Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who the President Serves

Ever since I toured college campuses and sat in on political science courses, I've wondered about the advantages and disadvantages of a multiple party system. Voting for a party instead of voting for an individual seemed, to me, to be a much stronger way to get a variety of perspectives into office, and for people to vote ideology instead of personality. This is a compromised benefit when a party that one votes for is left out of a ruling coalition, however; coalition politics themselves are nothing but political machinations removed from the control of voters, and that's almost disenfranchisement. The contrast is strongest in how legislative bodies function: you vote for your party, and if your party (or it's coalition) wins, then they pass everything they want. The losers sit in government, and do very little except growl angrily and wait for the leading coalition to collapse.

This is not the best of things, and while many countries make it work, in the United States we expect our individual congressfolk to serve us. The congress as a whole has a terrible approval rating, but individual congressfolk are well-liked by their constituents. Indeed, working across party lines is often a successful slogan for congress people, as it shows a willingness to deal with the vile forces that ruin everything on behalf of the people the congressmember serves. John McCain made a career of this willingness, and had his campaign been run on that promise, he may well have stood a better chance.

But that didn't happen. And this post isn't really about legislative bodies.

This post is about the presidency. The president has one of the oddest constituencies ever (electors), but really that's just an odd calculation and a stand-in for the American People. Congressfolk all have a very set group they are supposed to serve, and on top of that, they are expected to act in the best interest of the nation. The president has the whole of the nation as his (aware of gender pronoun) constituency, and the president has a base who gets him elected that he is expected to serve especially well.

The fun part about the two-party system is that, contrary to many detractors, it gives the president the largest possible constituency. How so, you ask, my reader? Well, let's have a chart(!):

1 candiate: guaranteed election
2 candidates: requires 50+ percent of the vote
3 candidates: requries 34+ percent of the vote
4 candidates: 26+ percent of the vote
100 candidates: requires 1+ percent of the vote

By having a two party system, the president is forced to seek the votes of over half of Americans. This is majority rule, and while that has dangers, it means that a candidate seeking the presidency (or re-election) still has to appeal to more than half of all voters. That's the presidents constituency.

The president serves on behalf of the entire nation, however. Presidents who serve only in the interest of the followings that got them elected tend to alienate and divide the nation (cough *W* cough). So while Obama may be our candidate, and though he is aware of the debt he owes to the new left (are we calling ourselves that yet?), he has to serve the entire nation. And he's damn well aware of that; indeed, a lot of his appeal in this election is that he will serve everybody. And to the left, I just want to say amidst all the exuberance, that we knew this when we picked him. In fact, this is largely why we picked him.

Because if he's to be the president we want him to be, he'll have to act as the nation needs, and not as we want. At the moment, those two points are more aligned than they've been in a goodly while. And that's a relief. And that's to our nation's benefit. I'd say more, but you know the rest. Instead, I will leave you with this:


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