Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review..The Parties vs. the People by Mickey Edwards

Did you know that the constitution does not specify that the Speaker of the House be a congressman?

Did you know that a Senator who filibusters is not required to speak to the subject he is attempting to block?  He or she can recite Julia Child's cookbook if they want to.  All they have to do is keep talking to block legislation from ever coming to a vote.

Did you know that when members of Congress rise to address the body, they must go to the lecturn designated for their political party?  There are two different lecturns!!!

The Parties Versus the People is a well thought-out dissertation on the current gridlocked government in the US today.  The author, a former Republican Congressman, has expanded an article originally published in The Atlantic Monthly (Jun-July 2011 (How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans - an insider's six-step plan to fix Congress). 

Edwards focuses on the role that political parties play in running elections, managing the flow of legislation through Congress and distorting (and destroying?) democracy as it was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  Many facts presented were surprising and it is an indication of just how cynical we have become that my reaction to many of his suggestions for improving were of the "good luck Charlie" variety.  I sincerely hope his proposals have some chance of working.

His suggestions--clear, concise, short, easily readable and straight-forward-- include:

Reforming the election system
  • Break the power of partisans to keep candidates off the general-election ballot.
  • Turn over the process of redrawing congressional districts to independent, nonpartisan commissions.
  • Reduce spending, increase competition.
 Reforming the governing system 
  • Establish non-partisan Congressional leadership.
  • Restore democracy to Congress. Allow members of any party to offer amendments to any House bill and—with rare exceptions—put those amendments to a vote.
  • Eliminate the trappings of partisanship.
  • Fill committee vacancies by lot. Choose committee staff solely on the basis of professional qualifications.
  • Longer work weeks, more interaction.
  • Eliminate one-party White House strategy sessions.
  • Sign no pledges, stand up to bullies.

"We have partisanship, incivility, unwillingness to compromise because our system itself is designed to encourage conflict..the system in which we have wrapped our democracy engenders conflict over party label, over which club one belongs to, over who might gain an advantage in the next election.  This does not celebrate democracy, it destroys it." (pg. 135)
 "The Oath of Office requires loyalty to the Constitution--not to the president, to a political party, or to any outside organization demanding fealty.  No man or woman should enter Congress with divided loyalties.  It is time for every candidate to refuse to sign any pledge, or take any oath, other than to "fully discharge the duties upon which they are about to enter.  So help me. God" (pg. 156)

It takes no genius to understand why things are the way they are : we have created a political system that rewards intransigence.  Democracy requires divergence and honors dissent, but what we have today is not mere divergence and does not deserve the label "dissent"; it's a nasty battle for dominance, and it's often not the dominance of an idea or a great principle but of a private club that demands undeviating fealty. (pg.171-172)

All is not doom and gloom.  Edwards has painted a realistic and depressing picture of where we are, how we got that way, and how difficult it will be to change things.  He does however offer concrete suggestions to get things moving toward his vision of a more democratic government where ordinary citizens once more will be able to trust that their elected representatives will be able to govern for the good of the citizenry and not for political gain.

There is no more urgent task in American politics than to make fundamental change in how we govern ourselves. (p. 175)

Author Mickey Edwards spent 16 years in Congress and 16 years teaching at Harvard and Princeton. He is a director of The Constitution Project and wrote Reclaiming Conservatism 
Publisher-Format: Yale University Press 2012, 232 pages
Subject: Party politics
Genre: Non-fiction, political science
Source: e-galley from publisher via Net Galley

1 comment:

  1. Our divided government certainly needs correcting. What happened to compromise between the parties for the good of the country and the people? The with-us-or-agin-us philosophy has got to stop so we can get out of the mess we're in. Sounds like this author has some good ideas but of course not the total solution.


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