Monday, October 31, 2011

Why not Swing for the Fences

Constitutional amendments are remarkebly difficult to pass. The founders laid out two paths to reweave our nation's founding fabric. One starts with sizable majorities in both houses of Congress, and the other requires acclimation for a constitutional convention to come from the legislatures in two thirds of the states. Only 27 times has an idea surrmounted either of these obstacles to reshape the rules of our national conversation.

With all the recommendations flowing from pundits and politicians to the Occupy populists in parks and squares across the United States, I reckoned that one more couldn't hurt. Now, I recognize that Occupy is still in its infancy, much as the Tea Party simmered in the run up to the 2010 elections. It's hard to say what will stick or how much will change after the first snows have flushed protestors from Zuccotti Park.

I doubt that Occupy will achieve much on its own, but the latest polls point to a powerful popular frustration and dissatisfaction that is on the lips of ordinary Americans from all walks of life. A recent NY Times/ CBS poll found that 89 percent of Americans distrust government to do the right thing and only 9 percent approve of Congress. At a time when populist fury is washing over the developed world and freedom is sprouting anew in the Middle East, let's turn the passion of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street against their common foe, money in politics.

Libertarians and liberals agree that we live in a nation of bought-and-paid-for policies. Many on the right decry corrupted Washington and its special interesters at the same time that progressives protest against our crony capitalism that lets banks off the hook but finds no place in its heart for underwater homeowners. At a time of successive wave elections, I bet that many voters from both ends of the spectrum and a large chunk of the middle would be excited to call a constitutional convention with the aim of rewriting the rules for money in politics, electoral redistricting, and Capitol Hill lobbying.

I interned for a U.S. Senator this spring, and I feel great respect for the men and women, elected officials and their advisers, who operate our government. I won't say the system isn't creaky, partisan, and unable to cope with many problems that need urgent attention, but I defend the people who work in that world. I bet that many would embrace the opportunity to escape from the endless scamper for money that defines so much of their lives. This summer I got to listen to a one-time congressional candidate as she described her revulsion at hours spent on the phone begging for money from strangers.

American democracy finds itself in a world that spins faster and hosts more problems than ever before. Many of the complaints from main streets that reach the halls of power require answers that elected officials no longer have the ability to solve. Locked into a world of dreadful incentives, Congressmen and Senators can't stand up to money in politics alone. A long time ago, our first representatives gave the people of America a way to rewrite Washington's rules. Let's step up to the plate and see what is possible.

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