U.S. Census Bureau projected that there would be 14.3 to 16.8 million people aged 85 or over in the year 2040 (Gavrilov and Heuveline 2003). Other projections placed the figure at 23.5 to 54 million. Population aging may, on one hand, mean massive survival of the human race through a rapid decline in mortality, but it also produces huge challenges on public institutions and the economy due to a changing age structure. The first is the dramatic increase in the older retired population in connection with the decreasing working population, This puts strong pressure on social security programs, which may face a crisis if radical changes like cuts in benefits, tax increases, massive borrowing, lower cost-of-living requirements, and later retirement ages are not introduced in time. The graying population also puts pressure on health care systems and the looming prevalence of disability, frailty and chronic diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular and cerebro-vascular diseases.
While recent advances in productivity may help the nation cope with the increase in the number of retirees, a reduced workforce and immigration and big new fiscal loads can mean a tough time for the nation to grow out of new budget problems (Kirchhoff 2003). In comparison with some developing nations, the U.S.A. is said to have the slowest-rising median age for the next 50 years. But the retirement of baby boomers will still make it difficult to maintain the accustomed elevated level of productivity. Mexico, which is its major source of immigrants, is aging faster than the U.S. And the slower growth in Europe may further affect the U.S.A. In the next 30 years, the working-age population is estimated to increase to only.5% while those over 65 will rise from 13-20% in year 2030. Medicare, social security and Medicaid spending for the poor may rise from 8% to 21% in 2075. The deficits can rob lawmakers of public cover and lose public trust as stewards.
Democracy is a government by the people, run directly by them or through their duly elected representatives. The more active or participative the citizens, the better monitored and controlled are politicians and the closer government decisions are brought to the wishes of the people, the true sovereign. Political participation covers all activities citizens undertake to influence policy-making and the choice of leaders (College Board Advanced Placement Program). Voting is at the key activity of a modern democracy, although citizens may participate in many other ways, such as writing or working for their representatives, make representations in school boards or city councils or file complaints. The federalist system allows them many opportunities for participation on the national, state and local levels. Some forms of participation are more common than others and some citizens participate more than the rest.
Voting rights have been gradually expanded through the years from constitutional amendments, changes in federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions (College Board Advanced Placement Program). These changes include the lifting of property restrictions by most states in the 1830s and gave all white males to vote in the pursuit of universal manhood suffrage; the 15th amendment in 1870, which recognized the citizens’ right to vote, regards or race or condition of servitude, the Supreme Court’s nullification of the Jim Crow laws, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other federal laws that ruled out literacy tests; the 19th Amendment, which extended suffrage to women in 1920, owing to an aggressive women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century and which doubled the size of the electorate; and the 26th Amendment of 1971, which lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, owing to the increased political activism of young people in school campuses during the 1960s.
The success or effectiveness of the Constitution derives from the combined strengths and caution of its framers, the wisdom and ability of the American society and the steadfastness of all those who have made it work throughout history. The framers were guided by the political philosophy that while government would be the reflection of human nature, checks and balances would be necessary to control abuses (McGranahan 2004). But they first confronted the difficulty of enabling the government to control the governed and then itself and the need to establish auxiliary precautions in the form of a “mixed government” and a “free government,” or a compromise between monarchy and democracy. Compromises were reached in dealing with controversial issues. They carefully considered that the Constitution had to undergo changes from to time in response to national growth (Wikipedia 2005). In checking against hastily made amendments and assuring that the will of the majority would not stalled by rigid requirements of unanimity, the framers devised that changes could be made by two-thirds vote of Congress or by judicial decision.
Between its ratification in 1787 and 1791, the Constitution was amended only in 17 occasions, with the first 10 as the Bill of Rights remaining as they were when adopted two centuries ago (Wikipedia 2005). Most of the 17 later amendments reflected continued efforts to expand individual civil or political liberties. There are more than 10,000 Constitutional amendments since 1789, with 100-200 proposed in a typical Congressional year. But most of these never get out of the Congressional committee, much less passed by Congress. Stringent measures enabled only the most important and least evanescent of amendments to be ratified (Wikipedia).
Article 1 establishes the legislative branch of government, Congress, which consists of the House of Representative and the Senate; the election and qualifications of the members; legislative procedure, the powers of the legislative branch and limitations on the federal and state legislative power (Wikipedia 2005). Article 2 creates the executive branch: the presidency, and the powers, qualifications and selection of the president; the vice presidency and its role of taking over the presidency; and the impeachment of Constitutional officers, i.e., president, vice president, and judges. Article 3 establishes and describes the judicial branch or the court system, including the Supreme Court. It provides that Congress can create lower courts, whose judgments and orders would be reviewed by the Supreme Court; and requires trial by jury in all criminal cases and defines the crime of treason. Article 4 describes the relationship between the federal government and the states and among the states. Article 5 describes the process of amending the Constitution by either a request for a convention by 2/3 of the state legislatures or 2/3 of the majority of both houses. Article 6 establishes the Constitution and the laws and treaties the U.S. enters into according to it. And Article 7 describes the method of ratification, whereby only 9 states, not all of the 13, need to ratify for the Constitution to take effect.
The 10th Amendment provides that powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited by the Constitution to the states are reserved to the states or the people (Wikipedia 2005). It is the last of the 10 Amendments collectively known as the Bill of Rights, which placed some fundamental human rights at the center of the U.S. legal system, and which now serves as model for the legal systems of other nations (Wikipedia).
The First Amendment establishes the central civil liberties of Americans and guarantees their freedom of speech, of the press, of religion and the right to a peaceable assembly (Fonder and Shaffrey 2002). But the exercise of these rights or liberties often comes in conflict with other rights also guaranteed by the Constitution or its amendments, which inherently limit them, such as national security vs. freedom of the press. The rift between the need to protect the nation and the citizens’ right to free speech has been the subjects of a number of court cases, such as the 1997 Supreme Court ruling on the Reno v American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers. The freedom to peaceable assembly also often clashes against other established laws, such as the 14th and the 5th Amendments, which are often invoked to protect citizens’ rights even when they are violating laws as in demonstrations, protests and a form of peaceful assembly known as civil disobedience. And in interpreting the freedom of religion, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black ruled that the federal government cannot create a church or a national religion nor compel a citizen to attend any church or to believe in a specific faith or religion. Religious freedom has been an issue in debates concerning religious expression in public schools and federal or state funding of parochial schools. Praying in public schools has been ruled as violation of the separation of the church and state. The First Amendment guarantees and protects the choice of religion or faith, but actions proceeding from the chosen religion are not protected. An example is the court ruling, which allows adults of another faith to refuse certain forms of medical treatment they do not believe in, but compels children to receive that medical treatment, even if the parents’ religious beliefs oppose it (Fonder and Shaffrey).
The 16th Amendment was the first to be passed in the 20th century. It allowed incomes to be taxed as a clear response to the Supreme Court decision in the Pollock v Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company (Fonder and Shaffrey 2002). Congress previously passed an income tax law in 1894, which the Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional, not being divided among the states by population. Before the 16th Amendment, the Constitution protected citizens in Article 1, Section 9, which provided that no capitation, or other direct tax chall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration. This protection was eliminated with the passage and ratification of the 16th Amendment, which gave Congress the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the States and without regard to census or enumeration. Before the 16th Amendment, taxation was based on consumption and not income. Tax based on consumption would be a security against excess, according to Alexander Hamilton. Taxation should be restricted to support and finance only those expenses constitutionally reserved for the central government. Current progressive income tax penalizes hard work and success in the free market and also discourages economic growth by burdening consumers and the private sector.
Resolution by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas seeks to amend the Constitution in abolishing personal income, estate and gift taxes and prohibiting the U.S. Government from competing with its citizens. It would eliminate the government’s prerogative to levy inequitable taxes and conform more closely to constitutionally defined structure. The 16th Amendment should be replaced with a national sales tax, accompanied by reductions in government expenditures, guided by Constitutional parameters for central government activity.
When declaring their independence from Britain in 1776, the colonies reacted against the British unitary system and the concentration of all political and economic power in London. A product of that reaction was the creation of the Articles of Confederation by the states, which moved virtually all powers to the states (College Board Advanced Placement Program). The framers of the Constitution attempted to balance potential tyranny by a unitary system with potential chaos by the confederal system through a hybrid federal system in the Constitution. Federalism, then, worked to preserve freedoms while maintaining order in the new nation. But knowing that they could not construct a comprehensive list of powers for the national or state governments, the founders produced a “necessary and proper clause” to Article 1, which gave Congress the power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.”
Federalism is good in that it can mobilize political activity for citizens to be heard. If local officials refuse to listen, citizens may raise their appeal to the state or national level. It prevents interest groups from forcing their will upon less powerful groups. Small groups have a better chance of getting heard and influencing legislation. Diverse policies among states encourage experimentation and creativity. Uniform laws do not make sense in many areas. Federalism, on the other hand, creates confusion in political activity because of the various levels of government. Small but fiery motivated interest groups can hamper the will of the majority for a prolonged period of time. Diverse policies among states conduce to inequality between citizens of different states and create confusion, such as in matters like speed limits.
The drafting of the first federal constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, by the 13 new American states on July 12, 1776 was guided by the lesson learned from their colonial experience under the centralized government of Great Britain (Superintendent of Documents 2003). The framers, thus, carefully endowed the states with as much independence as possible and explicitly limited the functions of the federal government to avoid a recurrence. But the Articles underwent many revisions for several years before final adoption on November 15, 1777. Causes for the delays included a preoccupation with the Revolutionary War and disagreements among the 13 states on matters like boundary line, equal representation in Congress with larger states, state taxation according to population, the control of western territories. The Articles created a nation, which was to be “a league of friendship and perpetual union,” and under this structure, state governments retained most of their power and gave the central government only a subordinate position. As a result, the central government lost respect and could not accomplish much because of its loss of jurisdiction over the states and individuals.
The central government consisted of delegates from the states whose measures needed to be approved by 9 out of the 13 states (Superintendent of Documents 2003). Due to its limited power, it could not collect taxes to raise money, could not control foreign commerce and could not force the states to comply with the laws it passed. The central government was dependent on the states, which often refused to cooperate. George Washington described it as “a little more than the shadow without the substance.” The Articles were virtually impossible to amend and problems could, then, not be solved. The framers soon realized the need for a stronger federal government and replaced the Articles with the Constitution of the United States in 1789.
Political parties are the most representative and inclusive organizations in the United States (Baker 2005). Made of citizens of various races, religion, age and economic and social backgrounds, these share perspectives on public issues and leaders. They are the fuel that drives the election machinery. Political parties recruit candidates for office, organize primary elections for selection by party members for the general election, and support those who reach the general election. These write platforms that state the direction the party members want for the government. They have played the important role of education Americans about issues and in motivating them to get out and vote.
The Founders did not favor political parties, which they viewed as factions out to manipulate the voters’ will. But political parties became the most important political organizations in the U.S. In the 19th century. These made sure their members went to the polls and voted and also organized members of Congress into strong voting blocs according to party affiliation. These blocs, in turn, united the legislators and helped the president create an alliance between the executive and legislative branches. These political powers became powerful enough in the 19th century to actually influence voting turnout to more than 80%. The two major parties in the U.S. have been the Republican and the Democratic Parties (Baker).
Today, political parties are not very powerful or important (Baker 2005). A little more than a third of all Americans are independent votes with no party affiliation. Voting in presidential election went down to 50%. Political party platforms have also turned vague and assumed moderate positions on issues so that their stands appear similar. Many voters have, as a result, lost interest in political parties (Baker).
Democrats want the government to play a more active role, while Republicans want to limits its role (Fonder and Shaffrey 2002). Democrats more vocally support government programs with direct impact to the daily lives of Americans, such as welfare and Medicare. Republicans prefer that private companies and individuals make their own decisions because they know better what is best for them than do bureaucrats in Washington DC. Democrats, for example, want a national system of education, wherein standards would be the same in all states. They believe that the government knows what is best for the people. But Republicans believe that the government should have less involvement and control and that the people should decide for themselves. Democrats and Republicans differ in important issues that affect the people, such as the minimum wage, gun control and abortion.
Democrats have always favored an increase in minimum wages, while Republicans always wanted them to remain at current level (Fonder and Shaffrey 2002). As a result, most minimum wagers tend to vote Democratic while employers are inclined to be Republican. Democrats are also mostly pro-choice in the issue of abortion, while Republicans are mostly pro-life and reject abortion. Most of the debates on the abortion issue have centered on the later-term abortion procedure, which the House and the Senate passed many times during the Clinton administration, but which pro-choice Clinton vetoed. President Bush expressed willingness to sign a bill that would outlaw the procedure, but Congress has not passed one. Most Republicans also interpret the Second Amendment as protecting the people’s right to bear arms, but most Democrats maintain the Second Amendment was meant for the militia, not the individual. The differences in views between the two major parties are clear and need not present greater contrast.
The downward trend of less party affiliation and less party voting proceeded from the simple argument that one did not need to be a Republican or a Democrat to pave a road (Shipper). Those who favor nonpartisan elections claim that the job of a member of the city council is not to debate on national issues but to maintain the neighborhood part, keep it clean and fix occasional potholes and these functions do not need partisan solutions. Nonpartisan election was a reform introduced by the Progressive Party at the turn of the 20th century. The Progressive Party wanted city governments to respond more to community needs and less to self-interested party manipulation. Non-partisan elections would remove party influence from the race; allow candidates who do not need to adjust their ideas to the approval of parties to run; and compel voters to search out more information on a candidate. Advocates say that a more active and informed citizenry would increase voter turnout.
But those who oppose non-partisan elections or a diminishing party affiliation and party voting do not think that these would promote a more informed citizenry, as it would be unrealistic that people would go out and get more information on certain candidates (Shipper). On the contrary, studies show that voters who cannot or do not rely on party affiliations to guide them would base their choice on incumbency, name recognition or ethnicity. These studies reveal that party affiliation would still be their most effective cue on what a candidate would do when elected. They conclude that nonpartisan election decrease voter turnout rather than increase it, the voters would tend to leave a ballot blank because they were less sure on whom to vote for. Furthermore, nonpartisan elections did not seem likely, even if they were a good idea. Parties can still endorse candidates and fund them even in a nonpartisan election (Shipper).
No. Reforms in the presidential nominating process have evidently enlarged the base of public participation (Wayne 2005). Before these changes in 1968, only 12 million voted in the primaries or approximately 11% of the voting-age population, but in 2000, 35 million or 15% participated. The modern nominating process also expanded the group representation comprising each party’s electoral coalition. These reforms have weakened the power of the state party leaders and motivated those seeking the nomination of their party to make broad public appeals. These appeals, in turn, have strengthened the link between the candidates and their supporters and encouraged the win to make true their campaign promises.
These nomination reforms have done a lot towards democratizing the nomination process but problems and anomalies continue to develop or exist (Wayne 2005). Participants in primary elections tend to be better educated, have higher incomes and older than the average Republican and Democratic voter. And those who contribute money to the candidates and their causes often come from the higher socioeconomic levels and, therefore, gain greater and more powerful voice and influence on the election outcome. Lastly, the process creates division and factions within the parties. Changes in the presidential nomination have also decreased the importance of the party’s national nominating convention. Surveys by research organizations, furthermore, reveal that convention viewership has declined with about half of television audience not tuning in on the parties’ nominating conventions. But on the whole, the presidential nominating process gives advantage to better-known candidates who can raise more money and have the most effective campaign organizations and generate the greatest enthusiasm, which would not be possible or probable by direct popular vote.
There are about 170,000 PR employees in the U.S. who are engaged in manipulating news, public opinion and public policy to advance the interests of paying clients (Korten 1995). These people and firms operate citizen letter-writing campaigns, send out paid operatives to public meetings and place favorable news items and plugs in the press. A study conducted in 1990 says that almost 40% of the news content of a typical U.S. newspaper comes from public-relations press releases, story memos and suggestions. The boundaries between advertising and news continue to grow dim each day.
Republicans may have the reputation as the party of money, but Democrats who were traditionally known as the party of the people and who strongly represented working-class and minority interests succumbed to the force and sway of television-based media campaigns (Korten 1995). Their grassroots foundation disintegrated and lost their populist hold. Those under the Democratic banner had to increasingly depend on developing their own fund-raising organizations. American democracy seemed for sale not only to America’s giant corporations. The Mexican government spent more than $25 million and hired leading Washington lobbyists in its NAFTA campaign. Japanese corporations spent around $100 million a year in political lobbying and another $300 million in building a nationwide grassroots political network to influence public opinion. The Japanese government and Japanese companies have since been known to employ 92 Washington law, PR and lobbying firms, compared with 55 for Canada, 42 for Britain and 7 for the Netherlands – meant to rewrite U.S. laws in their favor. Oftentimes, it works. This shows that corporate libertarianism has grown to be the dominant philosophy of our political culture and powerful institutions through sophisticated campaign techniques, marketing and media manipulation (Korten).
Interest groups are organizations of people in the political arena who work for the fulfillment of their shared goals (College Board Advanced Placement Program). They exist outside the structure of government, but interact with it in a way that it would be impossible to separate them. The government would operate quite differently without these groups. Today, about 2/3 of Americans belong to these groups. In the past, Americans distrusted the motives of these groups. But these groups and the people who participate in them have increased to a level in the past half-century and gained the importance they did not have in the past. Some of the well-known interest groups are the Sierra Club, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and National Association of Manufacturers.
Membership in these interest groups may be institutional or individual (College Board Advanced Placement Program). They are broadly categorized into economic interest, consumer and public interest types. Economic groups are usually labor unions, agriculture groups, business groups and professional groups. Consumer and public interest groups, on the other hand, lobb6n for a collective good and benefits for everyone, such as common causes and environmental interests. They also champion equal rights and justice, especially for women and minorities. They use lobbying, electioneering, litigation and appealing for public support as their strategies.
These groups work hard to raise their own money or collect dues from members, foundation grants, federal grants and contracts, and direct mail or solicitation (College Board Advanced Placement Program). The most important factors that contribute to the success of interest groups are their size, the intensity of their commitment and activities, and their financial resources.
The 22nd Amendment establishes and limits the Presidency to two terms. It was proposed by Congress on March 21, 1947 and ratified on February 27, 1951 (Wikipedia 2005). George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe adhered to this two-term principle. Under this Amendment, no person could be elected president more than twice. The motivation was to prevent a president from becoming a benevolent dictator if his term was not so limited, and the presidency’s upsetting the separation of powers and making elections dispensable.
Some have questioned the interpretation given this Amendment as it relates to the 12th Amendment (Wikipedia 2005). The 12th Amendment states that anyone constitutionally ineligible for President is ineligible for Vice President, but is not clear if a two-term President may lager be elected or appointed Vice President. Some argue that both amendments prohibit it, while others say that the 12th Amendment concerns qualification for service, while the 22nd concerns qualification for election. Former President Bill Clinton believed that presidents who have already served two terms but continue to enjoy the people’s trust should be allowed to run for office again. Dwight Eisenhower was also quoted as favoring this opinion (Wikipedia).
If this were applied to Congress, a different breed of candidates would be attracted to offer their service to others and the country, rather than to entrench themselves in power. There would be less posturing, preening and posing because of the diminished need to appear important. They would feel less compelled to bring home pork and would not be desperate to get re-elected, would actually work together to cut down the size of government and costs, thus save taxpayers’ money.
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