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.
We have much to be proud of in our record as a nation. But it’s not written in the stars that we will continue to make progress; our policy-makers need to do their jobs.
I cringe when I hear a member of either party express hatred or accuse the other party of disloyalty. Both want the best for their country — even if they have different ideas about what “best” means.
We must ensure that people who vote are entitled to do so. But representative democracy is strengthened by expanded voting; we should do everything we can to lift voter turnout, not suppress it.
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.
Our system depends on citizens making discriminating choices on politicians and issues. You want to educate yourself, which includes talking with people whose opinions differ from yours. The world is complex, even at the neighborhood level, and to be effective we need to understand it.
The Founders established a government that has the capacity to reform and renew itself, because its institutions rest on the political involvement of our citizens. To its core, our republic rejects autocratic political leadership and authoritarianism.
Leaders of this frustratingly unproductive Congress must let the full House and Senate work their wills on issues of most concern to Americans.
Politics is our vehicle for reconciling the tensions, diversity and differences among us that are bound to arise as we tackle enormously difficult challenges.
Journalists must give citizens the solid, accurate and fair information they need to make good judgments about politicians and policy. And citizens need to conscientiously follow reliable, fact-oriented media — not just a single source, either, because none has a monopoly on the truth.
Washington politicians give lip service to debt and deficit reduction, but for the most part, each party is trying to blame the other. A problem of this duration, severity and complexity is not going to be solved without a bipartisan approach.
Americans disagree with one another on all kinds of issues. We need to accept and tolerate those differences, because we are far stronger when we seek to reconcile them rather than ignore or exacerbate them.