Out of balance

The United States census of 1790, taken three years after the ratification of the constitution, revealed that there were just under four million people living in the entire country. Today, the population of Massachusetts alone is estimated at about six and a half million. The entire population of New York State at the time is one twenty-third that of modern-day New York City alone. The country’s population as a whole has surpassed 300 million strong; a nearly 100 fold increase. Yet we have continued to operate with a scheme of representation that allocates only two senators per state. And though our representation in the House of Representatives is allocated proportionally, the numbers of constituents per representative ranges from around 500,000 to nearly a million: in 1790 this type of representation would have meant only four to eight members of the house representing the views of the entire nation. No wonder politicians these days seem so out of touch with their constituency. How can we expect a diverse range of interests to be adequately represented when populations of districts are huge enough, in many cases, to be countries unto themselves? How can we expect a senator representing millions of voters to resonate with and understand the concerns of their constituency? How can a person make their voice heard over the competition of countless others? So although public participation in the process has come to be thought of as a most vital facet of our government, we have continually seen the value of the individual’s contribution diminished. More and more, we struggle to see the value in voting, voicing our opinions or even thinking about politics: there’s just nothing that can be done by that individual voter. As a result, our representatives seem unconnected with the sentiments of America. When Larry Craig was caught soliciting sex in a bathroom, it was his fellow senators, more than the constituency whose interests he represents, that were seen calling for his resignation. Nobody stopped to ask whether it was appropriate for members of Congress, living far beyond the borders of a representative’s state, to so-demand his removal. Should this not be the province of voters? Or have we resigned ourselves to the reality that the voting base of the country is increasingly irrelevant? It seems so. The approval rating for Congress is around 11 percent and the president’s has hit a historical low of 24 percent, yet very little is being done to change the nature of things. The voices of reform that “We the people” seem to need are relegated to the fringes, and the idea of sweeping, reformist legislation taking effect is nothing more than a pipe dream. Without better representation we cannot have a functional democracy. Where’s our new deal?