Mar 112010

“When in the course of human events . . .” so begins the Declaration of Independence, the document that initiated the formal birth of our nation and our separation from English rule. The heartfelt message contained therein has inspired Americans since the day it was written. Beautiful in its simplicity yet grand in its scope, its strength emerges from four basic truths. These truths form the pillars upon which our nation was built.

The first pillar states that “All [people] are created equal,” the second, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights. All else emanates from these essential principles. But while the truth inherent in these statements is inescapable, alone they did not justify American independence. No, it is upon the third and fourth pillars that this authority was based. The third holds that a government derives its just powers from the “consent of the governed.” And should any government be destructive of the Rights of the People, the fourth pillar asserts that it is then “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” said government. It was this Right that empowered the signers to declare independence.

The grounds, under which the founding fathers exacted their claim, were numerous acts of tyranny on the part of the King of Great Britain. According to the litany of facts presented to “a candid world,” His Majesty had committed all manner of oppression upon the people of colonial America. The primary grievance of the colonists was summed up in the words first coined by James Otis, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” So significant was this notion that John Adams himself, signer and second president of the United States, said of Otis’ address, “then and there, the Child Independence was born.”

So I ask you, if taxation without representation is tyranny, and tyranny the grounds to alter or abolish government, then are there sufficient grounds today for Americans to withdraw our consent to be governed? We’re certainly being taxed, so the essential question is really, “Do you feel that your interests are being adequately represented?”

Setting aside, for a moment, the issues involving the aristocracy that is the U.S. Senate, We the People are supposed to be represented “according to [our] respective numbers,” by the House of Representatives. In the 1790s, this meant that each representative was to carry the voice of some 33,000 Americans. As the population increased, periodic reapportionment was to maintain appropriate levels of representation. This worked for a good while, but when Congress fixed the number of representatives at 435 in 1929, the dilution began. Today, each House member represents, on average, more than 700,000 Americans.

Is this adequate representation? Does this serve your needs? George Washington, who argued to reduce the originally proposed ratio of 40,000:1 down to the codified 30,000, wouldn’t have thought so. The sad truth is that our present system is legally structured to diminish the voice of the average American over time:

Add to the dilution factor, the growing issue of unequal representation, and it becomes increasingly obvious why Congress now serves itself above The People. Take for example the difference between Wyoming’s single district of 515,000 and Montana’s at 944,000. This discrepancy effectively eliminates the idea of one person, one vote. In this particular case, the citizens of Montana are essentially relegated to 2 persons, one vote. Legal or not, this is obviously not in accord with the spirit of our Constitution.

As outdated as the model has become in the House of Representatives, no conversation about equal representation is complete without also addressing the Senate. Our bicameral system was designed so that the Senate would provide a stabilizing force to counter the potential “fickleness and passion” that could pervade the House. It was intended to allow for equal representation of the states, regardless of population. In 1790, this meant that the Senators of the least populous state, Delaware, each represented almost 12 thousand people, while in the most populous, Virginia, the number was 9 times greater. Today, the difference between Wyoming and California is nearly 70 to 1. This distortion of equality has all but silenced the voices of Americans who live in the more populous states.

At the end of the day, there are two facts that cannot be denied: inequality in representation has increased over time, and the voice of the average American has concurrently been diluted in the extreme. The actual impact on your vote varies depending upon where you live, but regardless, the question is, “Do you feel that you have a real voice in your government?”

My answer is a resounding “NO.” The Declaration of Independence was a covenant between the government and The People, and that covenant has been broken.

Even if it was The People who controlled the actions of our representatives, and not the special interests and big money power brokers, with numbers this large, the voice of the average American doesn’t even amount to a whisper.

CNN recently posted a question on its amFIX blog that relates to this issue. They wanted to know what people thought about increasing the number of representatives to 10,000. This would bring the ratio back near the levels our founders thought appropriate . . . Fortunately, there were very few who thought this was a good idea.

The bottom line is that it’s no longer practical to adequately represent The People through a methodology designed over two hundred years ago. We are no longer 13 colonies. We are 50 states and over 300 million people. We need to leave a broken system behind. It served us well while we were growing up, but it’s now the 21st Century. Power must be restored to The People, and technology can help.

Through technology, all Americans can actively participate in government. Gone are the days when meetings had to occur face-to-face, and gone with them are most of the reasons that justified a representative democracy. Witness the fact that Facebook now has a population exceeding that of the United States, and you’ll glimpse the potential for how technology might facilitate direct democracy.  Imagine the power of a national initiative to balance a self-serving Congress. Envision a system like that of the Swiss: one where control of our nation would be taken back from big money and returned to The People.

Whatever system we choose, the time for change is now. It’s time for all Americans to demand a real voice. It’s time we exercise our right to “alter or abolish” a government that doesn’t serve our needs. It’s time that We the People join together and insist on real reform or else withdraw our consent to be governed.

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Mar 042010

Out on my daily dog walk, I watched my Yellow Lab, Mojo, trot along beside me. How happy and proud he looked, with his head held high and a wide smile on his face. I watched his strut and couldn’t help but notice his wagging tail. It occurred to me that life is good being a dog . . . but then I’m not a dog, and as I pondered my canine friend’s happy tail, I thought, how different it would be if his tail was wagging him. An odd notion, yet one that led me to think about America today, about how little power the people have anymore. We the People are a lot like a dog being wagged by its tail — actually by two tails.

There’s so much unrest in our Country today, so much arguing and posturing, and so little real conversation. I applauded President Obama’s effort last week to bring both sides to the table to discuss the stalemate that is healthcare reform. But as I watched, it soon became evident, that in spite of the President’s repeated attempts to bring the two sides together, the day would not focus on anything resembling resolution. No, the Blair House would simply be a new venue for the ongoing game of partisan tennis.

As with all issues outside of Congressional pay raises, retirement benefits and other insider perks, our elected officials took to the court like pros. With skill and finesse, they served and returned their talking points, zinging them over the net that divides the two sides. “Start over,” demands the right. “Take it as it is,” responds the left. “It will bankrupt America!” . . . “Americans will die!”

Reporters, pundits and commentators all joined the fray. “What’s the score,” they would ask. “Who’s winning?” Ah, that good old competitive American spirit. We love to take sides and root for our champions. And as the match took form, caught up in the action, I found myself starting to cheer for my team. But then it hit me like an Andy Roddick serve straight to the face — NOBODY WINS THIS GAME; no, this is a zero sum sport where the players walk away none the worse for the wear, but there are no winners, and the only losers are the America People.

I consider myself to be a moderate. I think we need healthcare for all Americans, but I’m keenly concerned that any reform must be fiscally sound. I believe that America needs a strong national defense, but I don’t think we need to be the world’s police. I trust in the free market to fuel the economic engines of our nation, but I don’t trust it to forego profit in deference to the public good. Am I unique in these respects?

My guess is that I’m not. I care about my family, my friends and my Country, just like all Americans. I want a healthy, strong and prosperous America, one that will serve not only us today but our children tomorrow. Maybe I’m off base, but I believe that most Americans are more like me than the deep partisan divide would suggest. I believe that the vast majority of Americans would like to see an end to broken government and a permanent offseason for the futile game of partisan tennis.

And, if I may keep my rose colored glasses on for just a bit longer: it doesn’t have to be this way. The interesting thing about tennis is that it can only be played by two sides. This is politics in America: it’s team tennis and you’re forced to choose one side or the other. They’ve split our fine nation, placing the dividing net smack dab in the middle of a people who have much more to gain by coming together than staying apart. Partisan bickering is the equivalent to a continuous backcourt volley that never allows those of us near the net to play in the game. It’s keep-away, American style.

Well, I’m one American who’s completely fed up with this self-serving nonsense! I believe the time has come to loosen the stranglehold of the extremes. If you accept that voter opinion in the United States follows anything resembling a normal distribution, and there’s no reason to believe that it doesn’t, then the vast majority of us are grouped around the middle. We are the backbone of America, and the two-party system, by design, cannot serve our needs; it is like two tails wagging the same dog.

We are that dog, and it’s time for us to bite. The extremes have us all on a tight leash, and if we want our freedom, we’re going to have to free ourselves of their control. It’s time to say NO to the left and HELL NO to the right. We need representation for the MIDDLE. We need a third party — an American Party.