Posts Tagged ‘congress’

Make Republicans Great Again

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

A lot has been written lately about the impending death of the Republican Party. I have remained skeptical of such eulogies. In fact, I think that the Republican Party could have a strong future in our national politics sooner than later, but it has to start right now.

In far too many words, I will lay out how the Republican Party can reclaim their status as a national governing power, improve the American electoral process, govern efficiently without compromising their (establishment) principles, exploit an impending divide in the Democratic Party to recruit pragmatic centrists, and win over the hearts of Millennials. The resulting country would be stronger, because each party would have empirical evidence that theirs is a viable path forward; each party would value responsible, responsive leadership; and the two parties combined would be more representative of the American electorate, whose center has been criminally underrepresented and whose politics and policies have been drifting left.

Personally, I should note that despite considering myself a moderate, many of the positions I advocate for the Republican Party embracing are not ones I would clamor for myself. I am not daydreaming about the perfect party for me, personally. But such a change would lead to the possibility that I would again be an undecided voter in many elections–a status I haven’t been able to claim for some time.

Step One: Become the Party of Electoral Legitimacy

I got the idea to write this post today when I saw an article about the Allegheny County (PA) District Attorney issuing a statement ensuring that they had no evidence of any impending wrongdoing undermining the electoral results. It struck me, that in an American democratic system, such a reminder needed to be issued. But it is needed; desperately. Because Trump has apparently given up on winning the election and has instead dedicated his time to questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming electoral outcomes. It should surprise nobody that there is a great deal of literature that indicates that the key to successful democracies is the peaceful and smooth transition of power after the votes are cast. That’s just common sense.

And so, yet again, Trump’s behavior is giving Republican officials an opportunity to disavow him. The last time a wave of un-support occurred, many on the left (including President Obama) said that Republicans get no points for distancing themselves now, this late in the process. Many were cynical about the fact that alienating Muslims, Mexicans, and all sorts of others were tolerated, but the electorally powerful block of women was enough to engender real dissent from Republican officials.

So again, if officials were to stand up to Trump, many would question: why now? Why only when it is clear that he will lose? But there is a good answer. Trump has disparaged people; he has disparaged communities; but now, he is disparaging democracy. He is calling into question the quintessential institution of a successfully-governed society. And Republican officials at all levels need to stand up and shut this rhetoric down. They need to show the country that there are two responsible parties; that our democracy can survive Trump; and that our country and some of its most vital institutions are not endangered by their party.

Republican state parties, national leaders, and elected officials should come forward and insist that they will uphold the electoral integrity of the process. They should speak out against voter intimidation. They should promise their support and acceptance of the outcomes of the elections. This message should come as soon and as loudly and as clearly as possible. Our elections are in good hands; their results are paramount and final. The Party will accept the results.

Step Two: Disavow, Disengage, and Re-Brand

When people think about re-branding, they usually think about re-branding themselves, or from within. I, however, am talking about re-branding ardent Trump supporters. I recently read a column that pointed out that in the general election, there are ~40% of people who will vote Republican every time. That explains Trump’s level of support. But in the primary election, the Trump vote, and even the more cumulative “outsider” vote, made up a smaller share of the Republican Party and American electorate. These people who so readily put party above country, or worse yet don’t understand the risks that Trump actually poses to the nation, deserve to be outcast by those in the party who wish to govern and to make progress in American policy rather than simply tear down the institutions that have been built over time. Repudiating Trump will cause an immense backlash from many within the party base, who by and large still want their leaders to support the nominee, but it’s time to officially cast out those demons.

This doesn’t require a great deal of shifting, honestly. Once Trump has been disavowed and a dedication to responsible transition of power has been announced, parrot Paul Ryan’s oft-repeated desire to govern responsibly and fulfill a conservative vision through implementation of the Better Way agenda. Then, simply add that those who stand in the way and do not support the implementation of the agenda are the ones abandoning their country and their party. Those who resist the loudest and most boisterously, then, should be branded as outside of the Republican Party. They key is to brand them in a way that they would also welcome and adopt–I’d pick something along the lines of Radical Nationalists; they might think it a compliment or at least a fitting and acceptable moniker. Tell them that they no longer stand with the party, and let them embrace that role. And in a simple but steady stream of rhetoric, the party has thus ousted those who seek to destroy it.

Step Three: Be the Party of Electoral Reform

Of course, if it were that easy, wouldn’t the Republican Party have asserted its leadership over its unraveling base long ago? Yes, but they needed the fringes on the right to win elections. They needed to move even further right to survive primary challenges. But with the right set of initiatives, the need and fear of primary challenges could be eliminated. If there is one thing that 2016 has made clear, it is that the electoral system is in need of reform. The primary system has delivered two historically unpopular candidates and removed the credibility of the recently-coined edict: “the party decides.”

This is why becoming the party of electoral reform would be a hugely popular move. And through initiatives completely within party control (at the state level), the need to pander to right-wing voters could be greatly reduced or eliminated. How? By opening primaries. Republicans famously have full control over 23 state governments (governors and legislature), plus 8 more governorships (either with mixed or Democratic legislatures), and a legislature under an independent governor. This control gives the party a HUGE amount of leeway to implement electoral reform. This move would be popular among independents and political disaffecteds, but would also allow the large swath of Republican-leaning independents to have a say in the primary process.

These efforts should be targeted. Look to traditionally blue states with Republican Governors. Look for states where Trump did very poorly in the primaries. Look for states in which Senator and Congresspeople have felt safe and empowered enough to openly oppose Trump. A mass effort of strategically opening primaries across the nation could mitigate the prospect of far-right primary threats and create goodwill among political moderates in one fell swoop. This is an essential part of any plan to put Republicans back into play nationally without sacrificing the ability to govern effectively.

Step Four: Govern

This one is going to be difficult to swallow. The President is going to be Public Enemy #1, Hillary Clinton. One path would be to let the anti-Clinton sentiment unify the party into 4 more years of obstructionism–something Republican Senator John McCain has indicated is on the docket. This would be the easy path.

However, Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly said that he would look for areas of common ground and work to implement them. He usually follows that with some quip about there being very little common ground to work with. And so I took it upon myself to open up Hillary Clinton’s website, and open up Speaker Ryan’s Better Way website, and I looked for common ground. There isn’t a TON to work with, but there is enough.

Speaker Ryan and Clinton can improve workforce training initiatives. Both would like to increase early childhood development. They actually have a decent amount of room to work with on health care, if they can get past the dicey political rhetoric of Obamacare and repeal; simply putting forth several of the measures they view as a “replacement,” rather than continued focus on “repeal,” could uncover many overlaps. Crucially, after a thorough vetting, the Republicans in the Senate (likely to be in the minority) should confirm Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. That will hurt, but it is the responsible thing to do.

This is not a call from a political naïf for a kumbaya government. There are irreconcilable differences, such as the approach to addressing poverty, the approach to reforming entitlements, and upper income taxation. Republicans should not abandon their principles and let Clinton do as she pleases, but simply move government along, find areas of agreement, and try not to mention the word shutdown for a few years. When it comes time for subsequent elections, Republicans should be able to say that they fought Clinton on a number of issues, but that they also managed to accomplish some of their legislative priorities despite a hostile president.

There is one area of agreement that I have left out thus far, and this will be a crucial to a Republican plan forward. Clinton has acknowledged that the corporate tax code is among the highest in the world. She has called for reform and closing of loopholes. She has said proposed several measures through the corporate tax code to punish companies that leave the US for tax avoidance and reward those that bring money and jobs back. She has been rumored to be in favor of a repatriation holiday and possibly a lower corporate tax rate. She favors full expensing of investments, and a lower, simpler tax code for small businesses. Paul Ryan’s Better Way agenda calls for many of the same things. He prefers full expensing for all businesses, and likely a lower corporate tax rate than Clinton would prefer. But there is a LOT of common ground here. I can see very little chance that a Republican House, a split Senate, and a Clinton presidency would not result in a large-scale corporate tax reform. And doing so will likely benefit the country, while also being a huge victory for the Republican Party.

Step Five: Drive the Wedge

One of the most important developments for this plan is happening outside of the Republican Party and outside of their control. And that is the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders galvanized a new generation on the left. Elizabeth Warren is lionized. And while yes, the more center-left, pragmatic Clinton won the primary fairly easily, the Democratic Party platform, as well as the tone and content of the messaging from the left have undergone a sort of metamorphosis in the past several years. No time in recent history has the word “socialist” been as politically acceptable. No time in recent history has social justice so dominated the conversation. Clinton is an unpopular candidate who will win the election because Trump is an unacceptable candidate, but there are fissures on the left, and those fissures could create the opportunity to pilfer the centrists from a party they see moving left of them. And those fissures will crack wide open when Clinton partners with Republicans to pass corporate tax reform.

I’m not saying that the Democrats would run a primary opponent against her. I’m not saying that they would abandon support altogether. But I am saying that corporate tax reform would ramp up the rhetoric from the left in a hurry. It would provide a boogeyman to point to: “look at the Democrats lurching left! Opposed to working together and making compromises that better the country!” The American public forgets in a hurry. Two years of responsible Republican governance could quickly flip the script and make the Democrats the ones that sound unwilling to make a deal, such will be their discontent with yet another corporatist at the helm of their party. This is a recruiting opportunity. Show centrists that there is a responsible alternative now, dedicated to governing; willing to push out the extremists from their party. Show them how distanced you are from the Party of Trump.

Step Six: End the Culture Wars

Up until this point, I have laid out a path to oust the extreme and ungovernable right wing from the Republican Party and form a coalition of establishment Republicans, right-leaning independents, and centrists dismayed by the Democratic move to the left. Certainly, if all goes well, that might be enough to re-form the Republican Party into a viable party on the national level in a way that many couldn’t currently fathom. However, there’s an important voting bloc remaining that may be a secret weapon: Millennials.

Millennials are the largest generational demographic in the nation, having surpassed baby boomers in size. Naturally, young people don’t vote as often as older generations, but they also present an opportunity for a political realignment that this nation so desperately needs. Millennials are less likely to identify with either party. They are among the most likely to back a third party candidate this year, showing a vast discontent with their options and a big opportunity to be persuaded and recruited. They are also incredibly likely to favor gay marriage. And while some polls have shown them to be pretty hostile toward abortion, the same polls indicate that they do not identify as “pro-life,” primarily because the image has been so tarnished by Republican-driven rhetoric in the culture wars of the past.

I’m not saying become a pro-choice party. I’m not saying become a pro-gay rights party (ok, both of those would be pretty great to me personally, but I recognize that there is enough of an electorate out there who disagrees with me that reversing yourselves might cause more trouble than its worth). But at the very least, stop emphasizing them; stop talking about them. The Republican Party has already in theory rejected “culture wars” in matters of social justice, though the white nationalists supporting Trump have made that more difficult to believe. But in moving forward, it might be a great appeal to unaffiliated and undecided voters to just be the party that prioritizes economics and job creation and lays out a conservative vision to address poverty and just simply stops pushing and pushing back on the social issues. This is the one thing that prevents moderate democrats from ever crossing the aisle. And after years of harsh rhetoric, backing off from these topics could provide the breath of fresh air needed to legitimize the party for the next generation.


So that’s my blueprint to move forward. The result of these actions should over time lead to a center-right party battling more of a leftist party and leaving the right-wing nationalists relegated to the current role of libertarians–angrily throwing forth a longshot nominee every four years; exactly where the fringe of this country deserves to be.

But remember, it all starts right now. It all starts with ditching Donald Trump and making a strong, ardent case for electoral legitimacy and peaceful transfers of power.


On Congressman Scott Peters

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

The views expressed in this blog entry are solely my own and are not representative of any official campaign stance

Today is my last day as an unpaid intern on the campaign to reelect Scott Peters. Tomorrow, I will become a paid staff member. That makes this my last chance to tell everyone why I support Peters without facing accusations that I am “just doing my job,” or am “saying what I’ve been paid to say.” This is my chance to make it clear that I don’t say these things because I work for Peters. I work for Peters because I believe these things.

But first, background:

I am a politically independent Army veteran and graduate student with a couple of bachelors degrees. I’m so fed up with Congress’ inability to do its job that I once attempted to establish a new nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of independent candidates and voters–to put evidence and results above ideology. I recently moved to San Diego “for the summer” because I wanted to see if it was a place I might want to settle after my eventual graduation. Upon my arrival, I could have done just about anything–sought a “real” job, waited tables, mowed lawns, whatever. I wanted to get involved in the political scene out here, so I began looking into the local races and candidates. I could have picked anyone from any surrounding district to support and to volunteer my time. After researching the races and candidates in the area, I chose to dedicate about 30 hours a week, unpaid, to Scott Peters’ reelection campaign for the past five to six weeks.

In short, by most standards, I’d consider myself credibly objective in this matter. I’m not just going to shill for anyone in my party or district, since I have neither of those here. And I’m probably a lot like you: I love this country (so much that I painted American flag racing stripes on my car), but can recognize it’s flaws and shortcomings. And I want my government to get back to actually working for its people. I generally pride myself in being able to see multiple sides of an issue. But there’s one thing I just cannot wrap my head around: I honestly can’t see a single good reason not to vote for Scott Peters over Carl DeMaio. I honestly believe that if I were to sit down and have a real, honest, open-minded discussion with every member of California’s 52nd District, Peters would win 70-30, at least.

Here’s why:

If you think Congress shouldn’t get paid unless they do their job and pass a budget, vote for Scott Peters, who ran on a platform for such a law, cosponsored it, voted for it, and it passed into law.

If you wanted a sensible debt reduction/shutdown avoidance plan that appeals to both parties, vote for Scott Peters, whose pre-shutdown plan was endorsed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles–you know, the guys that created the Simpson-Bowles report that everyone wished were enacted but Congress mostly ignored.

If you want someone who puts policy and people above party, vote for Scott Peters, who was ranked the 4th most independent Democrat in 2013 by the National Journal, which noted that Peters is “part of the bipartisan freshmen United Solutions Caucus, which meets to try and translate the dissatisfaction their voters voiced during the campaign into bipartisan action. He said many of the new members feel emboldened to buck their parties”.

If you want to take care of our veterans and military, vote for Scott Peters, who played a role in the recent VA compromise bill, and who has also supported legislation aiding homeless veterans (introduced), increasing access to mental health services (cosponsored), and increasing economic opportunities (voted–across party lines).

If you support women’s economic and/or reproductive rights, then vote for Scott Peters, who has a 100% rating and an endorsement from Planned Parenthood; and who also has cosponsored multiple measures focusing on equal pay and workplace treatment. (And if you can’t vote for a pro-choice candidate, then you also can’t vote for Peters’ opponent).

If you want to protect the environment, vote for Scott Peters, who chairs the Climate Task Force for the Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition and has the support of the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club.

If you want to support small businesses, vote Scott Peters, who wants to cut/reform taxes on small businesses and who has the endorsement of FOUR former chairs of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, such as in this letter to the editor.

If you’re tired of the corporate influence on politics and don’t believe that corporations are people, then vote Scott Peters, who cosponsored a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment to undo the Citizens United decision and has supported other efforts to improve the impact of small, individual donors.

If you want a candidate with strong family values, vote for Scott Peters, the family man that is the son of a minister.

If you’re a geek, vote for Scott Peters, who played a major role in keeping ComiCon (and its economic impact) in San Diego… and also put a Game of Thrones shout-out into his video for ComiCon 2014.

If you think the IRS has lacked accountability, vote for Scott Peters, who voted for the STOP IRS Act, which calls for the termination of those found to take certain official actions for political purposes.

If you think bipartisanship starts by building relationships outside the halls of Congress, vote for Scott Peters, who participates in bipartisan workouts to build bonds with fellow representatives.

If you’re tired of an obstructionist Congress that openly mocks working together to find a solution, vote against Carl DeMaio, who was the lone no vote on a divided City Council over 100 times and openly mocked “bringing everyone to the table” to find a solution in a recently-released video (1:10) from a 2011 speech to the local Tea Party.


Basically, you have a first-term incumbent who is doing all the right things to be a part of the solution in Congress; aiming to balance the budget, getting the support of wide-ranging groups from environmental to business to military to women’s groups. You have a guy who didn’t let being a freshman hold him back from introducing and cosponsoring legislation, balancing achievable (and achieved) goals with lofty legislative long-shots. If you’re tired of the same old crap from Congress, Scott Peters is what we need more of in D.C..

Carl DeMaio is trying to run his campaign against Washington and everything that is wrong with Congress. That makes sense for him because there’s a lot of anti-government and anti-Washington sentiment out there on which he can capitalize. Unfortunately for him, Carl DeMaio isn’t running against everything wrong with Washington. He happens to be running against one of Washington’s few bright spots. It only takes a little bit of research (and/or a few conversations with those who have worked/interacted with both men) to realize that. And as soon as people figure it out, I would hope and expect that Scott Peters would receive the victory he so rightly deserves.

On the 2012 Election: Prediction Time

November 6, 2012 1 comment

With elections coming tomorrow, I think it’s time for me to put my predictions down in writing for all of cyberspace to consume. I’ll get right down to it:

Electoral College: Obama – 294; Romney – 244

I come to this result by giving Obama Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania (if you want to call that a swing state). Romney then gets Florida and Colorado. Basically, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado are the ones I view as the truest toss-ups, so I sent Romney two and Obama two. I gave Romney the biggest and third-biggest of the four because a) he has a good shot at Florida, and b) I wanted to make up for possibly overestimating Obama’s chances elsewhere.

Popular Vote: Obama 49.4%; Romney 48.2%

This is pretty much a guess. I know that it will be close. And I suspect the third-party candidates (especially Gary Johnson) will pull a hair over one percent.

Senate: 51 Democrats, 2 Independents, 47 Republicans

The Senate has 37 Republicans and 30 Democrats holding their seats (not up for re-election). The other 33 races will determine the balance of power. The Independents are both safe and Sanders will caucus with Democrats, while King has been non-committal on his caucusing preferences, but he is popular with Democrats. State-by-state, here are my picks.

Arizona: Flake (R)

California: Feinstein (D)

Connecticut: Murphy (D)

Delaware: Carper (D)

Florida: Nelson (D)

Hawaii: Hirono (D)

Indiana: Donnelly (D) (Thanks to Mourdock’s rape comments)

Maine: King (I) (Yay!)

Maryland: Cardin (D) (And I think Sobhani (I) will be second)

Massachusetts: Warren (D)

Michigan: Stabenow (D)

Minnesota: Klobuchar (D)

Mississippi: Wicker (R)

Missouri: McCaskill (D) (Thanks to Todd Akin’s rape comments)

Montana: Rehberg (R) (Much to my chagrin; I heard their debate recently)

Nebraska: Fischer (R)

Nevada: Heller (R)

New Jersey: Menendez (D)

New Mexico: Heinrich (D)

New York: Gillibrand (D)

North Dakota: Berg (R)

Ohio: Brown (D)

Pennsylvania: Casey (D)

Rhode Island: Whitehouse (D)

Tennessee: Corker (R)

Texas: Cruz (R)

Utah: Hatch (R)

Vermont: Sanders (I)

Virginia: Kaine (D) (toughest call to make for me)

Washington: Cantwell (D)

West Virginia: Manchin (D)

Wisconsin: Baldwin (D) (another toss-up)

Wyoming: Barrasso (R)

House: 235 Republicans, 200 Democrats

Another guess. I’m not breaking down 435 elections, but if you couldn’t tell by now, I’m thinking that there’s some breaking toward the Democrats in general as of late, as I’m giving most of the close calls to the left.

I also am a big fan of Nate Silver of My Senate projections are basically to agree with Silver, which is a cop out in a way, but it’s just because I believe it to be the most complete, best information out there. So I’m trusting it.

I hope everyone enjoys election day. And if you’re going to brag about your predictions on Wednesday, please at least put them in writing by early Tuesday. Otherwise, it doesn’t count.

On the Debt Limit

It appears that the necessity to raise the debt limit is again becoming a looming issue for Congress, and just like the last time, I think this whole debate is stupid and easily avoidable. Just to get the simplest points out of the way, here are a few things I feel are obvious and true about the debt limit:

  • Not increasing the debt limit leads directly to a failure to pay obligations to which Congress and the United States Government have already agreed.
  • The budget (and associated appropriations bills) determine and authorizes government expenditures, while the debt limit simply allows us to pay for those expenditures which have already been approved and allocated.
  • Due to inflation and economic growth, as long as the debt limit is given in terms of a dollar amount, that limit will always have to increase, ad nauseam; always.

Let’s address that last bullet. First of all, history shows that this is accurate. Under Ronald Reagan, the debt limit was increased 14 times in eight years.  Under George W. Bush, it was increased seven times over eight years. Sometimes, it was a pretty big Congressional fight, to be sure. However, the brinkmanship of the 2011 debt limit fight appears to be fairly new. Also new is the idea that raising the debt limit should be conditional upon spending cuts. As I said in my second bullet point, when crafting a budget, spending levels are determined and authorized. A failure to increase the debt limit accordingly only means that you are failing to meet the financial obligations that you have already approved.  (You, in that case, being any Congressperson). So the debt limit has always needed frequent increases, and will always need frequent increases. Making it a big fight seems very counterproductive in the most literal sense–as fighting over the debt limit literally takes time away from accomplishing anything else in Congress (such as passing a budget).

Fighting over the debt limit and using brinksmanship has other counterproductive results, as well. For instance, by creating a serious doubt as to whether or not the United States will repay its debts and pay its interest on time, the credit rating of the United States Government was downgraded by Standard and Poor and by a Chinese ratings agency for the first time. Such a move could, in theory, lead to the United States being charged higher interest rates on its borrowing, therefore increasing government spending on interest payments and actually working counter to the desire to decrease the debt. And just to be clear, it was not the level of debt held by the United States that led to these downgrades. It was the scare that the debt may not be paid for and the incompetence of Congress, as specifically stated by Guan Jianzhong, the chairman of the Chinese ratings agency:

“The squabbling between the two political parties on raising the U.S. debt ceiling reflected an irreversible trend on the United States’ declining ability to repay its debts. The two parties acted in a very irresponsible way and their actions greatly exposed the negative impact of the U.S. political system on its economic fundamentals.”

So I think we have established here that the debt limit will always have to increase when it is listed as a dollar figure, that it historically has been increased several times, that attaching spending cuts to the increase is a new phenomenon that should be handled during negotiations on the budget, and that fighting over its increase is highly counterproductive to U.S. interests. Now for the most frustrating part: the solution is simple. I mean, it’s really simple. I can’t take any credit for thinking of it, because several countries already use such a system. Here it is: The debt limit should be set at a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This way, as inflation increases, the debt limit does not have to be changed by Congress. As the economy grows, the debt limit does not have to be changed by Congress.

The simple solution actually makes so much sense that you have to wonder if Congress has avoided it because they particularly enjoy their infighting. It’s pretty clear that many Republicans are operating under the confused notion that standing up against the debt limit increase is the same as standing up against the debt. However, as has been repeatedly stated, they are only standing up against meeting already-agreed-upon financial obligations.

Recently, the level of U.S. central government debt surpassed 100% of GDP. This is of course troubling news, and especially so when you look at research performed by economists from Harvard and the University of Maryland that states that reaching 90% of GDP begins to be problematic even in advanced economies. Obviously, a defender against debt would want to see that number lowered, so any proposed debt-to-GDP ratio could be imposed such that it is realistic in the short term, but could be walked down to a more tenable number in the long-term.

I would suggest that a limit of 105% could be imposed with that number beginning to decrease by one or two percentage points per year in a couple of years until it reaches 70%. Yes, that is around a twenty-year plan. The most current estimate I can find for debt-to-GDP is 101.5%. It figures that it would take afew years to slow the growth of that number responsibly, and from that point on, once growth is restored to a lagging economy, there should be a focus on reducing that percentage. By putting the gradual reduction into one plan, however, the near-annual debate in Congress could be tabled for quite some time.

Personally, I would target an actual debt level of 60% debt-to-GDP, with a limit of 70%. If a country spends too close to its limit when times are good, there is little or no wiggle room when times get tough. This sounds unrealistic, though, to believe that Congress would ever have the foresight and discipline to spend less than their mandated limit. That would require a level of Congressional competence I haven’t seen in my short adult life. One can only dream, I suppose. But getting rid of this whole embarrassing fight about whether or not to pay our nation’s bills on time? That, I think, even the simplest of Congresses should be able to handle.

On a Representative Democracy

April 15, 2012 3 comments

A gay marriage bill recently passed in my home state, Maryland. It has been signed into law, but won’t go into affect until January 1, 2013. It contained a provision which allowed it to be decided by a ballot initiative in November, 2012 if enough signatures are acquired, which is practically a foregone conclusion. If that takes place, it will be part of a trend on the issue, and in politics in general.  In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a gay marriage bill stating that he thinks it should be decided by the people as a ballot initiative. Most have heard of the famous Proposition 8 in California in which gay marriage was defeated as a ballot initiative.  A similar ballot initiative failed in Oregon.

But this post isn’t about gay marriage.  This post is about elected officials shirking their responsibility and/or failing to understand what they were elected to do. More and more frequently, opinion polls are cited as a reason for voting a specific way on an issue.  More and more frequently, legislators are calling for ballot initiatives on tough issues to leave it up to the people. It all sounds very Democratic, doesn’t it?  Government for the people, by the people… so let the people decide.

Except that’s not how our government is supposed to work, and frankly, it’s not what I want from my government. The notion of a representative democracy speaks to the fact that, try as we might, we the people cannot be experts on everything. We are all entitled to our opinions, yes, but should policy be decided based on opinions or based on the best available research and information on the issue?

Americans have busy and often complicated lives. Effective policy is often incredibly complex and difficult to construct. While opinions and common sense may abound, more advanced expertise and a greater depth of knowledge are often required–expertise and knowledge that the common working American has no time and often little interest in acquiring. Many people want to elect “the common man.” I get the appeal. I want someone who is connected with my point of view and my way of life.  However, I want my representatives to be smarter than I am. I want my representative to spend less time politicking and more time taking each issue on the docket and researching the best course of action from the brightest minds in the field.

In essence, this boils down to legislators covering for themselves. A ballot initiative relieves them of responsibility if the results do not work out. A ballot initiative allows a representative to sound as if he is democratically fighting for his constituents without having to take a stand on an issue or put his or herself on record. Calling for a ballot initiative is some combination of lazy, irresponsible and cowardly.

I’m a firm believer that if you simply follow the crowds, the results you get will underwhelm.  In an effort to please the masses, Congress has earned a single-digit approval rating. I’m a Packers fan, so I followed closely as the general manager, Ted Thompson, made the decision to move on from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers as the team’s quarterback. An opinion poll from the fans would have easily led to Thompson retaining Favre and moving forward with him. Thompson’s popularity sank. He was one of the most hated men in Wisconsin.  However, Ted Thompson did not follow the masses. Ted Thomspon showed that he is a leader with a firm handle on what is best for the team. He had more information than the public and more expertise, and he used it to make what he felt was the best decision for the team. Thompson’s decision paid off, as Aaron Rodgers has led the team to a Super Bowl victory and is the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player. Thompson now enjoys quite a high popularity rating, because he went against the common perception and made the best choice for the organization despite the desires of the fans.

This is what I expect from my governmental leaders. I expect them not to follow the masses in opinion polls. I expect them not to defer to a ballot initiative.  I expect them to do their jobs: to dedicate themselves to a level of expertise on the issues that common Americans can rarely afford to achieve–not because they are incapable, but because they have their own areas of expertise on which to focus: primarily, their own jobs and lives. I expect governmental leaders to make the hard choice and do what is right or best for the country instead of what is easiest or most popular. The ideal of democracy and of “we the people” has caused our standards for our elected officials to fall. We accept followership because it sounds democratic. But I want leadership, and I hope that I live to see the day when we as voters and legislators remember that. The best option is rarely the most popular. Ballot initiatives and opinion polls show weakness, not ideals.

If you make a tough, unpopular decision that turns out to save the day, a la Aaron Rodgers, then popularity, credit and re-election are likely results.  If you are a follower in a leadership position and try to frame everything through opinion polls, the will of the masses and what will lead to re-elections, you get what we have now: a terribly unpopular Congress, a deserved lack of respect for government and an anti-incumbent sentiment. So legislators: stop trying to please everyone and do the job we hired you to do. If we could do it ourselves, we wouldn’t even need to elect anyone in the first place.