Politics As Usual, Duh!
The things that frustrate voters in America just keep coming. Partisanship, pork barrel spending, and hypocrisy don't seem to be changing anytime soon despite the fact so many voters tire of this behavior. But the reason these things keep cropping up isn't because all politicians are scoundrels. The system is set up in such a way that guarantees these practices never go away.
Pork barrel spending
Pork barrel spending occurs because senators and representatives have local, rather than national constituencies. They represent a state or a district. Said district rewards things it can see politicians doing. Voters in those districts will say, "Hey remember that damming/irrigation project that helped out so many farmers this year? Our representative got that done. He's in touch with the real issues of our community." Meanwhile they don't see the $500,000 earmark for a factory that produces airplanes that will never be used. If you want to get rid of earmarks then you need to increase the size of constituencies, perhaps to the national level. If legislators represented the entire nation than earmarks wouldn't be as tempting as they are today.
The sole objective of a political party is to maximize votes for its members. They develop platforms (stated objectives) and coalitions (groups that stay loyal to party ideals). In the winner takes all elections in the US, where the losers of elections get no representation no matter how close the race is, the logical number of parties is two. One would also suspect that if one group was alienated from a party, that the other party will seize on that. Hence Republicans are against gun control and the democrat are for it. There is the same split between pro-choice and pro-life, etc.Since parties are trying to reach out to every group they can, they can't help but bicker because their constituencies are divided. One often hears phrases like, "putting the interests of the country ahead of the interests of the party". But who is it to say what the "interests of the country" really are? Don't members of political parties think that their platform is in the nation's best interests? So long as the US election system is winner takes all, a two party system will probably prevail. Parties look to incorporate diverse interests to maximize support from voters. So long as there is no check on a two party system, party interests will always be a bit terse.
Hypocrisy is among the most frustrating of all human behavior. Sometimes it seems that no matter how much you are abused, it would be so much better if the abuser was honest about the situation. "I can accept the fact that Iraq was a war for oil if Bush would just be honest about it", etc. But then hypocrisy gets votes. In a representative democracy, we elect people to represent our interests rather than having direct voting power over everything. Since these representatives can only be reevaluated by election (rarely by resigning and impeachment) they can do what they want in the mean time. When it comes down to election day you really can't hold a politician accountable for more than a small group of things. (Max is probably three.) Politicians know this, so during the election cycle they seek to look as though they really care about the groups that will get them elected while at the same time trying to seem neutral towards those inclined to vote against them. Thus they fake enthusiasm (pander) or ambiguity (hide their agenda). The goal is to keep the politician as unaccountable as possible, so as to extend their term in office.
I have been proposing that frustration in politics is systemic, and hypocrisy is no different. Hypocrisy can only be punished when politicians are held accountable for their actions. As democracy is a government set up to do this through voting, fair and frequent elections can aid in accountability which should take a cut into hypocrisy when the voter is given the opportunity to vote a new member into office. The other accountability mechanism is the swing vote, those who don't identify with either party, sometimes even until election day. The swing vote is the group that holds an official most accountable, because they will switch parties based on their independent evaluations. Increasing accountability through the swing vote means people need to be prepared to punish a politician by voting for the other party. I'm not to suggest that this decision is easy. parties organize platforms to attract the most number of votes. They like to go after people who will always vote for a party for the same reason election after election. Certain Republicans cannot tolerate a pro choice candidate and will never vote for them. Politicians know they need to pander to them. However, after decades of attempts to put pro-life candidates in high office who will then pack courts with pro-life judges, Roe v. Wade is firmly remains. Could it be then, that many pro-life candidates offer up more than they can deliver? It would not be surprising.
Some final thoughts
Despite my criticisms about the structure of the United States government, I think it is in fact well designed. I think a bicameral legislature, with one end very close to a small constituency (the House) over a short term and on the other hand a larger and more moderate body less frequently elected (the Senate) is a balanced system fraught only with contentious politics. The four year presidency with appointment of tenured judges I think also strikes a delicate balance. I don't approve everything this form of government does. I'm just tired of politicians being admonished for those things which our system is designed to reward.
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