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