Using the Democracy We Already Have

Michael Lind, writing at Salon, argues that the agenda of the American right wing amounts to a “Southern Autonomy Project”: an attempt to attract investment to the South by insuring cheap labor and minimal government regulation, while limiting any negative response from Southern voters and interfering with possible corrective action in Washington.

Lind believes we need a progressive agenda to counteract the right, a “National Majority Rule Project”:

Setting political difficulty aside, it is intellectually easy to set forth a grand national strategy that consists of coordinated federal policies to defeat the Southern Autonomy Project.

He thinks these policies would do the trick:

1) A federal living wage, which would level the economic playing field among the states;
2) Nationalization of social insurance, so that Southern states couldn’t water down programs like Medicaid and the ACA to their advantage;
3) Real voting rights for all Americans, insured by Federal law;
4) Truly nonpartisan redistricting in order to eliminate gerrymandering of Congressional districts;
5) Abolition of the Senate filibuster (I’d add a change to House rules that would make it easier to bring legislation to a vote);
6) Abolition of the Federal debt ceiling.

Unfortunately, it’s really hard in practice to “set political difficulty aside”. As things stand now, any such reforms would require cooperation from the people the reforms are aimed at.  

The same problem applies to a Salon article that calls for a new Constitutional Convention. The author of this article argues that the Constitution should be amended to make it more democratic, including changes like:

1) Ten-year terms for Supreme Court justices;
2) Public funding for elections and the elimination of campaign contributions;
3) Abolition of the Electoral College;
4) Elimination of special voting rules and earmarks in Congress;
5) A requirement that Congress approve a yearly budget or face a special election;
6) Elimination of the need for state legislatures to approve constitutional amendments.

The author concludes, however:

Of course, it is unthinkable that the United States would do what its states have done 230 times, i.e., call a constitutional convention to design a modern framework of governance. This would require two-thirds of the states to agree. Amending the current constitution is also nearly impossible as it demands a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress as well as the approval by 38 states.

It’s reasonable to conclude that the only way to make our country more democratic is for more right-thinking people to participate in the democracy we already have. People need to vote for politicians who would support changes like those above. (We’d also have to get over the idea that our Constitution as written is a sacred document.)

Having the right people in office can certainly do wonders. Since the voters of California elected a Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, California has started moving in the right direction again.

According to an article in the New Yorker (whose author argues, by the way, for Obama to ignore the debt ceiling if it comes to that), a similar phenomenon occurred after the Southern states seceded:

Throughout the Civil War and afterward, Republicans in Congress had enacted some of the most forward-looking legislation in American history: a national currency, the Homestead Act, a transcontinental railroad, support for higher education, the definitive abolition of slavery—all thanks to the extended absence of delegations from the self-styled Confederate states.

See, all we need to do is use the democracy we already have! (And keep having babies who grow up to be Democrats, especially in Texas, Florida and Ohio.)

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