Crooks and duopolists

District-by-district elections are no guarantee of honest politicians.

By MARK L. LEVINSON
October 14, 2006 20:58
3 minute read.
olmert votes 298.88

olmert votes 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

Why do citizens vote crooks into office? Some Israelis - including Jerusalem Post editorial writers - are convinced that if only we elected our legislators one by one, district by district, the crooks wouldn't stand a chance. Let's consider what happens in the US, where elections are by district. A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has been publicizing a report on "The 20 most corrupt members of Congress." The list includes three from the Senate and 17 from the House of Representatives. US senators serve six-year terms. Two of the allegedly crookedest senators are in their second terms and the other is in his third. In the House, the term is two years. There, the allegedly crookedest include three second-termers, a third-termer, two fourths, a fifth, three sevenths, four eighths, a 10th, a 12th, and a 14th. So what the so-called "20 most corrupt members of Congress" have in common is that they have all been re-elected. Repeatedly, in most cases. The 14th-term congressman would have entered the House of Representatives when, over here, Menachem Begin was serving his first term as prime minister. NO WONDER Mark Twain said that "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." Obviously, district-by-district elections are no guarantee of honest politicians. In some cases - New York's Adam Clayton Powell comes to mind, or our own Samuel Flatto-Sharon - the voters conceive the cloud of suspicion surrounding the politician as a mere tribute to his skill at outsmarting the establishment. But, in my opinion, what's chiefly to blame is not the voters but the two-party system. If you care strongly about national issues and of the two candidates available, you feel that one wants to take the country in a dangerously wrong direction while the other wants what's right for the country plus some construction contracts for his in-laws, you'll vote for Mister Construction. The safety valve in the current electoral system is that it gives us more than two parties. You can vote against a corrupt party without voting against your political beliefs. But if the country were districted, the small alternative parties would disappear because they have no majority in any particular area, and the corrupt old Labor and Likud establishments could enjoy a perpetual duopoly - like the Republicans and Democrats in the USA - regardless of their behavior. Kadima, given a big election budget and some locally popular candidates, might retain a few seats, but only for another term or two because it has no program left. A MORE subtle scheme for handing the whole Knesset to the large parties is the proposal, most recently floated by a group called "There Is Hope," that the leader of the largest party serve automatically as prime minister. In fact, that is exactly who has always been prime minister, so the proposal bears the outward look of innocent efficiency. But whereas today, for example, the Meretz voter knows that his vote counts both toward a Labor prime minister and toward a certain ideological tug at that prime minister's sleeve, the "There Is Hope" plan would mean that every Meretz vote reduced the chance of a Labor prime minister and thus increased the Likud's chances. Presto, all the Meretz ballots get frightened into the Labor bin; and similarly all the right-wing ballots to Likud. Considering the past behavior of both big parties - the scandals, the demagoguery and the incompetence - the only thing scarier than the thought that they might be our only two parties is the thought that, if that were so, one or the other of them would wield an absolute Knesset majority for whatever legislation its supercilious poohbahs found convenient. Here's hoping it never happens. The author works primarily in technical writing, translation and copywriting.


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