Once again, I’m going to key off of one of Roger Ingall’s posts. If you’re thinking that this is only because he continues to have interesting ideas while I’m all dried up and can’t do anything but copy… um, I can’t think of a response right now.
In Roger’s post on March 22, 2012, “Void the Senate,” he calls for the elimination of the Senate, leaving only the House of Representatives in the legislative branch of the federal government. Roger knows very well that this is an intellectual exercise and that eliminating the Senate would be pretty much impossible, but his post brings up some worthy issues.
I agree that the Senate is not a good part of our government. Hmmmm…. What are the good parts? I’ll have to get back to you on that. But I think the main problem that the Senate has is the same problem that the House of Representatives has, only on a different scale… and this time I’m not talking about the influence of big money. What I’m talking about is real estate.
No, not this kind of real estate:
There are several reasons that representing geographical areas is not the best way for a government to operate. For one thing, if 51% of the people in an area vote in a particular direction, then that’s a majority and their will will rule. That leaves 49% of those people essentially unrepresented, as if they just don’t count.
Another reason the Senate is an inappropriate part of our government was actually a subject of debate during the Continental Congress which created our constitution in the first place. Senators literally represent pieces of land with political/administrative boundaries – states. That means that Wyoming has just as much say in the Senate as does California.
The population of the state of California was 37,253,956 in 2010, making it the most populous state in the nation. The population of Wyoming in 2010 was 563,626, (36,690,330 fewer people than California) and is the 50th most populous state.
You might think I have something against Wyoming, but I certainly don’t. With the notable exeption of Dick Cheney, Wyoming is largely full of friendly, polite, good natured people. Driving through southern Wyoming one time, I discovered that people actually wave to you through the windshields of their cars. And at the time I had Colorado plates on my car! I must have seemed like a rude jerk to the first few people, before I caught on.
No, it has nothing to do with who is represented in the Senate. My complaint is that the land area that is defined as Wyoming has two Senators, as does the land area defined as California. Therefore, in the Senate, the people of Wyoming are vastly overrepresented while the people of California are vastly underrepresented.
However, even if we did (somehow) eliminate the Senate, another real estate problem would still exist. Congressional Districts are based on population, but are still a specific area on the map. So, what Representatives are motivated to do is to bring money (which ostensibly brings jobs as well) into that area.
That sounds great, but it is exactly what has led to our incredible national debt. Representatives vote for almost anything that will bring money into their districts. A good example is the B2 bomber, one of the worst spending fiascos in U.S. History.
The B2 bomber is built from components manufactured in every U.S. state, including many different Congressional districts. This dissemination of the manufacturing and the money that went with it served as a lure to get the votes of Representatives and Senators alike, who are always thinking about the next campaign.
The constituents largely voted for the incumbent because he or she brought money and jobs to their district, and the U.S. got a shiny new $45 billion plane project. These days, that doesn’t sound like so much, at least compared to the epic waste of the Iraq war. But think of all the teachers’ jobs that could be saved with that money.
What’s my version of the impossible dream of reorganizing the U.S. government? Since geography, appropriate in the 19th century, is now obsolete, let’s instead elect on ideology. An example is the farmer’s party in Denmark. This party was organized in 1923 to represent the interests of farmers across the small nation.
If we got rid of our “winner take all” mentality and our addictiton to geography, people would have more choices and opportunities to express themselves politically. The semi-monopoly of our current two dominant parties could be obliterated and people could truly vote the way they would choose, instead of being held hostage to a sometimes ridiculous and self contradictory package.
The U.S. Green Party advocates a system that addresses some of the problems I listed here known as “proportional representation.” It would mean that the 49% (or less) would be represented by 49% of the government instead of being shut out entirely. It’s worth thinking about.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.