by Nicole Crossey
Widener University American Government Student
Democracy is defined as the government by the people with free and frequent elections. The United States was founded on the idea of the “will of the people.” In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson declared that a government is only legitimate with the “consent of the governed.” A successful government needs legitimacy, power and authority. By the American people being the center, in theory, politicians will always try to appeal to the people and seem to be aware of what the people desire. The people’s voice should be heard and represented accurately. The will of the people is constructed by the processes of our political system as well as elections. Our voice was designed to be limited and checked because we were not trusted by the Founders. Pulling at each other constantly, the ideas of minority and majority cause some views to be promoted while others to be denied. The electoral process does not reflect the will of the people, but rather oppresses and “spins” it.
Out of fear of returning to monarchial rule, the Founders decided to limit government’s powers, make the law objective, guarantee rights, design the structure of government, and protect people from other people. With the Constitution, the Founders designed a government based on the consent of the people, a negative view of human nature, and limiting the power of the government. The concept behind American government is based on federalism, separation of powers, an extended republic, checks and balances, and a republican government. The governmental system boils down to a majority-rule electoral process and minority-rule institutions. Political conflict and gridlock are inevitable, and the people victims.
In Federalist Paper Number 39, James Madison argues for a republican government. The United States has a republican government because the will of the people is heard in some form at every level of government; however the people directly elect members of the House of Representatives. Elections, in theory, are supposed to voice the will of the people and not interpret it. The President is selected by the Electoral College because the Founders believed most citizens to be too incompetent and inherently power-hungry to participate in the political system. State governments establish procedural rules on elections like how votes are to be counted and how the electors are nominated. These rules interpret the voice of the people rather than reflect it because a mistake on a ballot becomes a vote not counted. The presidential election of 2000 proves that the Electoral College is an aspect of the government that is archaic and in need of change. While Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, Republican George W. Bush was elected president by the Electoral College because the votes in Florida were recounted. Many argue that this election, and the four other presidential elections in the past that have been decided by the Electoral College, oppressed the views of the people and signals that the priorities of the government are not in place.
The American people are misrepresented in the government as women and people of color hold few positions in the government. There is no doubt that age, sex, religion, and race are sources of tension within the United States. However, most of the government remains middle-aged, Caucasian, male, well-educated, and Christian. Women “have it harder because it is a male-dominated, dog-eat-dog field and they have to be merciless with their appearance lest they look weak, inexperienced or unprofessional” (Semiatin 194). The media reinforces stereotypes that politicians are supposed to abide by, and if women candidates do not, then they are weak. Like women, minority candidates have a hard time breaking into the political arena because they must try to conform to the rest of the government, rather than embrace what makes them different. Minority candidates avoid “employing direct racial appeals and avoid emphasizing a racially specific agenda” (Semiatin 212) because they want a say in government. The electoral process does not accurately reflect the demographics, and therefore the beliefs, of minorities and women. Hence, the diverse constituency of the United States is represented by an overwhelming majority that does not reflect the will of the people. On the contrary, it must be noted that the promotion or exaggeration of minority rights does infringe on the rights of the majority. The views and the attitudes of people in the minority determine whether a case is to be heard in the Supreme Court as well as the rules in the Senate protect the voice of individual Senators through unlimited debate. The media makes it difficult for a woman or a minority to be elected to a governmental position because the media is run by a majority of people, who have specific interests.
The paid media and political campaigns reach out to voters because they want power and influence in the government, rather than addressing the root issues of people. These goldmines aggravate the vicious cycle of public ambivalence and political disengagement because politics seems like a complicated, underhanded process that is not capable of being changed. Continuous elections contribute to voter fatigue and thus political disengagement within some constituencies. These same people also, ironically, chose not to participate in the political process because the government does not address their needs. Consequently, the government does not address the needs of the people because it is too focused on self-interested prospects and the people show no objection. Like the government, the media is a divisive force within the constituency. The media has always tried to change our perspectives on events and people, but in recent years the media is more influential because people have more access to technology. “The media can make a candidate look too good to be true, even if that candidate is not at all competent for the position” (Semiatin 141). On the other hand, the media can deface a candidate like “Al Gore or George W. Bush” (Semiatin 146). In the era of technology, media caters to people who can afford it. The “internet changes the financial equation by creating a digital divide among end users those who can fully consume information and news on the internet users and those with limited or no access” (Semiatin 144). It is not democratic to ignore people who can’t afford the internet or other technology for “reasons of finance, occupation, or age.” To aggregate the public’s likes and dislikes, many political campaigns and parties use microtargeting. Campaigns use this to mobilize and attract voters to their campaign. Political campaigns will focus on certain traits and determine whether a certain voter is worth their time and money. This mentality proves that the media and political campaigns all have a target audience and ignore the rest of the population who is not worth their time and money or because they are simply unreachable.
While the people are supposed to be central in government, money and power are the universe to politicians. The United States has “a government-regulated system in which individual contributions to federal candidates are limited, but spending by candidates and outside groups is unlimited” (Semiatin 131). The campaign finance system is another area in politics that caters to people who can afford to participate. This system is so complicated that people do not know how to hold candidates or political parties accountable. Candidates are forced to constantly fundraise because they have no public funding. A solution would be to “repeal” the contribution caps and make the process more transparent (Faucheux 1). In essence, the United States has a campaign system that twists an image of a candidate to please their interests, the misrepresentation of the American people, and a political participation system that is limited to the wealthy. Essentially, anyone who cannot afford to spend “$2,500” individually has no stake in the electoral process as we have seen that the people’s vote is interpreted by the Electoral College.
Fraught with self-interested prospects like reelection, policy entrepreneurship, and prestige in institutions and the Washington community, members of political parties do not reflect or represent the will of the people. The electoral system is rigged to ensure job security and minimal accountability for representatives of the people. Incumbents are almost guaranteed to get reelected because political parties make him or her look like a celebrity, give him advantages over the opposition, and redistricting to reinforce his or her control over the district or state. Political polarization makes it hard to “adapt to changes in political environment, to changes in the demographic composition of the electorate and to the ever-evolving technological means of campaign communication and fundraising” (Semiatin 118). It seems as though political parties use people as vehicles for regaining or maintaining power, rather than their focus. The two party system of our government—the Democrats and Republicans—denies the voice of people in third parties. In the United States, we pride ourselves for being tolerant and open to change, but we have a “winner take all” system where minority rights and beliefs are denied, like in the House of Representatives.
A major reason political parties are disconnected from the people is because of the overwhelming influence of interest groups. Interest groups represent interests, educate politicians about issues, and advise them on how to solve these issues. They have an incentive to compete with political parties in order to put certain issues on the agenda. While interest groups spend money “advertising issues and promote the fortunes of sympathetic candidates,” they also “reach out to the constituency” (Semiatin 122). Political parties and incumbents want to get the monetary and advertising assistance that interest groups bring. Rather than investing their time and money into issues that directly affect people like school supplies, representatives choose interest groups because they fortify the representatives’ self-interested prospects. All throughout the government, interest groups want to get their issue on the agenda by donating money or using advertisements to support an individual. Interest groups represent minority beliefs, yet they drive the drafting of policy in government.
The people’s voice is not heard or formed properly because of the money game in political campaigns, interest groups, the media, and political parties. A solution would be to remove the dirty from politics. With “public funding, more access to information, and all candidates having an equal chance at getting elected without microtargeting and media manipulation” the will of the people must be heard and distributed in the government (Semiatin 239).