Democrats & Liberals Archives

A government broken: How things have stopped working

During the recent Alito confirmation hearings, if anyone watched (according to Bill O’Reilly, the ratings were down for the hearings) they would have noticed the modern version of democracy in all of its twisted, deformed and mangled mess, was flushed down the toilet.

Instead of a government of the people by the people. We saw a government of the party by the party.

Joe Biden (D, Delaware) on the Today Show with Katie Couric said that he thought the confirmation hearing process is old and outdated and is now riddled with grandstanding instead of substantive questioning. He suggested doing what the Senate did decades prior; having a debate on the floor and an up-and-down vote.

A debate and a vote? Will that really work?

As I've watched C-Span over the years, my favorite part is the debate. Where Senators and Congressmen borrow and yield valuable time to speak during their debate over a disputed subject. Sometimes using props and visual tools for the viewers at home. But it's obvious that the props, tools and speeches aren't for the benefit of the other debaters. Why? Because, in most cases, the other members that the speaker is debating are not in attendance for the debate. The floor is basically empty. The speakers are talking to an empty house and the television community. It's like Survivor VII: Washington DC.

The act of a healthy debate, it seems, is a lost art form. A craft that is no longer required for our representatives. They need to speak well and look good on screen. For when our representatives take podium to debate a subject they do so only to hear themselves speak and for those empty words are ceremoniously recorded into historical record. Gone are the days when a representative debated a topic, listened to the other side and then voted. I guess when Daniel Webster, that Senator from Massachusetts debated Hayne in the famous debate over tariffs and public land in 1830, a debate that lasted for nine days, Democracy had seen its finest hour. It was Webster who said during that debate:
"popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it are responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be."

How true those words are today.

But alas, those days are gone for sure.

Now the debate is for show; it's purely a superficial experiment. Neither side is swayed by the other-side's argument. Neither side HEARS the other side's argument. Both sides are swayed by party lines and party association. Facts need not enter the discussion as a tool for persuasion. Facts are merely window-dressing for the illusion that a debate actually took place.

Much like most things in our modern version of our democracy, the debate has become of mangled form of the process, much like Santa has to do with Christmas. And as Americans, we reluctantly and submissively accept this situation as a way of the land, as if to say to our elected officials that we condone their behavior.

Well, for me; I don't.

Posted by john trevisani at January 13, 2006 2:22 PM
Comment #112900

Yes I agree that the debates are just for show. There was a time when congress and the president actually responded to the people because they relied on them to get elected. The past 2 presidential elections have proven that the opinion of the people is of little importance when it comes to our so-called “democracy”. The general opinion over the past 30 years has been that the government is corrupt and there is nothing we can do about it. So most young people have stopped going to the polls and no one even gets excited when they hear stories of bribery and corruption of elected officials. In effect, congress has stopped caring about their constituents and the televised hearings are no played on the air only to convince the gullible masses that there is still somebody on capitol hill running the nation.
The fact is that the real deisions are being made behind closed doors by people who have no business running the American government. These are the people who have been running things behind the scenes and pulling the presidents strings like puppet handlers since before the assassination of John F Kennedy.
As long as they can keep the masses entertained they will continue to run the government only “for the people” because the people are too easy to manipulate through TV and radio and make-believe scandals.

Posted by: Schaeffer at January 13, 2006 2:46 PM
Comment #112910

Great column.

I just can’t believe this is in the democrat column. The core of your argument is why I and many became independents.

Posted by: chantico at January 13, 2006 2:55 PM
Comment #112913

“Neither side is swayed by the other-side’s argument. Neither side HEARS the other side’s argument. Both sides are swayed by party lines and party association. Facts need not enter the discussion as a tool for persuasion. Facts are merely window-dressing for the illusion that a debate actually took place.”

Sounds alot like this blog.

Posted by: THC at January 13, 2006 3:02 PM
Comment #112943

Party politicical strife is hardly new. One of the most devisive and scuroulous was in the Jefferson candidacies with Jefferson leading the fray.

Whenever there is a lack of diversity in one or both of the Party’s the problems of representative governance increase. Whenever one of those non-diverse paarties has an absolute majority in both the Legislative and Executive branches then legitmate representation becomes impossible. The reason that Bush does not feel obligated to honor Legislative checks is because he knows he has the legislature in his pocket. If the tables were turned, under the same conditiions, the result would most likely be the same.

The foundes designed that for our government to work effectively and properly required compromise. To the extent that any time compromise is not reqired the Governance is parallely(I hope that’s a word) dysfunctional.

This is not however a justification for excusing oneself form the elective process. It has been my observation that most often when people say, they don’t vote because it won’t make a difference, it is really about theirr lack of understanding and/or ignorace of how the American Govenrmental Process functions. Unfortunately, most of this ignorance reflects how badly our nation as a whole has honestly educated the public in general. In a Republican Democracy the quality of the Government is directly correlated to the participation of the electorate. One gets what they give and if one gives nothing at the voting box they neither get nor deserve nothing from their government. If there was an election with 80% turnout, I believe it would make those elected perform much better because more people are watching them. But, when so few care why should they?

Posted by: Richard at January 13, 2006 4:21 PM
Comment #113074

This a great column! To the point of causing pain in one who truly loves this country and what it could be.

Unfortunately, what it has become is far from the founders’ dream. Even farther from Lincoln’s great declamation of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Our electorate doesn’t vote because they see no reason to. And, as long as the turnout for elections remains well below 50% of the eligible voters, they are right. I totally agree that if we could somehow manage to get 75-80% turnout we might have a more responsive government.

I think one of the problems had it’s beginning in the 1960’s. Young people rebelled against what they saw as a corrupt system. And they have continued to rebel into the 21st century. Then they marched, chanted, challenged the status quo. Now they stay home on election days.

Another part of the problem lies in the education our young people are not getting. When I was in school, we had a course called “Civics”. We were taught the basic workings of our government and made to feel pride in our nation and it’s history. I can remember my eighth grade teacher nearly crying as she tried to get us to see the importance of being a vital part of the democratic process.

When I was in college, I took a course called “American Studies”. Our instructor was from Hungary. He had escaped and come to America.
One day in class we asked him why he would leave his homeland and his family and literally risk death to get here. He replied that he wanted to live in a place where he had some say in how he lived and this country was the best place for that.

From all that I have read and seen first hand, today’s young people are not being taught that they are important to the political process. And what they see on TV just reinforces that teaching. If I were a kid today and watched the Senate Judiciary Committee in action, I wouldn’t want much to do with it either.

What is the answer? I don’t know. I am too old (65) to make much of a change. All I can do is try to teach by example, i.e. voting as often as I can.

Posted by: John Back at January 13, 2006 10:52 PM
Comment #113097

John Back

I think you’re right, it was in the 60’s that voter apathy increased. The Viet Nam War was the first real awakening that clearly showed the people that they could not reasonably rely or believe what their Government said and did. Also contributing is that over the past 30 years economic security has become a major concern for the vast majority of the people causing a great many to become politically unaware because all of their effort is focused on improving their economic situation and security.

Posted by: Richard at January 14, 2006 12:47 AM
Comment #113134

Actually i would love it if there WAS some party strife. Right now we have window-dressing masquerading as strife.

Elected officials are beholden to their party. The party is beholden to their investors (I mean contributors). The investors are beholden to reaping the benefits of a favorable government. I know, I’m stating the obvious.

The citizenship of the United States is nowhere to be found. They are merely voyeurs to a democracy that does not include them. Much like the emotional attachment that a fan of a football team has by wearing the team’s colors and watching every game on the television. The citizens of the United States are now willing participants of a reality television show called: Survivor, Washington DC.

Posted by: john trevisani at January 14, 2006 8:36 AM
Comment #113143

Part of the problem is that people think America is a democracy. America is a republic. The founders warned against allowing America to degenerate into the mob rule that is democracy. The lack of civility in public discourse is a symptom of that degeneration.

Posted by: steve at January 14, 2006 9:49 AM
Comment #113144

John, excellent post. What bothered me in addition to what you posted, was not only were the Senators not interested in what the opposite side had to say, but most times they were not even interested in Alito’s answer. They had their minds made up as to “his” position and despite the numerous repeated questions? All of them seemed to end the hearings with the same belief of him they had at the beginning.

Why continue with the charade if the personal testimony of both the nominee and the varying panels is not going to make a difference. It appears to be a situation where the only real reason to have the nominee there is to see if he or she can endure thru the hearings without a serious gaffe or blow up. Your title of “Survivor Washington” is very correct.

Posted by: Lisa Renee at January 14, 2006 9:49 AM
Comment #113173

The inability to debate or open mindedly listen has left the political theater and public arena.

The protest mentality of the 70s - expansion of rights in the 80 and continuing expansion of regulations has brought us to this point of continual disagreement and public apathy.

Posted by: Reporter for Doody at January 14, 2006 11:54 AM
Comment #113189

To throw out an idea. How about we raise everybodies taxes say 100$ or so. This would be offset by a 100$ tax credit for voting. Many more people would vote. At first they would hate the idea but after they got into the booth I suspect they would change their minds. If people started voting their self interest the Dems would consistently landslide until the Reps moved closer to the middle. Apoligies,just musing.

Posted by: Bill at January 14, 2006 12:46 PM
Comment #113215

More musing. The money collected from the above goes,after covering cost of issuing voter proof, to public campaign funding with limits on outside contributions for a candidate to qualify for funding. This would never fly in Washington but in California for instance it could pass by initiative.

Posted by: Bill at January 14, 2006 3:49 PM
Comment #113339

Good article, John.

Neither side is swayed by the other-side’s argument. Neither side HEARS the other side’s argument. Both sides are swayed by party lines and party association. Facts need not enter the discussion as a tool for persuasion. Facts are merely window-dressing for the illusion that a debate actually took place.

Sounds alot like this blog.

Actually, I’ve seen people here shift stances based on good debates. Unfortunately, the level of debate on this blog has slipped a bit over the last year.

I’d like to see more reasoned arguments and facts with links to back them up, and less pure opinion and slinging of terms like “fascist” and “communist”.

In short, I’d like to see us all show a little more respect to each other.

Too many posts here — and even some of the articles — are falling into the catagory of troll bait which encourages others to respond in kind, and discourages intelligent debate on important issues facing Americans.

Posted by: American Pundit at January 15, 2006 6:19 AM
Comment #113571

Today politics seem dry and out of touch with the public.

Special interest’s, gather streangth together and buy votes.

Debates show constituents at the poles what they want to see.

Votes belay the true nature of politics today.

Often opinions on T.V. differ from votes. And,
Laws passed by congress spend money not discussed.

Posted by: scott at January 16, 2006 11:05 AM
Comment #114398

How about we just vote out all the incumbents, over and over ?

There are many benefits

And it is easy to do.

We all need to vote to clean house, and keep doing it until bought-and-paid-for politicians get the message, and start proving that they are responsible, and stop looking the other way.

Until then, none of the incumbents deserve to stay, and that is the price they should pay for looking the other way.

Thus, I hope the voters will give Congress a very simple test.

Ask Congress to do these things now:
Who could argue against any of that ?

Posted by: d.a.n at January 18, 2006 5:23 PM
Comment #114700

Off topic: Today’s revelation of a new tape from Bin Laden should be a lesson learned. The spying on US citizens is not only abominable by its’ very nature; it is also useless to prevent terrorists from revisiting this country.
The terrorists don’t NEED to communicate with anyone here. Without any notice to GWB, and without his personal ok, they can simply drive across our borders and blow up something, including people. The only communication they really need is a post-it.
Perhaps GWB thinks Bin Laden is just talking. I hate to think what will happen, and soon, if he is serious.
I know several conservatives who said, following 9-11, “we all know more terrorists are already here.” It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to realize, if this is true, how easy it would be to blow up another national landmark.

Posted by: jcp at January 19, 2006 5:17 PM
Comment #114717


Its going to be virtually impossible to stop any and all terrorist attacks, assuming they are willing to die for their cause. We can limit the damage, but I doubt we can fully stop someone with the intent of killing him/herself and others.

Perhaps bin laden’s suggestion of a truce is more what HE wants, rather than what he wants from us. What would his reason for a truce be, if he doesn’t get the concessions he wants? Since he has declared a fatwah, or holy war, I don’t see him stopping until he achieves his purpose. And his purpose is not a truce.

I think perhaps he is trying to see what the US will do, or perhaps to see if he can create some dissonance between the parties.

Terrorists do need to communicate in order to carry out grandiose plans. Small plans can be carried out individually perhaps, but in order to launch an attack within US territory, it will take coordination.

Posted by: joebagodonuts at January 19, 2006 6:05 PM
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