Fixing Congress

I’d like to get everyone’s thoughts on a TED talk that I recently gave about improving discourse in Congress. I believe that televising the U.S. Senate has turned the deliberative process into a reality TV show, which serves only to benefit incumbent politicians at the expense of everyday Americans.


Let me know what you think. (The video is 17 minutes long.)

Care to provide a summary for those of us who don’t have 17 minutes to spend watching a video with no abstract?

“Fix” in the veterinary sense? :slight_smile:

Or a transcript.

The Senate rarely does anything that does not benefit incumbent politicians at the expense of everyday Americans. Seems unbelievably ignorant to blame that on televised sessions. I wonder how many people they think watch the Senate on TV.

I think no one here is going to watch a 17 minute video from someone who just joined this MB.

Apologies, I just joined the MB and am still learning the etiquette.

A brief summary of the idea (much of this will overlap with the talk): Each week an average of 45 million Americans watch C-SPAN. Since the Senate began televising its debates in 1986, the purpose and function of Senate debates on the floor and in hearing rooms have changed dramatically. I believe cameras have censored the deliberative process, because today senators focus more on what they cannot say than they do on what they can say. In other words, they spend their deliberations presenting unsubstantive soundbites, usually while attacking their colleagues in the process.

I also think TV cameras in the chamber give incumbents a free campaign opportunity: they post their speeches on all forms of social media to shore up support and help them fundraise. Their speeches try to reinforce to their constituents that they are actually doing something, simply because they provide a video of them delivering a rehearsed speech on the floor of the Senate. What’s not seen on camera, however, is that the chamber is almost always empty. There’s nobody there. They are wasting their time and resources trying to convince constituents they are actually doing their jobs, instead of working productively with their colleagues.

I’ll post more responses as specific questions arise. I just wanted to get a starting point out there for discussion.

Nope, you’re wrong. What has ruined Congress is the gerrymandering of districts to ensure safe districts for both Republican and Democratic legislators.

Safe congressional districts ensure that the only threat to a congressman comes from within his or her own party, therefore the only way to be safe from being primaried out of office is to be the most Republican or Democratic congressman possible. Any deviation from the absolute party line is punished.

There are computer algorithms to redistrict using tools to minimize the kind of crap seen here in my congressional district, NC-7th, but they’ll never allow them to be used.

A better approach would be to take the redistricting power away from the state legislature and give it to a nonpartisan commission.

Members of Congress have always used the Congressional Record (and its “extension of remarks” provision) to post their speeches, and if that wasn’t enough, they also used their free mail privilege to make sure those speeches are sent directly to every person in their districts/states.

I have my doubts that 45 million Americans watch C-SPAN each week, but I can’t find a current cite that refutes that number, so I’ll let it pass. However, whether there are 45 million or 4,500 viewers, I’ll bet damn few of them tune in to watch the floor action. There are actual interesting programs that draw viewers, as well as boring speeches.

Thank you for expanding (and welcome to the boards; it’s not often we get a new member with a new idea that isn’t either insane or not really new).

I don’t know if you addressed it in the video, but are there any statistics that show a change in the amount of “deliberation” the Senate did between, say, 1985 and 1987? I certainly agree that what you see on the Senate floor is mostly pandering to constituents rather than meaningful dialogue, but I’m not convinced that they did any more of the latter before cameras were introduced.

So, what do you think of the existing legal and ethics restrictions on using official Senate resources (whether video of floor speeches or limitations on franking privileges) for campaign purposes? Could you point out a few specifics of these existing restrictions, and why they are inadequate?

Better than either would be to go proportional representation, IMHO.

Is there a way to do that that does not tie your vote to a political party? I mean, I understand their value, but voting based on party seems unappealing to me.

We can fix Congress by abolishing the Senate.

That’ll get em off TV.

The fix is already in, isn’t it?

I’m not particularly thrilled with it either, but it works fairly well in a number of other countries. If one party is going to put up jerks as their candidate it will be reflected in the party’s loss of seats. “It’s unappealing” doesn’t seems like a great reason not to go with proportional representation, and it avoid splitting communities (a frequent problem with computer algorithms) or gerrymandering (current system or “non-partisan districting”).

Proportional representation in what way? If you mean, “Instead of voting for an individual candidate, you vote for a political party, and the Congressmen at a particular level (either statewide or nationwide) are divided among the parties in proportion to the number of votes for that party.” then you risk losing the link between individual people and Congress - isn’t that the whole point of the House of Representatives? (“I know I’m a Representative from your state, but you’re from a part of the state that nobody cares about; I represent the state’s interests, and that means the big cities.”)

Here’ one way I can think of to make it work; each party on the ballot in a state names a potential Representative for each district, and using a method similar to how seats in the House are divided among the states based on population, each party is given a chance to choose a district. This also solves the problem of gerrymandering, as the number of seats a party gets is not based on the shape of the districts.

Proportional representation doesn’t get rid of local representatives, it just adds additional seats so that the parties have the correct number of representatives, matching their support among the population.

In addition to dealing with gerrymandering, it also means that small parties can still be represented, even if their support is diffused across multiple districts.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a whole hell of a lot better than what we’ve got.

More seats. Great. Just what we need. Decent and practical ideas drowned in a sea of a thousand babbling voices.