The country’s founders entrusted Americans with a form of government that imposes the burden of safeguarding it not just for ourselves, but as a symbol of hope elsewhere—the notion that economic opportunity and political engagement are part and parcel of citizenship.
Comments on Congress
It’s worth remembering that government did not grow big by accident. It was pushed by a desire to address real problems, to respond to the demands of real people—both well-meaning and self-interested—and to meet the soaring visions of elected leaders.
All of us, ordinary citizens and politicians alike, have to restore in our lives a belief in the importance of the common good—to ask ourselves not what’s good for any one of us, or for our party or business or people who look like us, but what’s good for the country as a whole, in all its complexity and diversity.
When a district is drawn to make it easy for a particular party to win there, it means that politicians don’t need to appeal to a cross-section of the electorate; instead, they must win over “the base.” Which, not surprisingly, means that they focus on voters who are more extreme than the electorate in general.
The work of government—not just at the federal level, but in our states, counties, and cities and towns—is to find ways of promoting what’s good and mitigating what’s bad.
Policies that continue to encourage fossil-fuel exploration and extraction, for instance, simply exacerbate the climate change that underlies many of the world’s worst problems.
All of them are a reminder that building a democracy is a process, with multiple steps along the way. So, for that matter, is safeguarding it.
The young people I’ve met are, for the most part, deeply concerned about the future of the country. They can be sharply critical, but it’s clear that most of them take a fundamental pride in what this nation stands for and how far it’s traveled over the centuries.
At its heart, the American system—our representative democracy—is about how we resolve our differences in order to move our towns and cities, states, and the country as a whole forward.
Twenty years on, the bigger question is whether, as a result of the 9/11 Commission’s work, the nation is better prepared to deal with terrorist threats.
We cannot address our country’s problems unless we work together.
People find a myriad of interesting—and sometimes idiosyncratic—reasons for voting this way or that.
I am constantly amazed at how much time, energy, and effort some people put into denying other people the right to vote. This is a battle, and those of us who believe that the health of our democracy rests on ensuring fair, equal, and unfettered access to the ballot box for all eligible voters have our work cut out for us.
These days, pretty much everything gets thrown into huge omnibus bills with hundreds of provisions, which tends to concentrate power in the hands of leadership and make it very difficult for ordinary members to have an impact.
Not surprisingly, the forces of globalization generate benefits, challenges, and difficult problems, all of which must be confronted, often simultaneously.
On the whole, international power is less concentrated and more widely distributed, which presents challenges to global institutions and makes it more difficult to pursue much-needed reforms within them.
As a democracy, the United States is stronger when as many people as possible can vote and the electorate reflects the actual makeup of the population.
Our ability to discern and act on what’s in our common interest depends on believing that we, as Americans, all have something in common.
Sustaining our democracy is hard work and its vitality depends on each of us—not just to participate, but to make the effort to understand and talk to people we don’t agree with, and to do our best to discern the facts on which all genuine progress relies.
Proposals in front of Congress should be able to get a full debate and an up-or-down vote in which Americans’ elected representatives make clear where they stand.
What may be the biggest test of all has less to do with policy priorities and the specifics of legislation than with whether Washington can move forward on challenges that matter to the American people.
Caution in all its forms should be key to the Biden administration’s approach: restoring deliberation to how we conduct our affairs, avoiding wars and military intervention, making certain that we husband our natural and human resources and do not waste our words, prestige, and other assets on quixotic pursuits.
The design of our government may be remarkable, but it does not matter nearly as much as the qualities of the American people and their capacity to make it work. If we do not step up, if we do not invest our time and energy and abilities in making the system work, it will not.
Trying to do good in the world is good foreign policy, and I would argue makes us stronger and safer at home.
Binding up our wounds will take recognizing that we can work together to resolve our differences. We will be helped on this score by electing principled, practical, and pragmatic leaders.
If a core of legislators of both parties are willing to work with the Biden administration, find common ground, and pass legislation that makes the country better, then perhaps Washington can actually set an example that helps a reeling nation heal.
How to fulfill promises, how to deal with Congress, what to do about a slew of issues that will soon land on President-Elect Biden’s desk—all will require hard decision-making.
The world pays close attention to how we deal with internal problems, and our actions within our borders profoundly affect our standing and leverage as we assert global leadership.
The United States failed to provide a comprehensive, federally led nationwide strategy providing clear guidance on mask-wearing, offering resources for contact tracing, and helping states develop their approaches to quarantining for those exposed to the virus—the three legs vital for early containment.
To see one party mounting an all-out attack on the integrity of the countless Americans who view running elections as a sacred trust is, to put it mildly, disturbing.
I think there’s one key factor for voters when they decide who to cast their vote for that doesn’t get taken as seriously as it should: likability.
If this minority-rule pattern continues and US political and judicial leadership no longer represents a majority, one has to wonder, with Lincoln, how long such a country can endure.
Every state and local election official has to do their best to ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote can cast a ballot, and that those ballots are counted as transparently as possible, without vote-suppression shenanigans.
The people we put in office this election will shape the future of the US for decades.
The chance to watch great communicators at work gives you a better sense of who they are, why they have succeeded, and why our multi-faceted political system is so interesting, engaging, and important.
We have the strength to rebuild, but not if we continue to withdraw to our little warring camps and lob insults at one another.
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.