The elections are still over a year away but the mudslinging is already in full swing. Since the Supreme Court bestowed life on the corporations and made them persons, there is no shortage of funds to disseminate misinformation and charge the emotions of the unsuspected.
Unlike other industrial nations where an election period lasts three to four months, electioneering in the United States never takes a break. Immediately after an Election Day, the opposition begins its campaign to dismantle the winning President and his party. National interests take a back seat to the schemes hatched by the minority to obstruct everything from simple confirmation of officials to the legislative agenda that brought the majority in power. Arguments on matters, sometimes of no national importance, are given prominence by the media and winners and losers are announced as in a sporting event.
Fundraising for the next elections begins immediately after the elected officials have taken their oaths. According to Center for Responsive Politics $ 5.2 billion was spent during the 2008 elections and $3.6 billion for the 2010 midterm. It is estimated that the 2012 elections will cost nearly $8 billion. At this rate the outside influence that the founding fathers feared is already showing its muscles. In order to keep the donors in line our representatives take positions that prevent any compromise. Compromising had been the bedrock of our system, but over time it has become a sign of weakness. The performance during the Health Reform Act and recent arguments in raising the debt ceiling are good examples.
This behavior of our elected officials is forced upon them by the framers of the Constitution, albeit unknowingly. They had no example to follow and their foresights concerning our freedoms and rule of law have been nothing less than a miracle, but the bicameral system with a two year term for the members of the House is no longer working and is subject to outside influences. The honorable men, who spent five months of their time writing the Constitution without any compensation, expected gentlemen farmers or business owners to take two years out of their avocations to serve the nation. Instead our representatives have evolved into professional politicians who serve two masters with diverging agendas.
The European nations that followed our experiment in democracy chose the Parliamentary system of government. Parliament is the final authority and a law once passed cannot be challenged in the courts. Here, on the other hand, the enforcement of a law can be delayed for years by court challenges or denied funding while the citizens are kept in a limbo. If there is a deadlock or the public becomes critical of the leaders, a no-confidence vote can topple the government and elections are called to elect a new Parliament. The process takes no more than a few months. The absence of scheduled elections motivates a representative to diligently attend to the affairs of his nation thereby securing his position. Our system, on the other hand, provides job security to those whose campaign coffers are full.
It will be a miracle to see a Parliament in the USA, but we can implement some significant changes to make our system more responsive to a changing world. There was a discussion during the writing of the Constitution for the President to have one term of seven years. A change to an eight year term would free him or her from moneyed influence, political affiliations and stress of campaigning while addressing myriad of national and international problems. To allow the members of the House enough time to attend to the affairs of the nation, their term of office should be extended to four years with a maximum of three terms. In order to encourage the participation of multiple parties, we need to institute open primaries and limit the amount of money that can be donated by anyone including the corporations. Nowhere in the industrialized world have the lobbyists carried so much influence as they do in the USA where their staff is allowed to actively participate in the framing of legislation. No wonder that we have over 50,000 tax codes to facilitate special interests.
Those who believe in the sacredness of the Constitution should pause to read the following inscription from the southeast wall of the Jefferson Memorial. It was excerpted from a letter dated July 12, 1816 from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval. It reads:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.