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The system is broke; Let’s fix it

Chris Rhodenbaugh | Friday, September 3, 2010

Can someone please start a charity fund that donates money to help the unemployed get job training for every time a politician says he or she is not a part of Washington culture? My first thoughts every time a guy in a suit, excuse me pleated khakis and a working man’s collared shirt, says he wants to be sent to Washington to change the culture of D.C. is how stupid must the U.S. public be to buy this as genuine? Despite your political beliefs you are likely equally baffled as to why politicians can say with a straight face that they will “shake up Washington.” Yet, they will get away with it and win their elections (Only seven incumbents in all of Congress have lost in a primary so far this year), not because people are dumb, but because there are no real options. Pessimism is attacking the soul of the United States. We need to start finding ways to stop it.

The journey towards saving our democracy from the obsession of short-term political benefit versus long-term health for our country is a rigorous one, but it must start with challenging the two-party system. I’ve spent the last three years of my life campaigning for candidates, and then fighting issue-by-issue trying to win legislative battles to move this country forward. After two years of the Obama Administration I am far from empty-handed, but enormous issues like the environment and immigration policy are untouched and each major bill passed is defined by being sub-optimal. Thanks to the two-party monopoly on the system and a lot of money changing hands in D.C., we have bloated bills addressing national crises like health care and Wall Street reform that no one understands except the lobbyists that wrote them.

I have concluded that instead of advocating incessantly for certain issues, the roots of legislative failure must be addressed. There needs to be real political competition injected into our system. While a number of solutions need to be put forth, like public financing for elections, making it more difficult for members of Congress and their staffs to become lobbyists, and filibuster reform, I am most intrigued by the concept of ranked-choice voting.

Ranked-choice voting is when a voter has a first choice, second choice, and sometimes a third choice vote. The system is used in various countries around the world and by a selection of cities and counties in the U.S., most notably the city of San Francisco. Ranked-choice voting tallies all of the first choice votes and if a candidate has more than 50 percent of those votes he or she is victorious. In the likely event that no one gets a majority the lowest vote getter is eliminated and the second choice votes get allocated according to the voters’ selections. This process is repeated until a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the total votes.

Ranked-choice voting would bring a desperately needed breath of fresh air to the predictable and depressing back and forth that dominates U.S. politics today. Party lines would begin to blur as candidates emerged that gave voters real choices on the most important issues of our time. Third party candidates would at a very minimum inject new ideas and approaches into debates. With ranked-choice voting candidates will less frequently give in to attacking their opponents because they will not want to alienate potential second choice votes. Also, the dissolving integrity of U.S. media could be slowed as people started to regain interest in debates. Third party candidates and ideas would throw a wrench into today’s news cycle of partisan pundits spewing the daily talking points.

Having massive “big tent” parties does not serve the interests of the people effectively. During the 2008 election people demanded change, transparency, and accountability from their government. The problem was that such a large and politically diverse majority of Democrats were elected to Congress that the debates over every major piece of legislation took place almost entirely within the walls of Congress or the West Wing. The media simply chased behind reporting erroneously and selectively on polls that fit into their particular narrative.

I am not writing this article because I despise the Democratic and Republican parties. I am a Democrat and identify with the left in U.S. politics, but I believe in a real marketplace of ideas. More diversity in ideology on Election Day would improve both parties by making them more accountable to their voters. So instead of blaming President Obama or Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner for the state of politics in the U.S. start focusing on the real culprit, a flawed system of political parties and rules of governance. We need to start thinking critically about how we can reform our political system to protect the future of our democracy.

Chris Rhodenbaugh is a senior political science major and editor of www.LeftysLastCry.com, Notre Dame’s Progressive Headquarters. He can be contacted at crhodenb@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.