It’s party time

March 25th, 2010

There’s nothing more American than apple pie and democracy. But right now, our democracy is like an apple pie cut up into 435 slices, with each representative looking out for his own slice of the pie. The result is a political system that’s dominated by special interests, which chip away at the general welfare of the nation.

If I’ve lost you already, here’s a hypothetical example to illustrate what I mean: imagine a representative who must choose between two bills. One would bring 100 new jobs to a neighboring district. Another would bring 50 new jobs to his own district. Which would better promote the general welfare of the country? The former bill, of course. But since the representative was only elected by the members in his district, it’s easy to see how he would probably place their interests above the interests of the rest of the nation and choose the second bill.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often in D.C. For example, despite the fact that solar power from Arizona and wind power from the Dakotas could provide the entire country with renewable electricity, senators from northeastern states have opposed proposals to build a national power grid that would make it possible to export that energy to other states that need it. Why? To protect their own local energy suppliers.

Then there’s the billions of dollars that could be put towards education, lowering taxes or paying off the debt, but are instead used to build more jets, aircraft carriers or missiles that we won’t need, all for the purpose of providing a few jobs for a district or two.

And don’t forget about the hundreds of “pork barrel” projects passed by Congress each year that result in thousand-page bills – like the health reform bill or last year’s stimulus bill – and billions of wasted dollars.

So is there any way we can make the federal government more efficient? Here’s a simple solution: remove the arbitrary district lines that divide the country. These districts not only make it easier for special interests to invade public policy, but also result in gerrymandering – a process that divides districts politically so they favor one party or another.

Instead, citizens should vote for political parties. Here’s how this would work: if a party won 20 percent of the national vote, it would be awarded 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Party leaders would determine who would hold these seats, which would make parties more ideologically disciplined. Republicans would probably promote more conservative policies, while Democrats would promote more liberal policies. This would also likely result in the creation of a third or fourth party that would embrace more moderate policies.

Without specific districts to cater to, parties would have to develop and carry out a plan that would benefit all of their supporters no matter where they are – which would result in a greater promotion of the public good.

In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington warned against the threat of political parties. But parties are here to stay. It’s time that we embrace them.