The Mead List: Democracy Edition
Published on: February 16, 2010
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  • Michael Brazier

    California has a term-limited legislature. It hasn’t gotten rid of their professional political class at all; if anything, by making the elected positions temporary, it’s just shifted real power to bureaucrats and lobbyists, who aren’t accountable to anybody.

  • I generally like these reforms. Although, I have mixed feelings about the efficacy of term limits and expanding lower houses. Is a representative that more effective with a constituency of 600,000 instead of 800,000? Will Congressmen be able to do more when they spend less time running for reelection but more time figuring out how to do their jobs well?

    But that’s besides the point. What I really dislike about the post is the complete disregard of the impossibility of most of these reforms. Under what circumstances will states break up? I can’t imagine any outside of nuclear calamity.

    And I really wonder whether another constitutional amendment is possible in my life time (I’m 24). The process of amending the constitution is almost impossible considering that every state starts with a no vote, and states aren’t forced to vote at all. It’s like the problems with cloture on steroids. This process is incapable for bringing about term limits. Unicameral legislatures would be our best bet to having the government attempt to address the problems we face instead of kicking the can down the curb, but that constitutional amendment will never ever pass.

    At least growing the house is possible. But what hope do you get from the process to give Washington DC (more populous than ? states) a representative while also giving Utah a representative (to maintain the Democrat-Republican balance)?

    Your most realistic proposal is the revival of federalism. But when states are relying on the federal government to just pay for the services the states have promised but can’t currently provide combined with most states budget issues before the recession, what hope is there for something as basic as federalism?

    I am only so harsh because in the short time of I have read your blog, I have come to expect more from you. You do a much better job of identifying the specific problems and trends than most of the blogosphere. Please use those skills to identify solutions which are at least possible.

    When the biggest crisis since the Depression/WWII came (the Cuban Missile Crisis is a possibly bigger crisis than the Recession as well), our country became more partisan divisive and useless, not less. So what hope is there for your social contract redefining reforms?

  • I agree that most of the reforms described here would have been impossible for the past few decades and may in fact continue to be impossible for some time… However, I think that Mead returns time and again to the theme that the United States will be fundamentally different in the next few decades than it was in the last 100 years. Technological and cultural changes make this a virtual certainty.
    Universal suffrage might very well have looked impossible in the first few years of the twentieth century, but cultural changes which were already stirring made it’s eventual passage a virtual certainty. (Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight)

  • Okay, you’ve spouted list of pipe dreams, now what is actually possible?

    I’ll say instant campaign contribution and expenditure reporting, loan forgiveness for public service, fillibuster reform, National Popular Vote, Instant Runoff Voting,for starters. Hard because of the state by state nature – House districts must follow county lines. Hard because of money interests – public financing of campaigns. And pipe dream – 49% tax rate on income over $1 million dollars. It won’t make the system better, but at least it would fund it.

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  • Luke Lea

    You write: “America’s best and brightest need to start thinking about how to revive local authority and local governance.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, my experience as a resident of Tennessee is that the closer you are to home, the less transparent the politics. State and local governments are black boxes compared to Washington, both as to what is going on and what the real issues are.

    More C-Span type coverage would help, particularly as local papers do less and less investigative reporting.

    Also, local free-lance investigative blogs would probably attract a lot of attention, at least if someone could figure out a way of remunerating the people who run them. Local gossip sells!

    Micro-payments via Google or Pay-pal might work if limited previews were available. I wouldn’t want to pay for a piece I don’t read to the end however.

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  • Jules Mopper

    It’s great to brainstorm ways to revive (resurrect?) American democracy.

    Yet many of Mr. Mead’s proposed reforms are pretty weak tea, ignoring that corruption goes all the way down the system, all the way to the people themselves. Yes, some of Mr. Mead’s ideas are very good, but while we’re amending the Constitution, why not strip corporations’ first amendment rights? Mandate public financing of elections? Ensure the quality of the national discourse? Why not add — any number of possibilities?

    Indeed, these are questions that need a broad discussion by a wide variety of experts and, I would add, interested laypeople. But the policy-making apparatus in this country is store-bought, milquetoast and insulated from the realities of our dying democracy. As elites inevitably become. I imagine that trying to get them to produce revolutionary ideas is like trying to jump-start a mule. You just get a freaked-out mule, and a most foul smell in the air.

    Meanwhile, regressive, even “peculiar” elements of our society disinform millions, ensuring that any ideas for reform get mauled, the mainstream media dumbs the rest of the population down, leaders infantilize us with a pernicious combination of fear-mongering and pandering, and long-term exposure to advertising destroys our will.

    The resultant simple-minded, ignorant, narcissistic, disempowered, irrational and reflexively divided population reacts to the problems at hand with a combination of rage and resignation, and even though the Constitution has been amended many times before, under even less dire circumstances, the people are so befuddled they just watch their country fall apart.

    It is shocking and saddening that the only group of citizens left in this country who actually show a glimmer of the individual dignity and responsibility that lay at the heart of the Enlightenment are the cruelly disinformed members of the Tea Party. It throws the massive incompetence and corruption of the left into stark relief, and as a liberal, I am ashamed.

    It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and far too soon to write the epitaph of America, or the transformation of human life and potential she represents. But, shit, things are not looking good.

    Doom an gloom aside, moving power down the chain can only have a salutary effect on the country. The more people actively engaged in government, the more self-government once again becomes a habit of the American people, the more virtue will have a chance to bubble up.

    I greatly appreciate Mr. Mead’s continued advocacy on this issue.

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