Death to Campaigning!

Death to Campaigning!

One of the practical considerations we have employed in designing the Democracy Straight-Up Project is the need to entirely eliminate campaigning from politics.

I know, right? It’s one of the fundamentals of our democracy, ain’t it? Campaigning is at the very heart of the American experiment. It is emblematic of some of our most cherished freedoms—Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in particular.

Okay, I hear your cries of distress at the thought of eliminating all political campaigns but bear with me. Doesn’t campaigning have a dark side? A really, really dark side? I mean, is it something we all universally love? Or is it more like a necessary evil that we have learned to thinly tolerate?

Let’s jot down a quick list. What are the dynamics that go into campaigning?

Item 1: Back in the day, the founders might have imagined a gentleman farmer ‘tossing his hat in the ring’ and having just as much of a chance as anyone else of representing the other citizens of his district (or, at least, the other gentleman farmers of his district). But we all know that ship has sailed. If that ship ever even left the dock. Or was able to float. Long before you or I ever hear the name of a candidate, they have been vetted and groomed by political parties and big-money donors. Which makes sense because…

Item 2: It costs a lot of money to run for congress—you need to bank at least a million dollars. And while that’s not a lot of money in the scheme of things, it’s still a lot of money for a homemaker from Poughkeepsie (or some other regular person). It’s a very expensive hat to be tossing around. Especially when the odds, on average, are greater than fifty-percent that you’ll lose.

So, there is the need to raise funds to run, which has lead to endless headaches. And there’s a gnawing contradiction that undergirds the whole enterprise. The candidate must pledge to objectively serve the needs of the constituents. And yet, they may be entirely funded by a small subset of those constituents who have egocentric demands and a glaringly obvious pathway to getting them met–namely, giving a politician tons of money–regardless of whether the resulting body of laws is good or bad for the rest of the country.

Let’s face it, when it comes to the question, “Is my candidate basically a puppet?” we mostly cross our fingers and hope it isn’t true, or, if it is, not completely true, or that maybe sometimes the needs of the not-so-well-monied are being served, well enough? Pretty please?

Item 3: Campaigns are also tied up with political party politics. If you choose to run for office, and your politics don’t fit neatly into one camp or the other (which is true for most Americans, by the way) then you either need to conform your views to the party in order to tap into the powerful campaign machinery at their disposal, or run as an independent, and take your chances. Any political scientists want to weigh in on the odds?

Item 4: Then there are the dynamics inherent in getting all those ill-informed, distracted, apathetic voters to rally around you. Just kidding (not kidding). Now, it would be great if a candidate, expressing themselves frankly and making reasoned arguments, attracted the sober consideration of all the denizens of a district, who then formulated an assessment as to whether or not to embrace said candidate.

But back here on planet earth, that is not what happens.

And here’s the thing: it’s no one’s fault, really. The dynamics at play during a campaign make honesty, from the candidate, and sober assessment, from the base, physically and psychologically impossible. To be clear, human beings are definitely capable of using their faculties to make rational decisions. But with a candidate constantly shaping and adjusting their message to anticipate what a targeted group of supporters may or may not think, and with voters treating the whole spectacle of politics as a kind of real-life version of World of Warcraft, at no moment in time does anyone have the luxury of being perfectly reasonable.

What to do, what to do?

If it were possible to get rid of campaigning altogether, that would be highly desirable. Not so much for the people who have the power to control who does and doesn’t run for office, of course. Such people might be unenthusiastic about the Death of Campaigning. But for the rest of us, it would be pretty great. Now, in order to ward off any obtuse objections, I want to make it clear we are not talking about banning campaigns. We still have our freedoms which must be preserved. It would have to be more like this: you could campaign if you wanted to, but it wouldn’t do you any good, and might even hurt your chances of getting elected if you engaged in that sort of unseemly behavior.

Wouldn’t that be nice!

Ah, me. If only there were some way to do that, to really put an end to this very unsavory, morally compromising way of selecting candidates for office, while preserving the fundamentals of our democracy. Sigh.

But there is no hope. Nope. No hope whatsoever. There has never been a solution to the dark necessity of political campaigning, and there never will be.

(Should I put a winky face after that? Nah, they’ll get it!)

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Holding My Breath

Holding My Breath

Here it is. I’m putting it out there in the world.

The trick at this point is going to be to get other people on board. Of course, I’m still developing the idea, I’m still working on a body of explanatory literature that will eventually be enough to fill a book, and there are still a lot of specifics that need to be filled in. But the rough outline of what I mean by Democracy Straight-Up is pretty much in place. At some point, you just gotta jump in!

This project started to take shape for me 30 years ago when I was in grad school. I was studying sociology.

I had a great English teacher when I was an undergrad–I took three courses he taught, so I tapped him for a recommendation when I applied to grad schools. He obliged, but he wrote me a personal note, one line of which I will never forget: “Your pursuit of a graduate degree is laudable, but I can’t agree with your choice of sociology, which I see as a haven for mediocrities and unclear thinking.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Notwithstanding that, I entered sociology with good intentions: I felt like there was clearly something wrong with society, and I wanted to help fix it. It seemed that, with all our prosperity, and even with our long experience living in a democracy, we Americans were still making each other miserable.

My focus on Direct Legislation (which I have rebranded as Connected Legislation) grew out of my frustration with all of the social theory I was ingesting. I became suspicious of any effort to ‘reinvigorate our democracy’ through partisan ideology. That’s a nice way to put it. Our go-to technique for improving democracy in America is to fashion a great, big, really judgmental, ideological hammer and start pounding on people’s thick skulls with it. Not that I don’t have an ideology. I’m a human being and, like anyone else. I have my political opinions. But after a while, that hammer gets so heavy. So very, very heavy.

I asked myself, what if it were possible to improve democracy in America–in a way that would make life better for everyone–without changing anyone’s political beliefs? What if I put down the hammer? How would that play out?

It struck me that there was a huge disconnect between the ‘will of the people,’ and ‘the law of the land,’ that is, our system of representation and legislation. So, I started casting about for solutions. Often, the problem of representation is addressed by shouting, “Kick the bums out!” This places the blame on the legislators themselves. But this always struck me as a poor solution. There is a reason why legislators tend to be the way they are; it doesn’t really have much to do with their personal character. Even people with good intentions have a hard time getting things done. And, as much as voters say they want to replace the congress with a better crop of representatives, it’s worth pointing out that they never really never do, do they?

So, maybe the legislators aren’t really to blame. Does that mean that the voters are to blame? After all, they keep filling the Congress with a bunch of weasels! Well, if that’s your diagnosis, what would be your next steps? You’d need to run around motivating and educating people so that they make better decisions, and get involved in the civic life of their community. And…zzzzz….oh, sorry, just fell asleep for a second there.

Of course, many people do that kind of work. It’s unclear how effective it is. But more to the point, what if ‘blaming the voters,’ from the get-go, is a wrong-headed solution to the problem? Then we are left at a bit of an impasse. If it’s not the politicians, and it’s not the voters, then what could possibly be causing the problem?

And so we arrive at a conclusion: the problem is not with the people participating in the system–the problem is with the structure of the system itself. Specifically the disconnect between any given legislative representative and the people they represent. And the solution to that is actually fairly straightforward. The trick is simply to build a connection. A direct connection. Not encouragement, not education, not electing people who promise, promise, promise! to stay in touch with the voters, and not by annoying people with endless opinion polls, or even, God forbid, referendums. Just cut out all the messiness and uncertainty in the middle.

That’s why I started thinking about a system of Connected Representation. And that is what the Democracy Straight Up Project is putting in place. It eliminates the need for campaigning, and therefor fundraising (and to some extent, even political parties). It allows you to put a regular, normal, competent person in your district’s seat in the House.

Obviously there is a lot more to it than just that and people will have a lot of questions–that’s what The Project is for. In the meantime, just imagine the House Rep for your district is ‘put forward’ by the voters of the district, in a truly meritocratic process, without anyone having to make speeches or raise a dime in campaign funds. Many of the evils inherent in the process of campaigning would be wiped out in one fell swoop.

Now, once you dig into the specifics of Connected Representation, you may realize that it makes something else very possible–inevitable really. Namely, direct legislation, which I am trying to rebrand as “Connected Legislation.”

This is not a system of referendums. Just a system where every voter can vote directly–yea, nay, etc.–on every piece of legislation that comes up for a vote before the US House of Representatives. Now, many people–including and especially the founders of American democracy–have had qualms (many, many qualms) about such a system. Believe me, when I started thinking about it, I had those qualms as well. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized that a sensible system of Connected Representation was nothing to be afraid of. I discovered that all of us have had, for a long time, the wrong idea when it came to this kind of ‘direct democracy.’ There’s a reason why we don’t see it as a solution–it has been chased out of our conscience minds by misconceptions and baseless fears. And, of course, the Democracy Straight Up Project will have its work cut out for it when it comes to addressing those misconceptions and those fears. But it’s totally doable.

And there we have it. Take a system of Connected Representation (starting at the national level), let it do what it does naturally, which is allow for Connected Legislation, and that gives you what I am calling.Democracy Straight-Up! Hit the Explore button up above, and start learning more, if you like. Or not. It’s a free country.

And it is about to get a lot freer !

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