How do we begin to believe again in representative government in the United States?
By now the nation understands that both houses of Congress are in the pockets of special interest groups. The most egregious and most recent example of this is this week’s vote against gun control by the Senate.
Without hammering the same figures over and over again, a clear majority of US citizens of all stripes favored expanded background checks for gun purchasers.
Many of our quote representatives in Congress end of quote ignored the wishes of their constituents to concentrate on their own careers, and their own safety within that perk-filled cocoon on Capital Hill.
Many of our quote representatives in Congress end of quote opted to buckle to the National Rifle Association, a trade group devoted to the manufacture, and subsequent sale, of firearms and ammunition. The NRA is not a representative of anyone but its sponsors. It is not representing even its own members, more than 80 per cent of which favored expanded background checks.
The NRA believes, and has managed to convince Congressional members, that it has the power to make or break them.
That threat was sufficient to send Senators to the floor in great enough numbers to defeat what the population of the United States clearly asked for.
In a representative government, this could not happen.
But we no longer have representative government in this country. We are quote represented end of quote by men and women who want, having reached the marble halls, to stay there as long as possible. Some may actually have harbored dreams of doing something beneficial for the country. Others simply wanted to get on the gravy train.
This latter group is fearful of being tossed over for newer, more enthusiastically radical supporters of the extreme wings in each party.
There was an equal balance in the voting, of a sort. Four Republicans voted against the party line. Four Democrats voted against their party’s line.
What once should have been a decision made by a simple majority of the Senate has morphed over the years of Republican opposition to needing to have sixty per cent in favor of a piece of legislation, or even of the ability to discuss that piece of legislation on the senate floor.
The NRA played politics brilliantly in this effort to defeat what the country said it wanted. It allowed, and allowed is not too strong a concept, it allowed Senators to vote their consciences and in tune with their constituents on a procedural vote that allowed the discussion of the Manchin/Toomey bill on the floor The NRA graciously allowed as how it would not “rate” a senator’s vote in this initial phase. Which is to say, men and women could vote freely, as all along they were meant to do according to the US Constitution.
But when the bill actually hit the floor of the senate for debate, the NRA announced that on this vote it would rate the votes of Congressional members.
“Rating,” in this case, is simple: you vote as the NRA wants and you get an A on your report card and probably some additional campaign funds for your next run. An “A” may not guarantee a free ride, or an election in which one would not be challenged by more rabid nominees, but Congressional hearts seem always to beat more calmly if they have an “A” beside their name in NRA propaganda.
It’s sad to be disappointed in America. And it’s hard work to buck oneself up again into believing that the next time something like this happens, results will be healthier – both for the image of our country abroad and for us who live here, and who want again to be proud of being the single civilization on earth to which millions aspire.
But that, folks, is our current challenge.
We have to admit that corruption rules the country. We have to admit that we don’t like this. And most of all, we have to work to make certain that this shining city on the hill remains clear and bright in the eyes of the world’s less fortunate.
How do we do this?
To begin, remember our own disappointment on hearing this week’s news of graft and ambition. We have to recall how we felt when finally, once again, it was pointed out to us that our governing bodies were governing for themselves, not us. And we have to remember two names only: those of our own senators in our own states. If both voted against Manchin/Toomey, it’s easy. If one voted pro and the other con, it’s even easier: just remember the con.
And in 2014, vote against the con.
This may not be as easy as it sounds. After all, the House members who were never put on the spot as their colleagues in the Senate were got a free ride here. How easy it will be for them to tell us they would have voted for expending background checks. Who’s to know?
But if the senator in question also has an anti-feminist history, an anti-union history, an anti-education background, a background that insists we need no new revenues to help our economy, and has consistently voted whatever his or her party-line is without giving any sign of independent thinking, vote against him or her.
The only way America can return to its promise of egalitarianism and meritocracy is, as the saying goes, to throw the bums out. That’s part of democracy, too.