A brief overview of the American political system
POLIanTICS: For Those Who Don't Know Their Left From Their Right
The French political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville said that in a democracy, "We get the government we deserve." That's why people don't like the French, they always blame the victim. Apparently Alexis was the Glenn Beck of his day, without the humor. I thought of this quote when I read an article that stated that elected officials scored 44 out of a hundred on a basic government knowledge quiz. They FAILED a test on the basic government structure that they are a part of. The non-government people who took this same quiz scored a 49, so according to Alexis we're not quite getting our bang for our buck, though almost. This quiz doesn't include high school seniors, who picked Tehran as the place where the lunar orbiter landed. So it occurred to me that we need a little primer on how our government is structured and how it works, and since we can't expect anyone who actually works in it to explain it, I guess that leaves it up to me.
Being in a democracy means that you have certain freedoms, such as being able to vote for the people who will tell what you can't do. Our government consists of three parts; The President , the Senate and the House of Representatives. To understand how they function together it is easier to think of them as Moe, Larry and Curly. If you've ever watched how those three accomplished their goals you will have a pretty good idea of how the government operates.
The house of Representatives is made of over 400 local representatives, each representing a district. Each district is made up of two kinds of people; Those who voted for you, known as constituents, and those who voted against you, known as radical buffoons.
The Senate has two representatives from each state. This means that a state like Rhode Island, which is about the size of the basement in the Empire State Building, gets the same amount of representation as real states like Texas and California. Even play states like Hawaii and Alaska get two senators. Apparently this made sense at the time to the Founding Fathers. Senators are voted in for life, there are several who were elected during the Civil War and are still serving.
The President, on the other hand, represents all the people, whether they work for big rich corporations or big rich unions. This is known as bipartisanship.
There is a fourth branch of the government called THE SUPREME COURT. No lack of self-esteem issues there. They mainly sit around in their bathrobes and listen to lawyers yap away all day. They perform an important function in keeping the lawyers off the streets and away from the rest of us. They are split into two groups; the majority, who write their opinions on everything under the sun and then make us listen to them, and the minority, who mainly sit back and shoot spitballs at the lawyers when they're not looking. They occasionally get to write a minority opinion, where they whine about the majority opinion. The majority just tells them that they couldn't interpret smoke signals, let alone the law, and to be quiet. Judges are appointed by the President, and can serve for several lifetimes.
The rest of the government consists of elected officials, who are elected by voters called lobbyists. These are people who take up all the seats in the lobby so nobody else can get in to vote. ( Lobbyists are called Special Interest Groups, with the emphasis on Special, if you get my drift). The elected officials belong to Parties, which describes pretty well what they do all day. The parties are divided into two groups; the Democrats and Republicans, but this distinction is unnecessary. As a former Iranian diplomat who worked with both parties noted; "The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is the difference between Coke and Pepsi." Like Coke and Pepsi, each has its own die-hard adherents, but in the end you still are left with something that will rot your teeth over time. Independents like to think of themselves as the Uncola, but there is about the same number of them as there are unicorns. Only one has ever been reportedly seen in the entire Congress, but that is probably an urban legend. The Republican Party is represented by the logo of an Elephant, an animal known for running over things in a blind rage while making a god-awful lot of noise. The Democrats logo is a jackass, which is more self-explanatory.
The two parties further divide themselves along Ideological lines; either Liberals or Conservatives. The Liberals are considered the Left Wing while the Conservatives are considered the Right Wing. They don't say the left and right wing of what, but I think Ben Franklin was on to something when he wanted to make the national symbol the turkey. If you think of the center as being Common Sense, then the Liberals are far to the left of it and conservatives far to the right. The two groups also seem to have some difficulty getting along at their political party. Liberals think that Conservatives are anal-retentive, Cro Magnons who didn't get enough mother's milk as a child. Conservatives think that Liberals are namby-pamby Peter Pansies who think the government is Tinkerbell, and money is fairy dust. Both opinions are fairly accurate. Both groups like to think of themselves as being Morally Superior to the other. Conservatives have Family Values, where they refuse to have affairs during family TV time. Liberals are Compassionate to the Poor. They try to think of ways to give them more money while traveling back and forth to their yachts in special taxis called limousines. They make me giggle. Or is it Gaggle? Suffice it to say, self-awareness is not their strong suit.
The actual truth is that all the people in the government have one thing in common; they are all Rich Bastards. (For those of a sensitive nature they will be referred to as RB's). There are NO elected officials who do not belong to this party. It is sometimes referred to as the Green Party for clarification. Most RB's acquired their wealth the old-fashioned way; they inherited it. Others had to work for it; they married RB's.
The RB's purpose in life is to pass LAWS, otherwise known as "Rules that other people have to live by." This is because Congress exempts itself from having to do what other people are required to do. This doesn't mean that they have no standards however. There is both a House and Senate Ethics Committee. If you stop to think about it, Ethics Committee is a pretty funny name in and of itself, and it's hard to improve on it. If a member "breaks" a rule he must face the disciplinary wrath of the Ethics Committee. This is like the time when my older son was about six, and being the model parents that we were, we let him choose his own punishment for one of his moral infractions. After much deliberation he said; "You can slap my hand... tomorrow." The Ethics Committee is like this but not as harsh.
RB's are also in charge of taxing the rest of us, referred to as "A herd of cash cows." Taxes are used to pay for important things that have to be done, such as raising the pay of the RB's. They also designate some money for the constituents, this is known as "pork." They call it this because the system is sort of like a huge trough, but the RB's are the only ones who get to eat at it. Anything that is left over goes to help the poor Special Interest groups, who then divide it up amongst the constituents. The buffoons are not left out, they get to refill the trough. It seems to work for everybody.
I hope that this has proved helpful. I also hope that you were paying attention because there will be a test. If you get stuck on a question just remind yourself of your two options; you can get it right or you can get elected.