The Politics of Balance

The United States of America is approaching it’s 250th year of existence. I hadn’t really thought of it that way until just now. But, really, it’s only 16 years away. That’s not really all that far, when you think about it. It’ll be here in the blink of an eye.

When I think back over the last couple hundred years of American politics, particularly as it pertains to our political parties, something strikes me profoundly about where we are today. Now, I can’t presume to know exactly what the founding fathers had in mind, though we do have enough material written by them to make some educated guesses. And it seems to me that if they were to look into the future and see with way our political system works today, they would have dedicated more time to preventing certain things by making certain things a bit more clear in such documents as our Constitution.

While I’m sure there are plenty of areas where we have “gone astray” of their original vision for our nation, there is one particular area that I’ve been thinking about lately. That is, having two major political parties. When looking at this system, one must ask the question “What was the original intent of having two major parties?” From what I’ve read and studied about American history, I’d say that a major factor in this idea was balance.

You see, we know that we have this “political spectrum” that swings from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal and everywhere in between. One party consists of those on the conservative side and the other, those on the liberal side. By putting both sides together in our form of government, the idea was to achieve some sort of balance that addressed the needs, motivations, desires, points of view and values of each side of this pendulum.

Sounds like a pretty good idea, huh?

There seems to be a problem with it, though. The way our system of government works, whichever party has the majority in the government has almost all the power and the other party has virtually none. The larger the majority of a single party, the less power the minority party has.

The practical result of this, at least today, is that when one party has the majority, they craft and put in place legislation that swings the pendulum far to their side. When the power shifts to the other party, they pass legislation to swing the pendulum back to the other side. We, the People, end up playing the role of the ping-pong ball going back and forth on this pendulum as it goes from the far right, to the far left, to the far right, to the far left, and on and on.

Where is the balance? Where do we see the two parties working together to take one another’s values into account when drafting legislation? Am I the only one that notices that just about the only bills that get support from both sides tend to be when they’re voting on things like “to establish June 14th as National Pet Care Day” or “to dedicate the building at 321 America Avenue as the John A. Doe memorial building?”

Yeah, we’re really excited to get lots of bi-partisan support for those bills.

Yet, legislation that actually has some substance…health care, regulation / deregulation, social security or any number of other hotly debated topics don’t ever seem to go through the House or the Senate with more than a few votes from whichever party did not draft the legislation. Our political parties seem to be set up as an “Us vs. Them” type of government. “When we have the majority, we do things our way.”

I’m just spit-balling here, but my guess is that this is not what the founding fathers had in mind.

Can it work another way? Sure! We see it every day. A lot of us work in “corporate America.” Many of us take part in meetings with other colleagues who get together to find a solution to a problem. We don’t separate the people in the meeting into “conservatives” and “liberals” before we begin discussing a course of action. We all come to the table with one thing in mind…find the best solution to the problem.

The “best” solution is usually a balance between how much it costs, how quickly it can be implemented, how complicated it is, how effective it is in solving the problem and whether or not it causes other problems. (That is not and exhaustive list, but those are usually the main points.) Nobody cares whether any particular person is liberal or conservative. Nobody cares if the other person is a Democrat or a Republican…or, for that matter, and Independent, Green Party, TEA Party, Libertarian or whatever. All they care about is finding a solution to a problem.

In fact, I can’t help but wonder how often politicians from one of the two major parties would personally preferto vote differently than they do, but feel pressured to “go along” with the party. In which case, this further exacerbates the problem. Because then, we don’t have individuals who represent their constituents. Instead, we have “numbers” in each party so that the party itself is who decides, not the collective of individuals voted into office to most honestly represent those people who voted to put them there.

It almost gets to the point (well, it probably doesget to the point…I’m just being nice) where we no longer vote for which candidate we want to represent us. Our only choices, for the most part, are the far right or the far left. The number of politicians from any other parties are few enough to either be negligible or they may tend to go along with the majority party.

This, of course, brings the important question to mind. What’s the solution? I wish I knew. I wish I had the answer. Our government is so deeply entrenched with the party system that to completely disband it would probably have a major ripple effect. Another option would be to somehow “force” the parties to work together, but to do that you’d need to bring about legislation that would force that. And, as we all probably know, there are things in this world that you just can’t legislate.

So, what can we do? How do we fix this to create a system of government that is more cooperative? If we don’t start thinking about it, we won’t ever do anything about it. And, while most of us would just prefer that the other side just start thinking more like us and things would be better, that’s just not reality. As much as I’d love to see things swing further to the same side of the pendulum I’m on, I know that can’t happen. So, how do we meet somewhere in the middle? How do we run our government so that it’s not about gaining political power, but it’s about doing things that are right for the People?

Grace, love and peace.

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