If, as we so often hear, insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then the American voter is insane because every two years we hold elections and think things will be different.
As I said last time, until we do politics differently we will have the same old politics. And if we think those in office now will make those changes we are truly insane, because those in power now got there because of the current ‘system.’ Nobody voted themselves out of power.
That means the problem is not ‘in the stars’ as Shakespeare said, but in ourselves, we the voters. And only we can change the system. It is we who approve of the current political mess by colluding with it. Why?
Because we have forgotten how to be citizens. The only effective and lasting way to change politics and politicians is to change the citizenry. That’s what I would stake my candidacy on, for without an informed, engaged, and committed citizenry we are not a democracy.
1. Make civics and history as important as reading and mathematics. Schools are not primarily vocational schools to train us for work. They are foremost citizenship schools to prepare us for taking part in our a democracy. That’s why we have publicly funded schools in the first place.
I remember learning about the Constitution – even memorizing the Preamble (which I assert is the mission statement of the federal government). How many even know there is a Preamble, or that the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation (which a lot of Tea Party folks would approve in principle but which was a failure as effective government)?
Lack of knowledge about our government means people honestly think the President passes bills and declares war, which are congressional tasks. Lack of knowledge therefore means voters make uninformed decisions, unable as they are to tell fact and from opinion and polls from truths.
NCLB “No Child Left Behind” should yield NCLB, “No Citizen Left Behind.”
2. Make news organizations non-profits. The era of newspapers is ending, we all know, and now our news comes largely from entertainment corporations who are primarily interested in making money by getting readers and watchers to whom they can advertise. They are innately compromised because their purpose (to make money) is at odds with their mission (to inform the public).
I believe news organizations, print or electronic, ought to be non-profit corporations that serve the mission of a free press first and the need to make money second. We already have two examples in NPR and PBS. Their news systems are superior to every other network in breadth, length, and depth. Despite what some say, they are scrupulously non-partisan. But there is nothing like it on the local level.
The press alone has the power to call government to account, but if the press abrogates that task because it is not profitable, then government goes unchallenged. Inevitably government becomes corrupt, and ultimately can become tyrannical. Laws will not prevent it, not even constitutions. Only a press that champions the whole truth no matter who it offends or what it costs, can do this.
3. Campaigns must be shorter and fairer. I know that this rankles libertarians, but the market is not the forum. The candidate with the deepest pockets wins because he/she can buy more ads and the other fellow. If you go to a debate, we don’t allow the candidate with more money more time to speak? Why? Because voters need to hear from all sides equally. How can we make a sound decision if one side dominates the election?
But this is the way things are, so parties and candidates raise enormous sums from very deep pockets so they can dominate the airwaves. To raise that money they make promises to those who can write large checks, further compromising their integrity. But that’s the price of politics.
Only if we let it continue. the SCOTUS ruling called ‘Citizens United’ is not immutable. We can say, ‘only a month before the elections,’ ‘only 20% of advertising time,’ ‘no more than 50% for any candidate or party,’ ‘all donors made public.’ These are all possible.
4. National Service. If I fought for any one thing this would be it. We have lost a sense of common cause and common good, replaced with a wild west individualism that makes any notion of civic responsibility naïve. But a free society utterly depends on the citizens taking responsibility for the common good, by voting, paying taxes, obeying the law, and taking part in the larger service of country.
I say everyone owes their country 2 years of service. In the past it has been military, and should still be but not only that. Americorps and Peace Corps, and Teach For America also produce people who have sacrificed for the common good. They are better people and better citizens.
If everyone, no exceptions now, gave the nation 2 years of service we would have an immensely richer country in many ways. First, we would be better informed. Experience is a great teacher. We would be more connected, as meeting new people expands our circle of involvement. We would be more competent, as the skills we acquired then, often life skills like patience fortitude and other ‘lions,’ last a lifetime. We would be more grounded, as serving others keeps us humble.
Youth is a great time to do this, but what if we could also do it later? Retired people have wisdom to share. How better than in service to one’s nation. And imagine the benefit of CEOs and garbage collectors working side by side as cafeteria aids in a school.
That’s my vision of what I would try to do if I were a candidate for Congress, and if for some reason I actually got elected. Put simply, I would focus on forming “a more perfect union.” We have not been so disunited since the years before the Civil War. The sense of common cause and common hope and common commitment is getting smaller every day. Without this nothing else can be done.
That’s what I think at least. What do you think?
(Next time: Follow the Money)