This is the 2nd blog in this series reflecting on former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ book, The Parties Vs. The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. The first blog is Turning Republicans and Democrats into Americans.
Edwards advocates some very specific changes which he thinks would make for a better democracy and a better America. Some changes he advocates seem simple – for example, stop the practice of having separate lecterns in the House of Representatives for Democrats and Republicans and make them use one lectern to reinforce that all congressman serve the same country, not separate political parties. He also advocates changes in how redistricting is done after every census. Instead of redistricting being controlled by the political party in power in each state, have nonpartisan commissions do the redistricting. This is what this year’s Ohio Issue 2 advocates for example, and while the issue has not gotten a lot of attention due to the presidential race, Edwards would say that we should vote for issue 2.
“The value of independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions is that those competing values will be balanced on the basis of principle, not according to how they help one political party gain an electoral advantage. As Americans for Redistricting Reform notes on its website, independent redistricting commissions allow voters to choose their representatives, not the other way around.” (Kindle1133-35)
When political parties do the redistricting, it is the party/politicians choosing their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives.
Another issue for Edwards is that the rise of the two political parties has caused us to have a more parliamentary system of government and it weakens the constitutionally defined three independent branches of government.
“As the nation has grown and issues have become increasingly complex, and as the rise of broadcast media has tended to focus national attention more narrowly on the presidency, Congress has increasingly failed to grasp that it is a separate and independent branch of government with a constitutional obligation to serve as a check on the executive. Instead, members of the president’s party have tended to see him as their “leader,” and members of the other party have seen him as the opposition, to be stymied whenever possible.” (Kindle Loc. 1398-1402)
The congress is supposed to be a branch of government independent of the presidency and its purpose is to balance the government so the executive branch does not have too much power. But the current political party system is pushing members of congress and the senate to stay completely loyal to their party and to the president if he is of their same party. But in so doing the separation of powers is violated, and instead of the branches balancing each other, the legislative branch can be reduced to being a tool of the executive branch. This is a clear way in which the political parties are against the interest of the people and of the constitution.
The growing power of the two major political parties has also interfered with the work of the congress itself according to Edwards:
“The United States House of Representatives does not operate according to Robert’s Rules of Order. It adopts its own rules, and one of them allows the Rules Committee, heavily dominated by the majority party, to determine which bills can be brought before the entire House for consideration and what amendments, if any, can be debated. No matter how many members of the minority party may support a proposal—fifty, eighty, one hundred, two hundred—the majority can simply refuse to let the bill be considered. If the majority brings a bill to the floor, the minority can be prevented from even attempting to amend it. Here’s how: If a bill is brought to the floor under an “open” rule, debate is free-flowing and there is no restriction on the ability of members to propose changes in the legislation under consideration. If the Rules Committee presents a “modified open” rule, only a limited number of amendments are permitted; those that are to be considered are specifically identified, and time for their consideration is strictly limited. Under a “closed” rule, House members are given the option of voting for or against the legislation, but without any opportunity to offer improvements or changes.” (Kindle Loc. 1702-11)
Though the House sets its own rules, the two major political parties have found a set of rules that makes the majority party even more powerful. This too according to Edwards is to the benefit of the parties but not the people. And since each party sets the rule when it is in the majority it feeds and fosters the partisanship and polarization which then paralyzes the government.
Edwards says the polarization is further fed by the fact that the politicians have very little information which they share in common. Rather the congressmen listen only to their party’s spin on things. This results in what he calls the “’Myside bias’—choosing the “fact” that validates your side’s position.”
‘It’s that ‘myside bias’—the tendency to judge a statement according to how conveniently it fits with one’s settled position—is pervasive among all of America’s political groups.’ In other words, given a set of possible conclusions, politicians, like the rest of us, will choose not the one that comports with dispassionate analysis but the one that fits their own preconceptions.” (Kindle Loc. 2334-37)
Democracy requires an ability to debate, listen to various viewpoints on an issue and then to decide which one idea is the best for the country. Governance in democracy requires that people adjust to majority rule. It requires politicians to be able to make compromises so that the government and a diverse society can function. But if each political party adopts its own facts and refuses to accept majority rule, then the government and the nation become paralyzed and the union is threatened. In the past this was dealt with by cessation from the union. Today the split is not between states but between political parties that cross state lines. Cessation is not viable though some want to divide the map between blue and red states, perhaps hoping those of the other party can be placed on reservations in each state.
Edwards solution is to vote for people who are willing to work with others to create the government that works. His proposals aim at restoring a sense that we are Americans, and in the vast land of democratic ideals there is plenty of room for divergence and forming alliances that get legislation and budgets adopted, as well as budgets balanced and debts reduced.