Monday, August 12, 2013

Two (OK, three) simple ways to fix U.S. politics

Sometimes I fear people don't get the point of my sarcasm.  So I'm going to say something very important, very simply.

Two reforms would solve most of the political problems in our federal government. If these reforms were employed at the state level they would work, too, but not as well:

1. Public financing of campaigns, and shorter campaign seasons.  Actually, this one reform by itself would solve just about every intractable political problem in America the natural, non-invasive way.  The way conservatives say they like to solve problems: by letting nature take its course.

Publicly financed campaigns would immediately neutralize the power of Wall Street, the NRA, Big Coal, Big Oil... but also much of the political power of labor unions.  On balance though it would be good for our country, and good for progressive ideals, to get all the money out of politics and let a real contest of ideas -- and People Power -- determine the political winners.  I'd graciously accept the outcome of a stand-up fight like that, win or lose.  

Also, shortening campaigns and taking money out of politics would free up about 90 percent of our elected officials' time.  They would have time to actually think about governing, instead of who's nest they should feather, whom to pay back, avoid pissing off, etc.

Conservatives always hark back to the time of our Founding Fathers.  Well, the Founding Fathers didn't have to start running for office 2-3 years ahead of time by forming "exploratory committees" whose main job was to test their electability with the media and big-money donors. Our founders didn't have to spend all their time in office raising money, or drop out of a close race because their opponent managed to raise more money.  

If we went back in time and tried to explain these present-day realities to Thomas Jefferson or George Washington, they would probably have a stroke after tearing up the Declaration of Independence.

Enough said on that.

2. Make Congressmen accessible.  If reform #1 were passed then #2 would probably not be necessary, it would happen naturally, but just in case, Congress could pass a law making congressmen accessible to any of their constituents, including lobbyists.  Yes, lobbyists!  I'm not against lobbyists.  I'm all for them. But a lobbyist's effectiveness and his access to power should not be determined by the size of his wallet, that's all.  

Thanks to the Internet, it's more than possible to set up a normal online appointment system to meet with one's congressman, even if you had to wait a few weeks.  Heck, we could even mandate that Congressional offices should operate like the DC DMV: visitors get in line before office hours start, take a number, wait their turn, and if they don't get called they come back the next day.

If you don't know what I'm talking about then try to get a personal meeting with your elected congressman or senator.  Go ahead.  Even if you voted for him, even if you kicked him a few bucks last election, chances are the best you'll do is a meeting with his chief of staff.  In most cases you'll get an unpaid, pimply faced intern in an ill-fitting suit.  Because you simply cannot talk to congressmen in most cases unless you are a big-money donor or political insider. Objectively speaking, congressmen would be crazy if they spent most of their time listening to their constituents; that's no way to get elected nowadays.  

3. And if we really wanted to slam the door on corruption and conflicts of interest, then Congress could pass a Non-Revolving Door Act to forbid congressmen or their staffers from working for any lobbying firm, or any company that directly benefited from legislation that the congressman voted for while in office, for a period of 5 to 10 years.  

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