Sunday, July 21, 2013

We're just not republican enough

I've finally figured out what the biggest problem in our country is:

We're not republican enough. 

Note that I have not capitalized the R. I'm not saying the problem is that we're not aligned enough with the policies and values of the Republican Party. Far from it! What I am saying is that many, many of us have been taught that we are part of a democracy and we act as if this is not only the way it should be, but that "the government" is taking away our God-given democratic rights. The truth is otherwise.

We do not live in a democracy. We live in a republic.

A republic, as anyone my age who passed high school Civics class can tell you, is a representative democracy. We elect people to represent us as members of the local school board, city council, or state or federal Senate or House of Representatives. We trust them to educate themselves about policy and the implications of the various laws and other policy items they vote on and then to defend those votes to their constituents. We may not agree with them one hundred percent, but we gauge their performance not on how much we agree with them but on how much they accomplish for our own good and the good of the country.

Not anymore. Now we want to vote on everything, every time, or we want our "representatives" to simply cast a vote on our behalf, just as if we were sitting in that chamber. Never mind that most of us don't know a tenth of the implications of the votes we would like taken on our behalf. Never mind that we can generally be trusted only to act in our own self-interest rather than in the interest of others. Vote my way or get out, Mr. or Mrs. Representative!

What has this brought us? Timid and reactive politicians. Witness the immigration debate. If you held a majority of House Republican's feet to the fire, most would agree that some version of the current Senate-passed immigration reform bill makes sense. But they won't support it. Why? They're afraid. Not afraid of immigrants, or of them taking jobs from others, or anything you might expect. They're afraid of being defeated in their primary races by someone more "conservative" (read: right-wing) then they are. They are afraid of not being re-elected. Not failing to be re-elected because they haven't done enough, but failing to be re-elected because their "base" constituency will be whipped into a froth and vote them out on this issue only--regardless of whether or not it makes sense.

Couple this with the obscene amount of money it takes to mount a credible campaign, which mostly relies on simplistic 30-second commercials about how awful the other candidate is and how they supported this bill or that bill, and how awful it is that they could compromise on such an important issue (whatever that issue is) and you end up with representatives who spend half their time raising money, a quarter of their time campaigning for re-election by deriding their opponents, and it is no wonder there is little time to even come up with a nuanced version of any issue, much less to foster the kind of across-the-aisle relationships that getting anything done requires.

My solution? Evaluate representatives not on how closely they aligned with your own views on various policy issues, but on how much they actually got accomplished. Did they participate in crafting and passing a more or less realistic budget? Did they reach across the aisle to collaborate with others to get a reasonably good law or policy passed? Did they reach out to ALL of their constituents (not just donors or their "base") with thoughtful discussions and defenses of their votes? Then re-elect them. If they just reacted to the latest 30 second commercial, bowed to pressure from their fellow representatives on their side of the aisle or, worse, their "leaders", vote them out.

At least, that's what I think.

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