Monday, February 13, 2017

Taking Back Democracy

Regardless of party allegiance, most people agree that politicians, frankly, suck. They spend most of their time worrying about getting elected and re-elected, and most of the rest worrying about their political parties. They spend more time fund-raising than anything else, and, once elected, they immediately set to work trying to secure their power through gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement and other means. As Shakespeare’s Macbeth famously said on attaining the crown, “To be thus is nothing. But to be safely thus,” his rationale for the series of murders and misdeeds that follows.

The Constitution is very clear about the roles of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the President and the Supreme Court. But there’s not a word, not a whisper, about political parties. Yet a glance at the news anytime in the last century or more suggests that it’s all about parties … that the job of the parties is to beat the opposition, and try to reshape the laws to ensure their continued dominance. This is also true at the state level.

So how to we make government serve the people instead of themselves?


Most policy decisions should be made by direct voting, instead of leaving it up to elected representatives. Because as democratic as our elections are (not very!), there’s a huge disconnect between what politicians want and what voters actually want.

Politicians are like cable TV packages. You can’t pick and choose which policies, or which channels, you get. If you love to watch HBO, you’re going to have to get thirty or forty sports channel with it. If you want the smaller government candidate, you’re going to have to take abortion bans, unrestricted gun sales and a decimated environment with it.

Also, because politicians are so concerned about just getting and keeping control, they flip flop on issues as easily as the wind changes direction. It’s well known that political strategists like Karl Rove seize on wedge issues to incite voters who might not otherwise case about an election, just to help bolster one party.

Now a lot of people are going to object that having a referendum for every issue is too inefficient. How can we handle that many elections?

Of course, that’s based on the two century old model in our Constitution. In the 21st century, there’s really no reason elections can’t be done efficiently on massive scale. In fact, that should be the first order of business. We need to ensure that people who are entitled to vote can vote, and that people who aren’t can’t.

And because a referendum is about one issue, the campaigns will be trying to inform/pursuade voters about that issue. No distractions. No debates about the size of each candidate’s hands or other body parts. No bluster. (There will still be plenty of bullshit, but at least it will be focussed bullshit.)

Politicians should be like engineers … they figure out how to implement the specifications, but the specifications come from the customer … you!


Bill Costa said...

A true democracy, like a town meeting in a small New Hampshire small town, certainly does work. But the suggested solution would have to be electronic voting via the web, which would be a very strong magnet for fraud. It would have to be a very well engineered system indeed to prevent it from being rigged. Not saying it couldn't be done. But it would not be easy and there would be very internal and external large incentives to game the system without detection.

Peter Davis said...

True, Bill. We certainly have the technology today to do this. We are already capable of collecting information about what everyone wants to buy, who they call, where they drive and how fast, etc. But there are still a lot of logistical and ethical problems to solve.
Of course, this is true of our current elections as well.