Monday, October 27, 2014

What If America Had Proportional Representation?

Back in the 1990s, when I first reached voting age, I voted for Democrats but never saw myself as one. I thought then, and still believe, that the Clinton administration actually did net harm to the poor, working, and middle class.  For that reason I voted third party for president in 1996 and 2000.  The one tangible domestic policy goal that Clinton accomplished was deficit reduction, and his successor wiped out that effort by giving away the money saved to the wealthy via tax cuts.  The Bush administration scared me so thoroughly that I actually began to identify with the Democrats, but their performance in power over the past few years has changed my mind.  Teachers organize on their behalf, and are repaid with a hostile "reform" agenda.  Latinos come out to vote for Obama in record numbers, and he refuses to push immigration reform forward.  Meanwhile, Republicans keep winning, but the GOP has been taken over by whacko ideologues to the point that many less insane members of the rank and file are a little embarrassed over their affiliation.  In general, it seems like conservative Republicans are the only group of people who have a party that consistently represents and fights for their beliefs.

This has got me thinking about something I've contemplated for a long time: proportional representation.  Americans like to brag on their Constitution, but it is actually a musty, out of date system that other nations have surpassed in the intervening decades.  The first past the post electoral scheme and two-party system both choke off a multiplicity of voices.  The result is plain to see in states like Texas, which is actually politically diverse, but is almost completely dominated at all levels by rabid conservatives.  I would estimate that about 45% of Texans effectively have no voice whatsoever at the state level.  Proportional representation is a more democratic system because it give those not in the majority actual representation.  If America had a system like Germany's, where every party netting more than 5% of the vote gets representation (both in state legislatures and in Congress), I would be willing to bet that more people would get their voices heard.  More varied ideas and policy proposals would be aired.  Proportional representation also rarely results in absolute majorities, and thus forces compromises by its very nature.

Of course, such a system will never come to be in America, so this is more of a parlor game than anything else.  It would also make sense to scrap equal state representation in the Senate, where Wyoming has the same level of power as states with many times its population, like California and Texas.  Getting rid of the Senate filibuster and its arcane rules would help, too.  Hell, while we're at it, dumping the Senate completely might be a good idea, but that's another conversation for another time.  In any case, here's some aimlessly fun speculation about what parties America would have under a proportional system:

The Left Party: This party would be a bonafide Leftist, openly socialistic party, although it would have trouble getting five percent of the vote.

The Progressive Party: This party would be made up of liberals and progressives, what now is the progressive and unheeded wing of the Democratic party.  It would never get the most votes, but would actually ensure progressive policies would be an active force.

The Democratic Party: Under a proportional system the Democrats could openly be what they effectively are already: a centrist party in a country with very little center.  They would also be so loathe to make a coalition with Progressives that they would prefer the Free Market Party as a partner.

The Free Market Party: This party would be the home of business interests and run of the mill libertarians.  Its focus would be on promoting capitalism, with little to no opposition in the ranks to things like gay marriage and abortion.

The Party of God: This would be a Christian identity party devoted to an explicitly dominionist policy of bringing about God's kingdom on earth.  No longer tied together by Republican loyalties, the Free Market Party would keep its distance, except in the rare cases that it couldn't form a coalition without it.

The America Party: This nationalist party would be based around nativism, guns, and anti-government paranoia.  It would be especially strong the West and South, and a perennial threat to the vote counts of the Free Market Party.  It would also rarely enter into a coalition with any other party, on general principles.


Then again, maybe I don't want a proportional representation system, since I would bet it would mean perpetual coalition governments run by the Free Market Party and the Democrats.  Only capitalists and fatuous centrists would run things, which isn't all that different from now.

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