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How Can We Best Change Our Political System To Make A Real Difference?
The American Public Wants Change
Americans are fed up with their politicians and are looking for real change. Since both political parties seem devoted to old ideas that have failed us for a couple of decades, and are completely unwilling to budge on their perspectives, since they spend more time campaigning against each other than working together for the public good and since all of the evidence is that our leaders are bought and sold by commercial and special interests, it only makes sense that we are searching for ideas about how to reform the way that we chose our leaders in the hopes of getting a descent crop of honest hardworking public servants.
Over the roughly forty years that I've been paying attention to politics, I've heard a lot of ideas about how to change the system, most of which have already failed or that no one is talking about anymore. The death blow to most ideas for reforming the political system seemed to come when the supreme court decided that limiting the amount of campaign contributions that people with big bucks can use to lubricate the system is the same thing as limiting their freedom of speech, which, all things considered, is probably true even if it is distasteful that the people and interests with the most money get to talk the loudest.The only group with a plan that I hear talking loudly and proudly these days is right here on HubPages. I'm not going to name them because I'm sure that they are reading this and they know who they are. I disagree with their ideas and am going to say why but I don't want them to feel picked on or singled out. I like them even though I disagree with them. After I say why I disagree, I'll mention an old idea that isn't getting much attention that I think would really change the system for the better.
The first change that my friends would like to make is to require people running for office to undergo a criminal back ground check. On the surface, this makes perfect sense. In order to get many jobs these days one must get a criminal back ground check, or a drug test. It would be nice to know before we vote if the candidates have a proven track record of corruption.
How can I disagree with something that makes this much sense? Well, many reasons, the first is personal. I probably would never consider running for political office myself just because on every level, being an elected official is a really tough job and I'm lazy enough that I just don't want to do a job that hard, but, I do think I could be good at it. Still, if I ran, there is no way I could get elected. When I was a stupid kid I once got into a bit of trouble and spent a night in jail. I've learned my lesson and it hasn't happened again, no jail time in the last thirty years, but, I did make other mistakes in my troubled youth and, the fact is, my moral/religious values are slightly different than those of the mainstream. I know if I ever ran for office the press and political opponents would use these things against me and I just wouldn't get the the votes. I might not get the votes, but, I would be eligible to run, I have the right to run. Whether or not I want to run, or could win, I want to defend my right to run. Any change in law that would make me ineligible to run, I will oppose, not just for me.. but for you in case you want to run. People can and do change. A mistake at some point in their life shouldn't require them to give up their most fundamental rights as a citizen.
Furthermore, I'm not happy with the fact that employers get to peak into our government files or our bodily fluids and see what we've been up to. Sure, it's legal. Sure, they just want to protect themselves, but, what happened to the idea that if you do a bad job or do something wrong you get fired, and, if you do a good job and do everything right, you get a raise? Nothing in my court record will tell you how good, bad, honest or dishonest a worker I will be and nothing in my blood or urine will tell you that either. It's up to me to convince you to take a chance on me and then to prove myself if you do. I'm not in favor of spreading the injustice of these intrusions from private to public sector, quite the opposite, I'd like to see it become illegal for possible employers to so violate my privacy and person.
How then do we know if one of the candidates is a bad apple? Well, I mentioned the press and political opponents above. The press is sometimes called "The Fourth Estate." The idea being that we have three official branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial. The Fourth Estate is an unofficial, privately owned fourth societal power whose job it is to dig up all the dirt. I think they do a pretty good job at it. Sure, they are politically biased, but more than they love whatever political cause du jour that they may have, they love the notoriety and ratings that come with digging up a really juicy story. I've seen interviews with reporters when they've been asked who their favorite candidate is and they have chosen, not the one that matches their own political agenda, but the one that is going to give them the most dirt to write/talk about. If you pay close attention over a long period of time you will see that most of the press (with some notable exceptions) love raking their own guys over the coals just as much as they enjoy exposing the other guy. They are, for the most part, equal opportunity mudslingers. One of my favorite political conversations between reporters ever was when one of my senators was running for re-election and one reporter asked another what were the pluses and minuses of his candidacy. The answer came back: "Huge war chest, not currently under indictment." Meaning, he has been under indictment in the past and may well be in the future. Furthermore, political candidates are looking for any chink in the other guy's armor and exploit it mercilessly when they find it. If you don't know whether or not your candidate has committed a crime it's not that the info isn't out there, it's that you're not paying attention. Making them ineligible to run because of past transgressions is just lazy. You can find out what they've done and vote against them if you choose but you've got to do your job as a citizen and pay attention, do some research, use the system that we've got rather than stripping down our rights further than they've already been stripped.
The second idea my friends are putting forth is an old one, term limits. I've actually flip flopped on this issue. Once upon a time I was all in favor of the idea, but, then I did some self examination and discovered that what I really wanted was to deny others their right to vote for who they wanted to vote for. I had in my mind a particular senator who I just hated. I disagreed with everything that he said and the way that he said it made me embarrassed for our whole country. Yet, year after year the people who could vote for him sent him back by a landslide. I wanted to be able to remove him even though they obviously loved him. I also hated one of my own senators, the one who wasn't "currently under indictment." I voted against him year after year after year and yet, my fellow New Yorkers kept sending him back to D.C. I wanted to stop them even though I didn't have the votes.
On the other hand, I also had a senator who was a genius. He was a diplomat and a statesman who, although liberal, worked with presidents and legislators from any side of the isle. He was a philosopher whose ideas changed our country for the better and whose ideas that weren't implemented are still talked about and might still get voted in. I realized that I didn't want anyone taking away my right to vote for him and I was willing to take the two boobs if I could keep the genius. More importantly, if I don't want anyone to take away my right to vote for who I want, then I can't take away that same right from someone else. I'm actually happy with my representative and both of my senators these days and I want to keep them. I know that if they should ever need to be fired, I get to vote against them. If I vote against them and they win anyway, it's not the systems fault, it's all the other voters faults. Look to your own representatives, leave me mine.
One last point: Some of what makes one eligible for national office is spelled out in The Constitution, the rest is left up to the state legislatures. Changing eligibility requirements means, at best, a constitutional amendment and at worst, amendments and/or legislation in all fifty states. This sounds like a very uphill battle to me. Sure, some constitutional amendments get through fairly quickly, but, those are the ones supported by the vast majority of congressmen, we can count on the fact that they won't support these which means that it would have to go to the fifty state legislatures which takes a long time and a lot of money and, I think I've got a simpler solution.
A Possible Solution
I've had an idea kicking around in my head for a long time now and I've only ever heard one public person say anything similar and that was the late great Walter Cronkite. It's fairly simple. First, ask yourself, what is the most corrupting thing about modern politics. The answer is, the amount of money that it takes to run a successful political campaign. It means that our representatives have to spend a huge amount of their time hat in hand looking for money and they end up beholding to the people who give it to them. What's the most expensive part of running a campaign? TV commercials. Most of us can't be bothered to study the issues and examine the candidates, we make our decision based on TV commercials, and they cost an enormous amount of money to produce and to buy the airtime to run them.
The solution, free television time to everyone on the ballot. Getting on ballots isn't rocket science. It's just a matter of getting a certain number of signatures on petitions. The smaller the number of people you want to represent, the fewer signatures you need. It's still possible to run for local office by going door to door for signatures. Once you do well in local office, you have some connections, people willing to help get signatures for you for state office and if you do good in your state, then, you've got people willing to help you get signatures for national office. This simple, elegant system should ensure that only those with experience get to the top jobs, and, it's not too hard to start of the path of getting that experience. The problem comes when the money washes in and lights up the TV screen. Suddenly, only people who can afford TV time can get elected.
I honestly believe that current office holders won't, for the most part, be opposed to the idea of free air time for people on the ballot. I've seen dozens of interviews in which politicians are asked what the worst part of their job is and all of them have answered that it's raising money to get re-elected. I've also seen interviews with big businessmen who say that what they like least about politics is the fact that there is always some politician on the phone looking for money. I believe that they are sincere. Okay, sure, there will always be rich folk who want to buy politicians and politicians who want to be bought or who just can't resist the temptation, but I think that most people who run for office start out wanting to serve and are corrupted by the fact that they have to have such huge amounts of money just to keep the job.
There are other benefits to the free air time scheme. Not only can it unshackle politicians from CEOs and special interests, it unshackles them from the leaders of their parties. No need for millions from the central committee means no need to tow the party line. It also means a wider variety of ideas in public life. You don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat to get on the ballot. Independents and third party candidates are on nearly every ballot I've ever seen. They just don't get heard because they can't afford to be on TV. With more candidates, we have a better public debate. We aren't even limiting anyone's rights because candidates can still buy commercials if they want to.
The only people likely to be opposed to such a plan are the TV stations and broadcast networks. They make an enormous amount of money off of political ads, some of which they would loose. Plus, since they've got someone paying for every minute that they are on the air, going a certain amount of time per night during campaign season without sponsors would certainly mean losing money. I can't take the position that they are big companies and can afford the loss because a lot of TV stations are small independent operations that struggle as much as any small business, I get the funny feeling the smallest most independent ones will be the first to embrace the idea though. It's the big syndicates that will yell the loudest at losing a single dime. Still, the law of the land is that broadcasting licenses require community service. This is community service of the most important kind in a democratic republic. Heck, what constitutes community service is decided by the FCC, this might not even have to go through Congress or the President, though it probably should in case of future court cases. You know someone's going to sue.
If something like this were to happen, it would all be up to us. No more excuses. If we don't run ourselves, it will be because we are lazy. If we don't watch and choose wisely, it will be because we are unwilling to exercise the responsibilities that come with our liberty. Lets face a fact, it's a lot easier if we can blame Republicans or Democrats or rich people or minorities for all of our problems. If we give up our excuse, we will have to take the blame.
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