There is virtual consensus among the American public about the apparent dysfunction in Washington D.C. and yet, surprisingly, there is very little real effort to do anything about it. In fact, for a good part of our population this is just fine: The more hamstrung the federal government is, the better it is. Inaction and paralysis protects us from serious harm that government could do if it was operating effectively.
But not everyone is willing to give up on the Beltway.
For one thing, there is No Labels, www.nolabels.org , a loosely organized citizen’s movement of Democrats, Republicans and Independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving. Former Ambassador and Republican Presidential candidate John Huntsman and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin are front-men for No Labels. The movement has recently launched a much needed initiative to force the creation of a National Strategy.
And then there is the Bipartisan Policy Center, www.bipartisanpolicy.org . Founded in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, a political giant who passed away yesterday and will be eulogized from both sides of the aisle, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a non-profit organization that drives principled solutions through rigorous analysis, reasoned negotiation and respectful dialogue. With projects in multiple issue areas, BPC combines politically-balanced policymaking with strong, proactive advocacy and outreach. As the only Washington, DC-based think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship, BPC works to address the key challenges facing the nation.
My newcomer’s view is that we need more of the same or we need full popular support for these types of citizen initiatives. I say newcomer’s view, because I am a first generation immigrant to the U.S. and the first half of my life, spent in Europe, gives me a perspective on American governance that is different from that of people who were born and raised here.
The Bipartisan Policy Center commissioned in 2013 a group of 29 civic leaders to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s partisan political divide and to advocate for specific reforms that will improve the political process and that will work in a polarized atmosphere. This Commission on Political Reform, chaired by Democrats Tom Daschle and Dan Glickman and Republicans Trent Lott, Dirk Kempthorne and Olympia Snow, issued its report this week. It is titled: “Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy.” In the report, the Commission concluded that: “It is clear that Americans are concerned about the lack of civil discourse and the increasing inability of the U.S. political system to grapple with the nation’s biggest challenges.” Then it adds that: “These shortcomings put the nation at risk of losing it standing in the world.”
The Commission proposes reforms in three specific areas: The electoral process, the process by which Congress legislates and manages its own affairs, and the ability of Americans to plug into the nation’s civic life through public service.
Hopefully, the publication of this report and the work of the Bipartisan Policy Center and other similar initiatives will elevate the awareness in the American public of the need for engagement and convince the political establishment that time for change has arrived. On the surface, the recommendations by the Commission appear to be timid and too reverential of the existing order. But I will accept that change in the political system can only come in small incremental steps and that, as first steps, the recommendations are all steps in the right direction. I am particularly encouraged by the Commission’s emphasis on the importance of civic education and participation, including the introduction of a one year civil service requirement for all Americans.
The publication of this report coincides with the completion of my book “NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism.” It went this week to the publisher for formatting and publishing and is expected to be launched in August.
My book aspires to give a comprehensive review of the shortcomings in the existing American system, of which the political system is just one part, and it offers for each of these shortcomings avenues for improvement. It contends that American Exceptionalism is not out of reach, but that it will have to be regained. Since, as a private citizen and an author, I don’t have to be concerned with being called upon to implement the changes I advocate, my proposed solutions are a lot bolder and far reaching than what the Commission on Political Reform has proposed. My book aims at triggering a serious public discourse on what is holding America back from being, once more, truly exceptional.
The report of the Commission on Political Reform gives little, if any, support to my much farther reaching proposals, but that can be explained by the fact that my book focuses more on the desired end-result, while the report of the Commission on Political Reform deals with practical first steps that can be taken to move the political process in the right direction. After all, the Bipartisan Policy Center represents the status quo in the sense that it tries to bridge the differences between the two existing political parties. The question is if these two parties, by themselves, can do the heavy lifting required or if they will need to be challenged by the catalyst of a centrist third party.