Tag Archives: Campaign reform

Post-Nevada: Caught Between Political Hell No and I Don’t Know

Long troubled by the disproportionate primary process control of party extremists, I’m struggling to find a presidential candidate who offers me refuge from political homelessness.

With my political philosophy defined by non-traditional concepts of following Golden Rule principles and building unity – ideas that cross party lines – it’s not easy to find candidates I fully support. This year is no exception.

Republican leader Donald Trump routinely displays a full-force middle finger to anyone opposing him, emulating the contempt that President Obama has routinely displayed to his critics by not even pretending that different ideas could contain elements of merit. Perhaps Trump’s unflinching bravado explains his popularity among elements of the Republican electorate eager for payback, but he likely won’t build unity and he hasn’t even come close to sidling up to critical Golden Rule concepts.

Democrats are torn almost equally between a woman chosen by less than 10 percent of those Democratic voters who think honesty matters and a man committed to a Santa-like flow of government gifts. It seems Bernie Sanders would conscript more than half the nation into lifelong servitude that crosses the line between our Golden Rule duty to provide helping hands to those in need over to forcibly requiring the majority to porter around people who are both capable of walking on their own and likely to build better lives if left to paths with fewer bureaucratic obstacles.

Once I wake from the concept of changing my legal name to Hell No and running a November write-in campaign, I’m faced with the realistic dilemma of having to choose among less-than-desirable alternatives. Nevada caucus results only elevate my nightmare scenario prospects.

So what primary should I vote in when given a chance in mid-March? Who deserves help at least making it to November?

Each of us has our own priorities, but three fundamental reforms seem essential to the nation’s ability to survive long past our current 240 years (which also happens to be the average existence of empires before implosion or invasion). Continue reading

Mental Illness, Politics Increasingly Intersect

It’s a bit frightening watching as the mental illness and political worlds increasingly overlap.

When I started writing on two tracks—one focused on mental illness and another on politics and public policy—I thought I was covering different subjects. Now, it’s clear that understanding mental illness and its remedies contributes to comprehending and working in our political system—recognition I share with no desire to diminish either topic.

Consider the following:

  • Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real,” according to Wikipedia. “Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and lack of motivation.” As we look at public policy today, how often do we find political debates rooted in falsehoods, clear policy inconsistencies and words twisted by political opponents to suggest they mean something other than what we heard. As is the case with schizophrenia, improving our political system requires multimodal treatment that includes educational, social and other interventions, including direct treatment of some of the primary causes of the psychosis in the system. In government, the psychosis often originates in a disconnected, dysfunctional political system.
  • According to Mayo Clinic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder “is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” Can you think of anyone from the political world for whom this description applies? Understanding narcissism is too often critical to understanding politicians.

Continue reading

The Golden Rule and Political Reform

Money is expanding its role in national politics, thanks to two Supreme Court decisions. As part of a series of posts to test whether the Golden Rule can be used as a governing concept rather than just to guide personal behavior, I’ll take a brief look at whether adding a Golden Rule constitutional amendment would change the outcome of these cases.

In its McCutcheon v FEC decision released earlier this month, the Supreme Court continued down a path embraced in Citizens United of eliminating campaign financing restrictions that are not specifically intended to prevent quid pro quo corruption or the clear appearance of corruption. The McCutcheon decision removes cumulative contribution limits to certain types of political committees, following on the Citizens United decision to allow unrestricted donations by corporations, associations and unions to independent political groups.

Would the outcome of these cases be different if the nation adopted an amendment to the constitution to embed the Golden Rule in our founding document? I argue it likely would change. I also believe that reducing the influence of money on our nation’s government is critically needed.

A Golden Rule amendment might read as follows: Continue reading

Millennials Move Toward Party Independence Offers Hope

I’ve half-joked for years that Washington D.C. has too many Democrats, too many Republicans and far too few Americans. It’s not that our leaders aren’t patriotic. Instead, strong party identification itself is more hazardous to national governance than most suspect.

In Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them, Harvard Professor Joshua Greene delves into the problems created by tribally influenced public policy decisions. Throughout history, our moral intuitions are heavily influenced by human desire to remain in solidarity with our identified tribe (or political party). Human instincts frequently align with protecting the tribe rather than solving the problem. We’ve certainly seen this behavior in Washington expand exponentially since the early 1990s.

To make matters worse, even when political leaders engage what Greene refers to as their “manual mode” to more deeply reflect on ideal solutions, they are increasingly disoriented by the selective information sources that shape their views. Few elected officials have the time or political incentive to do what should be their most important work of studying why they might be wrong and whether alternative solutions exist outside of mainstream party policy.

There may be reason for hope. Recent Pew Research Center polling data shows that half of all Millennials now consider themselves political independents. This is the largest and fastest-growing generational party independence. If Americans move away from strong party identification toward issue-by-issue and person-by-person judgment of our elected leaders, we may be able to nudge our political leaders toward less tribal approaches. Of course, we will also need to enact political reforms, such as California’s recent move toward open primaries, to make it more likely that politicians who stray from their tribe on an issue can survive politically.

Recent Trends in Party Identification, by Generation

In his farewell address in 1796, President George Washington warned about the troubles political parties would create for our nation: “They are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
Perhaps our Millennial generation has already seen enough of this behavior, from both parties, to decide it’s time to chart a new course.

End of an Era, Finally

By the time John Dingell and Henry Waxman leave Congress at the end of this session, they will have served just a few months shy of 100 years combined from their seats in Michigan and California.

Their simultaneous parting makes sense as each served as the other’s foil for so long. For decades, their congressional careers intertwined in tense power struggles, a mingling I had the chance to see up close in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During work on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, I had the honor of being cursed out by Chairman Dingell, making him the second most powerful politician ever to have let me know in strident tone and content that I didn’t have the right to challenge a point of fact as he stated it. Despite this, I admired his dedication and commitment to his cause. From Chairman Waxman and some of his staff, I learned that when you argue from the far left, the self-presumption that your motives are pristine allows for fudging in methods of achieving one’s objectives. It’s a lesson I’ve never agreed with, but never forgotten in coming to my own conclusions on right and wrong in politics and policy.

During their decades and decades and decades of service, there is no doubt that Congressmen Dingell and Waxman did great good at times. There’s equally no doubt that extensive attentiveness to protecting committee jurisdiction, engagement in personal disputes and long-ago separation from the realities of daily American life led to less-than-optimal policies at others. I’m grateful for the chance to have watched them work together more than two decades ago, when they showed an ability to put aside personal power struggles long enough to reach agreements on significant legislation.

I’m glad they are going together. It’s only right. Dingell and Waxman belong together as much as Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple.

This unlikely pair might not be the best example of why we need a political system with fewer incumbent advantages, but you can’t look at nearly 100 years for two congressmen and say we have the ideal system for electing citizen legislators. I hope we will fix our political system so legislators stop seeing Washington, D.C. as their true home.

After all, centuries should be celebrated by nations, not elected officials.