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Vote for Checks and Balances

Vote for Checks and Balances: Vote Bi-Partisan

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The Constitution is centered on the concept of Checks and Balances, of requiring broad consensus before acting. Both houses of Congress and the President have to approve a bill for it to become law. Great idea, isn't it? Yet half the citizens are essentially disenfranchised when one party holds all those cards nationally. The idea of Checks and Balances suggests voting for shared governance, so no single party is in complete control and everyone's opinion is valued.

Think it doesn't matter? Here's a quick quiz: What do the wild abandon of the 1920's and the 1929 stock crash, the beginning of the Great Depression, McCarthyism in the 1950's, the Vietnam war beginning in earnest, the rampant inflation of the late 1970's, and the War in Iraq all have in common?

Answer: All occurred during periods in US history when a single party held control of the Senate, the House, and the White House.

Consider that in the last 100 years, most wars have begun during periods of "single party rule" and most wars have ended during dual-party governance. The periods when no single party controlled all three are generally characterized more as "good" times: the late 1940's, the late 1950's, the time around the Bicentennial in the 1970's, and most of the 1990's.

This is intuitively logical. When only half the citizens have the power to push through their agenda, there is no power to bring the opinions of the other half into play, to reach agreements acceptable to all. When cooperation of both halves of society is needed, everybody wins.

In 1773, we threw tea into Boston harbor because we had no power in the colonies. Although we theoretically had "representation" in Parliament -- all members of Parliament represented all members of the empire -- we had no actual power to vote and force cooperation. So it is when one political party controls all the votes in Congress and the White House. The desires of the other half of Americans can be heard and duly noted, then entirely ignored with voting that follows partisan lines. During the presidential debate on October 13, 2004, both candidates bemoaned the partisan divisiveness that somehow, seemingly mysteriously to them, had developed sometime during the last four years, despite a good bi-partisan start and promises of "reaching across the aisle." (Hint: the Republicans gained sole control in 2003.) Only when the minority party has actual power does the other side listen and compromise from their single-minded agendas.

We rightfully criticize authoritarian regimes where a single party makes all the decisions. As an independent, I've voted for candidates from both parties about equally over the years, and am grateful for the opportunity. Voting for the best candidate instead of a party has worked fine, since power has been shared for most of the last 20 years in Washington. Yet in certain years it's more important to vote for all Americans' voices to be heard, to avoid or break a single-party lock on power, regardless which party.

America is at its greatest when everyone contributes.

Andrew Burt is a writer and professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Denver.

(Editors & others: Permission is granted to copy this editorial for free provided you give attribution. For questions, please contact Dr. Burt.

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