The solution to an unpopular, corrupted and inefficient congress: MORE DIRECT DEMOCRACY - Editor
Inside Politics: No Surprise, but Congress Not Popular
By Rebecca Boyle
After passing a hugely unpopular financial rescue package, Congress is getting very little love from the American people.
So little, in fact, that only half of Americans, 49 percent, think the legislative body would do a better job than people chosen at random from the phone book.
But 33 percent of people think a group of their fellow citizens, chosen completely at random, would do a better job. In fact, more than half of Americans would like to toss the entire Congress and start over.
A new poll released Oct. 5 shows Americans have an abysmal opinion of their elected representatives. Along with the numbers noted above, only 24 percent, according to the poll by Rasmussen Reports, believe members of Congress understand legislation before they vote on it. Just 23 percent of people have even a little confidence in the ability of Congress to deal with the country’s economic woes, Rasmussen said.
Those numbers could be bad news for any incumbents this fall, no matter their party—change is definitely in the air.
But the phone book statistic gave me pause—it sounds funny, but it’s actually more in line with what the Founders intended, and not unique in history.
When the Constitution was adopted, state legislatures experienced vast turnover each election cycle, and the architects of the document likely expected things to be the same way on the federal level. Americans in the 1790s were not exactly fans of perpetual incumbency—our first executive limited himself to just two terms, more than 150 years before those limits were formally imposed.
And, as Rasmussen points out, turnover was the name of the game for more than a century. It all started changing in the 20th century, especially, as Rasmussen pollsters say, after “power and prestige flowed to Washington” during and after the New Deal.
Well before our Constitution was written, history’s first practitioners of democracy already employed their own phone book strategy, of sorts. The Athenians practiced a form of direct democracy, wherein citizens voted directly on legislation.
Given that background, I decided to conduct an experiment: I called random numbers out of the phone book.
The first name my eyes landed upon was that of Frank Bayless, a Fort Collins resident. It was completely random, but I must admit that I guessed someone named Franklin might be older, hence retired, and therefore home at 11:30 on a Monday morning.
I dialed his number and when he answered, I explained my odd request: “I’m calling you randomly out of the phone book because of a poll that said a third of Americans think people randomly chosen from the phone book would do a better job in Congress. So, what do you think of Congress?”
Bayless, as it turns out, might be pretty well qualified to run.
He’s writing a book about dueling philosophies through history and how they’ve shaped our culture—mercantilism versus socialism, conservatism versus liberalism, etc.—and he is a retired lawyer.
Bayless said members of Congress have abandoned their constituents in favor of special interests.
“Basically, the will of the people has been ignored,” he said. “It’s because of, primarily, special interest groups, and you’ve got the influence of the political parties and you’ve got of course, the conscience of the representative, whoever he is, if he has one. And all of that impacts these guys to the point that they’ve forgotten what the people want.”
He said spin and propaganda have clouded the truth.
“A Congress, a republic, can’t survive without truth. And so what I think of the Congress? I would have to say, I’m very disappointed, but I’m not disappointed in all of them. I am in some of them who really aren’t willing to cooperate and aren’t willing to reconcile their differences, and who follow the party line to the point that government doesn’t work anymore.”
He said he’s voting this fall for Sen. Barack Obama for president and Rep. Mark Udall for Senate.
After talking with Bayless for a few minutes, I flipped forward in the phone book to the letter J. No one was home under several listings for the name Jamison, so I flipped forward a couple of letters and landed on the Limbecks of Loveland.
Adam Limbeck, 10, who is home-schooled, answered the phone. Citing his youth, he said he wasn’t sure about the people in Congress, and passed the phone to his mom, Janet, who said she has some concerns about the current Congress and its partisanship.
“I definitely feel like with major issues, we don’t always get the whole story,” she said, adding that some issues are more complicated than they seem. “When the president is making his decisions, I feel like there are a lot more people in the trenches who don’t come on the news. I try to have faith that they are doing the right things.”
Limbeck said her family has been hit by the tough economy.
“In the last few years, the belief was that the economy was going to trickle down,” she said. “We owned a restaurant that failed. And it was for a multitude of reasons, but I never felt the trickle-down. I didn’t think any of the things that were in play benefited us.”
She worries about the Iraq War, too, and veterans coming home who will need access to mental-health treatment. She said she doesn’t think Congress has done enough to address any of those issues. She, too, is voting for Obama on Nov. 4.
As of this writing, several people in the S section in Greeley’s phone book were not home, at least not during the day. But I’ll keep trying, especially hoping to find some supporters of Sen. John McCain.
Because you never know—maybe they’ll be qualified to run for Congress. Odds are they might be more popular, at least.
"THESE ARE THE TIMES THAT TRY MEN"S SOULS"...AGAIN... TIME FOR PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY?
What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."
Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?
Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.
How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.
In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.
We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.
This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…
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Sunday, October 19, 2008
The solution to an unpopular, corrupted and inefficient congress: MORE DIRECT DEMOCRACY - Editor