Tue 15 Nov, 2005 08:42 am
I wrote the following for another forum, in another country, so it is necessarily simplistic. That should be, however, all the more reason for a discussion of this topic. Please comment on this situation as you see fit.
There are great advantages which incumbents in the United States Congress enjoy. To review them in the simplest terms, they are: the Congressional "junket," in which members travel--at tax-payers expense--on various pretexts, usually described as "fact-finding missions," suggesting that they are diligently informing themselves on issues important to the voters. This provides an opportunity for members to get their names and faces before the public in local news outlets--newspapters, magazines, radio, television--without the actual expense of paying for the exposure. Another significant privilege which members enjoy and which is not available to their potential opponents is the franking privilege--members of Congress can send materials through the mail free of charge; measures to prevent this privilege being used for electoral purposes have been aenemic and ineffective. Finally, members of Congress have known track records for policy statements and a known voting record--this allows them to specifically target potential donors to their campaigns. This is a huge advantage--in the fifty plus years since the Eisenhower campaign produced a little jingle for use on television during his Presidential campaign, radio and especially television advertising have become crucial to successful campaigning. This is become very expensive and makes money-raising success a key trait of the successful politician. The value of this to the incumbent is out of all proportion to the value of any other advantage which they enjoy.
These advantages, of course, accrue to members of both of the two major political parties in the United States. The parties have a death grip on the electoral process, and assure that they derive the maximum advantage. It is only within the last twenty years that voter registration in the states has eliminated the requirement to register as an independent or the member of one or the other of the two major parties. Restricting voting in primary elections was a product of the party registration requirement, and this produces a huge psychological advantage for the members of the two parties, as news reports will suggest that they possess a "momentum" which won't be discussed with regard to independents or members of nascent third parties. Election workers and observers are drawn from the ranks of activist members of the two parties in any given community. One needn't suggest that they are venal or dishonest to understand that they'll have little incentive to rigorously safeguard the rights of independents or members of third parties. In any disputed contest, the rich coffers of the two major parties provide access to legal talent which the independent or member of a third party will likely not be able to match.
The Republicans and Democrats enjoy these great advantages, and guard them zealously. The complexion of the Congress has become more and more difficult to change because of the advantages of the incumbent, particularly that which derives from television advertising. The Republicans only gained control of the House with great difficulty and expense, over a twenty year period. They have been unable to secure and maintain a certain majority in the Senate. The issue of the advantages which might accrue to the Democrats in the Congress in future should not be canvassed without a due regard for the advantages the incumbents enjoy, and the difficulty which is therefore attendant upon any attempt by the Democrats to change the complexion of the Congress. The task is for obvious reasons all the more daunting for an independent or any would-be third party.
Another advantage is committee appointments/placements. The person with the highest seniority, if in the party with the majority, gets the chairmanship of the committee. Persons who qualify for more than one committee chair, I believe, hand 'em out to their friends. I don't think it devolves to the next-highest in seniority or the highest in seniority of another party but please correct me if I am mistaken. Also, there's a great deal of value attached to being in the majority party. Not only does stuff get passed on a national level, but local wheeling and dealing can go on and suddenly a dam is built in Oregon or a wildlife preserve is protected in Kansas or whatever because it was the pet project of the local senator or rep. from that state who's in the majority party, whichever one that may be.
As Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local."
Good points all, Jespah . . . that's the sort of thing i was looking for. I posted the original to a board in Ireland, and tried to keep it simple, and also tossed it off in a hurry . . . it's good to get a sharp mind working on the issue . . .
of course there are the small, local benefits ...
going to a concert at our local theatre or visiting fort henry for a night-time retreat ceremony, we have noticed that the choicest seats are often not available at the ticket office. when we get to the show we might find that these seats have been "roped off" ... "reserved for the official party " , the usher will say. you care to guess who'll be occupying these seats ? unfortunately "they" were too busy standing in line or phoning for tickets ... "they" know their seats are being held.
good thing we live in a democracy, wouldn't you say ? hbg
I wonder if Setanta is familiar with the Organization- Fair Vote?
That is an organization which advocates handling redistricting through non-partisan commissions rather than elected politicans.
Fair Voite commented recently that, because House of Representative Districts have been gerrymandered so effectively by both parties after the 2000 election, there are only able 30 House Seats out of 435 that are "competitive".
This does not bode well for the ambitions of the Democrats in 2006.
The two parties do not properly reflect the wishes of the people.
You may, of course, be correct 72000 but just how can that problem be remedied? You outline no solution?
Proportional Government is best where a party is given funding if a minimum of say 10% of the voters vote for a party. Of course, the simplest one I can think of is if half of the Congressional Seats are by district voting so the districts must be larger. (To avoid gerrymandering, a law should be made where the boundary or perimeter is the shortest for any district area or where geography plays a part i.e. it should be as compact as possible given the geography such as river or mountain boudaries. ) The other half of the Congressional seats should be alloted to parties based on percentage of the votes they garner
That sounds good, Talk 72000. But do you really think the Congress, especiappy the House of Represejtatives would preside at their own funerals?
You are, I hope, of course aware that, according to an organization called Fair Vote, which is in favor of electoral reform, Democrats and Republicans gerrymandered thier districts so that, according to Fair Vote. only about 30 of the House Districts will be truly competetive in 2006.
No, there will be no funeral only diminished roles. But then they are holding back the true voice of the people.
The current system of two parties is like going to Ford Motor Company and being told there are only a "black" or "white" model. Of course, Henry Ford was a Communist as he reputedly said "You can have any color as long as it is black". A true Communist ideal - One choice fits all.
And how do you propose that these changes will be made, talk 72000? I already gave you a FACT that is directly opposed to your proposal. The two parties have gerrymandered the districts so that only about 30 of the House Districts are competetive.
This is, according to Fair Vote, the most egregious example of gerrymandering on a large scale in US History.
I submit that your proposal, although well meaning is Utopian. And, I am sure you know that U-topos means NO PLACE!!!
If you have read the polls, only 34% approve of Congress. Gerrymandering or no gerrymandering, there will be changes come 2006.
Really? Will there be enough changes to make a difference?
According to the Commentary by Morton Kondracke in the Chicago Sun Times( Sat. Nov. 5th- P. 18,) he and FAIR VOTE, do not agree with you.
I must, since I am unaware of your personal expertise in this area, place my trust in experts who know Politics.
quote from Kondracke's column--
"The conclusion of a new election analysis by the electoral reform group Fair Vote, makes the point that gerrymandering of House districts has made take over prospects MUCH MORE DIFFICULT for Democrats than it was for Republicans in 1994"
And this is at a low point in Republican fortunes. As everyone knows, a year in Politics is like a lifetime. The election will not take place until next year. Who can say what the ratings will be at that time.