Tag Archives: representation

Why This Black Man Doesn’t Like the Voting Rights Act

In my series from a while back, THE TERRIBLE TWO PARTY SYSTEM, I argued that proportional representation, rather than what we have now,which depends on majoritarianism. Majoritarianism, in terms of race relations, can be haphazardous. In fact, this, along with the prevailing identity politics of the day, along with the economics of elections (only the richest prevail in primaries), means a system dedicated to the exclusion of the poor and the oppressed, no matter what race or ethnicity. Thus, what happens is that certain groups, in majoritarian democracies such as the United States receive over-representation, while leaving the minority begging for scraps.

This is exactly what happens with majority-minority districts, as created by the regularly renewed Voting Rights Acts of 1965. Originally, the VRA was designed to ensure disenfranchised persons access to the ballot as well as representation. Consequently what has happened is that African Americans, Hispanics, and other racial minorities have their political fates determined, as communities, by the process of re-districting. In the United States, in each state legislature, no one party cannot be said to be guilty of gerry-mandering. Gerry-mandering is the norm, make no mistake about it, even if we discuss re-districting in terms of individual candidates and how “liberal this district was” etc.

As recent as last year, the Supreme Court of The United States upheld Section 5 of the VRA, requiring districts with histories of discrimination to request permission from the federal government to change their procedure. This clause, for me atleast, is problematic for a couple of reasons, if you jump over the race issue for a second, the idea that each state has different barriers for ballot access in the first place, rather than one national policy is problematic. This is the primary hurdle for third party candidates, and the restrictions of free speech in recent campaign finance reform, like McCain-Feingold actually add to the burden of those persons who reject the duo-poly of power held by the DummoCrats and Repukeicants.

Now, according to Politico, the states are once more challenging Section 5, yes yes, Amendment 10, we know, same argument. Nothing new. Rather then go through all of this bureaucratic tape, it would be better to revise the Voting Rights act to reform the U.S. into a proportional representation system, with a constitutional amendment ridding ourselves of the Electoral College, and installing the Speaker of the House as the head of state on all domestic matters. All of this red tape leads to more losses on the part of tax dollars (to defend a law that could be so easily changed); this way we will have LESS off a problem of identity politics and charges of racism throughout primaries and redistricting efforts. The VRA should be considered offensive because it takes power out of the hands of individuals and restricts our choices for representation (at both the state and federal level).

Power to the People!

Blogger Responds to the Terrible Two Party series

Damon Eris of Poli-Tea Blog brought up my four-part series on the Terrible Two Party system in American Politics.

See:
part 1 ; part 2 ; part 3 ; and the conclusion.

Although he commended my stance against the two-part system, as we call it, the duopoly, he has some questions concerning my use of Martin Luther’s Priesthood of all believers, and the contradictions within Luther’s theology.

d.Eris says,

“It would be interesting to see how Rod squares the central contradiction of Luther’s theology with the call for consensus democracy and proportional representation. In On Christian Liberty, for instance, Luther employs a dualistic metaphysics of body and soul to allow for the possibility of spiritual freedom despite the reality of human bondage:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

In other words, Luther’s notion of Christian freedom is consistent with human slavery. Luther himself denounced peasants who were at least partly inspired by his teachings to rise up against their feudal overlords. During the Peasants’ War, the protestant reformer admonished the “murderous thieving hordes of peasants” first and foremost for breaking an implicit oath of “submission and obedience” to their social and political masters.”  “

I am glad Damon mentioned Luther’s dualism. It is something that I addressed in a presentation (and blog post last week).

First, we have to remember that no one’s theology can be applied universally, and we must take into context a person’s historical context.  When Luther was writing Against the Murderous Hordes of Peasants, he was reacting to criticism that he himself was the blame for the Peasant wars and rebellions leveled at him by the Catholics in Germany in the early 16th century.  Luther had to reject those arguments and he also had to persuade the princes to save the lives of women, who were being shared through wife swapping in the heretical anabaptist New Jerusalem.  His call was an act of mercy, not terror.

Second, Damon made a great point about Luther dividing spiritual freedom from all other freedoms, and the need for self-giving (submission) among Christians when it comes to political authorities, especially in his On Christian Freedom. It is this very dualism that is at the heart of Luther’s Two-kingdom theory, in which God had created two orders, one that is under the law (politics and society) and one under the edicts of the Gospel (the church).  The community of believers belongs to the second kingdom.  Civil authorities have no reign in the kingdom of the Gospel.  Christians owe no allegiance to the state, but because Christians are at the same time both made righteous and remain yet still sinners, we have to obey the law.[1]

What this means in the future of German history, after Martin Luther, is the German church’s submission to Adolph Hitler in the name of law and order.  However, if one want to continue in the tradition of Martin Luther, I would suggest to look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer, like most of the orthodox (non-violent revolutionary) Anabaptists in Germany, practiced Christian nonviolence, but he also opposed Hitler in his regime.  Bonhoeffer had to reject Luther’s Two Kingdom theory because Bonhoeffer re-examined Luther’s doctrine of grace, and what it meant for the church; the church was in the world, as Stanley Hauerwas noted, for all to see and not invisible while the state/government remained visible.[2]

Therefore, dualism is unnecessary.  Those who have been set free by the power of the Gospel are free in the world, to engage the world.  What this might mean for proportional representation and consensus democracy in the US? It means that rather than Christians fighting for power, being bought off by politicians through horrendous programs such as the Faith Based Initiative, Christians would have the liberty to created their own parties, that are openly Christian, like the Christian Social Democrats in Germany and the Netherlands. That would be a practical implication. a proportional representation system would benefit the church, third parties, the poor, and every American.

I hope that helps.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

[1] The Story of Christianity: Volume II by Justo Gonzalez , Page 36-37.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas. Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. Page 43

The Terrible Two Party System, Conclusion

Conclusion: A Christian case for  Proportional Representation

This nation was founded by men whose motto was, “No taxation without representation.”  I believe that we need to go back to our roots and learn a lesson from history.  Mother England ignored the plights of the colonists, all of whom were from different countries and resided in different colonies with different cultures.  Eager to remain in power and greedy for more revenue, the British parliament repeatedly stifled the colonists’ rights and taxed them without their having a say in their own affairs.  The American Revolution broke out and Britain lost the prestigious treasure that was once theirs.  In the   same way, a political revolution imminent here in America.  It will not be a war where a bunch of gory battles wage until that last soldier is standing.  There is beginning to be a backlash in the United States against the lack of connection that the two major parties have with the people.  The Donkeys and the Elephants have become almost synonymous with the words American democracy; yet, the leadership is hardly American or democratic at all. The popularity of Dr. Howard Dean’s anti-establishment rhetoric confirms that the American people are becoming weary of the status quo.   The Supreme Court ruled that Congress’s futile efforts to contain itself through the McCain-Feingold Act are unconstitutional.  This was clearly a victory for third parties all across America.

Third parties should celebrate because the Supreme Court ruling protected their rights to free speech and paved the way for them to be included in American democracy; but ethnic minorities have reason to be happy as well.  Projections for the American population in the year 2025 suggest that as the minority grows, the population will become more diverse (Census, 1997).  Since the percentage of the population that is Caucasian will decrease and the minority population as a whole will increase, the status quo will no longer have a clear majority.  In the event that this trend continues, the time will come when ethnic minorities will be the ethnic majority.  Americans should learn the lesson from the American Revolution that taught us that if an establishment continues to violate its citizens’ natural rights, only agitation will be the consequence: therefore it only makes since to transform the system into one that includes everyone so that everyone feels that they are empowered.

David Held (1987) observed in his Models of Democracy that Jean- Jaques Rousseau’s concept of democracy meant that the highest role an individual could achieve was to a be an active citizen (75).  I agree with developmental democrats like Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft that the most vital function a democracy should have is to give its citizens the power to exercise their own will into law.  In order to do so, the maximum number of preferences should be incorporated into the decision-making process.  The consensus model would be the best model for achieving that objective because its institutions, particularly the proportional representation electoral system, allows the optimum number of voices to be heard.

What is obviously missing from Held’s and Lijphart’s cases against majoritarianism and its view of power in our democratic-republic is any recognition of a a religious dimension in political thinking.  One of the most revered political theologians in the late 20th century is Jürgen Moltmann.  In his The Spirit of Life, Moltmann gives a hint that his Social Trinitarianism expressed publicly may mean a form of Christian social democracy (247).  Hierarchal and centralized forms of governments, especially within churches, are unnecessary because they are incompatible with Moltmann’s pneumatology (view of the Holy Spirit as equal along with Father and Son).  Governments should ideally be covenantal and decentralized, in order to avoid becoming military states [i.e., empires] (252).  However, while I can agree for the most part with Moltmann’s theology and its political theology, there is something lacking. The view of power and representation that are crucial for democratic societies.  And it is so much easier for him to make suggestions such as having social democracies when, he himself, lives in a country [Germany] where there is PR (proportional representation).

Perhaps it is best if we begin with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers developed first by Martin Luther.  This is the Reformation notion that all members of the body of Christ have connections to God through Christ the mediator.  Rather than a priest who represents God for us stand between us and God, every Christian has direct access to God’s presence, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we expand this doctrine politically, in terms of representation, we must come to the conclusion that everyone has rights, given to them by God, and that they should be allowed to be represented by the person that they choose.  Also, secondarily, since the priesthood of all believers is not a doctrine that was originally intended to sustain rugged individualism, representation must be seen as a power to be shared by all citizens in a free society.  Thus, we have a theological undergirding for proportional representation.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union.  (2000, March 22) Testimony of Executive Director Ira Glasser on Campaign Finance Reform Legislation before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.  http://www.aclu.org/FreeSpeech/FreeSpeech.cfm?ID=8806&c=20

Held, David.  (1987) Models of Democracy. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Lijphart, Arend. (1999) Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performances in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary On-line.  (2004) http://m-w.com

U.S. Department of Commerce.  (1997) http://www.census.gov/prod/3/98pubs/p23-194.pdf

Wickham, DeWayne.  (2004, March 3) Sharpton’s presidential campaign disappoints.

USA Today, p.13A.