What role in and what impact on the election process do party politics, campaign finance law and the media have?
In essence, all of these serve to polarize the opinions represented in politics. Because of the fact that alternating, yet close, majorities arose in the form of two parties, a system has been generated, via redistricting, that entirely prevents accurate representation of ideas from outside those of the GOP and Democratic Party. As Fiorina states, 5-10% of the populace votes Independent, but the fact that this does not constitute a majority in any district (besides, perhaps, Vermont and the other district that currently has an Independent Senator) means that not nearly this percentage is represented in Congress. As for campaign finance law, this has achieved a similar end. Because a majority of the population has come to support one of the two parties, particularly wealthy individuals, these groups get distinctly uneven amounts of funding. This means that there is absolutely no possibility for an independent candidate to lead a campaign that could at all match up to that of a Democrat or Republican. Finally, the media, too enforces this by assigning every stance on an issue a distinct partisan identity. While bipartisan efforts are lauded, they are mentioned rarely enough that the impression that the media provides is one of definite polarization.
- Do you think party politics have a more positive or negative impact on elections in America? Why and what evidence do you have to support your position?
I think they have had a negative impact on elections in America because of exactly the above point regarding representation of Independents. Not only is this indicated through voting patterns, but more importantly by the number of people who consciously choose not to vote because they don’t feel that their ideas can accurately be represented. I don’t have a substantive statistic to back this up, but it’s a sentiment I have not only heard referenced frequently in this class, but also something that often comes up elsewhere, as well. The greatest goal the organizations with which I’ve phonebanked has been simply to “get out the vote” more: make our government as representative as possible. Inherently, it’s the expression of individual ideas that is far more important than the actual “politics” of politics, that is, classifications and the negative effects that result. In fact, a very interesting position on this is presented by BitCongress. Their Axiomity system seeks to essentially eliminate Congress as it is, instead replacing it with a digital system in which bills are proposed by citizen activists, and immediately voted on by the populace. As such, every law is passed by popular vote through an online interface, rather than having middlemen that can easily be manipulated with money.
- Do you think campaign finance law has a more positive or negative impact on elections in America? Why and what evidence do you have to support your position?
Even more than party politics, I believe that modern changes to campaign finance law have had a significantly negative impact on elections in America. The greatest reason is that the result has been a situation in which voters can easily be “bought,” or, more straightforwardly, manipulated, by wealthy interests. As advertising is often focused on either slamming opponents or presenting skewed “facts” regarding hot-button issues, this money simply fuels the movement of politics away from issues that truly affect voters to these morally-charged debates that are relatively irrelevant. Examples of such issues include Abortion and Gay Marriage. Both of these are vital issues to discuss, but when they become the focuses of campaigns and Congressional debates, the harm they cause because of the avoidance of more important issues that they trigger is fairly significant.
- Do you think the media has a more positive or negative impact on elections in America? Why and what evidence do you have to support your position?
Though media does have some element of objectivity, it is certainly another facet of society that is fairy heavily affected by the aforementioned wealth held be a select few in society. Furthermore, because of their commercial intentions, media companies focus on sensationalizing news such that they maintain the attention, and thus the value, of consumers. This entails a focus on political conflict rather than collaboration, and thus triggers disillusionment with politics. This results in decreased involvement of citizens and the degeneration of politicians into extremists that don’t represent the large population of moderates or believe in compromise. Thus, we end up with the standstill we are presently witnessing in Congress, and the difficulty that is caused for legislators who intend to collaborate anyways or push legislation that is much more relevant to their constituents.
- What changes would you make to the American election process to better reflect your own values?
The largest of these would be an elimination of the electoral college. I can vaguely see the intention of this in a nation that intends to main elements of a confederacy by having the federal government simply be representative of the states, rather than the population as a whole (the idea that the issues individuals face in these different locations vary immensely, which they likely did prior to the sort of connection that exists today). However, I obviously, per that communication, believe that that is an outmoded view. Instead, reliance on the popular vote for presidential elections is the best way to create a federal government that is truly representative of the people. Of course, in an ideal society, an idea like BitCongress that entirely eliminates the necessity of a legislative body through the use of modern technology would be most logical, but is dependent on many philosophical assumptions which may not yet be met.
Aside from that, the disestablishment of unlimited campaign funding (especially by corporations) and redistricting (gerrymandering) would avoid the aforementioned problems and create a much fairer system. Of course, voter ID, as well, is an issue that is important to consider (since it’s a good idea, but not in its proposed method of implementation). It is my belief that it would not be problematic to implement (even though fraud is very uncommon; a systems approach is the essential method for problem solving), as long as this ID were made universally available for free, and the systems be unified state-to-state.
How can I act as a civically engaged citizen?
I assume this is the larger question which the following attempt to address. It’s a very vague question.
- Taking into consideration everything you have learned about in this class, what do you identify as the biggest impediments (or challenges) to your meaningful participation in our democracy? Why and what evidence do you have to support your position?
While meaningful participation in our democracy doesn’t inherently necessitate fundamental change, it is these systems which serve as the greatest impediment to our participation. Since there are distinct opinions and issues that are addressed by the mainstream parties and politicians, it isn’t possible for citizens to participate as meaningfully in government as they could should they have the opportunity to present ideas that more accurately address their personal concerns. Even so, due to freedom of speech and the access that the Internet provides to large groups of people, this is more possible outside of direct political action than ever before. The only matter that remains is that of reputation, which is more scrupulously considered than ever before, as well, thanks to social media.
- In light of any impediments to your participation in our democracy, what do you think is the most meaningful way you can participate as a citizen in our democracy? Why and what evidence do you have to support your position?
In order to solve the root problem addressed here, the only possible line of action is direct involvement with politics, at any level, though preferably one at which it is possible to advocate for this change (i.e. Congress). While this was my ambition once upon a time, I doubt it a likely path for me at this point in time. Even so, it isn’t entirely out of question, and is certainly something I’d consider more strongly if I were to create a concept for a system that could flawlessly work better, and had other supporters. Anyhow, until then, it’s my responsibility to work towards this by involving myself in political action, continuing to sign petitions and speak with my representatives, and discussing politics with others, particularly of different leanings.
- Please complete the following statement: I commit to act as a civically engaged citizen by voting, advocating, thinking critically, and discussing/debating.