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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.

MERITOCRACY

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

Originally posted to Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:15 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jars: Meritocracy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oceanspray, AdamR, ms badger

    I'm going to put a tip jar for each of the three ideas presented in the diary

    touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

    by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:15:18 AM PST

  •  Tip Jars: proportional representation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oceanspray, AdamR

    touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

    by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:15:34 AM PST

    •  non-partisan proportional representation (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Bula

      I think that the Single Transferable Vote is the best method for proportional representation. It's basically Instant Runoff Voting, with multiple winners.

      It would be the most natural extension of our current system (individual based elections), and it wouldn't institutionalize political parties (allowing for corruption at that level).

      [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

      by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 08:57:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I like STV (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AdamR

        but I think it is a little complex to implement.

        I think what I propose would be more straight forward, and would also recognize that in congress representatives work as a caucus, not as individuals. Snowe and Collins are, effectively, right wingers, for example, in their vote for Majority Leader

        touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

        by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:03:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  power sharing in Congress (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mr Bula

          I dislike partisanship in general and would like to see it gone from politics--which is part of the reason I like STV. However, as you noted, partisanship (or "caucusing") is important in how Congress works. I wonder if that's just an artifact of a "winner-take-all" system in Congress itself.

          Lani Guineer has a lot of good ideas about how institutions can be restructured to share power. I wonder if she has an idea of how to get around the need to caucus and elect chairmen/speakers.

          [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

          by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:50:36 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  complexity (0+ / 0-)

          I don't see how this proposed system is any simpler than STV. I think the main difference is that STV is based purely on the decisions of the voters, whereas the system proposed above has substantial coordination from the politicians themselves (which may have value in that it reflects caucusing).

          I like the system proposed above (relative to other PR systems) because it doesn't institute the parties themselves--"parties" are defined by the associations that candidates choose to make each election. However, it could have some strange behavior that may result in excessive concentration of power.

          First, how is the "party list" decided? Will they be closed (all members on list must accept the entire list), which would probably result in lists that are determined by a few very popular candidates. Or will the list be open to any candidate who wishes to join the list?

          It seems that the most popular candidates on each list/party will have strong coat-tails. For example, there could be a lot of down-list candidates who only get elected because the most popular candidate managed to receive a lot of votes. Alternatively, a STV system actually requires voters to explicitly choose any candidate who gets elected.

          What if a list does not provide enough candidates to fill all the seats won by that list? What if candidates get elected even though they only got 10 votes (but someone else on the list got tons of excess votes)?

          [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

          by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:01:36 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  re: complexity (0+ / 0-)

            for voters, I mean: it is custumary to vote for a single guy, not to number your preferences.

            re: excess votes, etc

            This system operates in other countries. Lists could be decided on primary dates. As for excess votes, this could be worked out: maybe the biggest vote getter in a party could select people for excess seats, which would respect voters preference for the big vote-getter

            touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

            by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:04:59 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  why have districts with PR (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Bula

      Why would a PR system have districts at all? As you pointed out, it would be complicated to "assign" a representative to a district, and it just doesn't seem to make any sense with a PR system, since everyone is elected "at large"

      [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

      by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:48:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  so that everyone has 2 representatives (0+ / 0-)

        they can call their own. And write to, etc...

        touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

        by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:06:22 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  but those reps wouldn't be accountable (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mr Bula

          The reps would be seeking votes from people all over the state, and have no special attachment to their own district.

          Perhaps the people could "call" the reps their own, but there's no reason to believe that these reps would be as responsive as representatives currently are, when they are elected by district.

          [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

          by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:08:56 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  maybe you're right (0+ / 0-)

            in fact, part of the reason I like PR is thatpeople in a state have other things in common besides geographic location.

            touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

            by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:11:22 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  definitely (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Mr Bula

              Each election season, I hear tons of advertisements for candidates outside of my district, and often I am in a different district than my friends and family--so we can't really discuss candidates with each other.

              Regarding district representation--an intermediate step would be to make several multimember districts (2 or 3 elected officials), so that we get some of the effects of proportional representation while still keeping candidates "close to home". If that works well, the system can be expanded.

              [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

              by AdamR on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 05:37:22 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Tip Jars: Office of Oversight (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oceanspray, ms badger

    touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

    by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:15:52 AM PST

  •  Pass All Appropriations Bills On Time (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oceanspray, Mr Bula

    No more of this months-late, lame-duck, Christmas-eve, under-the-cover-of-darkness, pork-for-everyone, nobody-read-it omnibus appropriations bills, ok?

    This doesn't even require any structural reform in Congress, just the discipline to do what they were elected to do.

    As for this year ...

    Prospects for passage of remaining spending bills in lame-duck session grow dim

    November 17, 2006

    Republican leaders appear inclined to pass a long-term continuing resolution after giving up on completing the remaining fiscal 2007 appropriations bills ...

    They already stole as much as they wanted in the DOD & DHS bills, plus an extra $5.3 billion out of social programs, so now they'll let the Democrats deal with the mess.

  •  Instant Round Robin Elections (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mr Bula

    For all offices where a single winner is necessary, like senate, president, governer, etc. (not representative, that should be proportional) we need to have an electoral method that allows people to vote for small party candidates without harming the chances of their favorite major party candidate.  The best method I've seen is called Condorcet voting, or for those that don't like French sounding things, Instant Round Robin Voting.  This method allows people to rank candidates, as in Instant Runoff Voting, but simulates all possible two person elections, rather than running plurality elections until there is a majority.  This method has some advantages:

    1.  Ballots are summable.  That is to say, the results of many ballots can be added together and the originals are no longer needed.  Instant Runoff voting requires that all ballots be accessible during the final count.  Therefore Condorcet can take place with individual vote counters spread over an arbitrary time and distance while IRV must be done centrally.
    1.  The entire ballot is counted allways, instead of just looking at the top choice at the time.  The real opinion of the electorate is thus taken into account.
    1.  The system is designed to model how a voter would vote strategically if neccessary (Gore instead of Nader, for example) and so eleiminates the need for strategic voting.
    •  I actually have an idea for that (0+ / 0-)

      for a later diary: vote pledge. Each candidate pledges his votes to another candidate should he finish third or worse. So, say, you have an election with a repub that gets 48% a dem that gets 46% and a green that gets 46%, but the green has pledged his votes to the dem: the dem wins.

      This would transform third parties from uncomfortable spoilers to valuable allies.

      touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

      by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:54:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Vote pledging keeps power away from the people (0+ / 0-)

        Simple example:  Libertarians.  Some libertarians place a higher value on economic freedom, and would choose to vote republican given a choice between democrats and republicans.  Some value social freedoms more, and would vote democrat.  In your proposal, if the libertarian candidate pledges her votes to the republican, the democratic libertarians would be best served staying home.

        Here's another one.  Let's say an right leaning independant pledges his votes to a libertarian, who pledges her votes to a democrat.  Now, no one wants to vote for the independant.

        This method seems to cause many potential instances where voters still need to vote strategically, rather than their concience.

    •  Condorcet within the Dem Party? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Bula, Easy B Oven

      Do you think we could institute Condorcet's method in the Democratic Primary?

      I think it would be ideal for selecting candidates because it finds the candidate who has broadest support among the group. This means that the candidate is most likely to keep all voters "on board" during the general election.

      [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

      by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 08:54:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Great idea (0+ / 0-)

        I don't think our 04 nominee would be Kerry had we had that system

        touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

        by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:01:33 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  our system is weird (0+ / 0-)

          It seems that the point of the primary election is to narrow the field down to two candidates, so that all those extra candidates don't distract the voters and distort the election results. However, the spoiler problem just rears its head in the primary election itself.

          [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

          by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:42:04 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  That would be a good first step (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mr Bula

        Condorcet voting would undoubtably make for stronger general election candidates, and it would also give people a taste of IRRV that would make them more comfortable using it in the general elections.  Another good first step would be an individual state using Condorcet for its elections.

        The end goal in my opinion, however, should be its use in general elections and the elimination of primaries.  It is two party governance that allowed Bush to do what he did, and it is political parties in general that prevents our government from being greater than it is.

  •  Term limits (0+ / 0-)

    What do you think of term limits? They seem to have pretty broad suppoort among Americans (especially reform-minded Americans).

    Even better, it may be possible to institute them within the Democratic Party itself, regardless of whether it is instituted in the government itself.

    It will assure voters that we aren't just trying to accumulate power in our own hands, but are really dedicated to citizen involvement in government. Furthermore, we'd have a lot of "ex" elected officials. This gives a person instant credibility with the media and with citizen's groups. Even better, these people would have relinquished power gracefully, rather than waiting until they get defeated by an opponent.

    [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

    by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:39:54 AM PST

    •  I'm ambivalent (0+ / 0-)

      I agree with your points (specially "internal" term limits) but I do think (re: FDR, for example) that if a person is doing a good job, he should stay in it.

      touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

      by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 09:47:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  apply to our nominees (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mr Bula

        I actually meant that the Dems could enforce term limits on our own nominees.

        I'm not sure how it would work, but I think it could be good for the party and the country.

        [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

        by AdamR on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:06:39 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Just a voluntary compromise (0+ / 0-)

          Dem's will not run for more than x terms... Repubs actually had it in their Contract with America... of course, they didn't fulfill their promise

          touche pas à mon pote!, -7.63, -6.56

          by Mr Bula on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:07:59 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  not quite in the Contract (0+ / 0-)

            The CwA actually was more subtle. It said that they'd vote on making it a law, and that they'd unilaterally apply term limits to committee chairs.

            Many Republicans of that era made additional promises not to run for more than a certain number of terms. Some kept that promise, others didn't.

            A party-level enforcement mechanism might give more credibility to such individual promises, and win some voters for the DP.

            [-1,-6.4]: Everyone deserves a Citizen's Dividend.

            by AdamR on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 05:01:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Legislators should lose the right (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mr Bula

    to attach unrelated amendments to any bill that makes it to the House or Senate floor.  Among other things, it would eliminate the possibility of last minute pork addenda.

    Another thing:  Media should be required to provide candidates with free time during campaigns as a cost of doing business in the lucrative US media market.  An election superfund, financed through a small income tax surcharge, let's say, could take care of other expenses.  Things like soft money, 527s, even personal donations should be eliminated.

    And yet another:  Elections should be administered by an independent, non-partisan civil service-based government department similar to Elections Canada.  And all ballots should be paper.  Forget voting machines.

    -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

    by GulfExpat on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 10:04:55 AM PST

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