The Broken System of American Democracy

      The founding fathers of America were cautious to give the uneducated, general citizen too much power when it came to government. For example, the electoral college was established in order to create a failsafe in cases where the population voted in such a way that would hurt the newly formed society. Also, only allowing white, land-owning men the right to vote greatly limited whose voices could be heard. They wished to avoid creating a tyrannical government such as Great Britain’s. Even though these new Americans were proud of the fact that they had gotten rid of royalty and nobility, members of rich and well-connected families generally won political office without much opposition.[1] Unfortunately, America’s government today has snowballed to create a political world all to itself. In order to be welcomed into the government, one must infiltrate the exclusive world by fronting millions of dollars. Without being bred for a government position, such as the Bush and Kennedy dynasties have been, it is virtually impossible to obtain any high-power job in the government, i.e. President or Congressman. Even though this system of exclusivity began with the founding fathers, and even though it may not have been their intentions, it continues to the current day and age. This leads to an ineffective system because the government isn’t ruled for the people and by the people, but rather by an elite group of people.

       The original citizens of what is now the United States had many reasons to leave their homeland and come to the New World, and with that dangerous venture into the sea, they were able to settle and create a new society. Farmers, indentured servants, and lawyers began to create new lives for themselves and thought that they could sustain themselves without Britain watching over them. Hostile feelings began to emerge when Britain began to tax the colonists, without their approval, to pay for the Seven Years War that had just ended.

      The colonists in North America in seventeen sixty-three were very different from those who had settled there more than one hundred years before. They had different ideas. They had come to consider their colonial legislatures as smaller, but similar to the British Parliament in London. These smaller parliaments had helped the colonists rule themselves for more than one hundred years.  The colonists began to feel that their legislatures should also have the powers that the British Parliament had. [2]

      With this mindset, the colonists began to gain more and more animosity toward their mother country. As time progressed, the Parliament began to increase the taxes in the thirteen colonies. These taxes were not necessarily unfair considering the colonies were still considered part of Great Britain, however, the colonists were outraged that they had no representation in parliament to voice their opinion. With revolts beginning across the Colonies the colonists showed their anger in hopes of gaining the power they so badly desired. The revolts eventually lead to the American Revolution. As the underdogs, the Colonies did not seem to have a fighting chance against Great Britain. Luckily for them, they came out victorious and then were faced with the decisions on how to run the newly independent country.

       The first form of government was created under the Articles of Confederation. The inherent weakness of the Articles of Confederation stemmed from the fact that it called for a confederacy.  This placed sovereign power in the hands of the states. This is most explicitly stated in Article II, which reads:

      Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.[3]

      It did not take long for this way of running the government to backfire, and soon after the Constitution was created. The men that contributed to the Constitution, known as the founding fathers, epitomized the lack of diversity in government today.

      At the time of the convention, four-fifths, or 41 individuals, were or had been members of the Continental Congress. Thirty-five were lawyers or had benefited from the legal training. Some had also become judges. A considerable number of the men were born into leading families: Blair, Butler, Carroll, Houston, Ingersoll, Jenifer, Johnson, Livingston, Mifflin, Gouverneur Morris, both Pinckneys, Randolph, Rutledge, Washington, and Wythe. A few of the delegates were wealthy.[4]

      So while America’s founding fathers wrote that the government should run for and by the people, it is clear that they represented only a fraction of the entire country.

       In America’s government today, it is common knowledge that politicians may compromise themselves to keep their place in government. Because it is so difficult to get new people elected into government, they tend to get away with doing this. A way a congressman compromises himself is by inserting earmarks, or federal funding to companies, projects, groups and organizations, into proposed bills.[5] Earmarks may be added to a bill in order to secure a congressman’s vote; in other words, “if you give money to my organization, I’ll vote to pass your bill.” These congressmen then help to get a bill passed, whether they support the bill or not, just to appease their constituencies. This causes a system full of hidden agendas and leads to an ineffective Congress. In the fiscal year of 2010, there were an innumerable amount of earmarks added to various bills. The organizations receiving the funding typically donated money to that congressman’s campaign.[6] Even with this questionable behavior, congressmen do not have to worry about losing their seat because incumbents have a 90% or more chance at being re-elected.[7] House members serve an average of six years and Senators eight—even longer if they become a committee chairperson. If a congressman has all the time in the world, such as Representative John Dingell who has served thirty terms in the House of Representatives, they are less likely to be active and more likely to be blasé about policies. Also, with a set group of people never leaving office, fresh, new ideas never reach the floor.[8] American citizens have not responded well to these blasé attitudes as seen in the record-low congressional approval ratings:

Americans’ approval of the way Congress is handling its job has dropped to 9%, the lowest in Gallup’s 39-year history of asking the question. The previous low point was 10%, registered twice in 2012. Congress approval fell to 11% in October, during the U.S. government shutdown. Although the shutdown is now history, Americans’ views of Congress have not recovered, but instead have edged lower. [9]

      If people do not agree with the people running Congress, why is it that congressmen continue to be reelected? This is because the average citizen has little to no chance at running for congress due to the incredibly high cost and the influential relationships required to get elected. In the 2012 congressional election, all the candidates had to put forth an exorbitant amount of money, and what they did not fund themselves, they had to fundraise to catch up to their competitor. Senator Representative Bill Bloomfield from California spent a total of $7,985,573 on his reelection campaign. Senator David H. Dewhurst from Texas spent a total of $28,576,174 on his campaign. Linda McMahon from Connecticut spent a total of $50,302,456 on her reelection campaign.[10] None of these candidates even won their election, yet spent millions upon millions of dollars just attempting to get a seat in Congress. It is obvious that in order to even be considered a valid candidate in today’s elections, one must be able either self-fund or fundraise a great deal of money; this goes back to the need to have relationships with people who have the connections to get you ahead, which hurts the capable common man that lacks this.

       Some individuals may see the American Dream to be becoming the President of the United States. He is the leader of the free world and is capable of so much, however, that portrayal is not always accurate. Firstly, the number one requirement to become President is that a person must be a natural-born citizen, so all the immigrants who dream of coming to America and achieving anything and everything they set their minds to will not have a chance to become president. That is not to say any man or woman who simply enters into the United States should be able to run for president; however, in an extreme case where the United States experiences the tragic losses of both the President and the Vice President, the Speaker of the House would be the next-in-line to presume the role of President. If the Speaker of the House had proved worthy and capable of doing this, but he/she was unfortunately born in Mongolia and moved to the United States at the age of five, he/she would be skipped in the line of succession and the next qualified person would bypass him/her. In a situation like this, it seems unreasonable to put such a restriction on who could be President. Another major unspoken rule is that whoever wants to become president must start campaigning years before their intended election year. Obama was just another Senate candidate, and an underdog at that, striving to gain a seat in the Senate. That is until he gave the Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It was said that:

Now he’s the newest star in his party, the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, a black candidate with a strong following among white voters. If elected this fall, Obama, 42, would become the Senate’s only black member, and only the fifth in history. His chances are good, especially since Illinois Republicans have not yet come up with someone to run against him after their nominee dropped out. [11]

      It has been reported that this keynote address was specifically designed to get the public’s eye on Obama for his future run for President in the 2008 election, proving that in order to reach high power jobs in the government, one must begin campaigning years in advance. This is ineffective because politicians are using millions of dollars and hundreds of hours on just acquiring a position in government, not even getting their policies adopted by legislature.

      Being born into a strong political family is also quite helpful when trying to climb to the top of the political world.

      The fourth-generation heir to the Bush political dynasty, groomed for office since his childhood, is coming of age and building a political network. [George P. Bush’s] great-grandfather was a senator, his grandfather and uncle presidents, his father governor of Florida. Now a new George Bush is contemplating going into the family business.[12]

      With his family’s name to back him up, George P. Bush should have little to no trouble finding a spot in Congress to call his own. Much like Great Britain’s hidden caste system, had this man been born into a different family, he may not end up where he will. Just like the Bush dynasty, John F. Kennedy came from a political family as well. His grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald held a string of elected offices, beginning with a seat in the Massachusetts legislature in 1892. He served as mayor of Boston and in the U.S. House of Representatives over the course of twenty years. His daughter, Rose, would become the matriarch of Boston’s best-known political family—and Fitzgerald would live to see his grandson, John F. Kennedy, elected to Fitzgerald’s former seat in Congress. P. J. Kennedy’s ambitious son Joe, a successful banker, entered politics as a backer of New York governor and presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.[13] Being born and raised in a political landscape similar to John F. Kennedy, however, does not preclude suspicions as to how he was able to attain his presidency.

       Congressmen compromise themselves in order to appeal to their constituencies and donors. Replacing Congressmen takes a great deal of time and money. Even with the money and time, it can be seen in the cases of John F. Kennedy and the Bush dynasty that an influential family name can take you farther than anything else. The restrictions and unwritten rules required to become a powerful man or woman in America’s government today causes that government to be greatly ineffective. What started out as a benevolent idea of a free New World to get away from the tyranny of Great Britain, both religiously and governmentally, has since evolved into a government so similar to that which the founding fathers were escaping from that if they were compared side by side, there would be more similarities than differences.

[1] Embassy of the United States. “Government of the People: The Role of the Citizen.” Government of the People: The Role of the Citizen.

[2] “Americans Colonists Resist British Authority – Program No. 10.” VOA.

[3] Yale Law School. “Avalon Project – Articles of Confederation : March 1, 1781.” Avalon Project – Articles of Confederation : March 1, 1781.

[4] National Archives and Records Administration. “The Constitution of the United States: America’s Founding Fathers.” National Archives and Records Administration.

[5] “Earmarks.” Opensecrets RSS.

[6] imbd

[7] “Reelection Rates Over The Years.” Open Secrets RSS.

[8] Parker, Ashley. “From ‘a Child of the House’ to Longest-Serving Member.” The New York Times.

[9] “Congressional Approval Sinks to Record Low.” Congressional Approval Sinks to Record Low.

[10] “The Rising Price of Victory.” Open Secrets RRS.

[11] “ – Obama riding wave to keynote speech and star status.” – Obama riding wave to keynote speech and star status.

[12] Ball, Molly. “George P. Bush: A Political Dynasty’s Young Hope.” The Atlantic.

[13] PBS. “American Experience: TV’s most-watched history series..” PBS.

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