For the Greater Good
October 18, 2006 § 1 Comment
By now, we’re all aware of the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal, and some of us are probably familiar with the scandals surrounding Curt Weldon, Jim Kolbe and Harry Reid. It may be three Republicans and one Democrat, but the tables could easily be turned, because in my opinion, they’re all corrupt. And with only two choices at the polls, the poor American public is faced with choosing between corrupt and corrupter in most races. (Maybe someone can get Jim Carrey to do a sequel).
Yesterday, I read an article about how Democrats agreed on an election focus or “catch phrase,” which can be boiled down to “for the common good”. (Personally, I’d tweak that slightly to “for the greater good”. The common good implies appealing to the lowest common denominator, while the greater good conjures up ideas of a better and more beneficial tomorrow for all Americans.) Regardless, with election (and scandal) season upon us, here are a few policy suggestions for the Democrats if the common good is truly their concern.
Congressional Term Limits
I’m sure there is a fairly large learning curve for new congressmen and senators, but let’s face it — after several years in Congress, our representatives lose touch with the people for whom they supposedly speak. When the Greeks invented the democratic and elective system, they intended for representatives to hold other jobs before and after serving “the people”. In their minds, the idea of a “career politician” was a contradiction in terms because no person could continue to speak for the people after they had become fully integrated into a political machine.
Public Financing of Political Campaigns
Our current system favors the wealthy over the smart, the rich over the innovative, the out-of-touch over the of-the-people. Further aggregating the problem is our two party system which weeds out anyone who might have novel approaches to solving today’s complex issues. If we removed the ability of individuals to directly contribute to their own and others’ political campaigns and instead used a limited amount of tax dollars to fund all candidates equally, we’d end up with more than two unappealing candidates from which to choose on election day. In addition, elected officials wouldn’t end up “owing” favors to big doners, and they wouldn’t be motivated to overfill their coffers to fund future campaigns.
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)
Most people may not know it, but Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (familiarly known as “The Oscars”) uses to select their winners. It’s a pretty simple and intuitive system — voters rank candidates in order of preference. This is most easily understood by comparison to an everyday situation. My boyfriend often picks up breakfast for me in the morning. When he asks what I want, I usually say “A croissant, but if they don’t have that, a muffin, preferably blueberry, or apple cinnamon if they don’t have that”. We’ve all been through a similar mental process. IRV is the same thing, just with political candidates.
The benefits of this system are many — voters don’t have to adopt an “either or” mentality, third parties have a better chance at winning and the so-called “spoiler effect” is eliminated. At the end of the day, the candidate who is most preferred by voters is the winner. For a real life example, look at the 2004 election where Nader was blamed for “stealing” votes from Gore. (This isn’t really a great example because Gore lost his own state of Tennessee and more Democrats voted for Bush in Florida than Nader, but it’s the most widely cited case). Liberal voters could have ranked Nader first, Gore second and Bush third — without having to feel like they were throwing away their vote — because if Nader got the fewest votes, his votes would have been transferred to those voters’ second choice, which in most cases would have been Gore. This would have resulted in a Gore win because Gore was most preferred by the electorate.
Subsidized Living Expenses for Elected Officials
When you are elected to a position that requires you to work away from home most of the time, you need a second home. As a former resident of the D.C. metropolitan area, I can attest that it’s not cheap to live near the capital. For a few months, I considered running for a State Assembly position in California, but when I realized that I couldn’t afford a second rent in Sacramento, it soon became an unrealistic goal. The ultimate result of this is that only wealthy people can afford to be elected officials, again eliminating the possibility of third party and “of the people” candidates running for office. But if the government subsidized housing and living expenses for congressmen and senators, the playing field would be leveled and voters would have more (and hopefully better) options come November.
All of these things would result in a more representative government, one that could make decisions based on the needs and desires of the people rather than those of corporations and wealthy campaign doners. Of course, the Democrats are just as opposed to these ideas as the Republicans, something that often comes as a shock to progressives who think that the Democratic party is more concerned about the average citizen than the GOP. And so I issue this challenge to the Democrats this election season — if you truly believe that you are the party for the “common good”, will you make good on your election year promises and return the power to the people as our Founding Fathers intended?
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