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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Common Sense & The Political Process

I have this love-hate relationship with politics.

On one hand, I've always been very interested in history & civics. The more or less academic study of how governmental systems work and how they react to and create history is, in my humble opinion, fascinating. There's also this human aspect to how and why people vote they way they do that's very interesting.

On the other hand, I generally don't have a very high opinion of people who are actually involved in the process of governing. Think about it: running for Congress is just like running for high school student body president...both have the same general qualifications (none)...and both are nothing more than popularity contests. The only difference is that it costs a hell of a lot more to run for Congress (and if you win but manage to screw up really bad, you could end up in jail).

So for the same reason I write everything I write (namely to amuse myself), there are some thoughts on the intersection between politics and common sense.

Free Speech & Campaign Contributions
Bloated conservative talk-show host (and secret Howard Stern admirer) Rush Limbaugh likes to equate the ability to contribute to political campaigns with free speech. In his (and others) mind, there should be no limits on contributions, as those contributions represent an extension of his right to free speech. Fair enough, but consider this: doesn't this mean then that those with more money to contribute are entitled to more speech than those with less to contribute? Now we all know that this is in fact true; a struggling single mother is far less likely to get face-time with a sitting US Senator than a large (in terms of money contributed, not waste size...sorry, shameless Limbaugh comment there) political contributor. The fact that it's currently true though is a symptom of a broken system, not justification for the status quo.

What to do? I honestly don't know. I do think that it is reasonable to impose limits on what someone or some entity can contribute to candidates and their political parties. I also think that all contributions, regardless of the amount, need to be disclosed and made easily available for anyone and everyone to see.

Money may in fact be the grease that keeps political machines working, but that doesn't mean that this same grease should be exclusively used on politicians.

Party Line Voting
It's time to end the insanely stupid practice of allowing single-action party line votes. In Pennsylvania, one can simply press a button or pull a lever and in one fell swoop vote for all the members of a single party. Think about that: the person taking this action is in essence saying "I don't care about the individual candidates & where they stand on the issues; instead, I'll simply trust that this party has my best interests in mind". The reality of the situation is this: when you allow party-line votes, you are in effect moving the voting franchise from the hands of the individual voter and into the hands of political party bosses. That's both un-American (where we believe that people should stand on their own merits) and frightening.

Open Primaries
In Pennsylvania, registered Independent voters can not vote in primary elections. Again, this is another example of power being held by political party leaders at the expense of the voting population. By allowing open primaries, we can begin to force political parties to do more than just kowtow to the extreme wings of their own membership. What's more, the current system in effect penalizes you if you are not a member of either the Democratic or Republican parties. Do tell me, how far off is a two party state from a one party state?

Internet Voting
This is an idea whose time has not come, nor to I hope it ever comes. I say this being as much a techno-Geek as a civilian probably can be. I have two reasons to oppose Internet voting:
  1. It makes it easier to commit fraud. As an open system, the Internet conceptually isn't designed with security in mind. What's more, anything designed to make it more secure can (as anyone who has ever had a compute virus can testify to) be circumvented.
  2. There is something to be said for taking the time to go out into your community and partake of the physical process of voting. It's a very public act that, in my opinion, helps to bind us together and signifies our real, physical commitment to the democratic process.

In the end I don't expect any radical changes to happen in the political process. Why? Simply because those with the most to lose by reform...politicians...are also the ones who would have to implement the reforms. There is always hope though.

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