Mar 10 2011

The Beginnings of a Roadmap to Fix America’s Badly Broken Political System?

The Beginnings of a Roadmap to Fix America’s Badly Broken Political System?

UPDATE:  This week’s Economist (March 17) has a great special report on the future of the state that you can download here, entitled”Taming Leviathan:  The state almost everywhere is big, inefficient and broke. It needn’t be,” which has many rich examples, from California to China, and espouses a bunch of these ideas.

I usually try to keep politics away from this blog, but sometimes I can’t help myself.  I’m so disgusted with the dysfunction in Washington (and Albany…and Sacramento…and…) these days, that I’ve spent more spare cycles than usual thinking about the symptoms, their root causes, and potential solutions.  A typical entrepreneur’s approach, I guess.  So here’s my initial cut at a few solutions.

I’m sure it’s incomplete, and it’s possibly overly simplistic.  While I think it’s a pretty pragmatic and non-partisan approach, I’m guessing people will have visceral political opinions about it.  Here are five things I’d like to see that I think will start us on the road to repair:

  • Nonpartisan redistricting: All districts at all levels of government should be drawn by nonpartisan commissions.  There is no reason to create “safe” seats and uncompetitive elections that drive candidates to extreme positions in order to win primaries.  All of that is undemocratic.  I hope California’s proposition that creates this kind of solution works and is copied.
  • Public finance of campaigns: This will have to come with a constitutional amendment limiting free speech when it comes to political campaigns, but we should be prepared as a society to limit freedom in that one narrow way in order to remove money from politics.  This topic just keeps coming up, from both the left and the right (think about the examples of Wall Street donations impacting financial reform on one side and public sector union political contributions impacting negotiations with states and cities on the other).
  • Presidential line-item veto: Its constitutionality may be in question, but this would give the President a more granular form of one check-and-balance he already has and could greatly help reduce wasteful spending as well as simplify legislation (more on that in a minute).
  • Auto-expiration of tax/spend bills: I found the debate over the expiration or extension of the “Bush tax cuts” to be enlightening.  Maybe some class of tax/spend bills — those over a certain dollar figure, those that create entitlements, though that involve government subsidies to industry — should be forced to be renewed every 5 or 10 years instead of being “evergreen” so that the debate can reoccur in light of changes in circumstance.  How many other things are “on the books” in ways that don’t make sense in today’s world?
  • Simplicity of legislation: The health care reform bill was 1,990 pages long according to the pdf I just downloaded, and few if any in Congress actually read the whole thing.  They even admitted it AT THE TIME.  Is this a smart way to govern?  Whether voluntarily or via constitutional amendment, Congress should consider only passing single-issue bills and maybe even limiting the size of any given piece of legislation to something that at least THEY THEMSELVES ARE ABLE TO READ.

These things should do a lot to ease legislative gridlock, relieve bitter partisan rancor, and remove some of the silly parliamentary manoeuvrings that plague our government today.  Whether or not they can systematically deal with elected officials’ unwillingness to tackle hard problems and penchant for personal deal-making and runaway deficit spending is another question.

My personal belief is that country could stand some form of a new Constitutional Convention to critically review our society and its governance after almost 250 years.  I love our Constitution and think it was wisely laid out as the foundation for what has become one of the world’s greatest and most enduring nations…but that doesn’t mean that the Founders, who lived in a very, very different time, had perfect vision for all eternity.