Americans of all political persuasions apparently are disappointed with our dysfunctional government. We want most of what government does for us – even in health care – but it seems that the system is broken. It feels like our leaders, parties and the way our government works just may not be up to the challenges we face in this 21st Century. Yes, Washington seems sunk in partisan bickering and knee-jerk attacks on whoever tries to do anything. But the very mechanism – designed in the 18th Century and last updated 100 years ago – seems woefully incapable of helping us make and implement the decisions we need to survive and prosper in the bewilderingly complex world we now find ourselves in. The Senate has become an arena for power politics fueled by all the influence that money can buy. The federal government – and most of the states – are spending more money than we have. Fortunately, the Chinese have little choice but to hold our dollars for us. But the debt we have run up measures a collective addiction greater than the most pernicious drugs. The Presidency is enmeshed in a bureaucracy of vested interests – within the government and within the ruling party. We seem to have entered the age of permanent war in which only the professionals fight and die. The whole system has become the tail on the dog of the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about.
We need to update how we do business, bring the constitution into this millennium. Whether by constitutional convention or through amendments, we need to seize back the initiative. The Founding Fathers were great men for their time, we need great men and women now for our time. Change in America is usually incremental. Our political system's great strength is our reliance on stable and solid rules of the game. But we need change; we all recognize this. Some may fear it. Certainly some may worry about opening the Pandora's Box as widely as a constitutional convention might. But we really cannot go on this way much longer and still maintain our leadership in the world and offer our children and grandchildren a return to the American dream that we boomers have let slip from our grasp. We need the sort of grand national conversation that a convention would bring on. Being democrats, sharing a belief of government of the people, by the people and for the people, we should have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Perhaps our national dialogue can be channeled through serious consideration by the Congress and then through state ratification of amendments we might agree on? Or maybe the Tea Party has accurately measured the times and we need something from outside the existing structures. Article Five of the US Constitution provides the various alternatives.
What might we need to change? Perhaps a parliamentary system might be best. Parliamentary government is more agile, allowing majorities to rule yet quickly recallable. But we Americans do like our change in small steps. So a couple of more modest suggestions:
To improve the efficiency and representativeness of our national legislature.
- Increase the term of office for Representatives from two to four years so they can spend more time focusing on legislating rather than running. Stagger the terms so that every two years, half the House is up for election.
- Increase the representative and deliberative nature of the Senate. Change the distribution of the Senate seats so that no state can have more Senators than it has Representatives. Distribute the extra seats to states according to population with no state having more than three. This would mean that states would have 1-3 senators roughly distributed every ten years according to the latest census. All senate terms would be concurrent and for five years timed to be open the year following the census.
To improve the efficiency and representativeness of the administration of government.
- Increase the presidential term to six years while retaining the limit of two terms.
- Mandate constitutionally that the federal government operate on a two-year budget.
To build into government and law some regular process of review that includes popular consideration.
- Mandate that all Acts of Congress be reauthorized every 25 years either by a 3/5's vote in each house or failing such action, by national referendum.
- This would apply as well to all departments and agencies of the federal government not explicitly named in the Constitution.
Change is the order of life. We Americans have lived in a political system resistant to change. That is mostly good. But the time has come to dig up the roots, prune the tree and replant in soil we can grow on. Let's talk....