Would you say that basketball players are representative of the population? Come on!

Basketball players are much taller than the average population. If taller people were to make all decisions, then our world would look differently, more adjusted to the taller person. The needs of the smaller person would be ignored more.

Basketball is a game with many tall players, because with a basket ten feet high the taller players can block smaller players' shots more easily — and they can shoot the ball more easily themselves as well. So, when a coach — determined to win an upcoming game — has to choose the players for the team, he or she will certainly take a player's height into consideration. If you were to add money and prestige to winning the game — as in professional basketball — then you may find one or two, but definitively not many persons of average height playing the game. If you are four and a half foot tall? Not a chance. Go find a different kind of game.

Our electoral district selections are similarly slanted in particular directions, not unlike ways found in sports games. Next to the choice we make in the voting booth who to vote for, the way the overall game is set up strongly influences the outcome in our democracy towards certain candidates.

In general, we can easily pick out the reasons why a slanted outcome occurs, such as the taller average height we find with professional basketball players; we probably figure out pretty quickly that this happens because of the basket at ten feet high. Similarly, there's nothing shocking about the smaller size and weight of professional jockeys on horsebacks. Their smaller features and light weight properties help make horses run as fast as they can without slowing them down.

Yet, when discussing what is truly our most important institution — our system of representation — we seem to avoid considering our political set-up as slanted; we somehow want to view each winner as a winner of equal opportunity. Many of us close their eyes to a fundamental systemic injustice.

Interestingly, most people believe fairness is vital in our democracy, and we all want to believe our Senators and Representatives were elected fair and square. So wouldn't you say that the small number of women in U.S. politics has at least something to do with the way our electoral system is incorrectly set up, especially noticeable when we compare it to the level of female representatives in nations with proportional representation?

And how about race, with currently only one black person representing us out of a hundred senators, while the U.S. population shows that Americans are African American at a ratio of one in eight. This means there should be 12 or at least 9 African Americans in the US Senate. Why aren't there more representatives of us black, white, male, female, young, old, poor, rich, left-leaning, right-leaning, up-leaning, forward-leaning just like us at our Congress? Why are the happy few so tremendously and disproportionately represented?

The more important question is not if women are well-represented or if African-Americans are well represented. The issue of population groups being represented versus those remaining unrepresented is the essential question, and this is of course about systems and money. The larger a district, for instance, the more expensive it becomes to be in the running, and the greater therefore the chance that only the economically well-off and the party-connected folks will be in the race until the very end.

The issue is not about representation, but about who is locked-out from representation, even when they're playing. In basketball, the 5 feet tall folks cannot play and win. It is already exceptional when an average-height person plays in the top leagues. Yes, some do exceptionally well. But being a woman and have some represent you exceptionally well does not mean women are represented well.

On average, more of our senators are millionaires than our representatives in the house — larger districts require more money to win. "About half of US Senators and nearly a third of US Representatives are millionaires, many of them Democrats. Naturally, the Republican Party has no shortage of multi-millionaires." The smaller districts are also harder to win without money when the district is economically very well-off. Our system of selecting representatives is much more like basketball than it appears at first glance.

 

 

 

Musical Chairs

Sadly enough, our representatives are not truly representative of us, not even close. It does not matter how many votes the collective second choice in a race got — even 50.1% versus 49.9% — because that second popular choice is not elected: only the winner gets to make the decisions for the next four years. Just the people who voted for the specific winner actually received their chosen representative. But even then you can still question whether their choice was what they really wanted, because the district system does not deliver much of a precise outcome. Only the single person who was able to push all others aside is now in office for two or four years.

Unlike other democracies, our democracy is much like a game of musical chairs: just one person per game wins. Would you say that the winner of a game of musical chairs is truly representative of a larger population? Probably not either. And while the outcome of a friendly family game of musical chairs may not be known in advance, when a price of $10,000 is attached to getting in that last seat, we all know that more severe pushing and shoving will be involved with that game. It is then no surprise that the best person to run the office was pushed aside by the person best able to push. No wonder politics is full of pushy people. And while most of our politicians try but in general cannot hide their pushy nature, they don't want you to really know why that is the case — because you may then want to change the system and demand that you can elect someone who is more representative!

 

 

 

 

Tug-of-war

Having a system of just two parties only, these two parties can come under the influence of special interest groups far more easily than parties in the proportional system. Due to stiff competition, parties in the proportional system must pay close attention to the people who really matter: the voters. It is very easy to vote for a different party, so the party better deliver and remain true to its message, otherwise it may find itself out of the game.

Here, just two parties are in the game, and they must screw up royally before anything as major as one of them being fully eliminated will occur. The focus of the politicians is therefore less on the people, and more on the special interests than in a proportional system, where special interests may become their own parties. Our system functions therefore more like a tug-of-war. Wouldn't you say that it is very easy in a tug-of-war for someone to walk to the middle of the rope and push it sideways? Of course that is not allowed in a real game of tug-of-war, but in politics the rules are not that straight-forward. With only two parties, they hold each other in some kind of balance — making it even look like a real struggle is going on — but a single person can push that entire game in a sideway direction. It won't happen every day, but the game can change this quickly without the voters having any control over it.

In democracies with other political systems this hi-jacking simply does not happen. If three or four parties are vying for power it is close to impossible for someone to walk to the middle of the (multiple) ropes and push them sideways. They can walk right in, but the ropes are more in balance with the wishes of all people, and cannot be yanked in the direction of just some very special and powerful interests. That's why the two party system is weak in representing us well; people with money or influence can and do walk right in and yank that rope in their direction.

 

 

What did you order?

 

Restaurant 'Our American Democracy' ; what's on the menu? (not much)

We are proud of our freedoms, but when examining them more closely our freedoms are mainly either economic freedoms or military freedoms; our freedoms are not really political freedoms. Consider the following example, similar to the cartoon above, in which an economic situation is used to show how limited our political freedom really is. Imagine walking into a car dealer, and the car dealer telling you that, according to the poll, the car you are going to buy is a Volkswagen Beetle. The car dealer tells you that the latest model Buick is in second place, and still has a chance. So, your choice basically comes down to voting (and paying) for a Volkswagen or a Buick. Of course, a Toyota, a Mazda, a Ford and a Mercedes-Benz are also on the list, but they have no chance of being selected. Also, if you choose a Buick, there's a 40% chance you may still not get it.

We vote in districts, and that means a game is played first before we can get our representatives. The game is slanted, because all games are slanted. In proportional representation there is no game. Proportional representation means the individual choice is what counts. Our most important institution (next to possibly the military) is based on the collective and not on the individual choices. In politics, in our democratic institution, in our power, we are a non-individual nation.

 

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