Tuesday, November 11, 2014

About the Federal election of 2014

An article in The Economist points out that we have had two of the most unproductive Congresses in recent history. Certainly the pubic seems to be fed up with gridlock and want a more productive legislature.  Optimists believe that the results of the election will lead to more compromise and more legislation passed into law. "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

The federal election is reported to have cost nearly $4 billion, but apparently that does not include the so called "black money" that is not accounted. (Apparently, non-profit organizations of some kind are now funding adds and other election related expenses, and while they are theoretically required to report these to the Bureau of Internal Revenue, they are not doing so -- the so called black money.) I have heard it estimated that black money may have added $2 billion to the campaign chests.

Only 36.6 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, and there are many Americans who could register to vote who do not do so. The article says:
For reasons that include the sorting of the electorate into like-minded folks, redistricting and the cultural divide between cities and prairies, only 5% of the House’s 435 districts were truly competitive on November 4th. There were 69 congressional districts where the candidate faced no opponent. This means that the main threat to the jobs of congressmen comes from primary elections, in which fewer than 20% of the electorate vote, about the same proportion who describe themselves as holding consistently conservative or consistently liberal views. Few congressmen lost to primary challengers in 2014, but results like the defeat of Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, in Virginia’s seventh district remind them that such voters are not wild about anything that smells of compromise with the other side. These voters have the first veto.
Thus a small minority of adult Americans actually elect the members of the House of Representatives. The voters who actually matter are probably not representative of the public at large. I would bet that they are often poorly informed on the issues, depending frequently on sources of education that pander to audiences with narrow ideological spectrums of views (e.g. Fox News and MSNBC). The Congress had an 11% approval rating, but 96.4 of the candidates running for reelection were in fact reelected.
Getting a bill safely through the House, something that has become harder since Republicans adopted the idea that bills should have the support of a majority of their caucus to pass, is straightforward compared with getting one through the Senate, thanks to the filibuster rule. Since a filibuster requires a bill to gain a 60-vote majority, a group of 41 senators can halt almost any piece of legislation. Even the smallest state has two senators, so those 41 sometimes represent a small chunk of the electorate: Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia has worked out that states that are home to just 11% of Americans can elect the senators needed to block legislation. This potent weapon gives the minority party in the Senate the second veto........ 
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have withdrawn from each other, to the point where there is now hardly any common ground between them (see chart 2).  
Voting patterns in Congress suggest that the parties are even further apart now than they were in the mid-1990s, when Republicans tried to impeach Bill Clinton, or the middle of the past decade, when Democrats denounced George W. Bush as a warmonger.
While the cost of this election was higher than ever, this election saw a reduction of the number of donors. The Stayers apparently contributed nearly $74 million during this election cycle; Micheal Bloomberg more than $20 million; with many others contributing one to several million dollars each.

I find it embarrassing that democracy seems to be working so poorly in the USA. This country fought in a couple of world wars with a stated objective of making the world safe for democracy. We spent a decade, trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives supposedly in an effort to spread democratic institutions to Iraq and Afghanistan. American exceptionalism has been proclaimed for many decades. In our greatest speech, President Lincoln said about the Civil War, our bloodiest,
that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
He was a realist and a practical politician, but how would he feel a century and a half later about the state of our government? How much are the people of other nations laughing at our pretensions of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

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