US’ diminishing hope for change

Breaking away from partisan politics remains a distant dream, despite overwhelming support for it among Americans.

I have to admit this I’m in a bit of a funk after the last election. It isn’t because I’m particularly partisan – I’m not. It’s because of what it will likely mean over the next two years. I can sum it up easily it is going to be nasty. That will likely mean my job as White House Correspondent will become similar to doing play by play announcing at a preschool: he took his toy, and he called him a name and then took his ball and left the room.

The reason I’m confident in my prediction is because of the predictable way the two parties responded.

The Republicans say they had such an overwhelming win because the American people don’t like the President, and want them to pursue their agenda. President Barack Obama maintains the election wasn’t about him, but about gridlock and the country wants Washington to work.

What will both do with this perceived “message” from the voters? I predicted exactly what they have been doing, fighting and getting very little accomplished. They’ve talked about wanting to compromise, and in the same breath the Republicans say they’ll vote to repeal the President’s signature health care law.

The President says he’s going to do the one thing that his opponents say is sure to make cooperation impossible, and that is go it alone on immigration reform. It’s become a dysfunctional pattern regardless of who controls the Congress or the White House. In short, Washington doesn’t work and the prospects of that changing anytime soon are grim.

I like to think of myself as an optimist, so along those lines I’ve been thinking about what could actually work. I don’t think the answer is having one party in charge of everything. The American people haven’t been overwhelmingly happy with that recently. In my mind the solution has come down to two things. A third party or campaign finance reform. 

There was a recent poll that I thought was very telling. A majority of Americans, 42% now describe themselves as Independent.

You’ll hear it a lot if you walk into any dinner, people will say “I’m fiscally conservative, but socially liberal”.

The two parties don’t really fit those people anymore. The political parties have moved so far to the far right and left, there are very few politicians who remain in the centre, but that is where the majority of Americans are. 

Given those demographics, you might think it would be the perfect time for a third party to fill in the gap. The problem is that it takes an enormous amount of effort to get on the ballot. You need thousands of signatures, you need enormous amounts of money, and you need a political machine with experience.

A third party would have to find and recruit candidates, but most of the locally elected officials are already affiliated with a political party.

The two parties run the system, and their incentive is to keep a third party on the fringe.

It’s worked so far. I don’t see how this becomes a grassroots movement without the help of a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates, but then they would probably no longer be invited to other billionaire’s parties. I hear the gift bags are amazing.

Campaign finance reform

The other idea is campaign finance reform. The US Supreme Court has basically decided that there should be few limits on who can spend what on campaigns. That has translated into a lot of money being spent getting people elected.

Think about this for a minute, this last midterm campaign is the most expensive in history. Four Billion Dollars.

That’s right. That is more than the Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 35 countries in the world. You might be asking why anyone would spend that kind of money and the answer is simple: because it will be worth it.

Congress has the ability to impact any and all issues and companies. The donors know that. The politicians know that if they don’t deliver, the money won’t be there the next time they are up for re-election.

The only way to overrule the Supreme Court is by passing a constitutional amendment. The American people would probably vote in favour, as most people will tell you there is too much money in politics. The people are not the problem. In order to change the US constitution, both chambers have to pass the amendment by a 2/3rd vote.

So basically, the very people who benefit from the system would have to turn to their backers and say thanks for the cash, but I’m cutting off your influence for the good of the country. I know you can totally see that happening. You can go around Congress, if 2/3rd of State Legislatures called for a constitutional convention. Any proposed Amendment would have to be passed by 38 of the 50 states. In short, it’s really hard to change the constitution.

Both of these solutions are possible. Take a look at history. When people really want a change and it’s hard for anyone to stop them.

But that’s the next hard part, the people have to want it and right now I see most simply saying it’s broken, I can’t fix it so I think I’ll ignore it. I was talking to a lifelong Democrat the other day and she said she has never been more disappointed in a politician than she is with President Barack Obama. She really believed one man could change the system.

You can make the argument that President Obama could have taken different steps, different approaches to try or you could say one man was never going to be able to change the ways of Washington on his own. The bottom line though, she had hope and now she doesn’t and that isn’t usually a recipe for action.

Follow Patty on Twitter: @PattyCulhane

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