relatively few incumbents actually face realistic challenges.
The drawing of legislative districts so tightly in their favor to suit the pleasure of each party’s ideological base serves two efficient but self-serving, undemocratic ends. First, the possibility of ouster is seen as being remote. Second, the incentive for compromise in crafting national legislation is greatly reduced.
Put another way, primary candidates must pander to their party’s extremist elements. To the frustration of the ordinary citizen, and the mainstream at the center line, the concept of partisan gridlock results. And so it goes.
Moreover, Republicans in this instance now seek to extend and advance this system of cherry picking constituents to the presidential electoral college. The scheme, initiated so that the loser of the popular vote could more easily win key states and the presidency, is an undesirable threat to representative democracy and must be strongly resisted.
(Editor’s note: The fourth segment in this continuing multi-part series highlights the solution’s second component.)
[i] On the federal level, the practice is popularly known as “gerrymandering,” or setting electoral districts that attempt to establish a party’s political advantage by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan advantaged districts. The practice dates back to the early 1800s and was named for Elbridge Gerry, the
governor who resorted to the practice by signing a bill that redistricted the
state to aid his party. Massachusetts
[ii] Wang, Sam, “The Great Gerrymander of 2012,” The New York Times, February 2, 2013. ... For an analysis of how voting districts are being made more “safe, lily-white” as the nation is becoming more racially diverse, see Friedman, Thomas L., “Our Democracy Is At Stake,” The New York Times, October 1, 2013.