Ivan W. Parkins

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About Ivan W. Parkins:

Dr. Parkins is a retired professor of Political Science from Central Michigan University.  He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.  Dr. Parkins served as a naval officer during WWII aboard the battleship Alabama.  He is a recent widower with three daughters, 3 grand children and 2 great grand children.  Dr. Parkins has written extensively, having authored 3 books and a newspaper opinion column for many years. 

Front Page

 OUR PARTISAN

REPRESENTATION

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

 

     Today, Members of our House of Representatives are known to their constituents mainly through information conveyed by an office staff of about twenty people, messages circulated by special interest groups, and the mass media.  And the Representatives learn of the needs of most constituents, mainly, through the same sources.  That is indirect representation.    Even the older system involving more reliance upon political party organization, though often corrupt, may have represented grass-roots opinions more adequately.

 

     There is a major reason for the declining quality of representation in America, apart from the sheer ballooning and complexity of the population to be represented.  It is the burgeoning numbers, resources, autonomy, and class consciousness among those who are professionally trained and devoted to providing the public with information.   Besides journalists, they include many educators, lawyers, artists, and others.  Such people now constitute a class with special interests.  And they may be even more closely related to the influence and finance of our politics than the commercial and financial class of a century ago or the land owners of our earliest years.  

 

     As Representatives have lost direct contacts with most of their constituents they have become more directly connected to both the lobbyists of traditional special interests and the newer and more ubiquitous information/communication specialists. Close relationships with just a few such people can go far toward assuring an incumbent Representative of campaign publicity and funds for those reelections that he/she must face every two years.  Other elected officials, Presidents and Senators, face fewer elections, more intense media scrutiny, plus more numerous and varied interests competing for their favors.  This leaves many Representatives actually more secure in their tenure than the supposedly longer term officers of our government.

 

     Our problem extends much farther than the indirect nature of representation.  It is also partisan.  The emerging new class of information providers is also heavily Democrat in its political leanings.  Since the New Deal and WWII, and especially since television and massive college enrollments, the House of Representatives has become a virtual Democrat bastion.  All Democrat Presidents have been favored with Democrat majorities during at least part of their time in office, most during all of that time, and much of such time with huge partisan majorities.  Meanwhile, only two of the Republican Presidents, Eisenhower and G.W.Bush, have enjoyed any time at all with a Republican House of Representatives.  And both of them had that time with only slim partisan advantages.

 

     Prior to Eisenhower’s reelection in 1956, every American President who had won a majority of the popular election entered office with a Congress (both houses) of his own party.  In 1956 and since, Republicans have won three popular landslides (57.4, 60.7, and 58.8%) [all larger than President Obama’s] without getting even slim majorities in the House of Representatives.

 

     Both the older Anglo-American tradition and our written Constitution give to the people’s representatives special powers over the purse.  We, in recent decades, have allowed that to become, almost, a monopoly of the Democrats. 

I.W. Parkins 060609

 REPRESENTATIVE 

DEMOCRACY?

By Ivan W. Parkins

 

      The key to maintaining representative democracy in America lies in the relationships between the people and their individual Representatives.  It is primary to both the constitutional and the political aspects of our political system.  And, it has now deteriorated badly.  Major reasons for that are neither mysterious nor widely understood.

 

     First, on the side of our Constitution, Article I, deals with Congress, and the first offices described therein (section 2) are those of Representative.  Skipping on to the Bill of Rights, James Madison, who had done so much to shape and chronicle the Constitutional Convention, also became the leader of the House of Representatives in devising a bill of rights.  First among the twelve articles that the First Congress submitted to states for ratification was a proposal aimed a assuring a close relationship of individual Representatives to their constituents. For reasons that are not now clear, that proposal and the one that followed were not ratified by the required three-fourths of states.  Hence, what is now our First Amendment obtained that priority by accident.

 

     Direct access of the people to their Representative is a vital aspect of representative democracy.  We have allowed that to become grossly attenuated. Even though membership in the House of Representatives has been increased to more than four times the original number, our population is now approaching 100 times what it was in 1790.

Also, a much larger portion of us are now eligible to vote.  Representatives now have, literally, more constituents than there are minutes in a year.

 

     Two centuries ago sessions of Congress were relatively brief and the Representative could spend most of his time in his district, meeting personally with a substantial portion of the few thousand individuals who were then eligible to vote for him.  Today, congressional sessions are long and other Washington duties and attractions are numerous.  Today, he/she must communicate with hundreds of thousands of constituents, mostly, through professional third-parties, i.e. through staff, special interest groups, media people or party representatives.

 

     Even allowing for such technological advances as telephones and e-mail, the Representative simply lacks the time necessary to deal directly with more than a few of his constituents.  Long hours spent campaigning for election help, but expensive and professionally managed campaigns are now the norm.  Furthermore, once such a successful campaign has been achieved, the incumbent Representative becomes exceedingly difficult to replace with someone who is less connected to Washington and more familiar with changing affairs in the home district.  We do have an excessively centralized system of representation, and that is neither very representative nor very democratic.

Even very authoritarian countries use representation of some sort.

 I.W. Parkins 060709   

RECONSTITUTE

CONGRESS

See DISASSEMBLE THE HOUSE  for my proposal.

 Additional articles on this subject appear in

Broken Congress and Failure of the People’s House

Now more than ever we need better representation of the people’s concerns in our republic.

 

By Ivan W. Parkins

         One concern of those who drafted the Constitution of the United States was that representatives should not have such small constituencies that the office would fail to attract able candidates.  Even so, Chairman of the Convention, George Washington, called for a minimum constituency of 30,000 instead of the already approved 40,000.  This was his only suggestion regarding details of the Constitution and it was adopted. 

             THE FEDERALIST, No. 51 states that “dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.” No. 52 adds “… it is particularly essential that ..” the representative “… have an immediate dependence on and an intimate sympathy with the people.”

             Now, with the congressional districts having average populations of about  690,000, and with only 524,160 minutes in a year, we face a very different situation.  All Representatives, whatever their origins, become members of the upper class by virtue of their salaries and perks alone.  The long sessions and  increasing details of their involvement in nearly all matters of government, keep their minds and bodies within the confines of the “Beltway” most of the time.  National journalists, pollsters, lobbyists, and congressional staff members, along with legislative “earmarks,” get them reelected.  Meanwhile, it is literally impossible for them to allot one minute of their time per year to each constituent. 

             The House was intended to reflect changes in public opinion.  It too often reflects entrenched political power and privilege.      My proposal, now very old and not so much forgotten as dissed, i.e. never widely considered, was "Let's Disassemble the House,"--the title of my article in SOUTH ATLANTIC QUARTERLY, Spring 1960.  The legally fixed number of the United States Representatives is now 435, far more than the Framers, and I, believed to be practical for a legislative assembly.  But, with our vastly expanded national population and improvements in communication, wouldn't it be possible, now, for much more numerous representatives to operate separately, from their several districts?  And, wouldn't the representatives then be much more directly dependent on and sympathetic with their constituents?    My submission of that to a couple of dozen political scientists, some acquaintances and some not, produced several and mostly similar responses. 

             My idea was declared to be original, interesting, logical, and sound in its description of Congress.  But, it was unlikely to be accepted and unworkable.  Such comments came from senior people at Harvard, Cornell, Miami of Ohio, and the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress.  My chief reply, now, would be that the present House looks less effective and our population and communications improvements continue to grow.

    A much larger number of disassembled representatives would be a very practical defense if our nation's capital were to be destroyed.  It should also provide a suitable base for nominating presidential candidates--as the earliest Congresses did.  It should reduce the need for vast media advertising and the money to pay for that.  Most of all, it should encourage more extensive and meaningful involvement of "the people" in major policy decisions.

Our representatives should be much more numerous; they should spend most of their working time in their districts; and they should have infrequent, but authoritative votes on major public issues.  In order to add that to the Constitution, I suggest the following:  (See the proposed amendment, “Disassemble the House,”  ) 

Congress, Road to Chaos

 

     It takes a bizarre partisanship for the majority of 110th. Congress to suppose that their modest victory (in an election attended by nearly 30 million fewer American voters than elected the 109th. (Two years earlier) mandates major changes in the nations direction.  The evidence suggests more clearly that many Americans are alienated and confused about how their government does, or does not, work.

      Congress has come to believe that oversight of the Executive and Judicial Branches is it’s most important function.  And, the resulting conflicts do win media attention.  Meanwhile, Congress focuses too little of its attention on providing our country with effective laws for dealing with immigration, energy needs, etc.  Even more significantly, Congress fails to approve timely, manageable, and “clean” budgets.   If the United States is to survive and to prosper, it cannot afford a Legislative Branch that neglects its own primary, and most constructive, powers while it interferes in time-consuming and other damaging ways with the Executive and Judicial Branches.

     No simple reform will remedy what has become a systemic and institutional failure of Congress.  The problem extends beyond the short comings of individual members and practices.  Congress must be reconstituted to be both closer to the American people and more respectful of the other branches.  Anything less is just more pavement on the road to chaos.

I.W. Parkins    

Confused

Elections 

By Ivan W. Parkins 

 

    Our national election system has become confused in ways that hamper effective leadership and obscure partisan responsibility.  Since 1948, the first post WWII presidential election, five democrats (Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton) have won office.  There have also been five Republican winners (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, G. W. Bush).

    But, contrary to our previous history, there has been little apparent correlation between presidential election successes and congressional support.  In 1992, Clinton, who had just won 43% of the popular vote, entered office with larger majorities in both houses of Congress than any Republican President has had since the 1920’s.

    Carter, a majority winner of the popular vote with 50.1% got one of the largest congressional majorities in our history.

    Among recent Democrats, only Truman and Clinton have had to face Congresses dominated by the other party, and neither of those Presidents won a majority of the popular vote.  Among the five recent Republicans were three winners of landslide reelections (Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan) and none of them got a Republican Congress with his new term.

    Do American consciously vote against leadership and for partisan conflict, or are other factors shaping our election results?