In an editorial earlier this week, the State Journal noted the disconnect between American citizens and their representatives in Congress.
While Congress is incredibly polarized, most Americans are quite moderate in their views, the paper pointed out. A new Esquire/NBC News poll of registered voters, for example, claimed that “there is a large group of American voters — even a majority — who make up a New American Center that is passionate, persuadable, and very real.”
The center is up for grabs, the State Journal concluded.
It’s a good point, but leads to an obvious question. If, indeed, most Americans are centrists, why do they often elect extreme candidates to represent them? Congress is dysfunctional, after all, because people in some districts elected representatives who, in effect, pledged to burn down government and refuse to cooperate with anyone with differing views.
There’s an old saying that we voters get the Congress we deserve, but there’s another conclusion that can be drawn from the dichotomy the State Journal underscored. Perhaps we’ve evolved to a point in history where our democracy is no longer working the way it was intended.
That can be traced to several factors. Redistricting is an obvious one. The art of gerrymandering has been so refined with the help of modern technology that millions of people are effectively left without a voice at election time. The rigging of district boundaries has produced constituencies that encourage the polarization we so deplore in Congress.
Anyone who dares utter the word “compromise” — which is what most Americans say they want — is targeted by extremists who demand unfettered purity. And because of gerrymandering, winning a primary typically ensures victory at general election time.
As bad, though, is how money greases the gears that drive this undemocratic process. Extremists who hate compromise unleash millions of dollars into primaries to teach a compromiser a lesson and to throw the fear of God into others who might think of compromising in the future. Political fronts funded by billionaire corporate chieftains make no bones that they’ll spend whatever it takes to influence a campaign’s outcome.
It creates a circus-like election cycle where voters are bombarded with radio and TV ads containing half-truths and lies, and unless the voter stays well informed, candidates with the most and loudest messages frequently get elected.
Consequently, we have members of Congress who answer not to the people, but to the extreme wings that have the power and money to make or break political careers.
While it’s nice to think the U.S. is comprised of people who are willing to give and take to achieve the nation’s goal, they’ve been robbed of most of their power to bring about change.
That’s what scary about the health of American democracy today.