How do ‘We, The People of the United States of America,’ “make the government do what we want it to do?”
In an earlier article, I put two ideas into their historical contexts:
- That, so far, only wealthy men have controlled American government since it was created in 1789.
- That there are more of us – the 99%, so to speak – than there are of them. Thus, since we still operate on the principle of “One Person, One Vote,” we can theoretically make the government do what we want it to do without resorting to revolution and violence.
When we recognize the power of the 99%, what can we do to elect a government that is truly representative?
First, we recognize some realities about both history and politics. We stop making excuses about feeling overwhelmed or excluded or alienated or unmotivated or whatever else it is that keeps us avoiding doing the research and thinking required to be an informed citizen.
Let’s go back to our hypothetical example of running for your state legislature, for some context. I specified that some “special interests” sponsored your (winning) campaign: Susan G. Komen for the Cure – who have 3500 active supporters in your district who vote – as well as a neighborhood group supporting pothole filling. The CEO of a company located in your district, which dumps PCPs suspected of causing breast cancer also contributed a large sum to your campaign.
Suppose, now, that three successful election cycles later, your core constituency of Komen supporters and the people whose street you got repaired simply adore you. They have become loyal partisans and volunteer for your campaigns. Somebody suggests you run for the congressional seat of the retiring congressman this time.
Issues on the federal level are bigger and more complex than the local level. You will have to expand your horizons beyond the repair of infrastructure and support for breast cancer research. Now what?
I did not mention any party affiliation for either you or your contributors. This traditionally matters very little at the local level but as an office-holder climbs the ranks, party affiliation becomes important for two reasons: the platform, and (of course) the money.
Because Americans do not have a political party to represent every individual special interest (can you imagine the chaos?), our major parties have party platforms, in which they spell out their policy intentions and state their support for or their opposition to the various special interests which contribute money to campaigns.
Just as the Komen supporters and the pothole people united to support you for state legislature, despite having very different pet projects – Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Greens have their coalitions of special interests. Most of those folks couldn’t care less about each other’s projects but they all know that if they work together and vote for the party’s slate of candidates, they will make legislative gains over the long term.
And that is the key to party politics: platforms.
Here are the links to the official Democratic and Republican platforms. These are the policy statements of support of the special interests that each party pledges to honor. This is what you absolutely need to know to be an informed voter in the presidential election and the down-ballot races for federal offices.