How to get back to bipartisanship, or a working government

Jim, you asked me to look at this article in the Washington Post about ways we might return to bipartisanship, along with ideas that aren’t worth trying. It is worth reading. I agree with some of their points and disagree with other parts. The article itself is an attempt at working together, being co-authored by Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, which is more centrist (and has at various times in various newspapers including the Post and New York Times been called everything from Liberal to Centrist to Conservative, and everything in between.)
I agree that current third party attempts are titling at windmills, and I would say that many Americans are hungry for choice, and the reason we can’t get it is because of the entrenched money that ensures the two parties we have maintain power. If we could get money out of politics, then third parties could become viable. And even then, the place to start isn’t with a presidential race, but with state house races and a few congressional seats.

On term limits, I agree that if we simply limited terms and did nothing else it would only increase and strengthen the revolving door between Washington and K street and in the end give lobbyists even more clout (if that is possible). If we get money out of politics, term limits won’t be an issue. When it isn’t a money train, people won’t have the incentive to stay forever and keep running for reelection. The only long term congressmen you’d see are ones who were there because the really wanted to serve the people, not because they wanted to get rich.

Thank god they understand basic economics and that a balanced budget amendment would be a horrible idea that would make our problems worse. Would that they could convince Grover Nordquist.

Public financing of elections would be wonderful, and would only work if that was the only funding allowed. It has already been successful in a few states for state races and in some other countries. For it to work here we would have to overturn Citizens United and get the influence of big money out of our politics.

Their final example of something they don’t think will work–stay calm and things will get back to normal eventually–is interesting. I generally agree with their assessment, and will just add that the best thing I find about reading history is that it helps me understand that we have indeed been here before. And survived. The Harding administration was more corrupt and in bed with the oil interests than the Bush/Cheney administration. And if you think things are divided and acrimonious now, find someone who was alive during the 1960s and ask them about it, or find a grandparent and ask them about the McCarthy period. Yes, things are bad now, and we need to work to fix them, and understanding we have survived worse is something that gives me hope.

On to their proposed solutions that might work, or help.

On realistic campaign finance reform they are on the right track. We need more transparency, more light. They think the justice department can help, and hopefully they can and will somewhat. And I think the Occupy movement has at least as good a chance of leading to more transparency and reform.

Converting votes into seats. Both their ideas–independent commissions for redistricting and instant runoff voting–are good ideas and I support them. Instant runoff would definitely help the cause of third parties. Unfortunately they offer no ideas on how we might try to work towards these things or how they could happen in our current political climate.

Restoring majority rule in the senate. Amen and if only. Our senate is perhaps one of the least democratic bodies of legislators on the planet. 41 senators, representing (because even tiny states get two senators) representing as little as about 24% of America, can effectively hold the whole country hostage and prevent any legislation from passing. It is absurd. Whichever party holds the majority could simply vote to do away with the filibuster, but they won’t, fearing a time in the future when they will be in the minority. Even if they won’t just get rid of the filibuster, we the people do need to push them to at least reform its use. If it weren’t such a wonkish issue, that most people don’t even know about, it would and should be one of the biggest issues in elections.

Expand the electorate. I agree that we need to do this. The more people who vote the better. I think the easiest solution would be to do what many if not most other democracies do; you are automatically registered by fact of being a citizen. They have our records, our social security numbers and IRS info; isn’t it just a waste of money to add an extra layer of paperwork to require a separate registration to vote? They talk about both parties wanting to diminish the turnout of voters for their opponents. That’s a nice way of putting it. If you look at the history it has mainly been the Republicans who want as few people as possible to vote (it all started with , a founder of the right-wing movement and the Moral Majority who made it famously clear in 1980 that he did not want people to vote. It’s been the playbook of the right ever since.)
I don’t like the idea of turning voting into a lottery. Yes, you might get more people to vote, but I want informed voters. That would encourage too many people to just go vote for the name they liked the sound of the best.

Overall, a good thoughtful piece that gives a start to the conversation of what we need to do to get back to a working government.

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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