Part II of the "Changing America" series. See my disclaimer in the introductory article.
The system of representatives just isn't working anymore.
I'm not saying we shouldn't have representatives in Congress; rather, we need to limit their control over us, the citizens. While our current system of democracy worked for the Greeks, then the Romans, and now America, it certainly has its limitations. Our current sytem of government is based on technology from ancient times. Because the Greeks, Romans, and our forefathers had nothing faster than horses and wind-powered sailing vessels, the speed of communication was very slow (at least, to our modern standard).
The current government-by-representative is based on slow communication technology. It was impossible to have healthy debate on the current issues throughout the nation or gather everyone into one place. Therefore, the best way for "the people" to rule was to elect someone to represent portions of the population. The original idea was that the representative would vote according to the will of the people who elected them.
Unfortunately, that's no longer true . As we can see from the town hall meetings across the country (August, 2009), people are upset about what's going on in the government. The members of Congress are having town hall meetings mainly about the current health care reform proposal. The sad thing is that it seems like our representatives and senators expect to talk to us and tell us why we should let them pass their proposals. Then when citizens express their anger about how they don't want the current proposal or feel that their (the citizens') interests are not being represented, the politicians seem shocked or disgruntled. It comes across like our politicians feel as though we should listen to them, rather than they should listen to us. It comes across as if they can talk down to us like little children and tell us what's good for us.
Now, I'm sure there are some politicians who understand that they represent the will of the people, and I bet there are districts that feel their representative is doing just that: representing them. I'm not going to assume that my thoughts & observations are all-encompassing. However, there are just too many people who are upset. You can't ignore what's going on throughout the nation. According to the polls, the majority of Americans do not like what's happening—even when you take into account the margin of error and the poll questions. All the polls reflect the general discontent with Washington.
(My observations on the health care debate are a separate matter. They may become another article in this series. Let's get back to the issue of our representatives in Congress.)
Someone close to me traveled to Washington several times during their college years to lobby for student aid. They had up-close, personal observations of the way our government is run. If you think it's government of, by, and for the people, think again.
Our politicians operate first on the "Favor" system: either someone owes you a favor or you owe them a favor. Second, they operate on the "Re-election" system: they'll say the right things & make themself look good, just long enough to get elected or re-elected. It's all about appearances.
Therefore, what you want is meaningless, unless it's an election year. Once they're in office, it really doesn't matter what you want. They do what they want, according to the Favor system or Re-election system.
On top of that, big business runs the government. (Yes, okay, that was a exaggerated generalization. Big business doesn't really run the government—it just really, really, really influences it.) To over-simplify the conversation, big business tells our representatives in the House and the Senate, "Vote this way or we'll bury you." Naturally, the politician wants their wonderfully perk-filled job, so they do as they're told.
I believe a lot of citizens are upset because we're frustrated over our seeming lack of power or authority. We're at the mercy of the politicians (and big business). We're powerless. That has to change.
We need something different. Because communication has changed, we can & should change the way this land is governed. Every election, especially Presidential elections, we hear public service annoucements telling us to get out & vote. There was a noticeable rise in the percentage of voters this past election, which is wonderful. However, if we change how this government is run, we can guarantee that we'll have a very high percentage voting.
To avoid the arrogant disconnect of our politicians, to give power back to the people, and to ensure that the population stays involved, we should implement a system of voting on a regular basis, more than once a year.
(I'm not a political scientist, so forgive me if my proposal isn't perfect—just work with me on this. Consider the proposal as a whole.)
We should change the power given to the House of Representatives and Senate. They can still keep their jobs to be part of the checks & balances built into our system of government. However, they should do our bidding. I don't have all the answers on how limited their power will be, but this is the way I envision it:
- We set a list of goals or list of issues for Congress & the nation to work on.
- They (the Reps & Senators) debate the issues and come up with proposals.
- The proposals would be published so that the population can read them.
- Time is alloted for public debate & discussion.
- The nation votes on the issues.
- Congress enacts the bill according to the will of the people.
This system runs in cycles, using semesters, trimesters, quarters, or some other name/unit of time. For the sake of example, let's assume we use the quarter system. Congress debates an issue in Quarter 1. Congress drafts a proposal and gives it to the public. In order to keep things moving, each Congressional Proposal is not allowed to be a huge, 1000+ page jibberish filled with "pork" projects. It's limited to the issue at hand ("just the facts, ma'am, just the facts")—including what Congress gets paid! During Quarter 2, Congress begins work on the next issue on the list while the populace discusses the Q1 proposal. In Quarter 3, the nation votes on the Q1 issue, and the cycle repeats itself.
The benefits of using this system are:
- The people not only feel involved, they are involved.
- Congress is not allowed to get bogged down.
- Petty little pork projects are not slipped deviously into unrelated bills.
- We control when Congress gets a pay raise.
- Lobbyists lose their influence.
- Politicians no long rule by the Favor system.
- The nation knows exactly what's being voted on.
- We, the people, are masters of our own, collective destiny.
Congressional Proposals will be distributed in PDF form via the Internet. They will be printed for those who do not have access to the Internet and possibly posted in public places (like libraries or town halls).
Members of Congress will actually have to work for their money like the rest of us. Did you know that, once upon a time, members of Congress slept in bunk beds in rooms of six when they were in session? That's back when they were servants of the people. Since then, they voted themselves raises whenever they liked, such that now they enjoy posh accomodations in Washington and elsewhere. Since they're the lawmakers, the make laws that benefit them (including their very own health care system), because they knew the people weren't involved or aware. It's high time that ends!
In addition, the Presidential elections should be by popular vote only. We have the technology to know what the nations wants within hours of voting. The Electoral College should go away.
We have the technology to make voting faster & easier. We should come up with a national method that bids farewell to confusion and hanging chads. We'd have to ensure we have checks & balances, but I'm sure we can do that. We're a smart nation. If we can send men to the moon with technology we now find ridiculously archaic & limited, we can do anything.
When we implement this kind of system, we will truly be a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.
© 2009 by J. C. Callahan