Reading David Sirota’s column today, I was again reminded of how distorted so-called democracy has become in our country. David asks the question: How is it that, even when a clear majority of the public support a certain legislation, Congress does not pass it? If this happened only rarely, we could perhaps attribute it to the wisdom and/or courage of our leaders, standing up to do what they believe is right even in the face of a demanding public that prefers the opposite. But when it happens almost all the time, you have to wonder what is going on.
David posits that the answer can be found in the Senate, where each state gets two votes, regardless of its population. Given that you only need 41 votes to block a bill with a fillibuster, this means that the senators from states representing only 11% of the population would be sufficient to block a bill. Even worse, if you assume that these senators are only worried about getting enough votes to get re-elected, this means that the will of as little as 3% of the voting population are determining what the Senate does!
The same essential problem lies at the heart of presidential elections, which rely on the Electoral College for deciding the outcome. For similar reasons as for the Senate, the College gives disproportionate influence to states with small populations. That’s why it is possible for a presidential candidate to win without getting the most votes (as Bush did in 2000).
All of this gets back to how the framers of the Constitution set things up years ago. I believe, however, they did not foresee the gross differences in populations between states that now exist. Even if they did, it probably would not have mattered. To get all the states to sign on to the Constitution, they needed a compromise that would offer protection to those states with less population. Our current system is what needed to be done to get the union started.
This is not the situation today. Today we live in a country where state boundaries mean much less than they did back then, especially for issues of national policy and office. Indeed, even national boundaries are beginning to fade in significance, as we seek global solutions for many problems.
Given this, it would be easy to say that now is the time to finally overhaul this antiquated system and update it for modern times. The problem is, no matter how strongly I or anyone else advocates for it, it’s not gonna happen. This is because the very people whose support would be almost required to get it done (i.e., those people sitting in the Senate) are the ones with the most vested interest in blocking it. It’s a sad Catch-22 and I have no solution to offer.
David suggests focusing our attention more on state government, where we can affect change more easily. That’s fine for those matters where the states can actually accomplish something. But it does not get at the fundamental problem. Unfortunately, I fear we will be stuck with this fundamental problem for many many years to come.
Note: The title of this entry is based on the fact that Wyoming is the least populous state in the country.