Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


The bizarreness of US politics

US Congress Building
Originally uploaded by prameya

Although in general I’m a big fan of the US constitution, there are at least two areas that I find absolutely mind-boggling crazy, and I would change them tomorrow if I could:

  • Gerrymandering: In the US, politicians design constituencies themselves (instead of leaving the design to independent experts such as the boundary commissions in the UK), and the results are atrocious. The effect is that very few constituencies are competitive, which isn’t good for democracy. At the very least, the US should create independent boundary commissions, but ideally they should introduce proportional representation to ensure that every vote counts.
  • Supermajorities: In many cases, supermajorities (such as 60%) are required to pass legislation, especially in the Senate:

    The filibuster is a tactic used to defeat bills and motions by prolonging debate indefinitely. A filibuster may entail long speeches, dilatory motions, and an extensive series of proposed amendments. The Senate may end a filibuster by invoking cloture. In most cases, cloture requires the support of three-fifths of the Senate; however, if the matter before the Senate involves changing the rules of the body – this includes amending provisions regarding the filibuster – a two-thirds majority is required. In current practice, the threat of filibuster is more important than its use; almost any motion that does not have the support of three-fifths of the Senate effectively fails. This means that 41 senators, which could represent as little as 12.3% of the U.S. population, can make a filibuster happen. Historically, cloture has rarely been invoked because bipartisan support is usually necessary to obtain the required supermajority, so a bill that already has bipartisan support is rarely subject to threats of filibuster. However, motions for cloture have increased significantly in recent years.

    There are already plenty of checks and balances built into the US political system, so requiring supermajorities just causes the whole system to grind down to a halt. Apart from constitutional amendments, a simple majority really should be sufficient.

I’m sure there are many more oddities, but if only they would fix these two issues, I’m sure it would make a big difference.

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