Take a look at the 85 articles known as the Federalist Papers—written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—and one is quick to note the spirited reasoning quality of each one. Now add the writings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and our other Founding Fathers, and the following question emerges: “How is it that a fledgling collection of colonies could spawn leaders of such intellectual power?” Or, to put the matter a bit more bluntly, “Why is it that, in the year 2020, a country one-hundred times the size it was in 1776 consistently puts forward a lackluster array of national politicians?”
Two answers come to mind:
- We have come to accept it when news reporters place a high priority on fundraising at the expense of policy-making or legislative expertise. Candidates who lack prowess in fundraising, as demonstrated by their quarterly financial reports, are simply ignored. Thus, we are left with candidates whose primary skill is that of extracting money from donors rather than crafting sensible policies. Once elected, these politicians continue to do the one thing they do best, placing the interests of their biggest contributors ahead of the needs of average citizens.
- Our Founding Fathers did not gain their positions of leadership via today’s hare-brained system of “first past the post” elections involving gerrymandered districts. Some wrote essays. Some debated policy at local and/or regional meetings. When the time came for a Continental Congress, each colony had its own method of choosing delegates. In most cases, representatives were selected as a slate, via an informal process that involved discussion, debate, and consensus.
With regard to the second problem it may be useful to consider the following modern example:
Suppose you live in the State of Utopia, where there are ten Congressional districts that were drawn by whatever party happened to be in power after the last census results became available in 2011. For purposes of discussion, we’ll assume that Utopia was controlled by a Republican legislature that year. We’ll also assume that approximately 60% of Utopian voters are Republicans and 40% are Democrats. So, in a perfect world, we’d hope that the State of Utopia would send a delegation to congress where approximately 60% of the representatives would be Republicans.
Since Utopia has ten Congressional seats, we would therefore expect Utopia to send six Republicans and four Democrats to the House of Representatives. But that’s not what happens. It seems Utopian Republicans have discovered a method that ensures that no fewer than eight Republicans will be sent to Congress every two years. They simply gerrymander the Congressional map so that 80% of the Democrats find themselves crammed into two districts. Although Democratic candidates will trounce the Republicans in those two places, Republicans will have a clear majority in the other 8 districts.
What’s the solution? There are several. One method might be for federal courts to impose a computer algorithm designed to ensure that maps are drawn impartially. (Good luck finding any agreement on how to accomplish that!) A more practical method is to present the voters of the whole State of Utopia with a single list of candidates, asking them to choose their top ten. The winning candidates would then be the ten highest vote getters. That way, voters of either party will not be disenfranchised merely based on the district where they happen to live.
Following is a great website for Spirited Reasoners interested in this discussion:
Electoral Reform for a More Favorable Congress—