|Demand Good Governance For America|
|Opinion - Looking Glass|
|Sunday, 05 February 2012 09:00|
Washington, DC, USA. The typical US election for president and congress is a hard sprint toward the finish line. Everything is under tight control, with campaign appearances scheduled for friendly audiences at a considerable distance from the general population.
We can always expect a flashy but largely superficial discussion of the issues.
Somewhere in the frenzied activity that is now a year-round American political season lay all sorts of US political and cultural factions working on getting what they want out of the parties and their candidates. If just one of the major partisan parties were to step out of the mediocre haze that passes as political discourse, we could start to get somewhere. I have my own short and nonpolitical list of preferred measures that would firm up the high ground of good governance, fundamental to a healthy democracy and the basis for free, fair, and informed decision making.
By my reckoning, there are at least three fundamental reforms that are a necessary preconditon for rational decision making. Each item below addresses an issue that is currently mired in the political gameplay, but I maintain that all of them must be the foundation for meaningful reform.
Each proposal is a component of good governance within our existing constitutional framework. Without them all, I sincerely doubt the possibility of an enlightened debate on our different approaches to policies and programs. I have placed them in the sequence I think necessary to get the job done.
1. Promote Voting As A Civic Duty. Drives to get out the vote have become a partisan tactical ploy on Election Day. Each of the major political parties work to mobilize voters favorable to them and suppress the vote of their political competitors.
The United States of America entered the world with with truly advanced notions of suffrage and the supreme importance of enabling the expression of popular will. The limited voting rights at the time of the American Revolution have been expanded at great cost to include black men and all women. We as a nation expend significant sums to enable voting and our constitutional guarantees of democratic representation.
This is so important to us that untold numbers of Americans have died to secure and protect our rights. And yet, we now have political parties that muffle our collective progress at every turn in myopic attempts to serve their own limited goals at the expense of our nation's health and long-term prospects.
Fixing this situation requires both political change and cultural evolution. We have passed legislation that aims to limit the direct political influence of contributions to a political party or candidate. Often, that same money is then rerouted through more opaque channels to influence citizens toward the same ends.
A good start on reform would be to declare the illegality of gifts and services by political parties to influence the behavior of able citizens doing their duty under the Constitution.
That means: no free rides, no free lunch, and no walking around money.
2. End Gerrymandering. And if we have a fair vote, what then? Congressional and legislative districts are drawn following the US census. Except for just a handful of states, the party that controls a state legislature tries to maximize its advantage in legislature, and very importantly in the state delegation to Congress. Rather than respecting uniform geographic standards, the legislatures corrupt the process by manipulating the district boundaries. Despite protestations of higher principle, the net effect is to enhance the votes of favored groups and minimize (or even nullify) the votes of others.
Politicians advance many rationalizations for their manipulation of electoral district or constituency boundaries, but the common theme ironically enough is a condescending commitment to fairness. Gerrymandering techniques exist to help or hinder constituents that are either favored or feared. At various times, the practice can target members of particular groups: linguistic, political, racial, religious and many others.
Please note what all these groups have in common: the groups targeted by Gerrymandering are us, the people. We are manipulating into accepting elected representatives who are not the products of a fair election and then allow them to target us for neutralization because our views do not match their preferences.
Within pre-existing constitutional constraints, the US Supreme Court acted to ensure proportional representation in our lower legislative houses. However, they have limited ability to constrain the reapportionment process and the specifics of setting legislative boundaries. Congress must act.
We can make a start on ending the Gerrymander by filing a protest with our local election authorities that notes our positioning in the wrong districts. We can appear at the candidate forums for districts that should be ours and clearly identify the rationale for our appearances when we speak. We can ask the candidates how they plan to do their duty under the Constitution.
That means: reshape the State Secretaries of State into non-partisan offices, pursue non-partisan apportionment, and demand transparency (open meetings on election planning and results).
3. Keep Honest Books. Our elected representatives have become quite skilled at using accounting rules to misassign expenditures or ignore their existence altogether. Line items with available cash are used to hide over-spending in other accounts.
This is why the transportation fund is crippled, the national parks are short of money, and social security is compromised. The money is there but used as a guarantee for other, unrelated, purposes. And, in some cases, money is spent but not counted as part of the budget. How many people remember the Savings and Loan bailout? In budgetary and accounting terms, it never happened.
Here in Washington, DC, many agencies get by on what are called supplementals to disguise the fact that there never was enough money allocated in the first place. In fact, hardly any of the agencies really know how much money they had, have now, or will have to meet their previously legislated responsibilities.
Cleaning up the budget mess can only happen with an assertive attempt to uncover what really goes in in the treasury. By that, we emphatically do not mean playing cynical politics by exposing some particular action for partisan purposes. Rather, I recommend a non-partisan attempt to fully document the situation as it exists, using the audit results as a baseline for decision making.
That means: maintain a dispassionate analysis of legislative actions and government operations, account for all authorizations and expenditures, and publish every representative's vote on every line item (whether on or off the books).
Getting from Here To There
But how can we get Congress and the legislatures to take partisan politics out of voting, reapportionment, and accounting for the public purse? The members of those bodies are the main beneficiaries of a corrupted and unfair process. After all, we are asking the same people who got us into trouble to get us out of trouble.
When reform depends on authorities who are too reluctant, compromised, or ignorant to act, it becomes even more important to expose their actions to the public. Here are a few things we can do:
1. Run for office, any office. The larger society consists of people who stand for election to advisory commissions of all sorts, their homeowner's association, the PTA, and political offices. Why not us? We are part of a community larger than any preoccupation with transition and sex or gender issues.
Here at TS-Si, we have participants and contributors who have been involved in electoral efforts at a variety of levels. Some of them have transitioned on the job while continuing to serve their communities. We have seen the same tendency across the country. This is just the beginning: we need more to step up.
2. Make good governance part of your platform. Candidates can and should have different positions on the issues of the day, whether foreign or domestic. The point here is that good governance is non-political and non-partisan. Please note: bipartisanship has nothing to do with this. Self-interested collaboration between the political parties is not true compromise but a smokescreen used to continue the problem. Challenge your opponent to join with you in a pledge to take politics out of what should be civic duty.
3. Toss in as many hats as possible. There is no good reason why only one reform-minded candidate can run for one office at a time. After all, two people of very different political viewpoints can both advance good governance. The point is to take partisanship out of the equation.
4. Don't be afraid to lose. The desire to obtain privilege and keep it is too much a part of our political campaigns. How many times have you heard a candidate wink, nod, and say they must be elected first before making necessary changes? What became of that? So what if we lose? Point made. And do it again and again until someone notices that a lot of people are losing on principle all over the country.
That means: take a risk and get engaged.
Eventually the non-engaged will notice and ask a key question: how can we help?
1. Don't hold back on your participation. Restraint is the foe of success in this case. People often decline to participate in attempts at change because they judge the likely outcome as dependent solely on their own actions. This ignores the focused efforts of others. I am not talking here about adolescent rant or aimless rebellion, but encouraging a collective focus on positive and productive reform. Entrenched interests will oppose you if they can, but a message that calls for positive change encourages others to step up and participate. Standing on the sidelines will keep us there.
2. Remember the bottom line. Promoting good governance is the right thing, but consider this: it is also the practical thing. Take the high ground and let the public see us not as disorderly protesters but as part of an aroused citizenry with the public interest at heart.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 05 February 2012 09:10|