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The Problem with Our Democracy

I know that we think we're doing what the founding fathers wanted. We think we're running things based on the Constitution written so long ago.

But let's step back for a minute.

The last two presidential elections have shown one thing: this nation is deeply divided. And, last night, many of the nationally watched elections also were won by narrow margins (with many more awaiting recounts and appeals). So what does this mean for the state of our representative democracy?

When the electoral system was designed and the notion of a bicameral legislature conceived, our country was vastly different. Only white male landowners could vote. There were only 4 million or so people. The chains of English oppression had just been thrown off (and there would still be another battle to cement our freedom). Political parties were nothing like we see today. The whole thing was a big experiment.

Over time, the landscape of our country has changed. Diversity of race, ethnicity, economy and thought have made the notion of one person representing a lot of the population nearly impossible. As I have commented before, our election system is really a choice between the lesser of two evils. Rarely are we given 'choice' as if we were selecting a cereal at the grocery store. As a result, people stay home and for the next four years, we all participate in the national pastime of complaining.

In the voting booth, I'm given a very limited choice. Campaign ads and debates show me two platforms and ask me the question: which person's agenda do you agree with the most? This is a convoluted way to look at the notion of a representative government.

Idealistically, a representative would represent the views of a group of people. I know he won the election, but Bob Corker or George Bush does not represent my views. I may agree with some of their ideas, but I’m willing to bet that they rarely represent the complete views of an individual. Even tried and true party-liners will deviate from an issue or two. Even Jim Cooper and Phil Bredesen, who won their respective elections handily, do not completely represent my views.

What if we looked at the notion of representation in a different manner? What if we all got equal representation in government and those who voted for Ford got their views represented 48% of the time and those who voted for Corker got theirs represented 51% of the time? And those who identify with alternative agendas and therefore voted third- or other-party get represented 1%? In other words, what if every voice could be heard in Washington?

While redesigning our governmental framework is a task not easily accomplished, what if candidates stated their values but committed to honestly and truly represent all of their constituents and not just half of them? What if there were a candidate who said, "Here's what I believe is right. There are some things that I won't waver from. But, there are other issues that are important to you, the voter who lives in the area I'm paid to represent. So, tell me what you want and what you need and what will benefit the people in this area. Let's work together on making that happen."

Maybe this is what I'll be for Halloween next year: an honest and idealistic politician.

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