‘Representative of the Poor’ Elected As Indian President: The Poor Need Greater Representation in the US and Beyond
India’s electoral college has elected Ram Nath Kovind as the fourteenth President of India. What distinguishes Kovind's victory is his socioeconomic background. Unlike most public officials inside India and abroad, Mr. Kovind hails from the ranks of the poor while he belongs to the Dilat caste, whose members are traditionally called the “untouchables” and often suffer from unmatched institutionalize racism. In short, President Kovind is a representative of the world’s most disenfranchised. While Mr. Kovind’s victory may or may not translate into significant changes, the willingness of India’s political elites to embrace someone who represents the disenfranchised is a step toward social and economic justice.
The US is the world’s most powerful democracy. In comparison to most other governments and democratic societies, Americans enjoy a fairly professional government and a high degree of democratic representation. The US government has, however, grown increasingly dysfunctional in the face of extreme political polarization while the United States has always been ill-democratic to varying degrees. Although the Civil Rights Movement has helped address disenfranchisement based on race and gender, the broader disenfranchisement of the poor, due to a scarcity of opportunity and a general lack of meaningful representation in government, has gone unaddressed.
If the impoverished of the US, as well as the rest of the world, could overcome their political, gender, racial, religious, educational, geographical, and other distinctions to unite under a single civil rights movement, they would comprise the largest and most influential political fraction. Instead of relying on social welfare programs offering paltry subsidies that only subsidize poverty and face constant political attacks, the united poor could demand policymakers develop real solutions capable of delivering access to the jobs and business opportunities the poor really need. Special interests, which dictate economic policies favoring the wealthiest of individuals and businesses at the expense of others, would lose their undue influence in government.
Inside the United States alone, special interest groups spend billions of dollars to lobby the Federal government. The reason is that special interest groups, including corporate lobbyists, recognize the need to have representation in government. They recognize that direct and open access to public officials allows them to influence the thinking of policymakers and, therefore, shape public policies to the benefit of the special interest groups they represent. If these lobbyists were lobbying for balanced public polices and the democratic representation of all, the undue influence they enjoy would not be an issue. Because few champion the cause of the poor, the influence of special interests means the views and interests of the poor go unrepresented.
The responsibility of government representatives, i.e. Congressmen and Senators in the case of the US, is to represent the beliefs, interests, and needs of the citizens living in the districts they represent. Their responsibility is not, however, to hijack government for their constituents. It is to bring the perspectives of their constituents to government, so the People of the Nation can develop public policies that best address the collective interests of all citizens. The problem is that members of the political industry too often see the power of government as a commodity to seized. Instead of viewing government as a forum for public debate, they compete for control by suppressing the interests and representation of other factions.
With the right public policy solutions, the “poor lobby” and political leaders championing their cause could help reshape the economy to better serve the needs of average people, which is what the economy should do. With the right public policies to foster the development of and access to viable economic opportunities, government could better address the needs of all Peoples and cultivate a far more stable, prosperous economy. To make government more representative and more responsive, the traditionally underrepresented need sufficient representation in government. They also need their representatives and the representatives of others to cooperate on problem solving and solution building.
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