Political Reform for Dummies

This was written during the administration of George W. Bush, a frustrating and depressing time for most progressives/liberals.  But even after the economic disaster at the end of the Bush reign, the discrediting of triumphal neoconservatism and laissez-faire economic philosophy, much of this piece still applies to our current national predicament.

After listening to two friends argue about the current mess our country is in, it hit me that as long as these arguments continue, nothing will change.

I would categorize their positions as “pragmatist” and “idealist” although that is a bit of an oversimplification.  They both want change.  They both deplore the current course of our nation.  But they disagree on the course of action to fix the problem.

First, let me say that my friends’ positions are typical of most of the “loyal opposition”…people who feel that our country is headed in the wrong direction.  The fact that they disagree so violently on what should be done gives great satisfaction to Republicans.  If these two groups ever unite, the Republicans are in trouble.  In fact, the Republicans introduce “wedge” issues as often as possible to widen the gaps between the groups.  But much of the divide is internally generated anyway.

Basically, the opposing positions boil down to this:

1.    Pragmatists say, “We have to get rid of these idiots running the country.  ANYTHING is better than what we have, so let’s support the Democrats.”
2.    Idealists say, “The system is broken and horribly corrupt.  We need to throw them ALL out and start over.  If we support the Democrats, the improvement will be insignificant.”

In thinking about this, I realized that the two positions are so incompatible that unless some profound change in the political climate occurs, we are stuck with the current situation…i.e., government run by Big Money, increasing control of what we see, read and hear in the media by corporations, and a disenchanted and disillusioned electorate that will remain uninvolved in the political process.  I believe that is a recipe for the decline and fall of the United States.  We need to do something completely different if we are to save our nation for our children and theirs.

Now, here is the problem I see that the idealists have:  Starting a third party from the ground up is very unlikely to be successful.  It’s just too much of a chicken-and-egg problem, and most voters will prefer the devil they know to the one they don’t.
On the other hand, the pragmatists have to convince the nation that the Democrats are significantly better…more honest, more mature in defining foreign policy, fairer in their economic decisions re taxation and social services.  There isn’t much evidence of that.

So, what should we do?

I think that the current ethics mess in Washington presents a unique opportunity to actually implement some meaningful reforms.  A lot of people are really sick of the “best government money can buy.”  A real reform platform could energize a lot of voters.  Well, maybe it wouldn’t get them up from in front of their TV’s…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let me give you a pipedream.

Suppose the Democratic Party suddenly “got religion.”  No…not that kind.  Suppose they said, “We’re not gonna do the big money thing any more.”  Let’s even change the name to “The New Democratic Party” or maybe even get rid of that nasty old D word and call it just “The New Party.”

Now, as I said earlier, you can’t just start a new party.  The Democratic Party has to reinvent itself.  But all the existing infrastructure…precinct headquarters, support groups, etc. must remain in place.  That is essential.  It won’t work unless the rank-and-file of the Democratic party sign on.

So, what is this New Party?  Here are some of the main platform planks:

1.    No big donations will be accepted.  Nothing larger than $100.  Not from an individual, not from a corporation, not from a union, not from a PAC.  Now, this won’t work without a big campaign informing the public that for this to work, a LOT of people have to give a little money.  Like 50 million people times 20 bucks.  That’s a billion, and that’s enough to get started.  The public has to believe that Big Money is OUT!

2.    Current politicians will be welcomed into the New Party from both R’s and D’s.  But to get the endorsement and support of the party, they have to agree that they will not accept any campaign contributions greater than $100.  They will get some campaign money from party funds, and the party will run nationwide TV spots to inform the voters of the basic principles outlined here.  If they want to raise additional money from individual donors, they can do that, but only according to party guidelines…e.g., $100 max per donor.

3.    Lobbyists will be told that they are welcome in the offices of New Party candidates, but that when they come, leave their money at home, leave their gifts at home, and don’t even expect to pay for lunch!

4.    New Party candidates will pledge that, when elected, they will hold no closed meetings on official government business with the exception of those dealing with classified national security issues.

Violations of any of the above will result in public censure by the party and withdrawal of support and endorsement in the next election.

There are a lot more planks to be added to this platform on issues such as responsible foreign policy, responsible management of the environment, responsible energy policy and…notice I am using the word “responsible” a lot.  I think the current government is egregiously irresponsible in all of these areas and more.

So, there is the start of a platform.  I think this New Party could include people of quite different political orientation.  The main thing that they will share is a desire for clean, honest, government, uncorrupted by the stench of Big Money.

If you have read this far without falling asleep, I will assume you are interested in my ideas, naive as they are.  I invite you to add your corrections and suggestions for additional planks via comments.  If I agree with them, I will not only incorporate them in the above, I will give you credit for your contribution!  Such a deal!

Note that I said IF I agree.  Hey, this is my article…I never said this would be a democratic process.

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