I just ran across an article from a year ago entitled Eight Ways to Fix Our Politics, which was posted in Newsweek and the Daily Beast. There are some excellent ideas that would get rid of the gridlock we currently have, namely -
- Stop letting the political parties determine how congressional districts are divided.
- Change the way elections are funded.
- Eliminate party primaries in favor of open primaries.
- Let the popular vote determine the outcome of elections.
- Change the way congressional committees are put together.
- Eliminate secret holds on appointees.
- Change or eliminate the filibuster.
- Eliminate the debt ceiling.
Most of these have something to do with weakening the present two-party political system, something that I am very much in favor of. Did you know that political parties are not even mentioned in our constitution? Why do they play such a big role today in our politics? It seems that the GOP and Demos are locked into an endless cycle of fighting and one-upmanship, where the goal is for the party to win – the country itself be damned. The others have to do with money arguments – and that got me thinking about some of the larger problems in politics and in the country in general.
Our capitalist economic system – when working well – is the best system the world has ever seen. However, it does have its flaws, which have been on display the last 2-3 years. Democracy is the best political system in the world. When these two systems are working as they should, operating in a check-and-balance sort of competition, America is hard to beat. The problem is that over the last decade or more, the two systems have been involved in a destructive, incestuous make-out session, a Wall Street / Washington love-fest, in which the interests of anyone who doesn’t have power or money haven’t mattered very much.
Because of this neglect, there are a lot of things that are broken in this country, not just our politics. This got me thinking about how to fix some of the other ills we are facing as a country as well. I agree with the fixes in the Newsweek article, but I think we can do even better.
Get the money out of our political system – all of it. CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that Congress’s wealth has increased by more than 25% during the height of our current recession. Peter Schweizer’s recent book Throw Them All Out details how almost everyone in the legislative branch is using insider trading, cronyism, and land deals to enrich themselves at our expense. We can’t really have a democracy – and we can’t really accomplish any of the other things we need to accomplish – as long as our government servants are not looking our for our interests. Federal elections should all be federally funded – all donations or use of personal wealth should be illegal. PACs should be transparently funded. We all need to realize that a dollar and a vote are not the same thing – everyone, no matter how rich they are – has only one voice in our political forums; no one should be allowed to have thousands.
Require that everyone vote. Australia, Belgium, Singapore, and at least two dozen other countries around the world make voting mandatory. It’s ridiculous that a country with as much international power as ours often elects its leaders without even a majority in this country participating. Both political parties are constantly trying to disqualify certain voters, or qualify certain others to their political advantage. If everyone voted, these kinds of shenanigans would come to an end, and the politicians would have to promote ideas that appeal to everyone, not just partisan wingnuts.
Do everything possible to weaken the two-party system. The Newsweek article sort of beats around the bush on this point – it’s time someone came out and said it. George Washington was very unhappy that the nation began to develop two very strong parties right from the beginning. We either need more viable political parties – or none at all. Our country is locked into a perpetual Yankees-vs-Red Sox rivalry that is destroying us. The future of our country is too important to leave it up to political gamesmanship. We’ve got to end the polarization that the parties are encouraging and figure out how to work together again to solve some of our biggest problems.
Fix our ailing infrastructure. Living in Beijing for 3 years before coming back to the US, I got used to roads with no potholes, modern bridges and superhighways, state-of-the-art trains and airports, clean, bright, modern buses that run on natural gas – and a host of other conveniences that make life in an American city downright medieval by comparison. Our business can’t compete in the coming century when our grandparents were the last ones who bothered to pay to build a new runway or port. I think it’s Thomas Friedman who said that if a person who knew nothing of history were asked to look at the infrastructures of Germany, Japan, and the US, and, based only on those observations, ascertain which country won WWII – he’d come up with the wrong answer every time.
Stop empire building / financing expansion of big oil. Many Americans may be unaware of how India became part of the British Empire. There was a joint stock company called the British East India Company that began investing in spices, tea, and other commodities in India and in other places in the Far East. The success of this company made its investors – including many members of Parliament – fabulously wealthy, and provided cheap raw materials to England’s factories. Every time there was a skirmish of some kind between the Company and the locals, the British Army would arrive to pacify the area, and turn it into a ‘protectorate’. The British government ended up colonizing all of India this way – not because there was a public discussion and decisions were made that empire would be best for the country – but because big business decided that’s the way it should be.
Our situation is the same – big oil and other industries make investments abroad that bring enormous wealth to a select few investors – and to countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and Venezuela, countries that do not share our democratic vision – and then tax dollars are spent to protect our ‘national interest’ in these areas. Why do we stick our military noses into Iraq and Afghanistan, yet ignore similarly belligerent regimes elsewhere? Oil, money, the interests of big business. It’s time we do a bit of nation building here in our own country, if you ask me.
I’ve got a few more ideas that are much more controversial, including making everyone go to public school. But it’s 3am and I have to work tomorrow, so I’ll save those for my next post later this week.