Jim Bencivenga: Tea Party is Rejuvenating American Politics





[Jim Bencivenga is a former teacher and Monitor staffer.]

The "tea party" movement has a lot more going for it than a rightward shift in electoral preferences. It's restoring competition to congressional seats long dominated by incumbents. It's forcing the public to confront the toll of the Democratic Party's alliance with public-sector unions on America's fiscal health. And, for a conservative in Massachusetts like me, it means elected officials and candidates will take my views more seriously....

Uncontested and safe seats at the local, state, and national level cover the body politic like kudzu, a growth unimagined by the nation's Founders. The litany of reasons why almost all members of Congress can stay in power so long is by now common knowledge: computer-assisted gerrymandering of districts (the DNA of Massachusetts politics), military bases, public-employee unions, even districts created to redress past racial injustices. And then, of course, members' ability to bring home treasure from Washington.

Such seats, especially in the US House of Representatives, foster what James Madison in "The Federalist No. 10" warned against: faction. He feared disenfranchisement would create its political reciprocal, an excess of faction leading to tyranny.

For Madison, liberty was the antidote. It was the means by which individuals working through representative government could mollify the effects of what was to him a given of human nature. Faction would not go away, but it could be used to balance itself....


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