Is it wrong for me to suggest that the renomination of Senator Stevens of Alaska in yesterday's Republican primary shows something to be fundamentally wrong with representative democracy, at least as practiced in this country? The 84 year old, 40-year senator, currently under indictment for corruption and scheduled to face a trial during his re-election campaign, won 63 per cent of the Republican vote. This may be blamed in part on a failure of dissidents to unify behind a strong alternative; the remainder of the primary vote was split among six challengers. But even if you presume Stevens innocent until he's proven guilty, the mere appearance of corruption, on top of his national infamy as the promoter of the "bridge to nowhere," should have swayed more people against him. Instead, they appear to have been swayed for him by force of habit and TV ads that stressed Stevens's ability to bring home the bacon and warned Alaskans: "Without Ted, We're Toast."
Our legislative system encourages people to reward representatives for grabbing disproportionate shares of national revenue for projects of questionable national worth. Through this legerdemain, the representative can claim that he has created jobs and improved his constituency's economy, though he has often only made it a parasite on the rest of the country. Conservatives and libertarians have a point when they call this a consequence of "big government," but they don't offer a solution apart from "starving the beast" by reducing government to the bare minimum of a police state. There has to be an alternative system of appropriating funds for public works to prevent pork-barrel spending. If we are a nation, we have to be capable of determining objectively a national interest that justifies some proposals and rejects others. If this is impossible, and national politics is never anything more than self-interested horse-trading among regional interests, then representative government as practiced in a union of states and a legislature based on territorial representation is inherently corrupt. Fortunately, Alaskans have one more chance to redeem themselves at the general election. While I don't believe that people outside Alaska should influence the election by donating money to Stevens's opponents, we ought to make it clear through whatever national media are available that "With Ted, We're Toast."