The U.S.'s representive government does not seem to be working - not in its response to Al Qaeda (and terrorism) and certainly not in its laggard and inadequate response to recent devastations that both natural and man-made disasters have occasioned. These failures of government, especially at the federal level, challenge all of us to consider changes that would make government work for the greater benefit of the people - changes that might also encourage more active citizen participation in the process of government.
The USA has again embraced a tar baby, this time in Afghanistan and the Middle East, with no honorable means of disengagement in sight. Any response needs to concentrate on long term solutions that might prevent future administrations from following similar destructive schemes.
I see a reform of the political system as absolutely essential - particularly a reform directed toward securing better qualified, better informed and more honorable people to serve in appointive and elective office - people who would be more likely to place the long term good of the people foremost. Is it too optimistic to think that those in political office might seriously consider promoting substantive reform? It calls for imaginative, audacious leadership - a deplorable scarcity.
I think of "long term solutions," "fundamental change," and the Founding because they are important - vitally important. Anyone engaged in political action would do well to have a solid foundation in America’s early history, particularly the fascinating saga of the struggle for the Constitution. As Bernard Bailyn reminds us: "We must get the two-hundred-year-old story straight, in some way, in order to make sense of our own world." None of the founders, certainly not Madison, thought of the Constitution as a sacred document. It aches for a few fundamental changes - and soon.
Here, then are some of my suggestions for change, by no means exhaustive. I consider the first three to be the most urgent. Please consider discussing these ideas with friends, neighbors and associates, promoting those that appeal to you. Most of them would require a change to the doddering, old and justly venerated Constitution:
1. Restriction on the number of times that a person may hold federal elective office. I'd hold it to two terms, period, with one exception permitted - a person who has held federal elective office for two terms could subsequently contend for and occupy the office of president for two terms. (I'd prefer, though a single six year term for president, no re-election).
2. An exemption-free draft for all able-bodied citizens. No exemption for members of congress or White House staff. No exemption for college students (grossly unfair and discriminatory). No exemption, period, except for health or disability.
3. Legalization and strict governmental control of the sale and consumption of drugs.
4. Transparency in government to include (a) declassification of ALL official government records five years after the date of their origin (exact, uncensored and unaltered duplicates might be filed, at the time of their origin, with a special archivist and made readily available to the public after the five year period has expired) and (b) immediate and unrestricted access to all files, records and offices of any federal department (when expressly authorized by a vote of thel House) by a standing committee of five House members composed of three from the majority party, two from the minority, all of whom have been sworn not to divulge sensitive information.
5. Elimination of the Electoral College allowing presidential elections to be decided directly by a majority of the popular vote.
6. Revision of the system for electing Senators so that, in so far as possible or practical, Senators would represent all the people, fairly and equally (each Senator would ideally represent the same number of people), through election by national or regional, rather than state, constituencies. This might prove the most difficult change to bring about, but one of the most important. Alternatively, each state might retain its two senators, as prescribed by Article V, but Senators would have weighted votes based on their state's population. If all else fails, the Senate could be relieved of all real power becoming an advisory body only.
7. Elimination of the unconscionable (and growing) disparity in the distribution of wealth. This would require an aggressive, vigorous policy of progressive taxation and absolute limitations on inheritance. A wealth tax to replace income tax.
8. Elimination of primary elections for national office with candidates to be nominated by their political parties.
9. Supreme Court nominees (maybe candidates for all Federal judgeships) to be proposed by the House, vetted by the President and approved by the Senate. For example, the House might be allowed to propose five candidates, the President to select two of the five, and the Senate to approve one of the two (or to reject both in which case the process would begin again). Both the President and the Senate might be required to act within a certain time frame.
10. Equal television time for all major party candidates for Federal elective office.
11. Elimination of special privileges (perks) and "gifts" for all members of Congress. For example, members would be required to get their health care just as any member of the public or the most humble government employee gets theirs. Also, no special clubs or spas for members, no cut-rate dining rooms, etc.
12. Federal regulation of funding for public education that would insure equitable distribution of funds nationwide based solely on student enrollment.
13. A loop-hole free, hard-nosed and effective campaign finance law. This might require that the Supreme Court overturn its recent free speech ruling (the Supreme Court's equation of money with "speech" ) or that congress enact an imaginative law to circumvent its noxious effects.
14. Opportunity for the public to decide directly, perhaps every seven or twelve years, whether or not they would like to convene a constitutional convention for the purpose of revising or amending the constitution. The question might be placed simultaneously on the ballots of each of the states and might require approval by two thirds majority of the national electorate (not the states) to carry.
“A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” – James Madison