Since the U.S. Constitution of 1789, the world has changed dramatically. Then, men of good will could meet, discuss, argue, but then compromise on important issues.
That day seems to have come and gone. Today, it seems that our democracy is cracked, if not broken, so here are some ideas that might help:
▪ Impose term limits.
It is unfortunate that good men and women who are elected to Congress soon become tainted with Washington fever. This is the realization that if they want to benefit their constituents, they need to be re-elected. Then re-election becomes the end, regardless of the means.
Re-election becomes so important that they will jettison their principles to win. Consequently, they spend half or more of their time raising campaign contributions, taking orders from lobbyists and not attending to the nation’s business.
But if they were term-limited, in their last term they would not need to grovel for campaign funds and would not worry about re-election. Consequently, they could spend more time dealing with constituents’ needs.
▪ Create longer congressional terms.
Members of the House might be elected to two three-year terms. This would give them time in the first term to get some business done without so much pressure on fund-raising and in the second term they would not be so concerned about re-election.
▪ End gerrymandering
Gerrymandering has created a serious problem for democracy. The party in power can tilt the vote in its favor, so for the next 10 years, the minority has a hard time competing. Presently we have 435 congressional districts, each with one representative. But what if we cut that number in half, allowing 217 congressional districts each represented by two officials and another 218 at-large representatives? This scheme would essentially eliminate the problems of gerrymandering and give the popular vote in each state more power.
▪ Change Supreme Court nomination process.
The Supreme Court has become too politicized. The president in power now selects a candidate who espouses those political views, rather than a person who would be the most fair-minded judge. To minimize that problem, we could have a committee, appointed by Congress with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans that would nominate potential Supreme Court judges from which the president must select. This might result in selection of a judge who has less of a political view of the job than we now have.
▪ Enable lawmakers to live with their families in Washington.
At one time, congressional representatives and senators would move their families to Washington when elected. On weekends, they would socialize with other members. Since the spouses were there, they would organize social events and dinners where members of both parties would attend. When you meet someone face-to-face, they become a person. If you never meet them, they are a thing.
Getting to know people of the other party as human beings allows civility because people who know each other normally act politely and cordially.
Today, they leave Washington on Thursday, and return on Tuesday, infrequently even meeting a person of the other party. If the congressional work week were changed to Monday-Friday, as it once was, and if each elected official were provided a housing allowance sufficient to rent a home for their term and bring their families to Washington, much gridlock would ease as they got to know their opponents as living, breathing human beings.
▪ Curb influence of big money in politics.
The Supreme Court has ruled that money represents speech and that if you limit money, you limit free speech. But the opposite is true. Big money drowns out the speech of the little guy. A new court needs to change the equation.
Marty Solomon is a retired University of Kentucky professor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org