The United States Congress has betrayed its purpose: the representation of the ideals of its constituents is no longer a primary motive. Rather, the concerns of corporate entities, personal gain, and political favor have corrupted the work our government does and the general population is left to ponder the outcome and live in the aftermath.
This has not happened just this year, nor in the last decade, nor indeed over the last 50 years. It has been a slow and inevitable process brought on by the one weakness in the armor of the United States Constitution: it’s ability to become beholden to factional influence. It is a process described in the Federalist Papers, as well as in George Washington’s farewell address to congress. It is the reason why Washington was against the idea of political parties, and the primary reason why Thomas Jefferson believed that every citizen should be educated: to protect the country from factionization. Their warnings have not been heeded, and our country is failing. It is not the fault of our elected officials, however.
We, the people, have allowed the factions to elect those unscrupulous men and women who pervert their calling in the halls of congress. We have allowed it to happen by not participating in our own government. Congressional elections since the 1960’s have had participation in the 20 – 30 percent range. An average turnout of around 35% has been seen during those elections over the last 40 or so years. After accounting for the non-voting population, that is approximately 17% of our citizenry who are determining who remains a representative.
By deciding to not participate in congressional elections, we have handed our country to the entities that most desired it. Those entities and their bank accounts are now controlling how laws are written and which ones pass.
The cynical amongst you will come forth with some kind of “well, it would have happened anyway” or “my vote doesn’t count” quote. To you I say shut up. The reason your vote is slowly counting less and the reason this is happening is because of that very thought process. Our government only works when everybody participates in its operation. It’s not just a right, but a civic duty to follow, analyze, decide, and act on the decisions your representatives make — in your towns, states, and otherwise.
Whether you voted or not, the people from your district will work to determine your quality of life.
This is not a country for cynical people, unfortunately — a fact I have had to come to terms with myself. Cynics will look at a system and see how it has failed them, see the utter futility of trying to correct what seems so obviously wrong. Our country is designed, however, to be fixable. To provide us the view into what is wrong and the means by which we can repair it. All we need do is act.
The massive turn-out in the 2008 elections and its historic result — while not my personal choice — is an example of the voters trying to fix a system. That election was easy, though. Can you do it in 2010 when it matters more, but will be far less glamorous? Will you turn out and discard those representatives who have failed you, your families, your neighbors and your towns without the television telling you to do so? Will you become the moral compass for those who have none even if your favorite news station disagrees with your ultimate decision?
We are not lost yet. The factions are winning, yes, but they are no longer a concern when we override them with sheer participation. We can still reclaim the US Congress and give it back to those who would do a better job of representing the people of this country over corporations. It is, after all, our congress to control. The people who sit in those aisles are merely stewards of our rights. And as stewards, they are beholden to our disgust, our wrath, our choices.