Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Big Questions Facing Our Democracy Are Too Important To Allow Political Parties to Decide

I also posted this article on a local Dayton blog called Dayton OS

The biggest questions our representative democracy must answer are: Who should we choose to legislate for us? Who should be our leaders? Political parties should empower our democracy to effectively answer these big questions, but empowering democracy is simply not the focus of political parties.

The force driving political parties is a passion to win, not a passion to advance democracy, not even a passion to solve problems. The July 27 edition of the Dayton Daily News, gives a telling example of how political parties often operate. The newspaper reported that the Montgomery County Republican Party met to anoint Republican primary candidates for the Ohio House, particularly primary candidates in the three Montgomery County House Districts that, because of gerrymandering, regularly vote Republican. The paper reported that, for the 38th Ohio House District, Terry Blair was chosen as the Republican primary candidate by a vote of 25 to 21.

The Dayton Daily News stated confidently that the choice of these 25 voters would be final and that Blair, in fact, ultimately would be the new State Representative for the 38th District. The newspaper cited the following reasons why Blair would be elected: 1) Republican voters will follow the Party’s dictates 2) The Republican Party will successfully suppress any primary competition , and 3) In the 38th District, because of gerrymandering, Republicans always win. So, according to the newspaper, if you are one of the 110,000 voters in the 38th District, your next Ohio House Representative has already been selected, not by a majority of the voters in the District, but, by 25 District Republicans.

The newspaper in the article decried the actions of the Montgomery County Republican Party as undemocratic, but the newspaper took the opportunity to criticize the Montgomery County Democratic Party also, saying that The Montgomery County Democratic Party, when given the opportunity, does the same thing.

The newspaper said that in Montgomery County both political parties, historically, have adhered to a strategy of suppressing primary battles as a means of conserving resources, and as a way of uniting the party, and, that both parties feel that this anti-democratic strategy increases their chances of winning more elections. However, this year The Montgomery County Democratic Party has not yet endorsed any Ohio House Democratic Primary candidates, and, hopefully, Montgomery County Democrats, under the leadership of the new chairperson, Mark Owens, will carefully examine its endorsement practices before making any endorsements at all.

It is all about winning. Political parties are focused on winning, and I hear ordinary people rooting for political parties as if they were rooting for a sports team — expressing the same kind of happy mindlessness. It’s like, Wow! My team (the Democrats) have been down for some time, but now it looks like now team will come roaring back. It looks like we will win – particularly, if our team can do the work that it takes to win — if we do enough door to door canvassing, raise enough money for TV ads to “sell our message,” and, importantly, if we can Get Out the Vote (GOTV).

But regardless of the Rah-Rah-Rah and hard work of either “team,” many potential voters are unimpressed with the whole political process, and simply have stopped voting. It is easy to understand why. Many nonvoters feel that the system is so broken that their vote is worthless. Many resent the hype and the lies. Many individuals who do vote do so grudgingly, convinced they are cheated by a system that, in their view, regularly fails to provide good candidates / good ideas.

What must be acknowledged is that our democracy is in trouble. The Catholic Church operates on the doctrine of divine revelation and ecclesiastical authority. For these reasons, according to church law, only a small handful are empowered to select the Pope. Members of the Church do not pretend that the Church operates democratically. But citizens in the 38th District, in fact, will be pretending, fooling themselves, if they believe that their District operates democratically — if they acquiesce to a system that allows a partisan group of 25 dictate to them who their representative will be.

The hope of an effective democracy is that wise and good leadership will bubble up, that the cream will rise. The point of a democracy is that citizens, if given the chance, have wisdom to make good choices. But, the truth is, our closed media and our closed political processes make it difficult for ordinary citizens to meaningfully participate in their own democracy. At a time when our society badly needs wise leadership and badly needs an infusion of good ideas for improvement, our system is failing us.

Increasingly, I believe, voters are coming to the conclusion that the big questions facing our democracy are too important to allow political parties to decide, and, because of this conclusion, increasingly, voters will choose to align themselves with the political party that through its actions best advances democratic ideals.

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