Gallup recently asked Americans what issues the next president should prioritize. The #2 result was "reducing corruption in the federal government," which came in at a robust 87% percent. Only job creation is a higher priority at 92% (Tackling the national debt was a close third at 86%). In a related finding, public approval of Congress ties an all-time low of 10%. A quiet consensus has formed. Our fellow citizens want the corruption to end and they need a solution.
The recent Gallup study follows related public opinion studies, notably those done by Pew Research in recent years. In 2010 Pew got specific about discovering what it was that citizens disliked about our political leaders.
When asked about a series of criticisms of elected officials in Washington – that they care only about their careers, are influenced by special interests, are unwilling to compromise, and are profligate and out-of-touch – large majorities (no fewer than 76%) agree with each of the statements.
But the Pew research only told us that a consensus about corruption had emerged. We didn't know how important these issues were to people. Now, with this latest Gallup study, it's clear. Americans place corruption near the very top of their concerns about their country.
The information from Gallup has important implications for us. As readers familiar with our plan know, we intend to recruit a team of highly credible progressives and conservatives who will, in turn, create a constitutional amendment that will end the institutionalized corruption plaguing our republic. The amendment will 1) replace the current special-interest-funded campaign finance system with a clean elections system 2) enact congressional term limits, and 3) end the practice of gerrymandering. Other reforms may also be included.
Amending the Constitution is hard. It's about the most difficult thing to do in American politics, so most reform groups - even groups that are very richly funded - stay away from this challenge. But to avoid the challenge of amending the Constitution is to fail to solve the problem. If a massive surge of resources and voter energy one day gets a Congress to take meaningful steps, then those steps will surely be undone by a future Congress. Resources and energy must be focused intensely for a period of time to achieve change that is permanent, structural and thus constitutional.
The proposal must come from the people and at the right moment be forced through Congress or through an Article V Constitutional Convention. It means turning reform into a political weapon, arming true citizen-legislators with the amendment, and hammering at incumbent careerists who resist. It will take multiple elections cycles. Given the power of incumbency it sounds daunting, but there is no other way.
The Gallup survey data gives us new hope because it tells us that the American people hunger for reform. They yearn for a solution. Given what we now know, the right proposed amendment could catch fire and drive this process faster and more forcefully than most people think possible. It doesn't matter how long it takes. We must get started.
The key is a wise and comprehensive proposed amendment written by credible conservative and progressive leaders. The amendment must be so attractive , and so powerfully reflective of the popular reform consensus, that no sensible politician will dare oppose it.
In terms of recruiting the leaders, we are getting close. Watch the headlines in the coming year, and you will see that we will be "the little reform group that could."
In the meantime, please join us and consider making a financial contribution. Americans United to Rebuild Democracy is an all-volunteer organization at this time and pay no salaries. This will have to change. We need resources now to ramp up. Every penny goes to mission-critical activities. We can do this, and we will. Please help.
We are taking a summer break from writing and blogging. We will still be working behind the scenes to rebuild democracy. We may also take some time to upgrade this web site. But we'll definitely be going to the beach with our families. If you want to know more about us, start on our welcome page. Please sign up and contribute. And have a great summer! Come back in August.
Recently subpoenaed e-mails reveal the corrupt deal between the Obama White House and big pharma during the fight for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare"). Don't miss this terrific piece from the Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal has conservative bias you say? So what. Progressive hero Robert Reich warned us about this wrongdoing shortly after it took place.
Update. Here is some more on this story: The David Axelrod corruption angle.
Today, if people are against term limits, they'll often explain that term limits have been a disaster in California, right up there with earthquakes, mudslides, and rush hour on the LA freeways. In fact, legislative term limits have not worked very well in California. But is it simply that term limits are a poor or ineffective reform? Or are there factors in California which doomed term limits in that state? What lessons can we learn about term limits from the California example?
A financial blogger asks a good question. And illustrates the failure of financial reform, which is surely the result of no political reform.
J. P. Morgan Chase's recent announcement that the mega-bank had lost $2.3 billion making bad bets on unfathomable "credit derivatives" is like a lightning bolt on the horizon. Our political leaders have obviously not steered the ship-of-state far enough away from the financial storm that knocked down the entire economy in 2008. Wall Street is still gambling on the taxpayers' line of credit and putting the entire nation at risk. It doesn't take a genius to see why the problem was never fixed: Wall Street is bribing America's political leadership with campaign donations.
Yes, that's a crude explanation, but it also happens to be largely true. One of the parallels between banking reform and political reform is that while both systems are complex, basic and commonsense understanding comes easy. The most ordinary citizen can comprehend that while the public must underwrite traditional banking, taxpayers should never backstop anything that resembles gambling. An ordinary citizen can also understand the folly of permitting lawmakers to take campaign money from the same interests they regulate. Put it together, and it's hardly rocket science. A monkey could connect these dots, which form a clear picture of corruption.
The banking crisis of 2008, coupled with our government's inability to address the underlying causes of that crisis, is yielding one - and only one - clear benefit to the American people. It helps us see just how corrupt and dysfunctional our political system has become. What essentially needs to be done to fix the banking system is obvious. (Here is a clear explanation.) And it’s striking how much progressive outsiders and conservative outsiders actually agree on the nature of the banking problem and the necessary remedies.
Big banks must be broken up, with risky business separated from relatively safe FDIC-insured practices. Simpler solutions to banking reform are better than 2,300-page laws that regulators are supposed to implement because regulators can make mistakes and are subject to manipulation by financial and political interests. The Glass-Steagall Act was just such an approach that worked well for seventy years. Taxpayers should only back traditional lending. If a bank is mixing in riskier practices, then that aspect of the business must be broken off to stand on its own and suffer the consequences of any recklessness. No exceptions. End of story.
Incredibly, approaches that are clean and obvious usually don't happen because Wall Street has politicians from both parties in its back pocket. Of course there's a chance that public outrage and awareness could reach such an intense level that real banking reform might conceivably take place. But who wants a government that acts sensibly only in the wake of repeated calamities?
The President is now saying that the revelations out of JP Morgan demonstrate the need for the Democrat-passed Dodd-Frank Act. Barack Obama is doubling down on a law that shows every sign of failing (and he's worried about the implications JP Morgan's continued gambling habit) . For his part, Mitt Romney proposes no meaningful banking reform at all. Both politicians are taking in money hand over fist from Wall Street.
The madness only stops with comprehensive and non-partisan political reform. Just as a consensus outside of the Washington establishment is mostly established on banking reform, the shape of an outsiders’ consensus for political reform is also appearing. Lawmakers should not be permitted to take campaign money from the same interests they regulate. Congress should be comprised of citizen legislators from all walks of life and not professional politicians. Elections should always be fair. We, the people,all agree: we can't afford the corruption any more. We need to compartmentalize our many differences and not be distracted from pursuing the reforms that we all know are just common sense.
Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.
The structures our founders put in place - "the checks and balances" - are still there, says Brooks. It's "We the People," who have lost our way, he suggests. Perhaps we have lost some of what the founders called "civic virtue." Perhaps.
Here is the question: Are the structures put in place by the founder failing because we have lost our civic virtue or are they failing for possibly another reason?
The American decentralized system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system that scatters responsibility. Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose self-restraint.
Yes, responsibility is scattered, but hasn't that always been true?
Brooks is certainly correct that today we have a government seemingly incapable of pursuing the enlightened self-interests of the nation. The founders foresaw the potential for a republic to be captured and destroyed by narrow and short-term interests. In Federalist #10, Madison called these special and narrow interests, "factions." Brookes echoes Madison in warning of the danger of citizens merely following their "impulses."
And Brooks is right when he suggests that the entire system of checks and balances was designed to make government more judicious and discourage human nature's worst tenancies. So what has happened since the founding? Is it simply a decline in the American character?
For one thing, since the founding, modernity happened. The founders would not recognize America today, with its vast wealth, complex economy, big powerful federal and state governments, social safety nets, burgeoning population, sophisticated and pervasive communication technologies and information revolution.
What we as a people have created together is mostly wonderful. It is mostly a testament to our industrious character. But such revolutionary change has consequences the founders simply could not have foreseen. The defenses they built into the system against a government serving only the narrow and short term - the "checks and balances" - have been overwhelmed by modernity.
Today every incentive operating on our political system favors the narrow and short term, exactly contrary to the wishes of the founders. Career politicians, fixated on two and six-year election cycles, take campaign money from narrowly focused special interests, interests that invest in these politicians for their own benefits. Interests that oppose certain politicians risk getting punished. None of this serves the national interest . It is a systemic failure. The founders would have us re-enforces the defenses they put in place against special and narrow interests. They would have us enact a clean elections system and term limits, a very difficult task.
So now we must return to the issue Brooks raises regarding our character as a people. It's certainly true that as government becomes more distant and dysfunctional, citizens becomes alienated and cynical. Our democratic muscles atrophy. Do we retain the civic virtue necessary to build anew the proper defenses against the narrow and short-term interests that are destroying our republic? Let's hope.
On Satruday former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer made an announcement that probably a lot of reform-minded voters were waiting for. Roemer promised not to be a spoiler in the 2012 presidential contest.
Some progressives have worried aloud that a reformer running for President might take votes away from President Obama. More realistically, since Roemer is a Republican, he would more likely draw from Romney's base and help re-elect the President.
Whichever the case, Roemer has now put those fears to rest. In a letter to supporters Roemer stated, "If, during the last month of the campaign I discover I have no realistic chance of winning, I will ask my supporters to vote their conscience or for their second choice so the issue of spoiler can be dropped once and for all."
Roemer debating alongside Obama and Romney would be invaluable to the cause of reform. Roemer is currently polling at 7%. To get into the presidential debates he must achieve a threshold of 15%, a goal that seems achievable.
But for Roemer to have that opportunity he first must win the nomination on the Americans Elect ticket, which would put him on the ballot in all fifty states. Time is running short. To have a chance of being the Americans nominee, he must get 10,000 votes of support on the Americans Elect web site.
We don't endorse candidates, but if you think it's important to have a reformer's voice in the presidential debates, then go to Americans Elect, click on Roemer's picture, then click on "show your support," which will lead you through the process of qualifying to vote at Americans Elect. Unfortunately, the process is a somewhat complicated and involved. The security measures are probably depressing participation. Like the fight for reform itself, one must be persistent.
Peter Schweizer suggests a double standard in the Department of Justice's prosecution of white color crime. Read here.
In January of this year, Gallop continued its practice of polling Americans on their political ideologies. As you can see here, the pattern is fairly consistent over time, but in 2012, 40% of all Americans described themselves as "conservative," 35% as "moderate" and 21% as "liberal."
Given that a highly motivated supermajority of voters is needed to enact the kind of sweeping reforms readers of this page know is necessary, then isn't the support of conservatives also necessary?
You wouldn't know it to read and listen to the rhetoric of so-called "reform" organization's, who in this election year seem more interested in defeating Republicans and electing Democrats than they are in real reform.
Indeed, all of the big reform organizations couldn't alienate conservatives more if they tried. Some of these groups help our organization in various ways, so out of a sense of diplomacy they will go unnamed.
First, any conservative who is even a little interested in reform has read or heard about Peter Schweizer's book, Throw Them All Out. Many reform groups have in fact used Schweizer's information on congressional insider stock trading in their advocacy for the recently passed Stock Act. That legislation was produced as a result of Schweizer's reserach, though he says it does not go far enough.