What’s wrong with politics?

Depending on your political affiliation (or should I say affliction?) you might quickly answer with Fox News Channel or MoveOn.org. But if we ignore partisanship for a moment, I think we can all agree that the real answer is Congressional representatives who spend more time trying to be re-elected than actually representing.

We have now reached a point in American politics where the election cycle lasts all year, every year. As a result, those who are elected are generally afraid to take a position or a stance for fear of alienating part of the electorate. They also must find and kowtow to donors – usually large corporations, corporate officers, political action groups and the wealthy. As a result, the powerful and wealthy are over-represented.

And the rest of us are under-represented.

Unfortunately, running for state or national office has become so expensive that few can raise enough money to run an effective campaign. And, perhaps due to that fact, politicians who are successful in getting elected don’t want to risk losing their offices in the next election. So they don’t always vote their conscience. Instead, they vote according to the polls. Or according to the party bosses. There can be no better examples (and warnings) than Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. They are viewed as too moderate by activists in their respective parties, so they faced difficult primaries. So difficult, in fact, that Crist was forced to bow out of the Republican primary and run unaffiliated.

This backlash from the parties has a chilling effect on our political debate. For example, many Democrats wanted universal (single-payer) health care, but they voted for a watered-down, protect-the-insurance-companies health care reform bill, instead. Why? Because their political opponents and the media would have labeled them Socialists, Communists or worse.

During the George W. Bush administration, the White House introduced a plan for immigration reform. The bill attempted to address the complexity of the problem. But Congress refused to pass it because many Republicans and the conservative media were angered by what they considered “amnesty” for undocumented workers. And representatives of both parties were afraid to alienate potential Latino voters. So, instead of trying to fix the problem, they collectively kicked it down the road.

Of course, there are exceptions. If you visit www.PolitiFact.com you’ll discover that President Obama has lived up to the vast majority of his campaign promises. Indeed, he has repeatedly stated that he’d rather be “a good one-term President, than a bad two-term President.” I hope he’s rewarded for that stance. And I think he will be. You see, I sincerely believe the majority of voters on both sides of the political spectrum are sick and tired of politics as usual. Unfortunately, the political parties are more concerned with winning elections than principle.

It’s up to all of us to make the two parties care more about the well-being of the nation than their scorecards of political wins and losses. We can do that by pushing for campaign finance reform – especially now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spill their coffers into any candidate’s pocket or purse.