I’m not alone in thinking of this year’s vote as the most important of my lifetime, and woe betide us if our confidence in the result—which will play a big part in our willingness to accept the result—is betrayed by politicians seeking to game the system or by elections officials who don’t live up to the trust Americans place in them to get it right.
We need to strengthen representative democracy by restoring the effectiveness of government, rebuild Congress as a functional, co-equal branch of the federal government, and restore confidence in our institutions, public and private.
Listening to our peers, understanding their hopes, appreciating the differences among them, grasping why accommodation and compromise are crucial to resolving those differences, and learning how to accomplish them are part and parcel of making a representative democracy work.
The country won’t be out of control if each of us steps up to the challenges we see in our own neighborhoods and our nation.
Our system calls on citizens to make it work and to make it better. There’s no doubt that we face great stresses, and while we may make progress in enhancing individuals’ pursuit of happiness, it’s rarely straight ahead.
We can’t look at representative democracy in isolation but have to compare it to the alternatives. And the alternatives, I’d argue, don’t stack up.
The coronavirus has laid bare a country fumbling for a response; a federal government that, despite pockets of brilliance, has failed overall to protect and offer guidance to Americans; a health care system that has been forced to scramble for the most basic supplies; and an economic downturn that has wreaked disproportionate havoc on the lives of middle-class and wage-earning Americans.
Voters need to reclaim our democracy and demand that the system that made us a great nation—one that adhered to the checks and balances and separate institutional responsibilities laid out in our Constitution—be restored.
There was a time when members of Congress on both sides of the aisle considered Congress to be equal in stature to the President and the executive branch, and their speech-making reflected this: they saw strong oratory as a chance to encapsulate ideas and inspire Americans to rally behind them.
One of the ironies of our system is that the skills and attributes that put someone in office are usually not the skills needed for success once they’re there.
Our challenge — and Congress’s in particular — is to respond as the situation demands while preserving the best that democratic governance offers: solutions to the country’s problems that reflect the best thinking and collective wisdom of a great, diverse, and creative nation.
Congress remains the spot where the cross-currents of American popular opinion have their best chance of being heard, listened to, and acted upon.
Our freedoms give us the capability to stand back, watch the process unfold, search for the truth, try to understand what’s happening in the country and the world, and then make decisions based on the information we have in front of us.
In a democracy like ours, the key challenge is to foster a debate that respects all voices, even those of dissent and protest, and create an environment that enables the agreements we need to advance the common good.
It’s both a paradox and a gift of our system that we have a form of government that encourages ordinary people to solve the problems of their communities, states, and the nation as a whole, and yet effective leadership is vital.
We must always be alert to the fact that our freedoms and rights can be eroded. To prevent this erosion, we have to step up to the task of responsible citizenship.
Presidents differ on how systematically and thoroughly they do this fact-gathering, but generally they seek out sources of information with different perspectives and biases.
To make our system and this country work, we need a lot of experts and competent bureaucrats to deal with the problems that come cascading down on government.
At its heart, representative democracy is about how we resolve our differences in order to move the country forward, and if the parties lack trust, then it becomes hugely more difficult to do so.
In essence, I think we need always to be mindful about how we teach and encourage people to participate — through efforts to educate and register voters, through citizen-led advocacy, through neighbors getting together to change the speed limit on their road or fight groundwater contamination… It all matters.
Participating in the process challenges us to make our case, develop our skills of persuasion, and become better at speaking, listening, building consensus, and being an engaged member of a community.
What I’m talking about is a way for knowledgeable people to step beyond the White House’s control of presidential appearances, ask tough questions, and get real answers so that the American people can judge the President’s actions and reasoning.
This country is a defender of individual rights, a beacon of tolerance and equality, and a champion of the notion that offering opportunity to all who live here — regardless of national origin — yields the innovation and hard work that drive our economy and culture.
The satisfactions of engaging in politics do not just come when things are easy or running smoothly. They’re most acute, in fact, when circumstances are difficult, when being involved can make a difference, and when working through fraught times yields progress on the other side.
At a time of concern and, in many quarters, cynicism about democracy and its prospects, we’re reminded of a basic truth: people want a say in how they’re governed.
Many countries are home to anti-democratic movements that reject the basic freedoms, civil liberties, and pluralism that we associate with democracy.
As voters we have to look for candidates and leaders who are committed to making the political institutions of democracy stronger: a Congress that works, a judiciary that is independent of political pressure, an executive branch that’s transparent and accountable, a noisy and robust free press, the rule of law, a sturdy civil society.
Our obligation in its broadest terms is to try to make our nation and the world safer, freer, and more prosperous when and where we can.
It’s distressingly common to find officials who are uninterested in promoting a fair and convenient vote, but instead are looking for ways to manipulate the system so that their preferences emerge from the voting.
Largely because Congress has abandoned the regular order, the institution no longer plays the role that our founders envisioned and that our diverse, complex society needs.
We’re paying more in interest on the debt than we spend on our children, and we’re headed toward doing the same with defense. I doubt that fits the priorities of most Americans.
Shouting “No Compromise!” may fire up the crowd, but it’s a recipe for failure when it comes to getting things done in office.
In our democracy, you need help from allies, partners, friends, sometimes even antagonists — because you’re trying to find common ground and build coalitions of support.
Legislators need to accommodate differences and find common ground. Otherwise, each side just sits in its corner and maneuvers to beat the other at the next election and we, as a nation, spin in circles.
“What are the paths that will lead Congress back to relevance, effectiveness, and higher standing in public opinion?”
“When I began in politics, elected officials believed that compromise and negotiation were core political values, intrinsic to our democracy and crucial to making it work for everyone.”
Our representative democracy is in stress, if not in peril. We must return to our traditional approach: coalition-building across diverse groups of people.
Holding the president and other public officials accountable is not a detour from governing; it is the essence of good government.
Many of our policy challenges are intractable, impossible to solve. The best we can do is manage them, chipping away year by year.
It’s very easy for political elites to overstate the degree to which ideological categories actually apply to real people.
As I think back on effective legislators I have known, I’m struck by their sense of obligation to the country; their palpable commitment to doing the right thing; their deep respect for the office of the presidency; and their insistence that the president display equal respect for the Congress.
It’s rarer than you’d think to find an elected official who is adept at both politics and legislating.
Politicians in Washington talk about climate change in general, but we haven’t seen any concerted consensus-building effort to deal with it.
Many state and local governments, disappointed by gridlock and dysfunction at the federal level, are finding ways to improve life for their citizens. And citizens of all sorts are plunging into politics and community issues with vigor.
Winning power by keeping people away from the polls is a perversion of what democracy is about.
Patriotism can be found everywhere in our communities, among all kinds of people who pursue their lives with the good of the country at heart.
If our public officials cannot rise above division and gridlock and negotiate to get things done, then citizens will lose faith in government, and representative democracy will not work.
Voting is crucial, but there are five other essentials to making our representative democracy work:Transparency, accountability, cooperation, honesty and pragmatism.
Bold, decisive, thoughtful leadership is essential. But ultimately, our success as a nation depends on the strength and capabilities of our citizens. The Founders spoke often of the need for citizens of virtue and talent, for people capable of governing themselves.
Major policy disagreements may not be easily resolved, but they do yield to discussion that is carried on rationally and with civility and respect.