The United States: a Case for More Democracy

First of all, let me set this straight right out of the doors: I don’t care whether you consider the US a democracy, a republic, a constitutional republic, a representative democracy, or whether it melts in your mouth or in your hands. I will actively ignore any such comments, though of course I can’t say that about anyone who may follow through with this.

So, with that out of the way…

I think that our form of government is not democratic enough. It seems to me in the past few elections (for legislative reps on most levels of government) that candidate platforms are appalingly vague, incredibly simplistic, or both (!). These people are working at least half the year on drafting, reading, modifying, and passing legislation which had little or nothing to do with what they were elected for.

I find this, almost exclusively, to be the fault of shoddy representation methods. There is no doubt in my mind that as things stand we should continue to have some form of representation and NOT go the way of direct democracy; however, that does not compel me to believe that we shouldn’t have a bit more accurate representation.

In the recent (and as of this time, still active) UN Debt thread I cited the UN’s own website to reveal in incredibly disparate opinion shift, in that the surveyed public felt one way (with up to 80% agreement) and yet our representatives thought that the public thought the exact opposite!

Another thought to consider are laws that have, in fact, raised some controversy: property confiscation laws, for example, when said property was used for drug related crimes. Although I admit I am not especially active in politics, one would imagine that such a controversal law would have made it on somebody’s platform. I recall hearing no such thing on party platforms.

Issues that do seem to come up during campaigning? Health care: ha, like that will ever be resolved within the next twenty years. Abortion: this only comes up in people’s comments about politicians, it seems the higher up in politics one is the less one cares to tackle big issues. Second amendment rights: it is time for politicians to take a stand on the second amendment and draw up the legislation to reword the thing more clearly. I love a semantic debate as much as the next guy (well, probably more than the next guy) but I’d prefer to keep them at a decidedly low level of importance, not when discussing the Bill of Rights.

In other words, whatever we call the government we exist in, we aren’t being represented very well at all. Do I blame this on the media for only following the more sensationalistic news? sorta. Do I blame this on the general public-- including myself!-- who is somewhat apathetic about political issues? Sorta.

Do I blame this on the way our system is currently implimented? You betcha. Do I have an idea about a solution? You betcha.


How to Increase Honest Representation into the Legislative Branch of the US, by erislover, Episkopos of the Anarchistic Lawn Fornication League.

I feel the first step is to require that those who run for an office in legislative branch of federal, state, or local government should, by and large, make known what legislation they intend to attempt to pass, or how they view an opponent’s legislation. They must have this as a formal document, made freely available over the internet and in other acceptable media (such as paper at the library, city hall, or other publicly accessable location). They must act on the written document in the following manner:

  1. If the politician has mentioned a specific stand on a topic or piece of currently debated legislation, they must act on that interest accordingly. This means that once a politician or potential politician has mentioned a specific interest in a topic, and they are elected, their interests are locked into place until such time as reelection occurs.
  2. Any legislation that needs to be drafted which does not appear as an active interest of any candidates (IOW, “something comes up”) must include its own death (hail eris, I can’t think of the term for that) such that if the legislation is passed it must have a time limit not exceeding the time it takes for candidates to be reelected. (IOW, something comes up and US senate decides to draft legislation which passes. In this legislation is a clause which kills the law in 6 years or less [sup][sub]since that is senator’s terms[/sub][/sup]).
  3. Any candidate running for office in a term which will have laws that “naturally” die must take a stand on whether they will attempt to make that law a “non-terminal” law (MAN what is the term for that?!) or will simply let it die as a temporary fix to a temporary problem.


IMO, we aren’t going to get better representation from our representatives. The media sure as hell isn’t going to provide it if it isn’t popular. But right now our politicians aren’t really bound by anything except a desire to get reelected, and since their platforms rarely involve all the bills they act on its hard to be especially two-faced. They can avoid taking a stand on an issue and then get into office and vote on it anyway.

Bullshit, I say, and its time something happened.

I’ve always thought a few simple things would be good reform.

  1. I’m not sold on John McCain’s campaign finance reform ideas. It puts limits on the amount of money you can recieve from donors without factoring in favorable or unfavorable media coverage. This results in the politician with the most ‘slick’ campaign and better stage presence having a great advantage over the other guy, regardless of issues or substance. My simple solution is to keep everything the way it is now, but make it a law to report to the public who gives the donations and how much. This will make shady deals harder to sneak by.

  2. How about some term limits? Everybody complains about the politicians, but they keep getting voted in without question each time. All the people with new ideas get pushed aside by the same incumbent. Term limits will also help avoid situations like we have with Strom Thurmond. We have vultures sitting around waiting around for them to die so they can appoint a Democrat to his seat and give the democrats more power. (This is not a Democrat/Republican thing, it’s just the situation we have right now. The same thing could happen with the reverse situation.)Term limits keep the seats revolving.

I’ll second the motion on term limits. The power should not rest in the hands of a few. Get in and get out in a reasonable number of years. The incentive to soak up power, prestige, and access would then be lost, freeing our government to work. At least in theory.
A popular democracy, however? Do we want people who can’t read ballots properly casting the equivalent of a tie-breaking vote on life or death issues? Not only no, hell no! Our government does have the responsibility of making the tough choices, even when they’re unpopular. I don’t see how to improve that.

We already have term limits – it’s call “re-election”.

Then the voters are idiots for re-electing the same numb-nuts to office. In short, they’re getting the politicians they deserve.

I discussed term limits in this thread.

If you don’t mind, I would prefer that such issues be discussed there.

Thanks. :slight_smile:

As well, I don’t see that campaign finance reform will do anything but make a better breed of lobbyist, something I don’t feel is especially productive. Hold politicians responsible for both setting a firm opinion down and sticking to it for their term. You have nothing to say on that matter?

So, if my senator or congressperson gains a different knowledge or understanding of an issue post-election, or if national circumstances change, or if new information comes to light, then she should NOT modify her position on the issue? Gee, erl, it sounds like you don’t want representatives, you want ideological proxies.

I disagree with your conclusion that inaccurate representation is a problem; if a politician fails to please his or her constituents, then he or she will be gone in the next election. This usually happens with politicians who fail to reflect the prevailing opinions of the electorate, but sometimes it doesn’t. It seems doubtful that a majority of Americans agreed with every one of Bill Clinton’s positions; in fact, it seems likely that he did not have majority support for a great many of his positions. However, he had high approval ratings for most of his two terms, in large part because the majority felt that even though he did not accurately represent their opinions, he was representing their interests effectively.

I want to know what I am voting for. I see no other way to accomplish this. I feel the current system is less effective than throwing darts. “Well, if you just toss them everywhere you’ll get thrown out of the bar!” Oooooh. That’ll learn 'em.

So you would hope.

If this is enough for you, then God bless ya. I would prefer a much higher level of accountability as our government increases in size and our population’s interests become more complex, noth as an aide to reduce corruption and a method to increase public awareness of the issues that face our country.

I’d also like to point out that there’s actually a lot more information available on candidates’ positions on various issues than most people ever actually seek to become aware of. Do you know how your Representative and Senator voted on any major bill in Congress in the past six months? How about your state or local representatives on their issues? Few people get into any elective office of national importance without amassing some kind of legislative or executive record, as well as strong ties with certain lobbies. The information’s out there, it’s just that most people can’t be bothered to look for it. A more alert citizenry would be able to evaluate its representatives pretty accurately without the kind of legislative hoop-jumping you’re proposing. I don’t see the point of restricting the freedom and judgement of legislators just to let ignorant voters feel more secure that they know what their politicians will do without the trouble of paying much attention to them.

Oh, i know that some of this information is out there, don’t get me wrong. I understand that both I and a lot of the voting-able public are pretty apathetic about the whole affair.

This isn’t meant to be representative of all condidates and senators, but I think it is a funny thing to work into the conversation.

Well, I actually actively discussed my problems with the local representative for the State’s house. Her flyers and informational handouts were vague and upsetting, which spurred me into action.

Understand, I think it is time for us to tell our reps what our best interests are, not the other way around. If they set out their plans, or lack thereof even, and we vote for that then they both have the pleasure of being able to do their job effectively and knowing they have support.

Well, then, could you tell me what would accomplish what i am proposing to accomplish and how you would impliment it? (just a broad outline, of course, don’t mean to be picky)

Basically, we elect them to do a job, and that is to represent us. How can they effectively represent us if they don’t even know what the hell we are voting for them for? I don’t think the public is interested enough in government because the public isn’t involved enough in government. So long as the guy on the TV screen isn’t telling me to waz my children and sell my soul to the stars and bars, we just keep plodding along.

This is, IMO, completely unacceptable for a representative form of government. They are not our metaphoric parents; as much as I hate to say this, the government should be more of a brother (cringe).

erl: *Well, then, could you tell me what would accomplish what i am proposing to accomplish and how you would impliment it? *

But I don’t like what you’re proposing to accomplish, i.e., rigid restrictions on the individual judgements of politicians. Or do you mean, what would accomplish a better-informed and more engaged citizenry? I don’t think it’s really “implementable”, it has to spring from voluntary interest. Mandating more in-depth media coverage of issues in exchange for broadcasting rights (CBC/BBC-style, although without the entirely nationalized airwaves approach) might help nudge our civic culture in that direction, but I don’t think there is a completely “implementable” solution.

I agree with Kimstu; the problem is not a failure of politicians to maintain some sort of rigid adherence to the campaign positions which got them elected. Representative democracy, to work as advertised, depends on an “informed electorate.” Any exercise designed to increase the issue-awareness of the electorate is probably a “good thing”, but as Kimstu points out, it would be difficult to implement a concerted social program on a scale sufficient to make a difference (unless, of course, we use Big Gummint to do it).

Oh, and:

Perhaps more of a… BIG brother?

(Sorry man. Had to do it.

Well… you cringed.)

to achieve more accurate representation among our representitives…

let’s try Proportional Representation!

For example, let’s say your state has 10 house seats. In the next congressional election 30% vote Democrat, 30% vote GOP, 10% Green, 10% Libertarian, 20% All Night Party (ANP).

Your state’s delegation would be 3 dems, 3 GOPers, 2 ANP’s, 1 Green and 1 Libertarian.

That way all the folks in your state who enjoy any flavor of politics other than vanilla will finally have some true representation in congress.


I must say I am truly, truly shocked at these responses, xen and Kimstu.

A legislative representative-- possibly one of the most important jobs in our country today– not only isn’t but shouldn’t be under any obligation to say what s/he means and stick to it???

I expect more from fucking waitresses! :mad: FWIW, I am SUPER disappointed in that position (and it probably ain’t worth much ;))

xen, yep, that is why I cringed indeed. Well, I laughed quite a bit as I typed it, too, but there you have it.

I consider myself a pretty understanding guy who is willing to compromise here and there (especially on matters of economic concern it seems, lately) but I think that allowing our politicians’ “punishment” for inconsistency being to simply maybe not get reelected (if the population was paying attention) to be exactly why I think democracy is failing, and will continue to fail. After all, they only made laws we would disagree with if we noticed! :rolleyes:

Am I seriously missing something here? I don’t get kicked out of a restaraunt when the waitress spills a drink on me!!


erislover, I find your ideas intriguing, not in the least because I like the idea of time limits on laws generally. I had some ideas similar to yours a while back, though it is hazy in my memory right now. Give me some time…

Kimstu’s objection: “The information’s out there, it’s just that most people can’t be bothered to look for it.” is a good one, though. You can blame “the system” if you like, but I find voter ignorance and apathy to be appalling, and a major problem. But that’s not for this thread.

xenophon41 also has a good objection: “So, if my senator or congressperson gains a different knowledge or understanding of an issue post-election, or if national circumstances change, or if new information comes to light, then she should NOT modify her position on the issue?”

I think this objection could be dealt with by amending your proposal to permit elected representatives to change their minds, provided they agree to step down immediately thereafter, and run for re-election in a special election.

erl: *A legislative representative-- possibly one of the most important jobs in our country today-- not only isn’t but shouldn’t be under any obligation to say what s/he means and stick to it??? *

Who said that? xeno, did you say that? I didn’t say that. What I said is that representatives shouldn’t be prohibited by the terms of the job description from switching or modifying their positions. If they do that enough to convince the electorate that indeed, they are simply irresponsible weasels, they should lose their seats in the next election.

I personally am not too fraught-up about this problem because I don’t see it close to home. I know my state reps personally and have followed their legislative activities for a good few years, and I’ve corresponded with my national reps and have have a pretty good idea of what they are trying to do. I don’t think any of them are perfect, and I do know issues where they’ve waffled or caved in to political pressure, but I also know they’ve got a difficult job to do that requires a lot of compromises. I don’t consider any of them to be “irresponsible weasels” (well, maybe I’m still making up my mind about Linc Chafee :)), and I feel they do an okay-to-good job of representing me. If I didn’t, you bet I’d be busting ass trying to get their opponents elected. I think everybody else should do the same.

And since I now find myself largely in agreement with Weird_Al_Einstein, I think I will take a vacation from the SDMB for the rest of the week, because we’re obviously having a real spike in the entropy index and I’m afraid my keyboard will spontaneously combust. :slight_smile:

<gently> IMO, yes.

A legislative representative has an ethical responsibility to his or her constituents to remain true to the platform on which he or she campaigned. However, they cannot be locked into a particular position on specific issues, because things do change. New information or changing conditions may cause them to honestly reevaluate their position. They can do this while still remaining true to their political stripe or philosophy, erl.

Example: Senator Brocklesteinen, a conservative Democrat (yes, they exist!) from a conservative southern state (no, that’s not quite oxymoronic) has promised to support legislation to end Affirmative Action. This idea is widely popular in his state. However, two years into his term the Senator votes against such a bill because it also has provisions in it which, in his view, unfairly discriminate against gays and lesbians. He has acted in a contradictory fashion to a particular campaign promise, but he’s also acted in accordance with the principles he’s always espoused to his constituents.

'Nother example: Congresswoman Greenapple, from a northwest state, is well liked and respected by her constituents, and is in her second term. Her record on environmental issues is quite well known, and is the primary reason for her landslide win over her opponent in the last election. She votes YES on a bill to open up a portion of a national park in her state to logging. Her vote was prompted by provisions in the bill to fund some specific ecological research aimed at minimizing environmental impact of such operations, and because of the large boost this will give to the economy in her state. However, it is widely perceived as a betrayal by many of her more Green-oriented supporters, who haven’t looked past the “logging” aspect of the bill and who don’t intend to consider the other issues.

This is why I think it would be quite dangerous to restrict the decision making ability of a legislator (although I notice you didn’t specify the penalties for “inconsistencies” by legislators). After all, they have to be

in order to forward their political philosophies.

Doncha think?

On late proofreading: substitute “redundant phrasing” for “oxymoronic” in the above post.
Thank you, and goodnight.

Xeno is clouding the issue by bringing up the fact that one legislative initiative can be combined with another, or amended in some way. However, to be fair eris, you didn’t specifically address this problem in the OP. I suspect this was an oversight.

Ok, ok, I think the gun debates are getting me all riled up. Apologies all around.

Ok, now, I see two problems facing us as a country: one, inaccurate representation; two, inactive/apathetic voting.

Let me say that I am not aware how to address the former at this time, but I think we can address the latter through some legislation which is in some ways similar to what I proposed in the OP.

Yes, I do agree that perhaps some new information could come to light which would constitute a need for a politician to change his/her mind. Now, in keeping with the spirit of my OP how could we adjust for this? The spirit of the OP, of course, being a wee more accountability than simply having to get reelected, because until we get the votor apathy thing taken care of, that isn’t the largest concern in the whole world.

Any ideas on this?