Friday, February 16, 2007

Diversity in American Politics

I feel like race is something that everybody in America has to live with, but which many people feel as though, in order to discuss it with anybody but close friends, they must go out on a limb. There are a few things that can be said about race with reasonable certainty: race is first and foremost a cultural and linguistic construct because genetic variation is continuous among the human population. Genetically, skin color is about as meaningful as hair color.

Then there is the sand of time, the ocean of language, the tree of life, and the dollar. Sometimes there is harmony, too often discord, always this beat of a collective march towards something greater. Blind marchers and marchers who see, sleepwalking or awake but dreaming, never too long complacent with complacency; in America, by and large, people get along so long as they are left alone.

American culture has this paradox: we say the Civil War is over and that we live amongst ourselves in peace; yet judging by the number of gun deaths here, a foreigner may be hard-pressed to say there is not a war underway.

Is politics really war without bloodshed, or are there bodies in the streets? Why are these deaths not shown on the news like the faces of soldiers brought home from Iraq in flag-draped coffins?

I would argue that cultural diversity contributes to much of the beauty in American society. I would also argue that it continues to contribute to much sadness. I will not argue for a beauty of sadness, but I will speak to the transformative power of sadness, and for the nobility of a just struggle.

The democratic struggle begins and ends with a voice; the interim need not see bloodshed, but too often does. What is the struggle of democracy, if not to end political bloodshed?

Too many of our political struggles end in complacency: polarization in American politics is a rhetorical illusion, which suggests that, for example, Democrats and Republicans exist at opposite ends of a continuum. Yet these two parties encapsulate the diversity of neither American culture nor American politics. There should be not one black party, but multiple; not one conservative voice, but many; and many revolutionary voices to define the centrism of their parties.

The United States of America is a republican democracy, with constituencies that believe in fiscal conservatism, liberalism, communism, and anarchism. Those constituencies interested in the pure pursuit of power leverage their influence to engineer self-reinforcing social systems, such that most citizens can only participate in politics if they vote to reinforce the illusion of polarity.

Our government collects so much information about us, and makes so many decisions based on derivative information, that the Democrat/Republican/Yes/No vote we are offered (depending on the most popular spin) is drowned out by all the other votes we make with our consumer habits. It seems to me that if we had a greater number of viable parties in our politics, we could express more articulately what we would like to see in our government. Politics could become a forum for popular discourse, rather than an elitist form of oppression.

But democracy starts and ends with the people, and a diverse body politic is not something a government can give a people, like a government might give people safe food, national security, or roads.

This election season, Americans have a number of viable candidates seeking the Presidency. If John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Ron Paul, and Mike Huckabee stopped competing for candidacy under the same two parties, and sought instead to represent other parties in our upcoming Presidential election, Americans could use their votes to help create viable third parties. A third party candidate only needs to earn 5% of the vote in a Presidential election to qualify for federal matching funds the following season. Viable third parties could create a situation where, if a candidate wins the Presidency with one third of the popular vote, the President will have no choice but to cooperate with other constituencies in order to get anything done. If we continue under our current two-party system, we have rule not by the majority, but by the handful of Representatives willing to vote across party lines.

Perhaps a vote should be viewed as an investment in democracy rather than as a payday wad to blow uptown. A vote for a third party candidate is an investment in American cultural and political diversity. If you don't vote at all, the government won't hear what you have to say.

1 comment:

immanuel williams said...

i used to feel that way. i remember being shocked and upset to find intelligent people insist that they refuse to vote, but now i have somehow become one of them. i don't think writing our reps makes any difference, and voting is, like you say, less meaningful than buying politically. i can see the dilemma you are against: you are at the point of urging a vote for a third party, hoping that this is a vote that actually does resonate and have the potential to effect change. i don't know, maybe it does. i voted for a communist in 2004. i know for sure one thing: like the fact that buying is a more powerful political act than voting, writing intelligent, sensitive criticism and putting it out for people to read is more powerful politically than many other things.