Kabuki Democracy, The System vs. Barack Obama, by Eric Alterman is a catalogue of how Washington works and does not work, thus preventing Barack from accomplishing the changes he promised. It is enough to cause grown men/women to weep. Rather than crying, I am going to list three principal problem areas and what I think that we can and should do to change the inner workings of Washington, DC. Those problems are: lobbyists, campaign financing and the US Senate.
Campaign financing may be the simplest of the three to fix. Public financing of campaigns would free our elected officials from the time consuming chore of constant fund raising. It would also cut the link between access and influence that large donations purchase.
By some counts, our elected officials are outnumbered by a factor of 5:1 or more by lobbyists. All lobbyists must register. I suggest that we permit a maximum of 1000 lobbyists to register and require that they purchase a certificate that allows one lobbyist to lobby Congress for one year and cannot be transferred to another person. Only 750 certificates would be sold with bidding conducted by sealed bids. The total revenue raised could be used to fund campaigns, thus severing the link between donations and influence, The 250 certificates not sold would be allocated at no charge by lottery to non-profit organizations and private citizens. Anyone could enter the lottery and possibly be able to lobby Congress for one year.
The US Senate may be our most difficult challenge. The Senate should be given the opportunity to reform itself to more fully represent the people, but if it will not, then it will be necessary to amend the Constitution. The British were able to increase the powers of the House of Commons at the expense of the House of Lords more easily than we can because their constitution is unwritten. The House of Lords is now largely irrelevant, where our upper house, the Senate, is an anachronism, waiting for reform. We could abolish it or merge it with the House of Representatives. Many democracies flourish with a single legislative body.
The principal problem with the Senate is that populous states and those that are largely unpopulated each have two Senators. The Senators in California and other populous states represent millions while senators from less populous states may represent a few 100,000s. What I am about to propose is just one of several possible solutions. I want to increase the Senate by 87 members (435 divided by 5) bringing the total membership to 187. Every state will continue to have at least 2 Senators, but the more populous states will gain an additional Senator for every 5 members they have in the House of Representatives. I believe that this change or one like it will make the Senate a more modern body, more responsive to the needs of the nation.
It will not be easy to make these changes. Elections change little because the system in Washington remains in place, unchanged and unchanging. Elections change the faces of the actors on the Washington stage, but the play remains the same. We, the American people, are the only authors who can rewrite the script to ensure better outcomes.