I don’t think I am alone on this. We don’t like the bipartisan divide. We don’t like the pork. We don’t like the two-party system where politics gets in the way of making intelligent laws. We elected Obama in part to change how government works, and are disappointed that he didn’t fix the system.
But of course he couldn’t change the system. He isn’t the boss, he can’t dictate policy. He is just one part of our three-part government, and is controlled by checks and balances. And in 2-6 years he will be gone, so Senators and Congressmen hoping to spend their lives in government aren’t as worried about the near term. The problem is that the president doesn’t pick the politicians. We do.
We are the boss. And we incentivize our employees, the politicians, to do things a certain way. We encourage mud slinging, since the mud is usually the bulk of what we know about a candidate. What do you know about Christine O’Donnell? What does she believe in? I firmly rooted against her, but to be honest I know little of her opinions on real issues, other than she was a Tea Party candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, and made stupid comments about being a Witch. Basically, all mud, no facts.
The news is a horrible place to get our facts about politicians, but we keep doing it. We all know how bad Fox News is. Guess what, our favored news sources are just as biased, just as manipulative, just as scandal driven. They want headlines. We learn about politics through them. Therefore our politicians, the ones we vote on, are voted on based off of headlines. Maybe intelligent headlines. Maybe headlines from news sources we respect, but still headlines. Thus, politicians are incentivized to make good headlines to keep their jobs.
That’s it. Nothing else matters.
The root problem is the job requirements. A politicians job requirements isn’t really to govern, it is to get elected. And to get elected you need to have more positive and less negative headlines than your opponent. There are the headlines you cannot control, like responses to scandal, spin on actual governing you do, and mud slung against you. Then there are the headlines you can control, paid for by you and gotten by getting donations. So keep the party happy and they will help fund your campaign. Keep the people who actually donate money in a noticeable quantity happy and they will help fund your campaign.
What can we do about this? How can we change it?
The only thing I can think of is to change how we elect someone. Change our criteria from the mud to facts. And to me, we want those facts to be primarily about how they govern. The problem is, those facts aren’t there…
Or are they? I can do a web search and find decisions made in the Senate. I can find out who proposed them, who was on the committee that supported it, and who voted for or against it. I can find the actual words of the decision. All the facts are there, public domain, just presented in a way that makes it hard to use that information to influence your voting.
What I want is a web page that opens to what my ballot is going to look like. I want to be able to click on a politician, and see everything they ever voted on. I want to see a summary of what each thing they voted on was, and maybe some way to calculate what issues they are more in favor of and less in favor of. I would also want to see what they have promised, and how their promises match how they voted. And preferably I would want to see how reasonable their promises are, so I can compare someone who has never held an office with an incumbent. Lastly, I want to make my decisions and then print out a crib-sheet of my ballot so I can remember which obscure name I like better when I go to the polls.
This should all be doable.
Put every decision made by the Senate, Congress, and someday state legislature as well in a database. Have educated people summarize those decisions, but show the original for those who want to interpret for themselves. Rate those decisions on “key factors”, to be determined. Maybe let every user put in their own rating so they don’t have to be overly influenced by our “educated people” if they don’t want to. Then have an algorithm that rates politicians based off of the ratings of the decisions they voted for or against. Then work out a way to do something similar for Governors and Presidents, maybe even Treasurers and Sheriffs and the like. Then work out a way to do something similar with campaign promises so you have SOMETHING for those that have never held an office before. Make a fancy webpage, put up advertising or a donation button or something and wallah, information is available.
Of course everyone won’t use this site. You can see that there are opinions put into it, hopefully kept to a minimum, but still, some professional analysis has to be done. But if you can base that analysis off of something that is easily analyzed through math and is important to lots of people, like fiscal responsibility, then the bias is reasonably limited.
Can we get 1% of the population of the US to look at a site that tells them how fiscally responsible politicians are? How about 5%? And once we have 5% of the people polling that some of their opinions are based off of our database, how can any politician completely ignore that?
So we make some simple rules. Any bill or decision with a cost that doesn’t have a well defined way to pay for it is bad. Any bill or decision that directly lowers the national debt is good. Any bill or decision that includes items (pork) that does not directly relate to its title is bad. Get a percentage of voters to poll that they use our tool that rates candidates on these rules. Then you get candidates who start working on looking better according to these rules in order to get elected…
And then the system is changed, isn’t it?