Our Congress seems very ineffective these days, but there may be a purpose to politics after all…

At its simplest level, politics is nothing but a way for a group of people to get together and make common decisions;

Of course, many people prefer Groucho Marx‘s definition;

the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies..

Whichever definition you prefer, one of the unavoidable truths of politics is that it has a much larger effect on people’s lives than just the identity of the person currently occupying the White House.

Everything from major national issues all of the way down to where one can place one’s garbage can are frequently all defined by the political process.

Here’s a quick rundown of the American political system, which is made up of three branches–the executive, judicial and legislative.

  • The Legislative branch‘s primary responsibility is making laws. Our Congress has two halves–the 100-member Senate and the 435-member House of Representatives. The House is elected on the basis of population, with larger states getting more representatives and small states getting fewer. The Senate treats all states equally, with two senators per state. It is designed to operate on a more deliberative, or, slower, basis than the House.
  • The Executive branch is responsible for carrying out, or executing, the laws passed by the Congress and is led by the President.
  • The Judicial branch, headed by the nine-member Supreme Court, interprets the laws to ensure that they were both passed correctly by the Legislative Branch and enforced correctly by the Executive branch. This is an example of of one the unique features of the American political system–its checks and balances. Congress cannot pass an “illegal” law because the Supreme Court can invalidate it, and the President cannot randomly start wars because he or she will need support from Congress who controls the purse strings.

Whether one considers these checks and balances to be a necessary stop on a power-hungry government or a source of unnecessary gridlock typically depends on how one feels on a given issue that is being held up in the system, of course.

There are three different broad classes of people that make up the American political system–elected officials, appointees, and career employees.

Taking the Executive branch as an example, its only elected officials are the President and Vice President. They are ultimately answerable to the people who can fire them by electing someone else.

The various cabinet secretaries are examples of appointees. The president chooses his or her cabinet secretaries, with the consent of Congress, and can let them go at any time. Other appointees, such as Supreme Court justices or Federal Reserve board members are appointed for either a lifetime or a set period of time. In either case, they are not directly answerable to the people.

The final class of actor in the political system is the career employee. Looking at the White House, this could include the cooks and personal assistants, as well as a number of the technicians that work throughout the government. They typically do not have policy-making ability, but are responsible for making the government work. Their employment is determined through regular civil service hiring guidelines. This allows our political system to make decisions and take action with the right combination of accountability through elections and professionalism through career service.

It seems when many people discuss politics, they are discussing the interplay between the political parties.

Right now, the political system is made up of the Democrats and Republicans who tend to fall to the left and right wings, or liberal and conservative sides of the spectrum. These rules are not hard and fast, though, with members of each party free to have their own positions on given issues, although most will tend to “toe the party line.” These views tend to be presented most clearly during elections when Presidents, Senators, and Representatives need to convince the public to let them keep their jobs. In fact, many cynics feel that much of our political system is simply based on politicians doing whatever they need to do to be reelected.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain during World War Two, once quipped that “[d]emocracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Although there is great dissent in the country because of what is being done in the name of politics, the American political system endures as the world’s oldest democracy and we have many things we MUST get accomplished so we have to make it work!

To Learn More;

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics
  2. http://www.cnn.com/POLITICS/
  3. Definition of politics from die.net
  4. Politics (definition)@Everything2.com
  5. Definition of politics from “The Free Dictionary”
  6. Jenks, Edward (1900). A history of politics. J.M. Dent & Co.. pp. 6–15. “In spite of the constantly increasing intercourse…”
  7. http://www.jstor.org/pss/1406810


11 Comments

  1. yasir sahir September 28, 2011 at 8:02 am - 

    taaso tolo ase kwana warkare mara che da bakwas mo lekalay day khaza kwasooooooooooooooooooo

  2. earthling August 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm - 

    The purpose of politics is that politicians get into office to line their pockets with taxpayers money, raise takes to get more money, lie in your face, takeway your freedom by controlling your life and telling you what health insurance you must buy and what medications you take etc. They provide jobs for their families and friends, live in the most elite houses and neighborhood, eat the best food, travel in luxury, tax us more to pay for their lifestyle and I could go on and on and one…….thats the purpose of politics!

  3. Daniel June 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm - 

    I could not agree with you more that we need to get involved to make change happen. I know that Obama said that our nation was ready for change. Where are all of the people who were elected Obama that were for change? They were not present in the Health Care bill and they were not present in anything else? Where have all of the voices gone?

  4. Daniel June 8, 2010 at 8:30 pm - 

    While I think that the purpose of the government was full hearted I think that just as with any other democracy, monarchy or dictatorship power gets the best of people. We sit back and allow them to have all of the power. As Americans we have the right to be heard. In order to do this we as Americans would have to stop taking advantage of the rights given to us by the government. Over the years what was checks and balances has become one political party gaining all of the power over another. It really is a shame. The solution is that American people stand together and say what we feel is the right thing.

  5. brunette49 June 5, 2010 at 9:38 pm - 

    the purpose of politics is for politicians globally, to make laws to suit themselves, tax the hell out of the people, line their pockets, hide their money in various bank a/cs as possible, get the best health insurance not available to the public, live in the most affluential neighborhoods, (naturally that goes for living in elegant homes), drive the most luxurious cars, hire only their friends and families and lie through their teeth that they are working for the people……….that is the purpose of politics!!!!

  6. Stacy June 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm - 

    What about the extremists such as the newly formed tea party or communists??? This article was informative yet seems to hold a bias in it's tone. Is this writer trying to insinuate all government is corrupt? Every person needs structure and groups of people need leadership. While our government may not be perfect it's the one we have so if something is wrong stop complaining and do something positive to make changes!! Agents of change!!! So tired of pundits of professing and not acting!! Stop running your mouth and star acting

  7. where's the jobs June 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm - 

    I think you missed the point completely. For the last 30 or 40 years the Richest of the Richest own this US government, most of our currency and got rich by lowering wages and lining their pockets. They never replaced those jobs they sent abroad. We're paying for it in every way shape and form. Republicans and Democrats are both to blame. Jobs you get to replace those jobs are lower paying and less benefits. Most people don't want to face the truth cause it's to painful. When you say GM employees earn 72 dollars an hour. So what. What about the REAL PROBLEM of 50 million salaries while you and I pick up the tab. I guess you havn't lived long enough or your simply blind to the real world.

  8. Ashley S. June 2, 2010 at 4:46 pm - 

    Politics is more than “a way for a group of people to get together and make common decisions”; it is a continual struggle for power between involved entities or parties. This candy-coated article is good for people who need an introduction to our federal government, but hardly answers the question posed in the title: “What is the purpose of politics?”

    Moreover, the United States of America is NOT a democracy. It is a Republic. If it were a democracy, each and every eligible voter would cast a vote on each and every issue; we'd spend 80% of our time at the polls. Because we employ the electoral college and send representatives, we forfeit the concept of democracy and adopt the republic.

    Lastly, someone might want to go in and change “identify” to “identity” in the text under Groucho Marx's definition.

  9. R. Weldon June 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm - 

    Politics;
    Poli from the greek, meaning of the many, tics; Bloodsuckers

  10. Mal Milligan June 2, 2010 at 2:56 am - 

    It's a nicely written article but there was no mention of the “OJ Law” in this country or the power of special interest groups. America is NOT a democracy – rather it is far from it. It is a land where special interest groups pay for their politicians to be elected and those politicians in turn manipulate the law to favor the special interest group that got them elected. Who voted to use federal taxpayer money for the cash for clunkers program? Not one taxpayer !!! It cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and it benefited GM employees that make an average of $72 per hour in wages and benefits. That's DISGUSTING. That is what American politics is now. Disgusting.

  11. Marc Beharry June 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm - 

    So, although it seems overwhelming to the majority of us who are on the losing end of the political stick most of the time, we have to get involved at the local and national levels and keep up the fight that was kept alive by George Washington, Marting Luther King and many others. For the sake of our children and the planet itself, ongoing wars, the climate crisis, poverty and many others problems still have to be solved. I think we can do it.

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