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Thread: Is there too much (low quality) democracy in the United States?

  1. #1

    Default Is there too much (low quality) democracy in the United States?

    I recently came across a somewhat interesting opinion piece on the CBC entitled "The problem with too much democracy".

    The piece is really a two piece critique of the US American electoral system, on one hand calling out the system itself for overwhelming the electorate with a staggering amount of elections (having national elections every two years plus primaries on the off years, on top of various ballot initiatives who's constitutionality are often questionable) and on the other hand criticizing the US American electorate with forcing the level of political discord down to a childish game of finger pointing and name calling.

    Since I found the piece interesting, I have decided to ask the people two questions related to the fascinating, if not sometimes puzzling, US American political systems and its electorate.

    The first question is: do you think a case could be made that reducing the frequency of elections (e.g. reducing the term of senators from 6 years to 4 years and increasing the terms of congressmen and congresswomen from 2 years to 4 years, thus eliminating midterm elections), reducing the length of campaigns (e.g. holding all primaries on the same day) or eliminating certain elections (e.g. making it harder to submit a ballot initiative and/or eliminating the elections of judges, district attorneys and sheriffs) could help raise the level of political discord in the United States?

    The second question is: what actions do you think US American voters can concretely take to force their politicians to raise the intellectual value of political discord in the United States?

  2. #2

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    I think you're on to something Near, and it has been discussed in this country. Some people, myself included, would like to see the terms either 4 years long, or 6, but then have term limits, so that one could only run twice. Even George Washington saw the wisdom in term limits, and of course, we have them for the president. I can tell you that the political adds which now seem to run constantly on television are absolutely deplorable. The name calling and mudslinging is disgusting, and both parties engage in it. This year's Republican race is the worst.

    The only thing that would change the intellectual value and discussion of our politicians rests in the hands of the voters. If they would vote for someone who wouldn't sling mud, the message would be sent. If we voted against politicians who refuse to discuss issues, vote no for everything and refuse to compromise, we could send a loud and clear message. But the problem is that we are the problem. We keep reelecting idiots, and the people in general, are idiots. Living in Virginia is depressing when it comes to politics, because we are at the heart of the Tea Party and its philosophy of caring only for one's self and not for others. America needs to change, but that will be very difficult because the value of the American citizen just isn't there. We're more concerned about acquiring things, and watching ball games, and conveniently forget that one fourth of our children go to bed at night hungry.

  3. #3

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    I kinda envy the amount of democracy you guys have in the states. In Canada we vote we vote for our provincial and federal represenitived, mayors and city councilors and school trustees. And nothing else. Citizens getting direct imput on any aspects of law making or spending is nearly unheard of. We are talking once or twice a lifetime and it's usually at the local or provincial level. The rest of the time you are at the mercy of people you may not have voted for and can't be held accountible till next election.

  4. #4

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    The primary problem with democracy is that given the breadth of issues a government must address, an informed electorate is effectively impossible.

    Unfortunately, everything else has proven, historically, to be worse, so we're stuck with what we've got.

    As for your questions: I don't really think changing the frequency of elections would do much at all, to be honest. I do support shortening election cycles - the current system of primaries is wasteful and silly. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much your average voter can do to raise the intellectual value of American politics; before that can happen, the current culture of anti-intellectualism and proud ignorance needs to be done away with, and that can only happen with time. Even then, we are limited by the very nature of politics itself; it is easier to be elected by appealing to emotion and strong biases rather than to reason and logic, because the electorate simply is not and cannot ever be properly informed on the wide range of issues that politicians must tackle. All people, regardless of intelligence, absorb canned opinions and regurgitate them, because it is not possible to form an informed opinion on every issue by oneself. There are too many issues, and proper, valid opinions require significant study and work to formulate. So, in that respect, no, I don't think any of those steps can affect the type of change one might wish from the system, as I do not believe such a change is truly possible.

  5. #5

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    Well for the first question, I don't think there are too many elections. I actually like the numbers with Representatives as it ideally would make it easier to boot them out if they aren't doing a good enough job for the electorate. With the number of years Senators serve, I could be moved to agree with reducing their terms to 4 years, though it'd cause major havoc at this point.

    Of course, as with the answer to the 2nd question, our electorate is the issue. The electorate has a habit of voting people back into office that shouldn't be, and having less elections wouldn't help at all. Shortening would help a bit, but it wouldn't address the problems of the system. For one, we need an electorate that will vote for someone based on their policies and ideas, and not because "they look the best" or "they have R or a D next to their name." Among other stupid reasons for voting for a person. It also seems like the idea of what is a successful representative/senator has nothing to do with fixing problems as much as kicking the can down the road. But yeah, most of the childish stuff is caused by our electorate, and politicians just play into it.

  6. #6

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    You know, I've often thought that the US has too many elections. It seems like every other week there's another round of voting for some position or other in the news other there!

    As I understand it, you guys basically re-elect your law makers every two years. It occurs to me that two years isn't enough time for most sensible, practical policies to have any noticeable effect. Heck, over here it can take two years just to implement a new policy after its been voted for, let alone for that policy to make any difference to anything!
    So this leaves your politicians trying to find ways to make a big splash, very quickly, and I think that could be one of the major causes of ideological... For want of a better word "extremism" that seems to be constantly tearing US politics apart!

    I think if you're going to elect someone to do the very tough balancing act at is law making you need to give them the time to have a good crack at doing it, and that takes more than two years or less they currently get.

    Having said that, I don't think the US will change. Looking in from the outside, I'd say the ideological extremism I mentioned earlier has permeated down from the political class and through most of the country. I suspect that if someone said "Right everyone, we're going to have fewer elections" they'd be verbally strung up for being "communist", "socialist", or some other type of boogy man by a large section of the population.

    Honestly, from where I'm sitting, the US population by and large doesn't look like it'd be capable of sustaining a sensible discussion about the frequency of elections or term limits

  7. #7

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    I think we have too many elections, but not because of the terms of our representatives. I think having the representatives have a short term and the senators having a longer term at least theoretically has a stabilizing effect on the political bent of the government. I also vehemently oppose term limits, because a) it should be up to the voters of a district whether their representative or senator has reached the end of his or her term, and b) as soon as you start removing good representatives because they've hit their term limit, two things happen: you get a much less experienced political body, and because of that, the only people left with long-term institutional memory are the lobbyists. Term limits do nothing more than turn the government over to the lobbyists even more than it already has been.

    That said, we have way too many elections and way too much electioneering here. I'd like to see us adopt something from the parliamentary model, specifically the end of government. I would like to see a ban on all electioneering, especially from anyone actively occupying a political office (meaning that, say, a state governor could not spend two years on the campaign trail trying to become president because he's presently a governor). In order to accommodate re-election campaigns, then, I'd suggest that 3-6 months before the election (maybe do 3 months before a midterm and 6 before a presidential), the government "ends" and legal electioneering and campaigning can begin.

    As part of that, I'd like to see any and all primary elections held on one day that is statutorily fixed. For instance, if it's a midterm election, campaigning starts three months from the main election. At 1.5 months, hold all primaries on the same day, then on election day hold the election.

  8. #8

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    I think its not so much an issue of too many elections as it is too much government. Elected officials passing too many laws and creating too many agencies, departments, and bureaus that end up costing us too much and interfering with our lives in the name of "promoting the general welfare". Reality is, elected officials just want something to put on their resume, so they come up with no end of new laws overlapping, amending, even contradicting those that already exist. Appointees try to look busy to justify their existence and salary.

    As laid out in the Constitution, the Federal Government is responsible for certain things, mostly those external to the country, but also those relating to issues that cross state lines. State and local government (and of course the individual citizens!) are supposed to handle everything else. Instead, we have several levels of government addressing the same issues in redundant and sometimes conflicting ways.

    Within Illinois we have taken this to a truly magnificent level of absurdity with State, county, municipal, township and other levels of overlapping government and unnecessary, redundant cost. Our state finances reflect that.

    There's nothing wrong with periodic elections to hold officials accountable and regularly bring fresh blood into the government. There's just to many elective offices.

    I'd be more of a mind to require repeal of two laws for every one you want to pass, and deletion of two offices or employees for every one you want to hire or elect. After 5 or 10 years, things are back to a manageable level and we could go one for one.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxx View Post
    I think its not so much an issue of too many elections as it is too much government. Elected officials passing too many laws and creating too many agencies, departments, and bureaus that end up costing us too much and interfering with our lives in the name of "promoting the general welfare". Reality is, elected officials just want something to put on their resume, so they come up with no end of new laws overlapping, amending, even contradicting those that already exist. Appointees try to look busy to justify their existence and salary.
    If you truly believe this, the entire concept of government is worthless.

    In reality, sure, there are those in government who are more concerned with personal power than with the public good. But there are also those who are not. Government works - it may not work perfectly, or even as well as we'd like it to, but it's infinitely preferable to the alternative.

    So, I ask you this: If you honestly believe that we have "too much" government, how little government would you find acceptable? Certainly, you wouldn't be happy living in anarchy. So where do you draw the line?

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by LazyAB View Post
    If you truly believe this, the entire concept of government is worthless.

    In reality, sure, there are those in government who are more concerned with personal power than with the public good. But there are also those who are not. Government works - it may not work perfectly, or even as well as we'd like it to, but it's infinitely preferable to the alternative.

    So, I ask you this: If you honestly believe that we have "too much" government, how little government would you find acceptable? Certainly, you wouldn't be happy living in anarchy. So where do you draw the line?
    Anarchy? hardly. I believe that government entities should stick to their defined responsibilities instead of meddling with things that are none of their business, or that other units or levels of government are charged with handling. Why do we need a federal Department of Education when state and local governments have that covered and in fact pay the lion's share of the bills? Don't even think about saying "we need federal money". All government money comes from you and me, whether directly in the form of taxes, or indirectly in the form of higher prices to cover corporate taxes. Why should the local government AND the federal government take money from us to perform the same function? That can't possibly be the best or least cost way to do it.

    Why do we need a Department of Homeland Security when we've already got the FBI and INS handling those duties?

    Yes, of course you need government to protect against external forces, and to enforce basic rules like "thou shalt not kill" and "thou shalt not steal" and "everybody drives on the right side of the road and stops at stop signs" so we can all go about our lives and interact with a common expectation of how the "other guy" is going to behave. On the other hand, do we really need some government entity to tell us what kind of light bulbs we can or can't have?

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