Midterm elections were held earlier this week, with the GOP scoring a resounding victory and, in doing so, gaining control of both houses. This is not intended to be a politically divisive post, so I will leave the question of whether this is a good or bad occurrence up to you. However, there are certain conclusions which can be drawn from the results of the elections. Namely that there seems to be a nationwide discontent with the way that the government is currently operating and that change is desired on a grand scale.
The current state of our government is now perched somewhat precariously, with the executive branch being controlled by one party, while Congress is controlled by the other. This is an interesting setup when compared to the ideals of what past political theorists saw as effective. Hobbes for example, warns of the “miserable condition…of the basic state of nature” and is primarily focused on how government is necessary in order to preserve property and to ensure the safety of individuals. To these ends, he speaks of electing “a person or assembly…with absolute sovereign power.” This would require a body of government that is capable of functioning both quickly and decisively. I think we can easily agree that our government cannot generally be accurately described by either of these adjectives even when a single political party holds control, let alone when control is split.
John Locke voices similar concerns regarding how government ought to be structured. He emphasizes how “a variety of opinions, and contrariety of interests” are inevitable within a population, and referring back to Hobbes, asserts that “the mighty leviathan would not outlast the day it was born in” if dissenting views are allowed to stall progress. Rousseau approaches the issue from yet another angle, concerning himself with the possibility of the “association necessarily becoming tyrannical or hollow.” His primary focus is how to find a balance between preserving the liberties of the individual while still forming a legitimate, authoritative sovereign body.
The sad reality is that the phrase “efficient government” is viewed by most people as an oxymoron. Even for the most ardent supporters of our current political system, it would be difficult to find many examples of our legislative bodies operating at a very effective level. For example; and this is purely anecdotal evidence from my own life so take it as you will: my mother is a U.S. Marshall, working directly for the federal government. During the government shutdown this past year when a budget could not be worked out, the policy called for “only essential employees to report for work” until the budget was passed, meaning less than half of the individuals employed by the federal government. Over 50 percent of the employees are being paid by tax dollars even though the government views them as “non-essential.” This points to how unwieldy the bureaucratic nature of our government has become, and is a far departure from the ideals of Locke and Hobbes. But perhaps this system is necessary in order to prevent the rise of the tyrannical entity that Rousseau feared.
Are these concerns antiquated, or should we perhaps strive for a more efficient form of representation? Maybe the answer to this question is irrelevant now that the United States has become so overwhelmingly bureaucratic and is seemingly incapable of reverting to a more simple form of government. It is estimated that only about 34 percent of registered voters even participated in the midterm elections regardless, so the nation in general is either disillusioned with the system, or simply just lazy. Either way, it is clear we have a problem. Nate Silver, one of the foremost polling experts in the country, estimates that if trends continue soon we could have greater voter turnout on proposals involving marijuana than local elections.
Maybe we have simply become spoiled with all these liberties and therefore apathetic towards voting. It is far easier to sit back and complain when things go poorly than to actively seek solutions for such issues. Perhaps fittingly, the results of the midterm elections were released on Guy Fawkes Day. There will probably be no reason to remember the fifth of November in 2014 though, as the elections may very well lead to a deadlocked government.