THE 2014 CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGNS:
Promise & Potential Lost?
“God save the U.S.A.” This blessing, so often spoken at the end of political speeches, is all the more fitting as we look at the lineups for the next Congress. Why? – Because all except a very small minority of those running do NOT have their eyes fixed on what must be considered ISSUE # 1. This is what one Florida candidate, Carl Domino (R, FL 18), calls “Fix Congress First!” Instead, we see a new, unholy twist of the Biblical injunction that “The first shall be last.” Fix Congress is not even mentioned except by Carl and less than 3% of the rest of those running.
So what are about 97% of the rest running on? – The usual litany of media headline issues, with the mix only varying somewhat by type of district. There's “health” (or “Obamacare”), “jobs & the economy,” “energy,” “immigration.” “security” (or its opposite, “terrorism”), etc. If you want to represent a Congressional District (CD) in the heartland; of course you have to throw in “agriculture.” Odd it is, though, that with all the polls underlining ISSUE #1 and broadcasting...
A historically high 82% disapproval and very low 9% approval of Congress' performance;
Chronic congressional “gridlock” and systemic “dysfunction;”
A Congress that is “lazy” and “do nothing;” and
Congress as a bunch whose overriding interest is “working for their reelection...”
Neither candidates nor Members of Congress [MoCs] seem able to connect the dots to draw the obvious implication – That none of their highest priorities or their constituents' most heartfelt concerns can be properly addressed when Congress as an institution is so sick and in dire need of revamp, recasting and reform. Implicit in this failure is an unstated assumption of old: That, somehow, Congress and the rest of our American democratic republic will manage by just bumbling along, or that some one of America's “best and brightest” will come riding into the White House on a white horse in 2016 (like Obama in 2008) to save our a--. “It ain't necessarily so...” says an old song. Somehow, “We the People” will have to save ourselves as well as what should be, but is not now, OUR democracy and our republic.
What's so painful in the picture painted above is that we're talking about the only leg of the 3-legged stool of our federal system that is truly commissioned to work with and for us, “We the People.” That is the Congress, especially the House of Representatives. Another part of the indictment of Congress not cited earlier is “corruption” of its bodies by big money and big corporations. The only antidote to these is more people taking responsibility for what should be THEIR politics. If politics is not 'R US', then what is it? It's OUR time vs. THEIR money. If we can't, won't or don't honor our civic and political responsibilities as citizens, then big money necessarily wins, we lose, and our precious American democratic republic may be lost, too. Some say what we should refuse to say – that it's already lost.
This is why a bunch of concerned citizens around the country have formed A People's and Citizens' Congress, legally established as a 501(c)(4). Our mission is to generate a Congress that represents, empowers and involves “We the People” in their self-governance, trains citizens to be citizen-leaders, and introduces a strong element of direct democracy into our representative system. To start, we are selecting candidates for Congress for endorsement – only those whose platforms include at least one of the latter goals. The numbers are embarrassingly small – 11 out of our 21 selected CDs and 4 of 15 select Senate races. These translate to 2.5% [11 of 435] and 11% [4 of 36]. Even if all of our candidates for the House and the Senate were elected (unlikely), there would hardly be more than a small minority caucus for fixing Congress in either body. Half of those we endorsed survived their primaries.
Yet, the election of even a few who recognize what we most need to achieve can be viewed as a victory. Why?-- Because those few represent hope – that a substantial reformation of our democracy might be accomplished peacefully without a bloody revolt that would destroy it. The hope would be amplified by two factors outside of Congress:
The organization of activists devoted to putting pressure on Congress to adopt a raft of bills by which Congress could do what it has proven unable to do in the past – reform itself; and
Establishment in at least a few CDs of alternative congressional offices that would demonstrate how the typical federal expenditure of at least $2 million per office can be devoted to better purpose than promoting Members' reelections – to empowering, engaging and serving “We the People”.
In each case, the key to success is having a MoC dedicated to pursuing “Fix Congress” from within while his staff mobilizes and trains constituents to build pressure for change from without. This people-based approach to reform stands in marked contrast to that of Prof. Lawrence Lessig, who is using the same-old, same-old (SO/SO) big-money-based approach. The future of our democratic republic may well hinge on which approach works best. Pray that it's the people-based alternative.
For one thing is very clear: The conventional SO/SO approach – thinking that we can remedy the failures of Congress simply by playing the usual game of political musical chairs, which exchanges one set of faces and names for another – this won't do the trick -- even if we followed my late father's advice to “throw the bums out”. Unless, that is, a substantial number of the new bums are devoted to generating a Congress that both truly represents and empowers “We the People.”
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., Chairman of A People's and Citizens' Congress, firstname.lastname@example.org and 603-560-4224, P.O. Box 70, Danville, NH 03819