Additional barriers to realizing democracy

Another major problem with realizing democracy was perpetual elections for candidates to run for as many terms as they liked. The term for House representatives was four years without term limits. The term for Senators was six years without term limits. The biggest problem with not having term limits was the fact that once in office representatives would become career politicians. This had a number of ongoing ill effects on democracy. First, representatives would not take bold actions to improve the country because they constantly had to consider the desires of their constituents in order that they could get re-elected. Of course, by definition a representative should represent the interests of the people whom they are elected to represent. However, when the representatives main concern was getting reelected again and again and again, this prohibited collective action by the representative bodies to enact legislation that while possibly unpopular in the moment would be essential to the country and benefit the entire population in the long term. Long-term interests of the nation were abandoned for short-term politically popular but largely token accomplishments that had little if no long-term benefits. Second, before term limits, candidates spent more than half of their time “in office” fundraising which left little time for the actual work necessary to research, write, debate and pass critical legislation. As campaigns became more and more contentious they became more and more expensive. As campaigns became more expensive, representatives were forced to spend less time in Washington and more time flying to their home districts to meet and greet and wine and dine in order to feed the gluttonous coffers of their parties.

In addition to affecting the ability to create and pass legislation, this condition, where representatives were rarely meeting with each other personally in Washington, also affected the quality of the legislation. The quality of the legislation was so poor because it was so partisan and largely uncompromising, serving narrow interests of whichever party thought that they could get the legislation passed. One major reason for this is that the representatives did not get to know each other as people and were not able to socialize with one another because they were always boarding planes to fly to their home districts and glad hand for dollars. Without time for socialization with “the other side of the isle” representatives became unwitting hostages of their respective party’s echo chamber. Instead of getting together face-to-face to find common ground and compromise on issues and policies, representatives relied more and more on electronic communications or by simply reacting publicly to their opponent representatives through the media. Civility and respect necessary for healthy debate and compromise drained out of the representative bodies.

Besides private campaign funding and a lack of term limits, gerrymandering was the most diabolical device used to perpetuate the status quo, keep career politicians in office and exclude the 99% from representing themselves. In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering was a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The primary goals of gerrymandering were to maximize the effect of supporters’ votes and to minimize the effect of opponents’ votes.

These goals could be accomplished through: “Cracking” which involved spreading voters of a particular type among many districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district; “Packing,” or concentrating as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts; “Hijacking” redrew two districts in such a way as to force two incumbents of the same political party to run against each other in one district, ensuring that one of them will be eliminated, while usually leaving the other district to be won by someone from a different political party; and “Kidnapping” aimed to move areas where a certain elected official has significant support to another district, making it more difficult to win future elections with a new electorate. Gerrymandering was effective because of the wasted vote effect. Wasted votes are votes that did not contribute to electing a candidate, either because they were in excess of the bare minimum needed for victory or because the candidate lost. By moving geographic boundaries, the incumbent party packed opposition voters into a few districts they would already win, wasting the extra votes. Other districts, more tightly constructed with the opposition party allowed a bare-minority count, thereby wasting all the minority votes for the losing candidate. These districts constituted the majority of districts and were drawn to produce a result favoring the incumbent party. Cracking, packing, hijacking and kidnapping by an incumbent party made real democracy impossible because voter opposition to prevailing policies and politicians was all but impossible since voter opposition was diluted to favor the status quo. Once one of the two parties gained a majority in their state, they simply redrew the districting lines to insure their incumbency.

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