Today, November 2nd, 2010, marks the climax of the two-year cycle known as American elections. With the constant bombardment of campaign ads, rallies, activists, and calls to vote, it's impossible to ignore, especially on a college campus. Honestly, I wish I could. One of the common tactics used to pressure people to vote is to reason that if you don't vote, you have no right to complain about politics. Maybe so, but what if my complaint isn't about what such-and-such candidate is doing, but that the entire American political system is thoroughly broken, and to participate in it is to implicitly endorse it?
Let me explain--
It was at this point that, while doing research and trying to figure out what to write next, that I had a colossal change of heart that ultimately led to me voting. That said, I'm going to go ahead with most of what I was going to say first.
It's pretty easy to see that the American political machine has some serious problems. American voters, the people we trust to decide to choose our government, are polarized along partisan lines, close-minded, and uninformed. Perhaps this is why they tend to elect people like them. The increasing polarization of politics has, I think, turned discussions of policy in a more negative direction. This is evidenced by the obstructionist tactics practiced by whatever party is in the minority, all the attack ads you see on TV, and the general sentiment that "[X candidate I'm not going to vote for] is going to run this country/state into the ground!" Who you're going to vote for isn't as much the question as who you're going to vote against. We're all too eager to blame some convenient person or group of people for America's problems: the president, the ruling party, "Wall Street fat cats", illegal immigrants, homosexuals, you name it.
The truth is that we're all to blame for the spirit of partisanship that has turned American politics into a battlefield, with everyone forced to take a side of run for cover. When politics is simplified to two sides, it's just as much a winning strategy to bash the other side as to try to work contructively for the good of your own, and a much easier one. I remember a few years ago in the Bush administration when the Republicans were responsible for all our problems; now the situation has reversed along with the party in power. Nothing new under the sun. How, I wondered, could government "for the people, by the people" possibly be a good idea when people were so flawed? Had America outgrown the democracy it pioneered?
Then, barely three hours before the polls closed, it hit me. Most of my issues weren't with the system itself, they were with the people in it. And by not voting, I was making it worse. So I biked over to Seward Towers and cast my vote--only for governor, since I hadn't had time to research any of the other races and it would have been a bit hypocritical of me to vote uninformed. I knew my vote wouldn't make a difference, but the principle of it was still important with this new viewpoint of mine.
The problems with the political system itself, I realized, are surprisingly few and definitely fixable without radical restructuring. The main ones I have thus far are outlined in this article: the measures to protect minorities in Congress that once prevented the tyranny of the majority, but now mostly serve to make obstructionist tactics possible. One of the main ones is the filibuster. When I first learned what a filibuster was, I couldn't believe it was allowed, and my sentiment hasn't changed a bit. The absurdity of allowing one senator out of a hundred hold up useful debate for an arbitrary length of time by talking about biscuit recipes speaks for itself. As this chart shows, the number of cloture votes--a measure to end filibusters--has been rising since the 60s, especially in the new millennium. There are other rules loopholes that are used for the same purpose: to prevent constructive debate and progress and stick it to the "enemy" party. And people wonder why Congress doesn't do much.
I urge you to keep this issues mind in future elections, especially the national ones in two years, as they are fundamental to how everything else gets handled. One can only imagine how much better the government could function if Republicans and Democrats would stop trying to nullify each other and actually cooperate as they could before becoming so polarized. A quote from the article on how this might work:
"The irony is that getting rid of the rules meant to ensure bipartisanship may actually discourage partisanship. Obstructionism is a good minority strategy as long as it actually works to stymie the majority's agenda and return you to power. But if it just means you sit out the work of governance while the majority legislates around you, your constituents and interest groups will eventually begin demanding that you include them in the process. And that's as it should be: we hire legislators to legislate. We need a system that encourages them to do so."As for the problem of people, there is no solution that will magically make American voters geniuses and politicians selfless, but you can do your part. Stay informed about current events and the candidates, come up with your own opinions, stay open-minded, get into dialogue with others (especially those you disagree with!), and vote for the candidate you believe will be best for the nation/state.