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Friday, August 31, 2007

An interesting idea - but it will never happen

Given the state of our politics, the rot in Congress exhibited by both parties and the nature of self-selection for elected office, this idea from Pete Du Pont is rather intriguing:

At the reception after the debate, an old lady asked me how, if I were still in Congress, I would vote on proposing such an amendment. I replied that I would have voted against changing the First Amendment to allow Congress to fiddle with our free speech and legislate what we may say, to whom we can say it, and when in a campaign we may say it.

"But what would you do about all this horrible fund-raising and spending that goes on in campaigns?" she asked. With a cheerful smile (and tongue in cheek), I suggested we get rid of all campaign spending by returning to the Pericles plan of the Golden Age of Greece 25 centuries ago: Instead of electing House and Senate members, have them chosen by lottery from people of constitutional age (25 in the House, 30 in the Senate) in each district and state.

Such a lottery democracy would not only end the campaign contribution corruption that had been discussed in the debate, it would make Congress look like America. Instead of just 16 women in the Senate, there would be about 53; there would be more blacks, Hispanics and younger people and fewer millionaires and senior citizens.

Now that's thinking outside the box!


Bret said...

Sorta like jury duty, but for a really long trial and you'd be paid a reasonable stipend.

It is intriguing, but it would specifically not be locally representational. That is, in a specific district, the winner of the lottery would often have radically different views than his or her constituents. It's also a rather large change (perhaps one could just do the House first?), so I'd be leery of unforeseen consequences.

All in all, though, I would prefer my approach to reducing campaign contributions.

Oroborous said...

I'm for neither the Pete Du Pont/Pericles plan, nor Bret's proposal for National Direct Democracy (NDD).

While criticizing leaders and politicians is a natural human impulse, and has been ongoing in America for at least the 442 years since the Europeans settled here permanently, it's nonetheless true that the vast majority of people who end up in Congress demonstrated some modicum of talent and/or skill in previous elected offices, or were outstanding enough in their private-sector positions to wow the voters.

Given that most people don't exhibit any special leadership abilities throughout their entire lives, and that the vast majority of people have no desire whatsoever to serve in Congress, a coercive and truly random lottery would result in a Congress filled with people of mediocre ability at best, most of whom would just be marking time until they could go home. Such a body would be very easily swayed by lobbyists and the few lucky ambitious people chosen to serve.

If the lottery were not coercive, then the new-style Congress would be just as self-selected as is the current one, just with a slightly different makeup.

As for NDD, the same factors apply. Most people are fairly apathetic about politics and their government, with the exception of a few hot-button issues. We elect representatives to Congress with the expectation that they'll learn the minutiae about legislation that the common person doesn't care to, and then we judge those representatives every so often based on their overall performance.

If Congress is failing to live up to our collective expectations, and yet incumbents keep getting re-elected at a 90%+ rate, by what magic will NDD cause the common person to awaken from their political stupor to "vote the bums out", so to speak, by passing better legislation through national referenda ?

Having said that, I'd be in favor of adding a national referendum format to our current system.

Susan's Husband said...

Oroborous makes an excellent point about how such a lottery government might easily devolve into a self perpetuating bureaucracy with the official members of Congress reduced to easily manipulated figureheads.

erp said...

We already have a great system. We elect congress critters to take complex issues and make informed decisions in our name. That we don't elect people who do that job well isn't the fault of the system and changing the system won't help.

I'd be leery of national referenda because every issue would be reduced to slogans and clever TV ads.

Howard said...

I titled this an interesting idea and not a good idea because of some of the problems raised. Incremental tweaks to the existing system might help. The amusement felt when envisioning the horrified expressions on the faces of politicians was the prime motivation for this post. Is that being too mean?

Oroborous said...

There is something to be said for the pleasure of envisioning the spluttering and heart attacks which would ensue if we told the far-too-long-serving members of Congress, such as John Warner, Ted Kennedy, and Charlie Rangel: "You're being replaced, effective immediately. By losers, chosen at random. That is all."

Bret said...

oroborous wrote: "As for NDD, the same factors apply. Most people are fairly apathetic about politics and their government, with the exception of a few hot-button issues."

But the proxy direct democracy allows people to focus on the few issues of importance and allows them to have the representatives make the decision for most things.