Reform or Powerlessness?

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had good showings in the recent New York primary. Since the beginning of their campaigns, they have been frontrunners, but there have been questions about whether they could wrap up the nomination before the conventions. The New York primary was a convincing win for Hillary Clinton. This stopped Sanders’ momentum. She will win most states in the next few primaries, and will do well enough in California to assure her nomination, most likely winning without even needing the votes of the superdelegates. Trump’s victory is also likely, but not quite as certain as Clinton’s. His win in New York will convince other politicians to back him and on-the-fence voters to vote for him. He is likely to win a large percentage of the votes in the upcoming primaries and will emerge victorious on the first ballot. If it does go to a second or third ballot, Cruz may win. He has been smarter about getting his supporters elected as delegates to the convention, so after the first round or two, once the delegates are not obligated to vote for Trump, they can switch to Cruz. The Republicans don’t have superdelegates, but there are a small percentage of delegates who are not obligated to vote based on the popular vote in their congressional districts.

I am expecting both parties will engage in talks about reforming the process of nominating candidates, since this issue has been in the news. This kind of reform talk will be needed to help unify the parties and to sway voters to turn out for the general election. The reforms, however, need to go beyond changing how the parties operate. The political system is broken. The Founding Fathers did not envision the development of political parties, so the problems with our existing system are not well addressed in th Constitution. The parties increasingly aim for the good of the party rather than for the good of the country. Politicians spend more time positioning themselves to stay in office and playing the blame game than they spend trying to do what’s right. They don’t seem willing to do their jobs. They need to put aside their differences to get things done even if it costs them. Right now, most national figures consider how their actions will impact the power dynamic. Once upon a time, the parties were largely constructive forces, helping to broker deals. Now the deals don’t get done because obstructing the other party is more important than the will of the people.

We’ve known that the system has been rigged for quite some time. It takes quite a bit of money to get elected. Since contributions to PACS are now considered free speech, we no longer find out who all the contributors are to the candidates. Does this generate conflicts of interest? Who knows? We see politicians who come into office broke and leave millionaires. Perfectly legal, we assume. But, not all of the elected officials are writing books or collecting large speaking fees. Many of them are benefiting from insider information or are making connections that pay off once they leave office. Some take lucrative jobs because of their knowledge of how government “works,” which essentially means they can gain access to those who remain in office while you and I can’t. Or, maybe they are profiting from the decisions they made while in office. Quid pro Quo. The business owner says, we need to have the government’s help with this project. Later they ask, How would you like to join our company’s board of directors? While corruption on the national level is disturbing, greater corruption may occur locally, where the media attention is not always strong enough to dissuade dishonest politicians from unethical behaviors. Georgia seems to have a new state, county, city, or school related scandal every week or two, even though ethics oversight is lax. Just today, NPR announced that a dozen principals of Atlanta Schools have been charged with taking kickbacks from contractors. This follows the cheating scandal a few years ago. Dishinest educators? If principals are not playing by the rules, what does that say about everyone else? When we have no trust, government can no longer be effective. This applies to the police, sanitation workers, city councils, mayors, park employees, state representatives, and everyone else who works for the people.

One of the main reasons why Bernie Sanders is appealing is because he voiced the people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo. He pointed to corruption in campaign financing and to the inequities in society. People, especially younger voters, who see the need for a revolution, flocked to him. Trump too, gives voice to people’s dissatisfaction with the existing system. He appealed to those who felt circumstances were better in times past. Make America Great Again. The cultural changes that have occurred in our society have frightened many. The black and white world of Donald Trump is especially appealing to many older, white males. Ted Cruz plays on the anger toward the system as well. His anger is directed more toward the government than is Trump’s venom for social changes, although Cruz tries to appeal to Evangelical Christians too. Hillary Clinton, the cleverest of the group, tries to tap into voter frustration with the system, but she promises reform, not a revolution. She offers a more practical and results-oriented vision. Revolution, she understands, scares most voters, especially in relatively good times. Why? Revolution’s outcomes are too uncertain. If you start to think about the family, as Clinton’s ads suggest people do, they realize they don’t want revolution, they want dependability. Promises of improvement are safer for the children and grandchildren than are wholesale changes in health insurance coverage, new walls being built, and the elimination of the Department of Education.

Bernie is the candidate for the young who have the least to lose. Trump is the candidate for the bitter, who feel their shot at the good life was stolen from them. Cruz is the candidate for the angry, who feel that the government needs to be destroyed because it was overtaken by liberals whose ideologies are opposed to Christian values.

Clinton appeals to women who believe that new leadership will right many of the wrongs of government. She is viewed as the person with the experience to fix things, not because of her ideology, but because of her pragmatism. Sanders, Trump, and Cruz are all anti-politician candidates. Sanders is the independent who speaks his mind about injustices and tries to shake up the political landscape. Trump is the business person who has so much money he is beyond corruption. Nonetheless, Trump is hated by the many groups he uses as scapegoats. Cruz is the politician who filibusters. He would win the award for most hated in the Senate. Clinton, in contrast, embraces her political background. She is not the outsider; she is the insider who suggests she knows what she is doing and can actually fix things rather than just talking about the problems. She talks about carrying on the work of Barrack Obama, which is appealing to many. While members of the Republican party often spew hatred toward Obama, they can’t turn that hatred into votes because most people like Obama and think he has done a good job. This is quite the contrast to when it was easy to run against George Bush. This year, equating Clinton with Obama, and then running against Obama in the general election may please the hard liners, but will probably turn off the independent and undecided voters.

There are nonpartisan organizations that are trying to repair the broken government processes. Common Cause is one such group that may benefit from this uprising against the status quo. If the desire for reform on the part of a large percentage of people in both parties is channeled properly, the government may begin to function better. If not, the people may end up with an even greater sense of powerlessness after the election, resulting in more corruption and greater frustration with government and the parties who control it. The old saying is that with every challenge comes an opportunity. The next few years may be the people’s best opportunity to change things. We will see whether the people who are frustrated with the system can work together to make the necessary reforms. We do have a common cause, making sure the government is of, by, and for the people.

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