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Vincentt's avatar

How does the American political system reach compromise?

Asked by Vincentt (7470 points ) July 10th, 2008

Note: this is asked in response to lefteh’s answer to prevent that question from getting off-topic.

“The United States is built on political discourse, debate, discussion, and…er…I’m out of synonyms.
The point is that people talk to each other and develop their opinions. People can come together with their very different outlooks on the same situation, and create a compromise that works for everybody. That’s the underlying concept that makes this country so great.”

So how does the US democratic system reach compromise? To me, it seems very “all-or-nothingy”, i.e. you have to agree with one of two parties (you can vote differently, I believe, but it’s hardly of any use), and when one wins the elections the other gets nothing at all. Do I get that right? How does the US electoral system achieve compromise in the differing opinions among Americans?

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13 Answers

marinelife's avatar

It was not always this way. There was much more compromise on legislation. The gridlock of today and the polarization that preceded it is relatively new historically.

Here is what three political science professors attribute it to: “Our primary evidence of political polarization comes from analysis of the voting patterns of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Based on estimates of legislator ideal points (Poole and Rosenthal 1997 and McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal 1997), we find that the average positions of Democratic and Republican legislators have diverged markedly since the mid-1970s. This increased polarization took place following a fifty-year blurring of partisan divisions. This turning point occurs almost exactly the same time that income inequality begins to grow after a long decline and the full effects of immigration policy liberalization are beginning to be felt.”

What’s needed is to remove the winner take all mentality and restore a spirit of working together. It is up to us as voters to demand that of the candidates that we put in office from whatever party they come from. We also should at the grassroots level try to come together on our commonalities than allow ourselves to be manipulated for our differences.

tinyfaery's avatar

I, admitting that I am not an expert on the subject, attribute the polarization to “representatives” doing what they please, instead of following the will of the people. But, wait, the will of the people could be just as bad. Ahhh! That’s why I always say we should switch to a parliamentary government.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

The founding fathers realized that pure democracy was nothing more than a fancy term for mob rule. They knew that the majority was not always right. They gave us a country not ruled by the majority, but ruled by law – a nation of laws, not of men. Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address in 1801 said, “Though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable;...the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression”. The law provides protection when the majority is wrong, or at least it is supposed to.

We don’t rule by law anymore. Convince the people it is for safety, and they will let new laws pass by untouched.

Vincentt's avatar

@Marina – I have a little bit trouble parsing that (no native speaker :). I see something about a rise in income inequality, but why would people then start voting only Democrats or Republicans?

@chris – interesting. So how do the founding fathers determine when the majority is “wrong”?

lefteh's avatar

@Vincentt: I don’t mean to insult you if you understood this, but this is the summary of what Marina was saying:
Around the time that income equality was on the rise, our elected officials began voting based on party membership and held positions that created a greater split between the parties. This led to increased divisions throughout the country.

Vincentt's avatar

@lefteh – but isn’t that the whole idea of parties? Being united around common views in that party? And how does that explain that there are effectively only two parties that matter?

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

They put into place things like Congress, the veto, the committee in Congress, and made it pretty difficult to change the Constitution.
There is another aspect of American government that I believe would prevent tyranny of the majority, though it is an accidental or derivative feature, one which seems often to be unappreciated by particular Congresses. It is also one which once unappreciated invites further lack of appreciation in retribution. The idea is that because majority rule in Congress is at best temporary and secure only until the next election, it would be wise not to pass laws that are intolerable to the minority party, so that they do not do the same against you when they become the majority. To do otherwise is to invite a damaging feud or the political equivalence of the nuclear policy known as ‘mutually assured destruction’ (M.A.D. for short, in one of the most apt acronyms ever designed). Unfortunately political groups, here or abroad, are not usually wise in this regard. Or they tend to hold the belief that if they could just get a law on the books it will become less objectionable somehow before the next election. It seems to me, however, unequivocal that if you rule by sheer majority numbers without looking for an acceptable accommodation of the minority, that, if and when they become the majority, they will not try to accommodate you. In that case both sides lose for at least part of the time, instead of both sides having what they need the whole time. With common sense and sensitivity apparently not forced on legislators by nature, nurture, or the ephemeralness of power, it is left to formal voting mechanisms to try to force cooperation.

All of this stuff will work, only if the people are properly informed. Unfortunately, we are not properly informed, because our media has been taken over by Corporations, who have wiggled into the pockets of our politicians, and control both of the only 2 choices we have. All of the “choices” Americans are given come from corporations, and the media than tells America which choice our politicians have taken.
Google Edward Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew. He psycoanalyzed people in large groups and figured out how to manipulate how people can think by giving people information you want them to have, rather than people figuring out information on their own.

lefteh's avatar

@Vincentt: That is indeed the purpose of political parties. However, many of the best laws past in Congress have been passed by lawmakers doing what is called “working across the aisle.” The aisle in this case is the figurative separation between the Democrats and the Republicans. In the past, more politicians have worked in this manner. Nowadays, very few Democratic politicians reach out to Republicans, and vice-versa. When the two parties work together to accomplish a common goal, it’s a huge deal. It never happens. This is the problem with our current political system.
And this is why we need a reforming president to bring change to our lives.
Sorry, was that plug too obvious?

Vincentt's avatar

@Chris – that’s very interesting indeed. So if people wouldn’t be short-term thinkers, there would be more compromise :)

@lefteh – ah, I understand. And that situation came about because of income inequality? And how did the other parties get ruled out?

And yes, the plug was quite obvious :P. Does Obama have plans to reform the political system?

lefteh's avatar

“And that situation came about because of income inequality?”
Not really because of income inequality. Just an increasingly polar political scene. I can’t explain why it increased in polarity; I’d be interesting if anybody could find an essay or something exploring that topic.

“And how did the other parties get ruled out?”
Well, there never really ever were more than two powerful parties at any one time. This website does a lovely job of explaining the history of political parties in the United States.

“Does Obama have plans to reform the political system?”
Yes.

Vincentt's avatar

Thanks Lefteh, that first link was very interesting (albeit a bit hard to read for me… Near-native speaker my @$$ :P).

Could you tell me at which page Obama speaks about reform of the political system?

By the way, what strikes me is that that document speaks in the name of Obama, but surely he hasn’t created that document all by himself? I’m a bit involved with a political party in the Netherlands, and the way it works there is that there are several working groups (? The Dutch term is “werkgroepen”) that consist of people adept at specific subjects and who generally support that party, and they work together to try and define a party policy that fits in the general views of that party. I don’t know if it works that way in the US, but if it does, I’d find it weird to be writing in the name of a specific person.

marinelife's avatar

@Vincentt The way it works here is that right now Obama has not been officially anointed as his party’s nominee. So, his position’s are crafted by his campaign staff with input from and the approval of the candidate himself.

At the convention, once Obama is nominated, a subgroup of delegates and party leaders will put together the party’s platform, its official positions on all of the issues. The nominee, Obama, will have a great deal of imput into those and will approve them, but they may differ some from his own personal positions on the issues.

jerv's avatar

Compromise? What’s that? :P

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