As we Americans celebrated the Fourth of July this summer, I was reminded of the principles our founding fathers believed in when they signed the Declaration of Independence and ratified the Constitution.
I think everyone would agree that they wanted to form a representative democracy — democracy being defined as a form of government ruled by the majority of the people. They also worried about tyranny of the majority, so they put lots of checks and balances in our Constitution so that wouldn’t happen. Our Constitution has worked well for us for more than 200 years, but I fear our government has now become too dysfunctional because of the opposite problem — tyranny of the minority.
The most glaring example of the will of the majority of the American people being thwarted by a minority (the Republicans) was the failure of Congress to pass background checks for gun purchases when polls showed about 90 percent of Americans supported such a bill. Outrageous! Majorities also support comprehensive immigrations reform, keeping abortion legal, keeping Social Security and Medicare as is, funding food stamp programs for the poor, raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the super wealthy, closing loopholes for large corporations, reducing defense spending, closing Guantanamo and gay marriage. Republicans are opposed to all these ideas, and they are able to get their way by our distorted election process. This is tyranny of the minority!
In the Senate, with the filibuster and cloture rules, 41 Senators can thwart the will of 59 Senators. In fact, because states with small populations are disproportionately represented in the Senate, they can block any legislation. Fact: 21 of the smallest states represent only 10 percent of the population. Example: Wyoming, with a population of 576,000 gets two votes in the Senate, the same as California that has more than 38,000,000 people. And in the House of Representatives, the body that is supposed to most represent the will of the people, the Republicans have managed to keep control of the House by 234-195 by gerrymandering voting districts to create large safe Republican districts even though in the last election, Democratic candidates got about 1,000,000 more votes than Republican candidates. So much for Democracy and the will of “we the people.” Republicans are truly hypocritical when they invoke the phrase: “listen to the will of the American people.”
No wonder people have lost faith in our government. No wonder Congress has an approval rating of 10 percent. So what can “we the people” do to take back our government? In their book, It’s “Even Worse Than It Looks, How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism,” Thomas E. Mann (Brookings Institution) and Norman J. Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute) offer some solutions.
First, we need to get money out of politics by amending the Constitution to limit campaign contributions or at least make full disclosure of all political campaign contributions.
Second, encourage voting. Make voting easy, have national voting rules and regulations, maybe even require everyone to vote like they do in Australia.
Third, create competitive voting districts by having nonpartisan committees draw congressional districts to make our elected officials more responsive to the country as a whole instead of narrow partisan groups/interests.
Notice again, the Republicans are against all these ideas. In state after state, they are trying to limit voting, not expand voting, by their restrictive voter ID laws (though research shows vote fraud is essentially nonexistent), reducing polling locations, thus creating long lines in democratic-leaning districts, and cutting early voting days and hours. In Texas alone, by their own admission, more than 900,000 people will be adversely affected by these laws. And with the Supreme Court’s recent decision essentially gutting the Voting Rights Act, look for Republicans to implement even more ways to disenfranchise people who don’t vote Republican.
I am so proud to live in California. The people voted to have a citizens committee draw congressional districts. The Republicans tried to challenge these newly drawn districts but they lost in court. The Democrats in the state Legislature are in the process of passing full-disclosure laws. Thanks to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat who has made voting easier, e.g., a citizen can now register online, and we have no long lines on voting day. And she has also insured the integrity of our vote by decertifying the voting machines that had no paper trail. Now we need to do our part by voting! I encourage voting for Democrats because they represent the true majority of the people.
Nancy Eubanks is chair of the Nevada County Democrats Communications Committee.