"A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."
In theory, democracy rules. By leaving major decisions up to the majority, we stand the best chance of pleasing the greatest number of people. But of course, people being human, this fair system of government is quickly and easily perverted to push the power to one side or the other. A series of inventive (and somewhat genius) maneuvers have turned our nation's decision-making process into nothing more than a game, and understanding the parameters of the game forces you to wonder if there's any such thing as "fairly-passed" legislation. We posit no, and here's why:
Gerrymandering is the redrawing of district lines to benefit one party. For example, say there's a large urban area that trends Democratic, surrounded by districts that all trend Republican. Instead of allowing that one urban district to elect Democrats to the state government, unscrupulous politicians will redraw the district lines in such a way that the urban area is divided up into several smaller pieces, each piece now belonging to one of the larger Republican districts. This prevents the urban Democrats from electing the leader they want, by ensuring that they are outnumbered by Republican votes. So, if you've always believed that people get to elect the leader they feel best represents them, read up on gerrymandering―chances are, it's happened in your town.
Lobbyists are people whose job it is to influence the way politicians vote on legislation. It's totally legal, and it is a way of making sure that politicians get to hear the voices of the various groups they represent. Some lobbyists are volunteers, some are paid in seven figures. There's nothing wrong with lobbying per se―a lobbyist can sit down with a politician, and explain how an upcoming bill might affect a certain group, allowing the politician to make an informed decision before the vote. The problem comes when major industries have their own lobbyists, who use less-than-ethical tactics to influence a politician's vote. Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Agra are three major players in this area, and the ones most commonly associated with unethical lobbying. While it's illegal for lobbyists to give politicians gifts or money, lobbyists do use favors, campaign contributions, and even blackmail, to sway politicians to their side of the argument. Often, politicians end up voting against the wishes of their constituency because the lobbyists have their backs against the wall.
Cronyism is the term for picking all your friends for the team. In pickup basketball, it's not a big deal. In politics, it really, really is. For example, say you're the president, and it's time to appoint a new member of the Supreme Court. You've known Bob for years, and he's been supportive of your views―in fact, you kind of owe him a favor. But then there's Joan, the media darling. She's got all the right credentials―great education, awesome judiciary background, and has been in law longer than Bob has been alive―but you don't agree with her stance on most social and constitutional issues. If you appointed her to the SCOTUS, the balance would tip toward the left. Besides, Bob's a great guy, and you know he'll be thrilled to get the job. So you appoint Bob instead of Joan. That's cronyism, and D.C. is lousy with it.
"Majority rules" is the foundation of democracy―it's why we vote. But what if the majority ruling isn't necessarily great? Most voters know next to nothing about the issues at hand, getting most of their information from 30 second campaign commercials, cable news sound bites, and the talking points of various pundits. Now, this is not to say that the media is bad for government―it's necessary, and important as a watchdog. But when it comes to making informed political choices, you cannot start with a biased source. You also cannot form an educated opinion based on a sound bite. You need to sit down armed with facts, and truly understand the nuances of the issue. Most people don't have time to do that for every issue, so they choose one or two that are the most important to them, and vote based on that. But then we get the 49% percent of Americans who don't believe in evolution voting on science education, and we have a problem.
So, despite our best efforts and lofty ideals, democracy is not fair. It's a game. So, even when the legislation passes in your favor, it's not fair―it's just that your side won that time. So, keep fighting for what's important to you, but make an effort to seek out facts, and base your decision on those―it's always better to be part of the solution rather than the problem.