For the past six years, the United States have been captive to a small group of radical ideologues with violent and messianic tendencies. At least one lesson must be reaped from this unsavory experience: if you are not moving forward, you are sliding back.
If progressives become content with the status quo and strive chiefly to preserve it, as was the case during the Clinton years, they automatically begin a retreat, and the right wing begins to advance. The opposite should always be the case: progressives always looking for a more equal, more loving society and the right wing trying to stop them.
To return things to their natural order, we need to think big, use our creative power and conceive many radical ways in which society could be better. In this spirit, I introduce what I hope to be a series, every sunday: Think BIG. It will be a forum where we lefties discuss wild ideas and dream of a better society with the hope of kicking public debate in the US and making it face leftward.
Below the fold, some ideas to make government more fair, transparent and accountable.
It is simply not sensible to have important positions that require expertise, such as FEMA or EPA director, be political appointments. These positions should be filled through a process of meritocracy: basically, the government opens a merits contest in which anyone can participate for the post. Points are awarded for experience and scholarly achievement in an impartial way. For example, a candidate for EPA director is awarded, say, ten points for every published peer-reviewed paper on the subject of the environment, thirty points for every year spent working in the public sector in this respect etc etc.
The structure of the contest (what should be taken into account, the scoring system) should be decided by, say, congress. The senate must confirm an appointee every four years; if the senate doesn't re-elect a person to a post, a new contest is issued. Notice that competent people could survive different administrations in this way, because they are doing a good job.
Of course, certain positions like State Secretary or Secretary of Defense should remain direct presidential appointments.
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IN CONGRESS
If, in a given district, 48% of the people vote democratic, 1% vote libertarian and 51% of the people vote republican, ¿why should all of the district be represented by a person who is 100% republican?
Proportional representation would make incumbents less safe, would make people better represented, would break the two party monopoly, would put a dent in negative politics and would end gerrymandering.
Congressional delegations from each state should represent the political leanings of their state more closely. This can be achieved through proportional representation.
Let us take,as an example, the state of California. California can send 53 congresspeople to Washington. That means that each congressional seat represents about 1.9% of the total vote in the state of California.
With the proportional representation system, people would vote for a given candidate and, at the same time, the party of said candidate. Seats would be alloted to the party according to the percentage of votes gained statewide. So, say, the Republicans, got 28.5% of the total votes in the state: That would mean 28.5/1.9= 15 congressmen to send to Washington. Which 15 congressmen? Here is where the votes for an individual kick in. The 15 republicans with the most votes would go to Washington. So republicans would run FOR their party and AGAINST each other.
Congressional districts would be drawn upon demographic and geographic criteria instead of electoral criteria. Congressmen would be assigned districts AFTER the elections, through a vote within the congressional delegation of the state, with a mind to having each district as closely represented as possible.
Notice, then, that politicians wouldn't be aiming at winning a given district but at getting as many votes as possible. It would make little sense to try to depress the votes of a given opponent thorugh politics of personal destruction. Also, we wouldn't have entrenched incumbents in safe, gerrymandered congressional seats.
Notice, also, that the green party of California would easily get at least 1.9% of the vote. That means that third parties are given an "in". It doesn't matter what you think of particular third parties: the two party duopoly fosters corruption and mediocrity. How many times have you voted for the "least bad" candidate instead of the best?
However, the entrance of third parties would seem to pose a problem. It is possible, for example, that the Nazi party of California could scrounge up 1.9% of the vote and thus gain a seat. It would be very unlucky for many of the inhabitants of a given district to be represented by a fringe, ideological party. There is an answer to this, however: each congressman represents two districts, each district is represented by two congressmen. So every district in California would be represented by two congressmen of different ideological leanings: in that way, it is more likely that people of any ideological stripe feel represented by at least one of their congressmen.
A final mathematical clarification: what if a party got, say, 10 % of the vote? That would mean five congressional seats plus .5% left over. In every election, parties who won seats would have some votes left over, not enough for a full seat. The last seat in congress would go to the party with the most "left over" votes.
OFFICE OF OVERSIGHT
Isn't it crazy that the republican congress had a republican-led ethics commitee? Shouldn't oversight come from the opposition?
Each presidential election year, all parties should run a candidate to lead the Office of Oversight, during primary dates. This office would have subpoena power as well as the ability to look at classified documents, issue criminal warrants and other penalties for corrupt behaviour.
Suppose, for example, that Republicans elect Tom Coburn and Democrats elect Elliot Spitzer fot the office of oversight. That hypothetical year, Republicans win the senate while dems win the presidency and the senate. Tom Coburn would appoint a head of oversight for the executive and one for the congress, while Elliot Spitzer would appoint a head of oversight for the senate. Spitzer and Coburn would cooperate in the oversight of the judiciary and of the military. The idea is that the losing party gets to lead the oversight of the winning party at each level.
The basic idea is this: if something like Abu Ghraib or the Mark Foley Scandal happens, part of the blame goes to the Office of Oversight, which is supposed to never allow such things to happen.
next on Think BIG
Next sunday: Foreign policy