The unfortunately pragmatic nature of representative democracy has enabled its implementation into what were once righteous governments, and subsequently defiled their infrastructure. The combination of a representative democracy and an unrestrained civil service has diluted the American people’s power to nearly zero. Ironically, Americans see themselves as elite, democratic, and consequentially individually powerful. Abraham Lincoln concurred, saying in his Gettysburg address that the United States was a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This is quite easily refuted when realizing the success rate of congressional incumbents who sought reelection (in an average from 1984-2004) was 96%. In addition, the 19 million civil servants of The United States government further dilute the people’s control of those who rule them. Finally, “for the people” gives the impression that the government is obligated to make decisions for the betterment of the people, which is an unfortunate misconception. It is quite apparent that politicians make their decisions in line with what the people want, not what they require. Further exacerbating the condition, only 50% of the United States population vote in presidential elections, only 37% vote in congressional elections, and a mere 30% participate in local elections (data360.org). Therefore, in reference to the nature of our current government, Lincoln’s quote would more accurately stand as a government “of primarily the same people, by the minority who are interested, and for the sole interest of remaining in power.”
The combination of an intransigent government foundation and the tendencies of humans in power has led to this imminent and unfortunate situation. After much deliberation in the year 1887, a Great Compromise was made. During the Philadelphia Convention, delegates agreed on a bicameral legislature, partly population based, and partly independent of population. These have become known as the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. Subsequently, a serious consideration of structural government reform has not occurred. All of those who make decisions “for the people,” are representatives (while the majority of those who implement it are not representatives). Given the intricate involvement of Congress & the president (also a representative) in the United States’ government affairs, our government as a whole can be appropriately labeled as a representative democracy.
The United States’ representative democracy is flawed specifically because of its inability to evolve with a dynamic society and economy. The men who created this country, did so because they were indignant with their mistreatment by the British monarchy. Shouldn’t today’s citizens be equally indignant, knowing they are being government by rules put into place 250 years ago? Public opinion has always been easy to influence and change dramatically, this is due to the majorities unaffiliated position on social and fiscal issues, and has therefore been changing rapidly due to the public’s constant emergence in a pool of various counteracting influencers. This emergence of influencers, such as mass media, was not present during the development of the constitution. In the interest of creating a government is truly “by the people,” the rapid change of public opinion must be taken into account. This can be done simply by reducing senator’s and congressmen’s term lengths, or increasing the frequency of congressional and senate elections by shifting term years.
The deterioration of America’s government can not all be attributed to its intransigent nature; the creation of factions is also responsible for America’s downfall by inducing government policy and advancement into a perpetual standstill. Conflict simply inhibits advancement. Intimately opposing factions like those present in the America’s party system are never conciliatory and seldom compromising. The public’s eye is drawn to these conflicts, and usually stands on adamant ground along with their parties lines. However the lines that define a party are incredibly ambiguous and make it nearly impossible for any given individual to maintain all of their reregistered parties values on fiscal and social issues. This engenders the ultimate cause of deterioration in any form of democracy: misrepresentation.
In addition to the astounding success rate of incumbents who run for reelection, there is an unfortunate correlation between election success rates and financial aid. Of course, the success rates of incumbents is not strictly due to auspicious financial status, other factors such as the availability of time in relation to challengers, visibility, and campaign organization. Regardless, few of the aforementioned advantages have anything to do with the strict promotion of policies, but are essentially becoming aquatinted with the public allowing them to recognize a name on a ballot. On average, in the 1998 election, incumbent Congressmen had $565,000 or 270% more funding than challengers, and in the Senate incumbents had $3,130,000 or 120% more funding than challengers. These figures further support the relation of the United States’ government to an aristocracy.
A decreased term length in all sectors and an increased frequency of elections would motivate politicians to implement their promises in a timely and visible manner as to impress the public. Increased public funding for challenging candidates may sway the monumental amount of reelected incumbents. Allowing in depth reform to government structure to keep up with the increasingly advancing environment will reduce the time difference contrast. Demagoguery is inevitable, however reducing factions polarity may reduce the level hostility in America’s bipartisan environment. Although impractical, the ideal form of government is always a direct democracy. Therefore, increasing the number of parallels between America’s representative democracy and a direct democracy will ultimately provide for a more appropriate government.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Federal Government, Excluding the Postal Service, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs041.htm (visited November 17, 2009 ).