Quote for Election Day

Robert Alan Dahl is the Sterling Professor emeritus of political science at Yale University. He's often called the "Dean of American political scientists for his scholarship in democratic theory. In his 1956 book, A Preface to Democratic Theory, he says:
The only thing democratic about an American mass election is the honest tabulation of the ballot.
So on Election Day, keep things in mind:
  1. As joyful or depressed as you feel about the outcome, remember that it comes from a deeply flawed system where cash and demagoguery rule. It's less that the right persons won or lost than it's the system that lost.
  2. As populations get larger and larger, the ideal of democracy get more and more diluted. It may live large in your town, but it's being squeezed among the hordes.
  3. Although Dahl was discussing presidential elections, mass elections of all kinds meet the same disdain. 
  4. For a future choice, make improving the system more important than supporting party or finding a model candidate. You'll rise above the miasma and just maybe you'll actually make a difference.


House of Pain

As you folks know, this is a serious site. Found this on a piece of paper blowing down the street. Enjoy. (write flush2009.gmail for comments)

Jon: John Hodgman joins us. Much of our sanity pleas concern congress. How would you reform congress?

Hodgman: How did the Detroit auto industry reform itself?

Jon: I don't think they intentionally did it - I think the Japanese ate their lunch and they changed to save themselves.

Hodgman: Exactly Jon, COMPETITION. First we have to quit calling it "congress" which used to mean carnal mingling. It’s impolite to call it F*** House, so let's call it Corporate House, since it represents corporations.

Jon: But people vote for their representatives.

Hodgman: Corporations want you to think that. It's like those red lipstick Progressive ads. You’re not buying auto insurance, you're meeting a new friend; you may get laid. We all know that Max Baucus represents Aetna and Amgen or that Mitch McConnell sells tobacco and whiskey. If Meg Whitman wins, she wears Goldman Sachs' colors which, for Corporate House, is like an Iowan representing corn.

Jon: So if the answer is competition. What competes with Congress or Corporate House?

Hodgman: House of Pain.

Jon: I see, named after Thomas Paine the great friend of popular government.

Hodgman: No Jon, PAIN like when I stick a pin in your eye.

Jon: Who would want that?

Hodgman: You Jon and everyone else. Why do we have a national legislature?

Jon: To cause pain?

Hodgman: Exactly. It declares war. It sets taxes. It forces high school kids to buy their pot from alley scum.

Jon: How would this House of Pain work?

Hodgman: We're all pissed that our football games are interrupted by pictures of Christine O'Donnell or Rents Too Damn High. Don't worry, no more political ads.

Jon: Why?

Hodgman: Representatives in the House of Pain will be selected at random from those who demonstrate they know the difference between Sam Adams Oktoberfest and Sam Adams, patriot. The new representatives won't require a large building, even though the House of Pain will host ten thousand representatives.

Jon: Why not?

Hodgman: They'll work out of their house, or in your viewers' case, their mother's house. It's a part-time job, which fits the future when all of us will have part-time jobs.

Jon: But John, figuring out something like healthcare or pondering whether to go to war in Iraq is serious business.

Hodgman: That's why we can't leave it to corporations, who have to worry if their Caribbean money drop is still functioning. The House of Pain will take its time figuring out how we'll be screwed for healthcare.

Jon: How might the House of Pain pass on a Supreme Court nominee?

Hodgman: It would form a panel of esteemed scholars to nominate 25 candidates. Next a game show would select the final candidates.

Jon: Game show?

Hodgman: Of course Jon, something like "Dancing with the Stars." Call it "Dancing Around a Straight Answer." The panel will be Judge Wapner, Judge Judy and Clarence Thomas.

Jon: Clarence Thomas? Why?

Hodgman: He gets to ask women their breast size and men their favorite porn scene. Ratings are important Jon - you know that.

Jon: And how is the winner chosen?

Hodgman: The president selects the winner out of a hat.

Jon: Sounds like the president is a bit player in this new system.

Hodgman: Yes, he's banned from television except for these ceremonial duties. Believe me Jon, no one will complain.

Jon: Most members of Corporate House are lawyers - they know how to write a complex bill that covers contingencies.

Hodgman: Jon, the House of Pain likes things simple. A visit to your cardiologist will cost you 300 bucks. (Clutches his chest) "Oh, maybe this is just angina. I'll wait to see the doctor." This solves the rationing problem and also the curse of having too many old people hanging around collecting pensions.

Jon: If the House of Pain had existed in 2002, would they have declared war on Iraq?

Hodgman: No Jon. It would have simply given Saddam Hussein his own television series. He wrote Romance novels - did you know?

Jon: And that would have prevented war?

Hodgman: Politics is always about jobs. Everybody knows that. If each Facebooker, Twitteree or redditor was given a job, America would be back to prosperity in no time.

Jon: So the House of Pain would not only get America back to fiscal health but also give people more jobs? That's a win/win.Thank you.

Hodgman: You're welcome, Jon.

Jon: John Hodgman everyone.


How to Really, Really reform Congress: Sanity House

Jon Stewart's "Sanity" gathering is on October 30th. Here's what I would say if I got my 3 minutes of "fame."
Note: see Leslie Stahl interview below

A lady in California is dipping into her purse for over 100 million bucks to buy a franchise in that Bad Boys Club down the Mall. If I had $100 million to blow, I’d go in another direction.

Remember how bad American cars were fifty years ago? Japan began to sell us cars and each year they got better and better. Pretty soon, even GM admitted that the imports were eating Detroit's lunch.

If we want to end a dysfunctional Congress, we need a repeat. A bit of Yankee ingenuity and competition will make Congress either obsolete or force a make-over.

A $100 million could jump start an upside down, alternative Congress. Let's call it “Sanity House.”
Think about everything you know about Congress - Sanity House would be opposite.

A congressional candidate will spend months of 12-hour days running for office. Half the time will be spent raising money. The rest will be split between self-congratulatory speeches and meeting with image mechanics. A candidate for Sanity House will do none of the above – they may even continue their day job.

A new member of Congress joins a team, and then takes a seat on the bench while the stars control the game. Each Sanity House member is a player from day one. Joining a team is an option, not a requirement. Ever hear of the "rugged individual?" Sanity House has em'.

Congress has members sitting in hearings, endless hearings controlled by some guy who’s automatically elected by folks who may appear yokels, but who are smart enough to understand that a lifetime representative is money in the bank – money stolen from states that have competitive elections.

Sanity House members do their own research. They know how to Google. And if they take a few minutes off to watch a YouTube piano-playing big fat cat or even a little pussy, nobody cares. For the anti-politicians of this Sanity world, it really is a free country.

Congress has 535 members but Sanity House has ten thousand because it’s a part-time job and you mostly work out of your house. The individual senator is puffed-up important. A Sanity House member is just one of the people, though a little smarter and a little harder working than the average bear.

To get into the Senate you may spend north of $100 million. You get into Sanity House without spending a dime. You take a test on American history and economy. A lottery selects new members on a routine basis. A Senator will tell you he has a wise and unique vision. Members of Sanity House have demonstrated some excellence, but nobody has to strut. You're just an involved American.
America has labored for years to get more women into office. The Sanity House is roughly fifty percent female without any notion of a quota.

A senator heading up healthcare can take bales of cash from companies like Aetna and Blue Cross. A Sanity House member chairing such a committee would be sent packing. 

Representatives are under scrutiny, so candor is rare. Because they profit from slogans, courage is rare. Because they raise car loads of money, honesty is rare. Because they’re asked to vote without reading, reflection is rare. Now, if a legislature is light on candor, courage, honesty and reflection, what good is it?

Image both the Congress and Sanity House existing side by side. One staid and comporting itself, so it says, to the ideals of 1787. The other, Sanity House, yeasty and willing to take chances because it consists of Americans who are not happy with the status quo.

Now, I ask you to indicate which legislature you’d like. If you like the current Congress put your hand on your head. If the Sanity House sounds more adult and useful, raise your hand.

Now, in my fantasy 100,000 hands wave as the crowd shouts SANITY HOUSE, SANITY HOUSE, SANITY HOUSE!
After some brief interviews, "Sixty Minutes" asks for a ten minute video.
Lesley Stahl: What would happen if we had two competing congresses? One would come up with one scheme for healthcare and the other would come up with something quite different. Then what?
Dietrich: Competition is the only way to reform Congress. We ended slavery by violence, not appeal to morality. Sanity House is evolution, bloodless but demonstrably superior to America's kleptocratic and gutless legislatures.
Lesley Stahl: Name something that Sanity House could do better than Congress.
Dietrich: I’d say the world’s biggest problem is jobs. Our model has been broken for a century. In Washington’s time 9 out of 10 worked on the farm. Franklin pleaded with Europeans to “remove” to America.
The dysfunction was papered over by great wars and, in America, by a 25 year window when the rest of the world repaired itself from WWII. Congress, if we’re generous, is built to resolve 19th century problems. Sanity House could host a great conversation on how jobs should look in the 21st century and beyond. It's obvious that corporations have little interest in commonweal, which sometimes takes great courage and personal sacrifice. We're always talking about terrorism or the drug war in Mexico. The major cause of each is joblessness.
Lesley Stahl: What might they conclude?
Dietrich: To my thinking, 14 year-olds should have a job in the family or community. I know a common family where the kids have a PS3, an Xbox and a Wii. They also watch television for 4 hours a day. If you were trying to destroy a civilization, this is what a smart terrorist would do.
Our work life should be a succession of jobs, from teens to 75. Universities would work better if the minimum entry age was 25. Many professors have told me that the vets coming back from WWII were the best class they ever had.
Now, I’m not saying that Sanity House would agree with me – only that a legislature founded on merit and somewhat immune from the human desire for easy solutions would think and act differently and could demonstrate a willingness to tackle issues which all modern politicians shy away from.
Lesley Stahl: Don’t we define a “democracy” as “a government forged by elections?” How could a lottery improve on elections?
Dietrich: What if you tutored your kids and they became successful geniuses, would that be the answer to education? Obviously your “solution” isn’t scalable, practical. Elections are a technique that also has scaling problems. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who suspected elections above the county level – which was about 10,000 in early Virginia. Washington only got a presidential vote of 39,000 out of a total population of 750,000. Madison worried about the wealthy hosting feasts of ham and beer to bring out voters. If he was around today this beef would be small potatoes.
Sixty years ago the Dean of American political scientists* said that the “only democratic thing about a presidential election is the honest tabulation of the ballots.” So, saying democracy is built on mass elections is the same as saying democracy is best built by anti-democratic practices. Pass a test – get randomly selected: There you have equality, merit, variety and a barrier against purchased public policy.
Can we reform elections? For Sanity House we just do an end-around, as they say in football.
*Robert H. Dahl
Lesley Stahl: For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Sanity House works and gradually Congress is ditched. Fifty years later, what do we have?
Dietrich: Let’s look at Fred who is interested in political office and how he might act if elected and how the public might view him. In the current system he has to join a party, raise money, bow to state leaders and, of course, make myriad promises. If Fred became a member of Sanity House, he wouldn’t have to raise any money, join a party, bow to anyone or make a single promise, except to do his best.
Once in office, Fred claims he has a mandate. He talks personal pronouns – lots of “I” made this law and “she” will ruin the nation. Fred has a special interests drip tube, from Wall Street to unions to oil companies.
If Fred were in Sanity House he wouldn’t be a household name because he’s just one guy among ten thousand, working mostly out of his house. A minority couldn’t blackmail him regarding his take on illegal immigration or Israel or abortion. No reason to quit work because of an upcoming election. His interests in budget matters wouldn’t be focused on stealing money for his state. Fred doesn’t represent a state, just his own judgment. Thousands of Freds and Janes and Joses and Christines - that’s how you balance power, not with party, but with variety.
When the people aren’t bombarded with party scat, they’ll see their representatives in a different light. They may even come to respect them.
Lesley Stahl: If you have overly popular government - isn’t this how you get a welfare state and ruinous deficits?
Dietrich: Our current system is a contest between great wealth (oligarchy) and extreme populism (propositions.) A Sanity House belongs to a different breed of democracy – I call it “adult democracy.” Representatives aren’t heroes, they’re worker bees. We’re always praising the guys and gals fighting wars, which is great. Let’s praise our representatives in a similar fashion, for helping nation without regard to their own ego or wallet. In reality, national politics is like a war: Do badly in Washington and it’s the equivalent to losing a war, as other nations pass us by. We’ve been blowing our wealth and our good standing.
Lesley Stahl: What would happen to the Democratic and Republican parties if Sanity House became our new Congress?
Dietrich: They couldn’t survive in their current condition. They would either change radically or die. It’s that simple.
Have an idea or question you’d like to privately discuss? Email flush2009@gmail.com.


New Blog - Devoted to Dual-Track Legislature Model

In early Feb, 2010 I'll have a new blog up. The site, dual-track legislature.blogspot.com will serve as a forum for examining the dysfunction of 20th century legislatures and proposing alternatives more fitted to 21st century expectations.


Dual-Track Legislature: Possible Effects

Remind us again: What is a Dual-Track Legislature?
A portion of the members are elected by the state custom and others gain entry by some measure of merit and lottery selection. The resulting legislature is composed of part political elite and part natural elite. The latter members may enter and remain without being "political" - they may not choose to belong to a party or publish any platform. A dual-track legislature (DTL) that is split evenly is called a "balanced body."

How does one establish merit?
This could come from a number of methods. You could gain high marks in your profession; you could be nominated by some impartial order. The most common method would be passing a test demonstrating your knowledge of history and current issues along with the ability to think critically.

What do you think the major effects would be if a normal legislature changed over to a Dual-Track model?
We should expect tremendous change, from attitudes to policy. Here are some examples of differences from the view of sitting representatives. Let's call the elected party stalwart, Joe. Let’s name the person who never entered politics but was selected by meritorious lot, Jill.

Joe answers to his party organization and his legislative better. Jill answers to herself.

Joe's city builds ships. He spends his greatest efforts attempting to gain defense expenditure for a new aircraft carrier.  A pharmaceutical company is Jill's major local company. She owes it no allegiance; in fact she works to lower the cost of drugs.

Handsome Joe is a model husband and alder in his church – so he constantly tells voters. Jill, like forty percent of Americans, seldom visits a house of worship and she’s divorced. Even most of her friends don’t know her religion or her sexual preferences.

Joe disagrees with Governor Ed in belittling terms, because Ed belongs to the other party. Jill speaks out her displeasure without personal attack. She believes that good manners and common sense dictate that leaders should try to get along.

Joe leads a committee and controls who is allowed to testify. Jill’s committee tries to get the full spectrum of views, but asks that any person who appears before it detail any conflict of interest.

When discussing healthcare, Joe speaks about the wonder of America and how dedicated he is to public health. Jill says costs are rising much faster than incomes. She sticks to the issues without the embroidery.

Joe is always running for office, always raising money. Jill gained her seniority by peer ratings and has never raised a dime.

Joe is constantly giving speeches, both in the assembly and to major interests. Jill, like Washington and Franklin, seldom gives a speech, but she has several citizen cohorts that she consults.

Joe is a fixture on the Sunday talking head shows. Jill avoids them, unless they offer a serious stage for discourse.

Joe expects his staff to summarize a topic. Jill reads for herself. She consults the independent legislative analyst for advice.

Joe is proud to ba a party leader. He's never just Joe, he's party Joe. Jill likes to quote George Carlin about groups - first they wear hat, then armbands and before long they have fight songs and lose their identity to the "cause." To Jill each issue is a new territory and she's not afraid to be thought a liberal one day and a conservative the next.

Joe has a large staff dealing with district complaints. His high tech machine is constantly printing form letters, which end with a plea for donations. His database is huge and detailed. Jill represents herself and the entire state. She has staff peruse email for cogent content. She responds personally to a few – most receive a reply that all email cannot be answered, etc.

What effects would this have over the whole political system?
Political parties would have to adapt or die. They are like stores that have no competition except the look-alike down the street that charges the same prices. The second Track, the non-elective members of the legislature, will not accept the old practices.

But the parties are organized for political warfare while the non-elected aren’t. Wouldn’t they join to thwart the independents?
They will try. What the parties don’t have is the backing of the people. Only about one in ten Californians is satisfied with the legislature, 80 percent say we are on the wrong path and a heavy majority says that laws are made for the profit of the few not the gain of the many – and they’ve said this for over thirty years. 

Do you really expect a change in public attitudes?
World War II changed everyone’s attitude. Once folks say “we” instead of “them” in discussing how to address our problems - you’ve arrived
Would a Dual-Track legislature be able to pass an honest budget?
When one party becomes a minority its best strategy is to stall or blackmail the other party, to label it as irresponsible. In a way, each group is now a minority and they are forced to work together. If I’m not always campaigning for re-election I can be more candid. Candor is the first step towards honest budgets, honest planning.

What effect would this have on elections?
One group fear mongers, points fingers and specializes in false correlations. The other does none of these. It doesn’t take long before the public has a choice, heretofore unavailable, of choosing to place power in the hands of adults rather than juvenile-acting folks. Before long the boys and girls who run campaigns are looking for other jobs because candidates will want to emulate those of higher esteem.

You still have the problem of a governor or president who may be a demagogue, placing himself as the savior against the evil legislature.
Many of America’s founders worried that a singular executive could lead too much power in the hands of someone untrustworthy. It could lead to an unwise war. Madison, often called the Constitution’s Father, originally wanted a regional council to share executive power in some way. Benjamin Franklin wanted something like he headed in Pennsylvania, a five-person executive. There’s a lot of room for invention in the area of executive powers.

So what would be the most important effect of a Dual-Track legislature?
It might make citizens respect government. That respect could allow representatives to legislate for a real world, not one where debt and problem solving are left to a later generation.


Initial Dialog - California's Opening Questions - Part One

There are several ways for constitutional conventions to open their inquiry. One is to study actual practices to ascertain what has worked and what failed. Another is to review published accounts of system dysfunction. In this three part series we'll begin, instead, with a Table of Differences between what the current system emphasizes and how a future system (Democracy 2.0) might differ. For practical purposes we focus on California, which is likely to hold a convention in 2012. For your own nation or state you should substitute your own conditions.

California System: Democracy 1.0 vs. Democracy 2.0
Political Start
Party - 1.0: Must join 2.0: Individual choice
Funding - 1.0: Expensive, time consuming 2.0: No $ tie necessary
Interests - 1.0: Controlling 2.0: Independent
Promises - 1.0: Numberless 2.0:Best judgment only
Ethnic/Religious - 1.0: Promotes differences 2.0: Color & sect blind
Morality - 1.0:  Superiority claimed 2.0: Not claimed
Convention - 1.0:  Gathering of faithful 2.0: Variety 
Campaign - 1.0:  Extravaganza 2.0: Cheap, simple

In Office
Mandate - 1.0: Claimed  2.0: Not claimed 
Person - 1.0: "I" emphasis 2.0: "We" orientation
Minority Views - 1.0: Often invisible 2.0: Have weight but blackmail difficult
Special Interests - 1.0: Control stage via lobbyists 2.0: Must compete openly
International relations - 1.0: Short-term, election dependent 2.0: Based on long-term considerations
Budgets - 1.0: Non-balanced, phony 2.0: Realistic, resource based
State vs. Local - 1.0 Top dog rules 2.0 Greater integration 
Taxes - 1.0: Brokered, complex 2.0: Fair, simple
Military - 1.0: Special interest, expansion promoted 2.0: Civilian controlled, community integrated
Quotas - 1.0: Heavy dependence 2.0: None

Public View
Voter - 1.0 Suspicious, feels powerless 2.0: Accepting, organically involved  
Press - 1.0 Broker, party tool 2.0: Reporter, system tool 
Difficult times - 1.0 Personal savior 2.0 System sustains
Policy - 1.0: Panacea, myth dependent 2.0: Modest, common sense, promotes critical thinking
Ethnic/Religious - 1.0: Promotes differences 2.0: Promotes assimilation
To offer comments, suggestions or constructive criticisms, please do NOT use the comments section. Instead simply email the author at adultdemocracy at the site gmail.com. I will shortly post the best responses. Thanks, David Dietrich



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