The Sunday edition of Parade has an excellent short article about the Electoral College (Does Your Vote Count) that sheds some light on one of the more confusing aspects of the American political system. It details the pros and cons of the system and even explains what happens if there is a electoral tie.
If there’s a tie on Jan. 6 (the day electoral votes are counted), the newly elected Congress immediately holds a “contingent election” in which the House of Representatives elects the president and the Senate elects the vice president.
The twist: Every state gets the same number of votes, regardless of population.
The possibility of a tie, however remote, is part of the Season 4 story line of Veep — a HBO comedy that highlights the inefficiencies of our political system. A political insider ranked the comedy as the number one political TV show.
Veep captures the asinine essence of the mad scramble for power; the regular, utter, and complete disregard for higher purpose; and the pettiness in which most politicians and their staffs engage for so much of the time.
Veep was indirectly responsible for my interest in American politics.
Two Parties, One Mindset
I stumbled upon a YouTube video featuring the main character, Selena Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), hanging out with vice president Joe Biden. Since Biden is a Democrat, I was not surprised to see him in the sketch, nor was I surprised to see Nancy Pelosi another Democrat, but when I saw my former Congressman Republican John Boehner in his 5-10 second cameo I was taken back. I was quite certain his constituents would not approve of the show if, for no other reason, than its bawdy language.
It made me wonder if Ron Paul’s assertion of ‘two Parties, one mindset,’ was accurate. Was it possible that a political class was running the show and that all the screaming and positioning by us ‘commoners’ was simply rearranging chairs on a sinking ship?
Short-Term Political Junkie
I headed down a two-year long quest to better understand the system — and to move beyond the ‘liberal vs. conservative’ argument. The more I read, the more that argument felt like another one from my childhood — Which truck is better, Ford or Chevy?
After reading and researching I compiled my thoughts in Played: How The U.S. Political System Controls & Steals Your Vote. In the eBook I look at everything from the way gerrymandering is upsetting the national balance of power to social media’s role in dumbing down the political conversation. I conclude we’ve all been played and have little say in who our leaders are.
In the end, even in a tumultuous election season like the 2016 presidential campaign, less than six people were ever serious contenders – and you had no say in who they were. A small, powerful group of insiders decide your presidential options and their interest rarely line up with yours.
I also discovered that one of our greatest weaknesses as voters is our predictability. Despite convincing ourselves that we vote as we see fit, marketers and politicians see us as reliable subgroups. They deliver messages that we gobble up. We react and respond to the messages — and then vote as predicted.
A Change Of Position
During this quest, I stumbled across books like What’s The Matter With Kansas and The Mass Marketing of Politics: Democracy in an Age of Manufactured Images – and these books impacted my thinking. I became astounded at how people really do vote against their own interest. I also came to understand that images and keywords can sway people. It also became apparent that politicians want to keep voters yelling — and not talking. The divide and conquer technique keeps them in power.
Through the process, I became more politically liberal (but my position would have been conservative in the era of Dwight D. Eisenhower or Theodore Roosevelt) — and a little more jaded.
But, I still believe a Two-Party system can work, if people are willing to compromise and work toward a common cause. The current approach is costing average Americans money — through ineffective government policies, low or lost wages and a decrepit infrastructure. When we degrade an opposing Party by engaging in grade-school tactics like name-calling, refusing to compromise or lumping everyone in one pile (well they are conservative or they are liberal) the approach is counterproductive. But mostly, it prolongs the dysfunction that exists in all levels of government.
America’s greatness has always been in her ability to solve major problems through the backs and brains of the many.
I’ll admit, though, that my disgust has grown toward those politicians who intentionally whip people up into a frenzy over perceived moral dilemmas, cleverly diverting attention from their own sins. Just this week, I was reminded at how far removed politicians are from the average American when I read a letter written by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
DeLay felt the need to come to the defense of his former boss, Dennis Hastert. Hastert, who was Speaker of the House from 1999-2007, is embroiled in a legal case for illegally staging money withdrawals in violation of federal law. But, the real story is the money was allegedly ‘hush money’ being paid to a former student. The student alleges he was sexually molested by Hastert when Hastert was a teacher and coach, Although Hastert has never admitted guilt, he did issue a statement through his attorney saying,
“Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man, he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” Mr. Green said in the statement. “He earnestly apologizes to his former students, family, friends, previous constituents and all others affected by the harm his actions have caused.”
It seems to me, that if in fact, any of the allegations are true, then instead of DeLay writing a letter defending the character of Hastert, he would let the chips fall wherever they fell. Instead, though, DeLay wrote,
“We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few. He is a good man that loves the lord. He gets his integrity and values from Him. He doesn’t deserve what he is going through. I ask that you consider the man that is before you and give him leniency where you can.”
It’s almost as if DeLay believes Hastert’s Christian beliefs are a get out of jail free card. In my experience, few average Americans express such leniency toward anyone who may have committed transgressions against a former student. But the letter is indicative of the dysfunction that exists inside the minds of our national politicians and leaders.
What I Believe
Anyway, I don’t really put a lot of faith in political leaders. I believe in America’s citizens and I believe the only way to upend our political dysfunction is for all of us to become well informed at how the political game is played. Because of the way Political Parties manipulate the system, we no longer live in a ‘one man, one vote,’ world.
I do still believe in one Americanism. I believe in the age-old dualism that defines our national character: a strong belief in self coupled with a strong sense of community.
And I know, when both elements are vibrant, we, the people, are sensible and indivisible.