Why Congress Doesn’t Work

This sounds like a mainstream, reformist version of ARV/ATS.

By Leo Linbeck III

gary718 / shutterstock

gary718 / shutterstock

Faced with a complex, hard-to-solve problem, there is a natural human tendency to solve a much simpler, easier one instead. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, in his book,Thinking, Fast and Slow, dubs this cognitive process “substitution.”

We know our political system is broken. The signs are everywhere: knee-jerk partisanship, massive debts and unfunded liabilities, widespread citizen dissatisfaction, trillion-dollar deficits, rampant public and private corruption, and a federal government that has less support than King George III at the time of the American Revolution.

But fixing the system is a staggeringly complex undertaking. The causes of its dysfunction are deep and obscure.

So what do we do? We use substitution: we focus on electing a president who promises to solve all our problems. Conservatives did this in 2000, progressives did it in 2008, and both sides are doing it again in 2012.

But it won’t work. There is no silver bullet, no shortcut, no Superman who will save us. In fact, by focusing almost exclusively on the presidency, we are making the problem worse, not better.

Our nation’s core political problem is a loss of self-governance, and the restoration of self-governance cannot come from the election of a single leader who will fundamentally transform America. It will only come from changing the way we think about political conflict, breaking the cycle of incumbency that has destroyed electoral accountability, dispersing power that has become too centralized, and re-engaging citizens in the political realm. The biggest impediment to these changes is not the president—it’s Congress.

This is not to say that the presidency is irrelevant. But Congress is the most powerful branch—it writes the laws and holds the purse strings—and it is utterly unaccountable for reasons that are widely misunderstood. Perhaps the greatest mystery of American politics in the 21st century is how Congress can have an approval rating that dips into the single digits while, on average, more than 90 percent of incumbents win re-election.

If Congress is unresponsive, restoring self-governance is impossible. But lawmakers will not reform themselves. Thus the critical first step in returning to self-governance is making congressional elections work—reconnecting the ballot box and the people’s will. This is a difficult task, but not impossible. Primary elections are the key.

This year, I have worked with a small group of committed men and women on a simple mission: to use a SuperPAC to defeat, in primary elections, unpopular congressional incumbents in “safe” districts.

Our organization, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, has targeted Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. In its first three months, we engaged in nine primary contests and won four. To put this in perspective, only four incumbents out of 396 lost their primaries in all of 2010.

We have beaten an establishment Republican in Ohio, a Tea Party-supported Republican in Illinois, a Blue Dog Democrat in Pennsylvania, and a mainstream Democrat in Texas. In the process, we have been called conservatives, liberals, Tea Partiers, anarchists, right-wingers, and both pro-Obama and anti-Obama. We are the political equivalent of Schrödinger’s Cat.

There have been two principal responses to our campaign: fear and confusion. This essay will hopefully alleviate the latter—and thereby enhance the former.

Let me be clear from the outset. On the familiar right-left spectrum, I’m a conservative. Asked to characterize my position, I typically respond that I’m a “conservative communitarian,” but that still makes me a conservative.

For example, I am for lower taxes, a smaller public sector, a strong military, more reliance on prices and markets, and less regulation. I am pro-life, highly skeptical of government-provided welfare programs, and a supporter of choice and competition in public education. There are policy areas where I am closer to my progressive friends—criminal justice, anti-trust, campaign-finance reform, and a few others—but any fair-minded observer would view me as a conservative.

Yet I firmly believe that a more conservative Congress will not save America. In fact, a conservative Congress will probably make things worse.

If this strikes you as cognitive dissonance or some bizarre form of philosophical self-hatred, you’re not alone. Most people think that if you hold certain policy views, you should support a Congress that would put those policies into effect.

I disagree.

The major challenges facing the United States today are not problems of policy, but problems of governance. Our system is broken because we have imposed policies from the center that should be decided locally. Making those centralized policies more “conservative” will not improve our system; in fact, that will likely make things worse by increasing support for a bad governance structure. And a good policy under a bad governance structure ultimately morphs into a bad policy.

The “horizontal” fight over what is decided is a diversion from the more important “vertical” fight over who decides. The vertical fight will determine whether we restore the American system of self-governance or continue our progression toward the Bismarckian procedural state.

But shifting the focus from horizontal to vertical confuses those who are embedded in traditional politics. Their goal is to elect a national government that will impose their policy preferences on all 300 million Americans. For them, politics is about power and policy.

For the self-governance movement, however, who decides is more important than what is decided. This framework allows us to create alliances across the ideological spectrum. We might disagree on policy, but we can unify on governance.

And that unity creates fear in Congress. As well it should.

Congress Is the Problem

My personal political journey began about five years ago when I was sitting at a business luncheon in Houston, listening to a presentation by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher. He showed a series of slides with typical Fed fare: deficits, interest rates, home prices, mortgage markets.

This was before the financial crisis, and the economy still seemed strong. But Fisher was not so optimistic, and his talk was a little unnerving. At the end, he said words to the effect, “All of this probably sounds scary, but the next slide that I’m going to show you is the one that keeps me up at night. If you are concerned about your country, it should keep you up at night too.”

On the screen appeared one number: $84 trillion. “That is the unfunded liability of Medicare,” Fisher said.

I quickly ran the math and realized this was almost $300,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, including my wife, my five kids, and me. I was stunned.

After the luncheon, I made my way through the crowd to find Fisher. I expressed my bewilderment and said the number couldn’t possibly be true. “It’s true, “ he replied. “It’s one of the first questions I asked my research staff when I joined the Fed, and it has been checked and double-checked.”

“How did this happen?” I asked.

He looked at me and said one word: “Congress.”

With that word, Fisher awoke me from my dogmatic slumber.

It is ironic to recall that the Founders gave the power of the purse to the House of Representatives because, being more responsive to the people, it would protect their pocketbooks from the extravagances of the executive branch. For the first 100 years, it pretty much worked that way, with federal spending about 4 percent of GDP.

Today the House is a spending machine—it spends $10 billion each day and more than 25 percent of GDP. Money can’t buy love, but it can buy power: in November 2010, Congress had an approval rating of just 17 percent, while the re-election rate in the House was 86 percent.

This disconnect between approval and re-election rates is the clearest sign that the congressional accountability system is broken. But there are several underlying causes:

The problem of scale. When the Framers met to write the Constitution, there were about 3 million inhabitants in the 13 states. Virginia, the largest, had a population of some 700,000 (of which 280,000 were slaves). The largest city, Philadelphia, had a population of 40,000.

At the Constitutional Convention, there was considerable debate about the size of House districts. When a proposal was made for districts of 40,000, George Washington rose to speak for the first and only time. He opposed the large size and recommended 30,000. His amendment was adopted.

Today, House districts average over 700,000—more than the entire population of Virginia in 1780. This growth alone represents a 96 percent dilution of citizen influence since our Founding.

The problem of primaries. The average margin of victory for incumbents in general elections is 26 percent, and only 15 percent or so of House districts are competitive in the general. For the other 85 percent, the outcome is decided in the primary. But the primary system does not hold incumbents accountable.

During the 19th century, all politics truly was local. Congressional candidates were nominated through a caucus and convention system controlled by local parties and their bosses. The caucuses were non-binding, but they allowed bosses to gauge support for each candidate. Local control also allowed for forced rotation, so that representatives did not serve more than a couple of terms, thus assuring fealty to local parties.

Unfortunately, many local bosses were corrupt, using their power in “smoked-filled rooms” to line their own pockets. Primaries were seen as a way to end that corruption, and they did. But they also gutted the local parties and led to the centralization of party power, first at the state level, then nationally.

Reform was needed, but primaries had unintended consequences—one of which is that incumbents rarely lose. This fact was not lost on incumbents themselves: after progressive Republicans instituted the first primary in Wisconsin in 1904, primaries spread quickly across the country. By 1920, almost all congressional candidates were chosen in this way.

Incumbents still rarely lose. In the four elections between 2002 and 2008, only 12 House members were defeated in primaries. Over the same span, 13 died in office. God creates higher turnover in the House than primaries do.

The problem of money. With districts so large and candidates selected via primary, a member of the House could not win re-election without the substantial financial resources needed to communicate directly with voters. A big differential in funding virtually determines the outcome of a primary.

But money also creates huge advantages for “safe seat” incumbents who face little or no general-election competition. Freed from having to worry about their own campaigns, and assured of the longevity that leads to seniority and power, House members in safe districts amass huge war chests and use that money to help their party win in swing districts, thereby garnering loyalty from the candidates they support.

These war chests deter competition in their own primaries as well: in 2010, 62 percent of incumbents had no primary challenger, and those who did won by an average margin of 66 percent. The vast majority went on to face no serious opposition in the general.

The most powerful members are therefore the least accountable. Their money advantage is a big reason for that.

The problem of “campaign reform.” The last hundred years have seen a steady stream of campaign-reform legislation. Incumbents have consistently used these “reforms” to erect barriers to keep local party leaders—who are now supplicants, not bosses—the local business community, and everyone else from impeding their re-election. They have transferred control of elections to the government bureaucracy they fund and control, created complex ballot-access laws, switched to the Australian ballot to weaken local parties, outlawed corporate contributions, and imposed contribution limits to make it hard for opponents to fund a credible challenge.

That these reforms protect incumbents by lessening competition is perfectly predicable: in what universe would you expect incumbents to pass laws that make it easier for them to lose?

The power of incumbency. As a result of these changes, incumbency is now golden. Throughout the 19th century, the average tenure in the House at the start of a session was about two years. By the early 21st century, the average starting tenure had risen to 10.2 years.

With larger districts, primary elections, the greater influence of money, and a series of reforms that discouraged challengers, House members were freed from the accountability system that had held them in check. Incumbents used to be agents of the local party; today they are free agents.

Incumbents used to be controlled by party bosses; today they are the party bosses.

“Reforms” That Will Not Work

None of this will surprise the careful observer of American politics. But diagnosis is only the first step. What is the remedy?

Several therapies have been prescribed and, in a few states, even tried. But none of them have cured the disease and restored accountability.

Curtail gerrymandering. The most common prescription is to change the process by which congressional districts are drawn. We are promised that if we just eliminate the gerrymander, we abolish the safe seats that protect incumbents.

Clearly, gerrymandering is offensive, but it is almost as old as the republic—the term was first used in the Boston Gazette in 1812. If it were the root problem, its effects on the behavior of the House would have appeared long before the late 20th century. Moreover, detailed academic studies have shown that the number of competitive House elections is virtually unaffected by redistricting.

Surprisingly, partisan redistricting results in more competitive elections than bipartisan or non-partisan redistricting. To understand why, consider two adjoining House districts, one a suburban district that is 70 percent Republican, the other an urban district that is 60 percent Democratic. If Republican legislators were in control of redistricting, what would they do?

They would try to shift 10 percent of GOP voters from the suburban to the urban district. This would leave the suburban district with a safe 20-point advantage and put the urban district in play. As a result, both districts would become more competitive. This outcome is due to the natural incentive partisans have to increase the potential number of House seats for their party at the cost of the margin of safety.

So why since the 1960s have incumbents enjoyed re-election rates of about 90 percent? Alan Abramowitz and his colleagues at Emory University, who have written on the shift toward uncompetitive elections in the House, came to the following conclusion:

This shift has not been caused by redistricting but by demographic change and ideological realignment within the electorate. Moreover, even in the remaining marginal districts most challengers lack the financial resources needed to wage competitive campaigns. The increasing correlation among district partisanship, incumbency, and campaign spending means that the effects of these variables tend to reinforce each other to a greater extent than in the past. The result is a pattern of reinforcing advantages that leads to extraordinarily uncompetitive elections.

The problem is not gerrymandering but a system that has created “reinforcing advantages” driven by money, incumbency, and low voter turnout (which tends to accentuate partisanship).

Enlarge the House. Among functioning democracies, our legislature is the least representative body. In Japan, each member of the Diet’s lower house represents about 245,000 people. For members of the German Bundestag, the ratio is 1 to 123,000. For the French Assembly, 1 to 100,000. For Canada’s House of Commons, 1 to 96,000; and for the UK’s, 1 to 89,000.

After the 1920 census, the House of Representatives for the first time refused to enlarge itself to accommodate a larger population. In 1929, it formally fixed its membership at the current number. The population has tripled since.

If we had held to the Framers’ original limit, the House would now have over 10,000 members. Clearly that would be impractical. Various proposals have been made to enlarge the House to 1,200 members, reducing the average size of a district to around 200,000.

There is just one problem: only Congress can make this change, and it has no incentive to do so. If the House would not consent to its enlargement in 1920, why should it in 2012? The perks, the power, and the money have only increased since then. Why risk diluting those benefits?

The only recourse is a constitutional amendment. But constitutional amendments do not cause political change; they are a consequence of political change. Arguing today for an amendment to reduce congressional power would be akin to arguing in 1840 for an amendment to free the slaves. Slavery ended because of the abolitionist movement and the Civil War, not the Reconstruction Amendments. The war is first won, and then the victors codify the result.

Institute term limits. From 1990 to 1995, the term-limit movement won many battles, with 23 states imposing limited terms of office on their elected representatives, including members of Congress. But by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that only Congress could limit its own terms.

That was not the only reason for the movement’s collapse. Skeptics can now offer a one-word rebuttal to term-limits enthusiasts: California. Although there are many reasons for the Mess in the West, 20 years of term limits for state legislators have not kept California from hurtling toward fiscal disaster.

Reform campaign finance. Given the role that money plays in elections, why not directly try to “get money out of politics”? This is a very popular idea among progressives, who see the corruption within the system and view shutting off the cash flow as the obvious solution.

There are several reasons why this will not work. First, as with all “campaign reforms,” no law will pass Congress that adversely affects incumbents. And since the current finance system favors them, there is no reason to believe they will make the kinds of changes to funding rules that would increase electoral competition.

Second, the Supreme Court has been very clear that political spending is a form of political speech and is therefore protected by the Constitution. You might disagree with their jurisprudence, but unless and until the justices change their minds, money will continue to flow into super PACs and other independent-expenditure entities.

Finally, given how much money Congress appropriates, it is practically impossible to eliminate the money others spend to influence lawmakers. Outlawing money in politics wouldn’t stop the flow; it would simply push it underground.

So, if eliminating the gerrymander, increasing the size of the House, term limits, and campaign reform won’t break the cycle of incumbency, what can we do?

Two things, neither of which requires the consent of Congress:

First, change the political narrative.

Second, use primary elections to restore Congress’s accountability to the citizenry.

Defining the Alternatives

E.E. Schattschneider once wrote, “The definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power.” Political alternatives are defined through narratives.

It is fashionable to bemoan the “lack of bipartisanship” that has resulted in “gridlock.” The conventional narrative goes something like this: The Tea Parties and Occupy Wall Street are responsible for the increased polarization of political discourse, which makes it impossible for bipartisan consensus to emerge. These extremists pressure legislators to accept no compromise, but without any compromise, we are left with gridlock.

This story has a certain internal logic. But it is not the best explanation for the failures that have left Congress with a lower approval rating than polygamy.

An alternative narrative goes something like this: There is a broad bipartisan consensus in Washington, D.C. on the most important political question today: Who decides? Both parties agree that Congress should decide, and they cooperate to protect and expand this power. By arrogating these decisions to themselves, lawmakers are tackling problems they cannot solve and pre-empting the search for diverse local solutions by others. There is gridlock because Congress tries to force a single solution on the entire country, when no politically acceptable solution exists.

Each narrative is rooted in one dimension of politics: the conventional wisdom is “horizontal,” the alternative narrative is “vertical.” And that defines the real conflict in American politics today, which is not between the parties or between the right and the left, but between centrocracy and self-governance.

Consider the increased share of federal and state spending and decreased share of local government spending over the past 100 years as shown in the above figure. Is there any doubt that government decision-making has become more centralized over this period? This is what happens under a centrocracy.

But that is not the American system, which was designed as a self-governing republic, not a procedural republic like the one established by Otto von Bismarck for the Second German Reich.

The transformation of our system from a self-governing to a procedural republic is the result of a series of Progressive Era reforms that began around the turn of the 20th century. These created a self-reinforcing loop of incentives that moved power from individuals, families, communities, local governments, and states to the federal government.

Changing the narrative from left vs. right to centrocrats vs. citizens is a necessary step. But it is not sufficient: Congress will not happily give up its power. That power must be taken away. One way to do this is to turn one of their own advantages against them: primary elections.

How to Break the Cycle of Incumbency

The primary is the weakest link in the chain that keeps the centrocrats in control. If the objective is to break the feedback loop that leads to centrocracy, the primary is the place to do it.

Here a distinction may be useful. As the readers of this magazine know, there is a difference between conservatives and conservative Republicans. There is also a difference between progressives and progressive Democrats. Many progressives are repelled by the growth of the national-security state, and they believe Congress has abetted Wall Street in the looting of the financial system. These progressives, many of them young, have been at the forefront of the movement toward localism in areas such as food, urban design, and community engagement, while being globally connected through the Internet—the independence and freedom of which they cherish. They are deeply suspicious of centralized power.

Anti-centrocracy conservatives and progressives are natural allies in a long war to dismantle centralized power. They may not agree on policies, but they can agree on who decides these policies. Both understand that the two political parties have a financial stake in keeping decision-making in Washington, D.C. Conservatives may speak of “federalism” while progressives speak of “local control,” but they are anchored in the same underlying sentiment: a desire for self-governance.

Alliances can be made, and are being made. Intrepid and sophisticated warriors on both sides are beginning to realize that policy battles are stage fights, used to divide us and weaken our efforts against the centrocracy.

A practical place for anti-centrocrats to start is by increasing turnout in primaries, which is abysmal. In 2010, about 12 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots in Republican primaries and about 8 percent did so in Democratic primaries. This is the tiny base on which the centrocracy rests. By encouraging people to participate in primaries—voting when the decision as to who represents them is actually made—citizens can restore accountability and bring the centrocracy to heel.

We are testing this thesis in the 2012 primary cycle. So far our efforts have been able to materially increase turnout in targeted primaries.

But increasing turnout is not enough: we also have to close the funding gap between incumbents and challengers. Only then will we create a truly level playing field that will force incumbents to pay more heed to Main Street than to K Street.

Ultimately the key to this long war will be attracting candidates from both parties to the self-governance movement. They will not have to abandon their party or policy preferences, but we will show them that they can win elections by siding with the citizenry against the centrocracy.

The centrocracy is the enemy. Bring it down, move decision-making closer to the people, and the real policy debates between left and right can begin. But this time, those debates will take place where they should: in the hearing rooms of the state legislatures, in town-hall meetings, in city council chambers, in neighborhoods and living rooms.

If enough conservatives and progressives realize that they have been conditioned to view the world through partisan lenses, and that they have been used by the parties to increase the power of a ruling elite, we can start to turn the tide. And if these people also engage in primaries—whether as candidates, funders, or local activists—we can restore self-governance.

This may sound naïve, but consider that the leaders of the American Revolution did not agree on policy. Samuel Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, John Adams—they had many different visions for our new nation, and their disagreements were serious and fundamental.

But there was consensus on one point: decisions about America should be made in America, not in London. The rallying cry “No Taxation Without Representation” was not about tax policy; it was about governance. And on governance, on who decides, there was complete agreement—we should govern ourselves.

We’ve moved away from that agreement over the past 100 years, but the experiment in self-governance is not over. It has only been interrupted.

Leo Linbeck III is CEO of Aquinas Companies, LLC, and serves on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. He is co-founder of the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

27 Responses to Why Congress Doesn’t Work

  1. As to the long-term problem with Medicare, recall that it’s really a subset of the problem with US health care costs. We spend over 2.5 times the OECD average on health care per capita– with a lower proportion of government spending than anyone– for not-any-better results. And Medicare has actually done a better job controlling price increases lately than private health insurers. When you look at those charts that project deficits of infinity-kabillion dollars by 2070, recall the point the CBO made: “[t]he bulk of that projected increase in health care spending [on Medicare and Medicaid] reflects higher costs per beneficiary rather than an increase in the number of beneficiaries associated with an aging population.”

    (In the nearer term, to be fair, there’s the problem of demographics– but that’s coming from today’s baseline, where we spend way more than anyone else in the world).

    You wrote: “We have beaten an establishment Republican in Ohio, a Tea Party-supported Republican in Illinois, a Blue Dog Democrat in Pennsylvania, and a mainstream Democrat in Texas.”

    I would ask you to consider the argument of Mann & Ornstein:

    We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

    In the abstract, it’s easy to imagine a two-party state, where one of the parties has sensible enough ideals, but goes off the rails. It’s a little harder to see it when it’s happening in front of us in our country. But that seems to be the state of affairs.

    If you’re working to vote out folks who are coming up with constructive policy responses to our health care cost problem (e.g., folks who voted for the Affordable Care Act), then you are part of the problem, Mr. Linbeck.

  2. Clint says:

    Time to transition out of Medicare into medical savings accounts.

  3. Tom says:

    I didn’t even read most of this article. The problem with the U.S. is not our politicians but the American people. The idea that our politicians don’t reflect the American electorate, even those who don’t vote is nonsense. Most people think spending should
    be cut but when you ask them for specifics the only thing a majority can agree on is foreign aid.
    When your a solvent nation it’s easy to make choices about where to spend more money. When deep in debt as the U.S. currently is it’s no fun to have to choose where to make cuts, or raise taxes, or the broader question of growing or shrinking the government. The current gridlock reflects the American people not something exclusive to our political parties.

  4. reflectionephemeral,

    I appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

    On health care, my view is that it is a perfect example of an issue that does not have a political solution at the federal level. By answering “the federal government” to the question “Who decides?”, we assure that the problem is intractable – and therefore polarizing and debilitating. For instance, Vermont wants a single-payer system; Utah wants health care exchanges. Those are two different visions of the role of government in the health care system. Why limit ourselves to only one solution, whether it is ACA or the Ryan Plan? Almost all health care is consumed locally; why federalize it?

    One other point on health care. Every dollar spent on health care in the future has yet to be raised. There is no “trust fund” filled with cash that can be used to spend on future health care. So the question is really where should those dollars come from, and who should spend them. I favor more, and more localized answers to that question.

    With respect to Mann and Ornstein, I have read their piece and respect their analysis. But they come to the problem with a particular view: that important questions should be decided by the federal government. To them, the dysfunction of the Republican Party is caused by “extremists” who oppose compromise on these important questions. Compromise, in this context, always means more power in Congress.

    There is, of course, another interpretation. The federal government should not be making these decisions. Their arrogation of power is inappropriate and unsustainable. There is a wing of the GOP – extremists, perhaps, although YMMV – that views the accumulation of power in Washington DC as a fundamental problem, so they oppose any compromise that continues that accumulation. (I should also add that there is a non-trivial segment of the progressive community that shares this view, although they focus more on the way corporations and the military co-opt this concentrated power for their own purposes.) So what appears “scornful of compromise” is, in fact, “scornful of centralized power and corruption.”

    So, the question again is whether you view the problem “horizontally” or “vertically.” If you view it horizontally, there’s always a “stupid party” and an “evil party.” If you view it vertically, you see that both parties are worthy of pity. They are like Ptolemaics who are trying to use epicycles to explain anomalies they observe. They’re not bad people, or dumb, they’re just trapped in a flawed paradigm.

    Finally, our Campaign for Primary Accountability is policy neutral. We do not target incumbents based upon their policy positions or votes (whether on ACA or any other issue). You may view that as being “part of the problem.” Fair enough. But we are very up-front about CPA’s objectives: to encourage people to vote in the primaries, and to level the playing field so that the immense incumbent funding advantage does not undermine our system of competitive elections. These seem like pretty good objectives to strive for.

    Please note that I’m not saying policy is unimportant, only that policy is secondary to governance. As I said in the essay, a good policy in a bad governance system always morphs into a bad policy.

    Again, I appreciate your feedback, and wish you all the best.


  5. Haley says:

    Your analysis is interesting as is your remedy, but the weak link is believing people will return to their town halls (literally or in a cyber-world substitute) to debate and shape their political futures. People have turned away from politics for reasons greater than disgust or cynicism. I wish it weren’t so, but the US is abandoning political discourse as the individual pursuits expand.

  6. Tom,

    The problem with the U.S. is not our politicians but the American people.

    You may be right, but under the current system how would you know? We know our political institutions are failing; is this due to the failure of the people leading those institutions, or the people who elect those leaders, or the structure of those institutions? Or some combination?

    What we’ve seen from our polling is that in many districts the voters would prefer to have a choice of who will be their elected representative. Right now they usually don’t have such a choice. If they do, does that guarantee they’ll choose wisely? Of course not. But it seems (to me at least) that it’s worth trying to address this issue.

    I suppose our approach requires faith in the American people. We’ve seen from our research that there is a willingness to make the kind of trade-offs you point out (correctly) will need to be made. What they’re not willing to do is be a sucker. And when the decision is made in Washington DC, they believe (correctly) that they’ll be the mark at a poker table of sharks.

    I believe we still have the capacity for self-governance in this nation. That’s different, of course, from saying it is easy or a sure thing.

    Hope is not the same thing as optimism. ;-)


  7. Haley,

    People have turned away from politics for reasons greater than disgust or cynicism. I wish it weren’t so, but the US is abandoning political discourse as the individual pursuits expand.

    True. But crises have a way of elevating politics in the hierarchy of Americans’ attention. The question, it seems to me, is when (not if) a crisis comes, what will our response be? Turn to a “Superman” who will save us, or move decision-making closer to the people? More concentrated power, or less?

    I’m not saying we’ll all be sitting around in drum circles voting on whether to purchase a new fighter jet. But the scope and power of the federal government is far too vast to be sustainable. One reason is the lack of electoral accountability in Congress, and that can be addressed through engagement in primary elections.

    But it’s not the only reason, so other work will have to be done to restore self-governance. But that’s a topic for another time. ;-)


  8. Jim G. says:

    I agree that centalization of power is one of our main problems. Occasionally I attend city concil meetings in my small town of 25000+ souls. What amazes me is that nearly half the council’s business is usually related to meeting some Federal requirement or working to qualify for Federal funds. They are jumping through hoops set up by the Feds because the feds have the money and power.

    I have read that many new Congressmen arrive in DC ready to do battle with the Leviathan, but are quickly put in their place by the powerful incumbents. Either they come around and start playing ball (working to increase the perks and power)or their life is made quite miserable. The unfortunate truth is that high office attracts people who are usually looking to “make a diffference.” When you can pass spending bills for “the children,”(or the women, or the old folks, or the disabled, or the orphans, or the troops, or, or, or…..) it just makes it all that much more attractive. Very few of these people seem willing to go back to first principles and restrain the Federal government to only those duties outlined in the Constitution, even if they started out with something like that in mind.

    All that said, I will be watching your efforts closely. I hope you have made a correct judgment and making primaries more competitive can improve the type of candidate we can vote for. I have my doubts.

  9. Steve Cross says:

    In “Rethinking the American Union”, Donald Livingston collected 7 essays, all suggesting a breakup of the USA into more manageable regions. When the Constitution was being drafted, the states were assured that secession was an option and the 10th Amendment was added to protect state sovereignty. This, of course, has not been the reality.

    Logic is based on the validity of the first premise. The first premise of the founders intent was that the states were creating the union, not vice versa.

    But the basic premise of the article, that the left-right, 2 party paradigm is a failure, is spot-on.

  10. Mr. Linbeck,

    Thanks very much for reading and considering my comment; thanks also for your thoughtful and detailed response.

    A few points in response:

    #1: It seems to me that we have the system we have, so let’s work with it. The reason that we care about the government is because it implements policies that affect people’s lives, so we should care quite a bit about policy. Your view seems to be that the system that we have isn’t working, and that localism is preferable.

    Even if we buy the argument that the system isn’t working, it seems to me that there’s more work to do to get to the conclusion that localism is the answer. How about proportional representation, or tripling the number of Members of Congress, or a parliamentary system, or a super-IPAB, or fining people $100 if they don’t vote? What is the evidence that localism will cure what ails us? What are the models in a post-industrialized polity, either in our history or elsewhere, for the kind of governance you’re working to support?

    (To put it more narrowly: Given that, as noted above, we spend over 2.5 times the OECD average on health care per capita– with a lower proportion of government spending than anyone– for not-any-better results, and that Medicare has actually done a better job controlling price increases lately than private health insurers, it seems like we have savings to wring from our current system. I’d rather do that than shift to an unproven Brave New Paradigm).

    #2: Beyond that question of “why localism”: how do we move from here to there within this system?

    We have two parties, they’re both national & centralized. We have, for better or worse, a nationalized political discourse. Some recent rising stars, like Gov. Palin and Cong. Bachmann, came to prominence by bringing federal hot-button issues to previously relatively nonpartisan local elections. Given that larger context, “leveling the playing field” to pick off an incumbent here or there isn’t going to lead to localism, I don’t think. The new incumbent steps into that existing world. (Maybe you can cure my myopia on this point).

    We have Republicans and Democrats, not a “Decentralization Party”. Which brings us to point 3…

    #3: It’s unfortunately inaccurate to describe today’s GOP as “scornful of centralized power and corruption” rather than merely “scornful of compromise”.

    Let’s remember the background here: The Bush administration gave us Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the executive’s asserted power to wiretap and to detain & torture US citizens without charges or a warrant, surpluses turned into deficits, Raich v Gonzales, and also the invasion for bogus reasons & failed occupation of an arbitrarily selected Middle Eastern country.

    I am at a loss to determine exactly which strain of conservatism compelled these actions. (Federalist? Small-government? Fiscal?)

    What was the response of Americans to all this? Well, as Pres. Bush left office, he had a 28 percent approval rating from independents– and a 75 % rating from Republicans,according to Gallup. According to an ABC/WaPo poll, Bush left office with 34% approval from independents, and 68% from Republicans– but 82% from self-professed “conservative Republicans”. Over the course of his presidency, Bush rarely received less than 80% approval of “conservative Republicans”.

    Yes, since then, the Tea Party happened. But (1): “[T]he Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.” And (2), the Tea Party isn’t going after folks who drove Congressional support for the Bush-era policies I described above.

    Folks like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner haven’t been pushed out, they’ve been elevated to be the faces of the party. Trusting them to pursue decentralized, fiscally responsible policies is like trusting Saddam Hussein’s erstwhile arms dealer Donald Rumsfeld to democratize Iraq. It’d be one thing if they showed remorse, but they generally defend their earlier actions. They certainly don’t spend much time explaining how they’ve learned from their mistakes.

    If the Republican Party showed interest in the values that you ascribe to them, Mann & Ornstein would be wrong. Alas, here we are.

    I genuinely do not believe that there’s always “a stupid party and an evil party.” It’s just that one of our two parties happens to be in an odd spot. Mann & Ornstein are correct that the fundamental irrationality of the Republican Party is the most basic problem with our politics. Until we cure that problem, we won’t get rational answers to any of our policy problems. Irrational localism isn’t a good substitute for irrational federalism.

    Thanks again for reading, and for your thoughtful response.

  11. Jim D says:

    Mr. Linbeck, would “blanket” primaries like Lousiana and now California have (a) increase participation in primaries and (b) make election of incumbents less likely?

  12. Bill says:

    Interesting and thoughtful piece. But I’m not sure it’s about the process. I would submit that up until very recently, the system has been working almost to perfection: by “giving” the American people almost endless and ever-increasing benefits, the citizens are pleased and the Congress is perpetually reelected. As for the costs, why pay for what we get when we can keep spending high, taxes low and simply borrow the difference? Happiness all around! That game is about up, to be sure, but it worked beautifully for a very long time. I am afraid that we the beloved people are the problem. And in the end, economic reality will hold us accountable.

  13. Lisa says:

    “On health care, my view is that it is a perfect example of an issue that does not have a political solution at the federal level. By answering “the federal government” to the question “Who decides?”, we assure that the problem is intractable – and therefore polarizing and debilitating. For instance, Vermont wants a single-payer system; Utah wants health care exchanges. Those are two different visions of the role of government in the health care system. Why limit ourselves to only one solution, whether it is ACA or the Ryan Plan? Almost all health care is consumed locally; why federalize it?”

    When I read this, I made a distinction between it and when Romney says that it should be “up to the states” because implied in Romney’s stance is cross-state competition, which we know wouldn’t work (see what happened to the credit card industry). The examples that matter here and that local governance in healthcare might mean single-payer in some states. The big question in this healthcare example is then: How do the states interact with each other? I’m intrigued by this idea, but how would it actually work if each state had a different system? It might increase costs for national health insurance companies to comply with up to 50 different systems (and therefore more regulations) and those costs would be passed onto the customer. How would it work if you were injured in some other place than your home state? What if you lived in Colorado, where they mandated that your disease had to be covered, but then your job transferred you to Texas where there is no mandate for it — and it’s not covered as a pre-existing condition? The Affordable Care Act seems like the best compromise of creating a smaller government by eventually ridding ourselves of government-run health insurance, while at the same time keeping government in its proper role of ensuring safety and access for the people by regulating the healthcare industry — and also localizing it as much as possible with the state exchanges.

    In general, I’m intrigued by this article’s argument, but not completely sold. I agree that, more often than not, a more local center of governance is a good thing, but I’m not convinced it would work for every single area of concern — it’s more of a guiding principle than an ideology. We should be asking ourselves the question of “Who decides?” more often and this might lead to the *right* sized federal government. This idea that small government is by default *always* the better choice is ideology rather than using the concept as a guiding principle.

  14. Marc says:

    I find it interesting that you spend the first part of your article describing the cognitive process of “substitution” and then exhibit the same process when you substitute Congress and “centrocracy” as the problem. The Progressive Era reforms did not occur in a vacuum — they were a reaction to the Gilded Age and corporate power. The sort of “self-governance” you’re reaching for is an illusion when the same big money interests that grip Congress can easily dominate state and local affairs, as we’ve seen with organizations like ALEC that end up implementing a centralized agenda through state legislatures. Decision-making isn’t closer to the people, it’s still centralized and channeled through organizations with no public accountability.

  15. reflectionephemeral,

    Thanks again for your response. A few ripostes:

    #1, or “Why localism?”

    Well, all of your examples of alternatives are unproven in the US. Localism is not. As the graph in the article shows, most decisions regarding the commons were once made locally. There were certainly problems that emerged from local control, but they were, um, localized. Even today, local governments have far stronger support and legitimacy in the eyes of the people than the federal government.

    That is a practical view. There is also a theoretical one. Human beings are not good at large scale governance. Look around at every large institution in society, and you will notice that we lack an effective governance system (big public companies are an excellent example, but not the only one. Research indicates that humans cannot maintain strong relationships with more than a couple of hundred people (see, Dunbar Number). As our institutions scale, they becomes increasingly difficult to govern. And huge institutions are ungovernable.

    This is not an argument against a federal government. However, it is an argument in favor of a federal government of limited, enumerated powers – in other words, the system we’re supposed to have. As we have expanded the scope and scale of the federal government, we have seen a loss of public support for those legitimate functions, and that is a major threat to our nation. We cannot survive as a nation without an effective government that has the consent of the governed.

    On Medicare, we have a system that has very low administrative expenses but a terrible cost-benefit ratio. You yourself cite that we spend more than other countries, and receive less benefit. To me, this is not surprising. There are no historical examples of centrally-planned, price-controlled industries serving hundreds of millions of people that are sustainable. But there are lots of examples of locally-planned, price-based industries serving billions (food, shelter, etc.).

    It’s really a problem of scale. I know that a single-payer system can work at a small scale – I actually fund such a system in my home ;-) . But at the scale of the US? The problem is simply intractable. We should stop trying to create a one-size-fits-all system and allow states and localities to tackle the problem. People are no less compassionate and responsible in small numbers than they are in large. History would indicate, in fact, the exact opposite.

    #2. or “How do you get there from here?”

    You appear to largely assume away alternatives. You state, “We have, for better or worse, a nationalized political discourse.” I agree that this has happened. I do not agree that it is an unchangeable fact of nature. (This can’t be a surprise, for if I did, I wouldn’t have written this essay, and we would not be having this scintillating discussion ;-) .

    We can move these decisions closer to home. For instance, there was a time when the American people thought that alcohol was something that should be regulated federally. It was one of the major initiatives of the Progressive Movement.

    After trying that for a while, we found out that it was a lousy idea. So we stopped, and returned this authority to the states (and some states like my home state of Texas went further, and moved it to the county level). Power need not only flow toward the center (though I admit that’s a natural human tendency).

    I agree that an effort to “pick off an incumbent here or there isn’t going to lead to localism.” For the primary strategy to work, it must be executed at a large scale.

    That is our plan for 2014. The conventional wisdom is that an entrenched incumbent cannot be beaten in a primary. Our efforts this year – really, a pilot – proved the CW incorrect. Our plan is to work over the next two years to build the capability across the country to dramatically improve the ability of citizens to replace their incumbents if they so choose. The system used to work that way; for instance, in 1844 (IIRC) 75% of the US House were freshmen.

    Will this directly lead to localism? No. But if the power networks in Washington DC are not disrupted – if the cycle of the procedural state is not broken – there is no way to pull power back closer to the people.

    #3. or “Your party sucks.” if I may paraphrase ;-)

    This section of your comment is pure R vs. D, with you associating me with the Republican party (“the values you ascribe to them”).

    I plead “not guilty.” I’m not a Republican; this should have been obvious from the essay, but I’ll re-affirm it here. I hold no brief for the Republican Party. Their fiscal mismanagement and increase in centralized power during the Bush, and previous administrations – portions of which you outline above – are clear.

    But the Democrats are also prodigiously irresponsible as well. You appear to wish to lay the current dysfunction in Washington DC at the feet of the GOP. This is a very natural response for someone in the “horizontal” paradigm. But it misses a fundamental point.

    One of the points I was trying to make in the essay is that by continuing to think horizontally, we miss the really important dimension, the vertical one. Both parties want centralized power, and their practical control of the electoral process removes a critical check on that oh-so-human desire.

    That I have not been successful in communicating this point in a way that is clear to you – as appears to be the case – is a measure of my own failing as a writer. Mea culpa.

    Still, I wish you all the best, and appreciate the thrust and parry.


  16. Jim G,

    Very few of these people seem willing to go back to first principles and restrain the Federal government to only those duties outlined in the Constitution, even if they started out with something like that in mind.

    Indeed. This is true, I think, of most people. I certainly find it hard in my own life to keep focused on first principles. Especially when my kids are at their most annoying… ;-)

    I think the Framers were highly skeptical that elected officials would self-restrain. That is why there were explicit separation of powers, both horizontally (between the branches) and vertically (between the federal government, the states, and the people).

    Elections were supposed to be a check on the power of government. Unfortunately, for the reasons I outlined in the essay, they no longer are. I don’t believe this was due to some vast conspiracy; rather, it was the natural result of growth and attempts at fixing the system, fixes that had unintended consequences (and more than a bit of hubris, perhaps).

    One additional point: often, when people see that things are off track, their first response is to come up with policy solutions. Unfortunately, implementing those solutions require passing laws, and that is very difficult to do when said law is not in the political interest of the lawmakers.

    The really cool thing about engaging in primaries is that it requires no change to the law. It is a political solution. That makes it harder in many respects, but it avoids the biggest hurdle to reform: getting incumbents to pass legislation that is disadvantageous to them.

    I have my doubts.

    As well you should. ;-)

    The key, however, is not to “improve the type of candidate we can vote for.” They key is to make sure any candidate who is elected knows that they will have to answer for their actions in Washington DC. Electoral accountability, not legislator virtue, is the best way to assure that government is responsible, sustainable, and legitimate.


  17. Jim D.,

    First, please call me Leo or L3. This is an internet comment section, after all…

    I find the “Top Two” system intriguing. We’ve been studying it pretty closely, and there is some hope that it will both drive up voter turnout and create a more level playing field for challengers.

    However, that is far from certain. Never underestimate the creativity of the incumbent class when it comes to finding ways to wire around the system. ;-)

    FWIW, of the two systems – CA and LA – I like the CA system better. The LA system essentially decides the outcome in a runoff, which will tend to have very low turnout.


  18. Bill,

    That game is about up, to be sure, but it worked beautifully for a very long time. I am afraid that we the beloved people are the problem.

    It’s the Tragedy of the Commons, to be sure. Or, if you prefer, the Bernie Madoff method.

    Sure, people should know better than to believe there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But that doesn’t mean that the principle culprit is the scammer, not the mark.

    That’s why our failure, IMHO, is a failure of the elites, not the people. It is fashionable in some places to blame the American people for being stupid, greedy, myopic, and so on. I believe this is the wrong diagnosis.

    The people had trust in their leaders. Those leaders largely betrayed that trust – not always on purpose, but nevertheless.

    The anger that infuses our political discourse is a consequence of the violation of trust. The future of our nation, I think, will be determined by how that anger gets channeled and ameliorated.

    I’m hoping it will be channeled into a massive engagement in primary elections. It would be better than many of the alternatives.


  19. Lisa,

    The big question in this healthcare example is then: How do the states interact with each other?

    It’s really a trivial issue. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS – never understood why there’s only one M and not two, BTW) report Medicare expenditures by beneficiary’s state and provider’s state. In other words, where the patient lives and where the patient gets treatment.

    The difference between these two is about 3%, in a range from almost zero to about 6%. (The one exception is Washington DC, which has a difference of more than 10%). What this means is that on average about 97% of health care is intrastate. Why federalize something that has so little interstate impact? It’s the tail wagging the dog.

    Moreover, insurance is already regulated at the state level, except for large corporations who self-insure. And Medicaid is administered at the state level (even though the majority of funds come from the federal government, with strings attached). States can regulate health care, and in fact are the right level to do so.

    The Affordable Care Act seems like the best compromise of creating a smaller government by eventually ridding ourselves of government-run health insurance, while at the same time keeping government in its proper role of ensuring safety and access for the people by regulating the healthcare industry — and also localizing it as much as possible with the state exchanges.

    I think you and I have very different interpretations of what ACA does.

    But, for the moment, let’s assume that this statement of yours is true: it keeps “government in its proper role of ensuring safety and access for the people by regulating the healthcare industry.”

    The question is which level of “government”? That’s the “Who decides?” question. Why have health care regulation decided at the federal level?

    My argument is that by concentrating power in Washington DC over health care, we will see massive consolidation in the industry, as players grow to become big enough to wield disproportionate influence inside the Beltway. That will inexorably lead to widespread corruption, as regulators are captured by industry, and vice-versa.

    I’m not saying that was the intention of ACA. To me, it simply illustrates the law of unintended consequences that has led to the centrocracy we live under, and must reverse.

    We should be asking ourselves the question of “Who decides?” more often and this might lead to the *right* sized federal government. This idea that small government is by default *always* the better choice is ideology rather than using the concept as a guiding principle.

    I agree. I have never advocated “small” government, only a “limited” government. They are not the same thing. Having a large, powerful military came in quite handily when we had to defeat Hitler.

    Nor is “government” synonymous with “federal government.” Why, if we believe government should do something, does it have to be the federal government? Again, back to “Who decides?” We’ve been conditioned to think the most important decisions should be made by the most important people. But that’s not a good governance model. In fact, the most important decisions of our lives (where we live, who we love, who we worship) should have no government involvement, IMHO.

    The federal government is supposed to operate with a set of enumerated powers. I have no philosophical objection to expanding those powers, but we have a process for doing so that requires broad popular support (i.e. a Constitutional Amendment). Congress has, by and large, ignored this process and simply expanded at will.

    That’s one reason why Congress is the root of the problem. It’s their job to draw within the lines. They haven’t, and the centrocracy has been the result, and it’s a bad result.

    For that, if nothing else, I think they should be held accountable. But that’s just me. At the end of the day, I’m happy if their constituents just have a choice.


  20. Marc,

    The Progressive Era reforms did not occur in a vacuum — they were a reaction to the Gilded Age and corporate power.

    I never claimed otherwise. In fact, I’ve tried to emphasize that reforms are generally well-meaning reactions to actual problems. However, they do often have unintended consequences.

    The reaction to corporate power during the Progressive Era was to bulk up the federal government to take on those corporate interests. But this is like recruiting a bigger bully to help you beat up the schoolyard bully. It may solve the bully problem, but now you’ve got to deal with the bigger bully problem.

    The concentration of federal power and the expansion of corporate influence are two sides of the same coin. Corporations go to DC because that’s were decisions are made and wishes granted. And DC seeks to regulate corporations because they’re in the business of selling protection and indulgences. It’s one big, happy family. Like the Corleones. (I keed, I keed… ;-)

    Decision-making isn’t closer to the people, it’s still centralized and channeled through organizations with no public accountability.

    You may or may not be right, but if you are does it make sense to have more decisions made in Washington DC, where big special interests have a disproportionate advantage?

    If you believe that government is captive to corporate interests, are you more likely to change that at the federal level, or the state and local level?

    In areas where states and local governments are not pre-empted by the federal government, local citizens have demonstrated their ability to tell corporations – even huge public companies – to go pound sand. Think of Wal-Mart’s attempts to enter parts of the northeast. If the federal government controlled land use, don’t you think Wal-Mart would have a better shot at expanding in NY than if local NY officials controlled that process?

    Not everything, of course, can be localized to the neighborhood. And I don’t pretend to know the optimal answer to “Who decides?” But I know that we’ve allowed Washington DC to grow too powerful, so the direction that power needs to flow is down.


  21. Robert in GA says:

    Leo, thanks for a thought-provoking article and interesting replies to the comments here. I wholeheartedly support the objective of restoring more power to the local and state levels. My question is: How does defeating incumbents in primary elections accomplish this? In a case where, say, you were successful in defeating an incumbent Democratic congressman, who’s to say that he wouldn’t be replaced by someone who’s an even greater centralizer? For example, a corporatist/unionist being replaced with an open socialist?

  22. Very very quickly– and again thanks for your reply.

    On “why localism”, it seems to me that this is an empirical argument. We need an empirical basis. Matt Yglesias wrote awhile ago, in a post called “How A Mismanaged Incinerator Deal Bankrupted Harrisburg, Pennsylvania”, “Something this reminds me of is that you often hear the sentimental notion advanced that smaller government units are “closer to the people” and somehow better run than the out-of-touch regime inside the Beltway. The truth generally seems to me to be the reverse. State legislators and city council members are worse-informed and worse-staffed than members of Congress, their conduct receives less media scrutiny, and voters are less informed about municipal issues.”

    Maybe wrong, maybe right, but something we’ve gotta work through.

    And personal connections don’t seem to me to be the right framework– there are more than 200 people on my block. I think only 16 percent of Americans live in rural areas now.

    As to Medicare, we have a national health care costs issue, not a “medicare costs” issue. And we have the least gov-involved health care system of all wealthy countries.

    As to “getting from here to there”, well, who knows. You’ve obviously given it a lot of thought & effort; good luck!

    As to Mann & Ornstein, here’s how our conversation went.
    Me: “I think Mann & Ornstein are correct.”
    You: “I think Republicans are resisting corruption, not just being obstructionist.”
    Me: “I don’t see any evidence for that given the last decade plus of US history.”
    You: “Cool out, bro, I’m not a Republican! And free your mind from horizontality!”

    I still believe that Mann & Ornstein are correct, and that they have identified the central problem with American governance.

  23. Thanks, and Very, very, very quickly.

    You: “You: “I think Republicans are resisting corruption, not just being obstructionist.””
    Me: You must have me confused with somene else.I never said anything like that. I believe I was pretty clear Republicans can’t resist corruption when they have power. Same for Democrats.
    You: Mann and Ornstein are right.
    Me: Mann and Ornstein miss the point.
    You: Dude!
    Me: Duuude!

    Sorry to hear about Harrisburg. Didn’t know about that, but, uh, that’s the point. Mistakes are made. Local mistakes stay local. Centralized mistakes don’t. I’ve never been asked to pay for the Harrisburg incinerator. Nor should I. The same is not true of the Wall Street bailout.

    Maybe federal officials are smarter. Maybe their average IQ is 20 points higher. But that’s only half the issue. The other half is the difficulty of the problem. Centralized problems are orders of magnitude more complex. You can be waaaay smarter than me, but if I’m solving an algebra problem and you’re solving the Reimann Hypothesis, I will do better than you.

    It seems clear you have faith in centralized control and the Democratic Party. Good luck!;-)


  24. Monorprise says:

    Fantastic article Leo Linbeck!

    I hope you have great success with your well thought out strategy. I am aware of many others working towards the same end thou perhaps from different fronts. The tenth amendment center being among my personal favorite:

    Perhaps between us we can accomplish something wonderful!

    I would however to note some obvious benefits to the deepening partisanship. Namely the current deadlock in congress has opened the door for State & local level solutions to our problems to be exposed to the American people. (The relatively recent Arizona immigration act being a watershed in that department)

    That of course has begun to rekindle exactly the same kind of knowledge and understanding (that our states can come-up with effective solutions, far more effective than Washington’s) that I think will prove most critical to the success of our cause. Particularly if you can weaken up Washington more.

    The timing of your efforts thus could not be more prefect to exploit this situation. Although I think the more radical and less compromising of congressmen are preferable to the desired effect of locking down Washington.

  25. I completely agree with your assertion that increased voter participation in primary contests is key. In fact, my support for primary battles at the federal, state, and local levels helped me get removed from my Republican Committee position.

    While you focus on the House races, another clear problem lies in the Senate. Specifically, the 17th Amendment. It was a tremendous mistake to allow the direct election of our Senators. We would have been far better off adhering to the system our Founders put in place. If we had, State’s rights would not have been trampled upon and much of the centralization, with its inherent problems, probably would never have occurred.

    With regards to campaign finance reform, I have a suggestion that I believe would pass Constitutional scrutiny but would still be an uphill slog. I believe money can only be donated to a candidate by someone that can actually vote for that candidate. We do not allow China to donate to a Presidential campaign. Why should we permit someone in California to fund a race in Florida? I would however allow pooling by corporations and other organizations. Therefore, if a multi-national company sets up a campaign fund and shareholders and employees donate to that fund, then the company can dole out to candidates in a district the same amount that the funds came from constituents in that district. This same method would apply to groups such as the Sierra Club and the NRA. No longer would a far away group, without significant ties to a district, be able to focus their resources to tilt the outcome of a particular race. This would also end the process of wheeling where elected official donate to one another to secure the “old boys network” stays intact.

  26. One other thought, in addition to the repeal of the 17th Amendment, I agree that we need to raise the number of number of Representatives in the House by shrinking the size of their districts. I would like to see the average district set to 500,000 for the next census and somewhere between 250,000 to 350,000 after the 2030 census.

    Some people believe gridlock is a problem. I disagree. I believe we have way too many laws. Most should have expiration timers attached. The checks and balances that our Founders put in place were precisely to make changes difficult. Besides being more responsive to the voters in their district, increasing the numbers in Congress will focus attention on what is truly important.

  27. Rick Johnson says:

    One attractive fix to Congressional operations would be requiring that ALL meetings of members or their staff with lobbyists or any economic interests be transparent. The meetings must be in open public access venues with video and transcripts provided after. Any secret, non-public meetings would be punishable by loss of office and all benefits, and imprisonment.

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