Tag Archives: political reform

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.

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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

Filtering Politics Through a Golden Rule Lens

My path as a political futurist action-suspense writer would be far easier if I could tell you my tribe. If I could easily and consistently use words to describe myself like progressive, conservative, libertarian or socialist, I could quickly target my audience. If I could tell you I’m clearly aligned with the Republican, Democratic, Tea, Libertarian or Green parties, you would readily know what to expect of my views.

It would be easier.

But it wouldn’t be true.

Even if I did fix my political position today, that identification will likely shift as definitions and platforms change for political terms and parties, respectively. I may also simply change my mind on certain issues as I learn and think more, perhaps with your help.

Two core concepts that don’t consistently align with an entrenched philosophy or political party are foundational to my views:

  • My all-encompassing philosophy is the Golden Rule concept of “doing unto others as I would have done unto myself” and it’s negative form of “not doing to others what I would not want done to me.” Following the Golden Rule requires that I understand others, consider all impacted by any decision and imagine what I would want done if I were in similar circumstances. It also means thinking through long-term implications to eliminate my cognitive biases rather than rely on my immediate emotional response as a definitive answer.
  • The simpler of my core concepts is driving peaceful national longevity.  Governmental dissolutions can be peaceful, as one might expect if Scotland secedes from Great Britain. However, secession efforts frequently turn violent as we see today in Ukraine. Disorder and chaos create vacuums often filled with violent conflict. Conflict always finds innocent victims. There’s no opportunity to make amends to dead innocents.

The Golden Rule is embedded in the scriptures and teachings of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, Jainism, Taoism, Baha’i, native spiritualities, and many other faiths. The Golden Rule also happens to be endorsed by most secular humanists and atheists/agnostics as a core life principal. In fact, it’s a unifying principle across nearly all of humanity but one many think of as confined to governing personal behavior. Unfortunately, it is not embedded in the governing document for the United States. It is not required to be considered in developing our laws, regulations and enforcement.

Once we agree that we should treat each other fairly doesn’t mean we will always agree on what that means. After all, we each start with an individual experience and knowledge base. Seeing past our biases takes study, debate and an open mind. The Golden Rule, though, at least gives us a common objective to work toward and against which to ask questions without demonizing those beginning from a different answer.

After a month-long break from posting here, I’ll take a stab this week at testing my Golden Rule-based philosophy against several of the issues I expect to dominate media attention during the 2014 mid-term elections: political reform, income inequality, climate change and immigration. I won’t pretend my views are the definitive answer, only that they make sense given what I know.

Readers who define themselves along traditional partisan lines almost certainly won’t agree with everything I write. Hopefully, though, I’ll raise concepts you hadn’t considered, offer solutions not generally debated and otherwise leave you feeling that reading these perspectives is a good use of time.

My personal and author branding would be easier if I could pick a well-defined track that others have cleared in advance and just ride the rails to an audience. But I haven’t found a path that I can stay on without believing I’ve taken a wrong turn.

I’ll be interested in your reactions.

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.

Time to Replace Tic-Tac-Toe Democracy

Once again, our petulant government leaders are engaged in a contentious battle of policy tic-tac-toe, leaving the nation mired in the pit of a perpetual D.C. cat’s game.

Substantive issues plaguing our nation remain unresolved, even as the two sides hold dueling press conferences to explain why one side placed its O in the bottom left corner after the other placed its X in the center, all the while knowing the outcome of the game is preordained.

Cat's Game
Cat’s Game

Until we change the game, both sides will continue to prance and preen, pretending they are serving our interests. In reality, they are satisfied to play the game to the cheers of adoring audiences: reveling further when opponents condemn their every move. Meanwhile, the nation stagnates.

It’s time for us to step in and change the game. If we want our interests to take precedence over the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties, we’re going to have to create a new game board, with an entirely new set of rules and a definition of victory that puts the American people ahead of politicians.

Readers of my novels will know that I believe a constitutional amendment to fix our political process is an essential pre-condition of restoring America and improving the lives of every American. Our politicians have devolved into playing zero-sum games, where the only options are win, lose or draw. Only by changing the game can we create an environment where win-win-win alternatives are the preferred outcome over win-lose and, far too frequently, everybody-loses battles.

Here are a few new game rules I believe are essential: Continue reading

Is Being a “Paid Liar” Identical to Being Partisan?

When House Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa calls White House spokesman Jay Carney a “paid liar,” is he really just saying that Carney is a committed Democrat. Political science research has shown for decades that political partisans see the world through highly shaded lenses, and can’t even agree on basic facts, as a recent Washington Post blog article noted.

A 1988 American National Election Studies survey showed that more than 50 percent of people who identified themselves as strong Democrats believed inflation had become somewhat or substantially worse during President Reagan’s tenure. In fact, inflation fell from 13.5 percent to 4.1 percent under Reagan’s leadership. Princeton Professor Larry Bartels noted that, “Democrats were strikingly impervious to the good economic news” in his review of that study. Republicans don’t handle facts any better. Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of Georgia State found that Republicans presented with news articles pointing out that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that such weapons were found than Republicans who didn’t read those articles. The truth, in other words, triggered a partisan backlash of their view of the facts, as the Post story noted.

It gets worse. Continue reading

Finally Integrating Prom

My first reaction was simply: Why is this still an issue?

It’s remarkable that, in 2013, teenagers are finding they have to overcome objections of adults to engage in an integrated activity. Societies in which races, ethnicities and languages are allowed or required to operate separately never reach the level of integration and understanding necessary to develop harmony and national continuity.

As a nation, our integration progress has become more sporadic and demographic evidence suggests is even reversing in many areas of the country. Continue reading

Broken Politics, Bipartisan Failure

News that a bipartisan U.S. Senate group has agreed on immigration reform principles gives hope to the idea that problem solving in Washington could push partisanship to a temporary political pasture.

Our deeply flawed political process will turn any such grazing grasses bitter soon enough, though, even if an agreement is reached and a significant issue is temporarily addressed.

Four political system flaws are the biggest impediments to solution-oriented government:

  • Segregation
  • Primaries
  • Money, and
  • Bureaucracy

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Fiscal Cliff Debate More Proof of System Failure

The continuing Fiscal Cliff saga again makes clear that our political system is fundamentally broke. Chapter 29 of Melting Point 2040 tackles the need for fundamental political reform, which character Professor Stark helps lead into implementation a generation from now. The following comment is from the summer of 2040, but the issues are real today:

“Prior to these reforms, lengthy political campaigns were so costly that elected officials held fundraisers for their next campaign almost two months before taking office for the race just won. The most aggressive politicians started even sooner, not letting even a weekend pass after an election before imploring for more cash.

“In the past, real policy debates rarely survived the first 90 days of a new term. Even in those first months, congressional leaders focused on framing debates to create issues aimed at winning seats in the next election cycle. Continue reading