Toward Civic Renewal

questionThis is in response to our Executive Editor/Co-Publisher Jeffrey Orenstein’s series of essays Toward Civic Renewal. Used by Permission

Dear Jeffrey,

I have enjoyed reading your essays in Living on the Suncoast, and have found them very thought provoking.  In many cases I agree totally with you, and in some cases, not as much.  However, I think you would be disappointed if your essays did not create some meaningful discussion.

Let me first address the issue of the approval rating of our Congress.  The media often focuses on statistics which show Congress with an approval rating to the south of the Grinch.  Indeed, the way it is conducting business seems disconnected with any reality I am aware of.  But the issue that concerns me the most is how many people approve of their own US Representative.  Because of Gerrymandering, which unfortunately has a long tradition dating back to the nineteenth century, this is not likely to change soon.  There are too many “safe” districts.  We (i. e. us — the voters) tend to judge our representatives on how much federal money they bring in to our districts.  Pogo possum, one of my all time favorite cartoon characters (after Bugs Bunny) said “we have met the enemy and he is us”.  My apologies to Walt Kelly, who used it in a different context, but who no doubt would have used it in this context had he lived.

The main reason I was driven to put my thoughts on virtual paper is your writings about the Senate.  It is arguable that without the provision for a senate, our Constitution would never have been adopted.  Why would Connecticut (my home state), Rhode Island, Delaware and some others have ever ratified it without some protection from being over-ruled always by Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Virginia?  You mentioned Wyoming in your essay.  Why would they have become a state except for this provision, notwithstanding that the Federal Government would have simply taken it over?  They would have had to weigh the benefits from consenting to being governed by a body which they could have no conceivable influence on to the benefits of being sovereign.  Think about campaigning for that in the Wyoming territory.

You mention limiting the filibuster to 72 hours.  Why bother?  The non-participating senators would simply go home for some time off, not that they listen anyway.  As an aside, I am amazed when I see video clips of Harry Reid et al. standing in front of an empty chamber.  Even they do not bother to listen to this blather. The filibuster can serve a useful purpose as a defense against the so-called tyranny of the majority.  Is it being abused?  Sure, but this was started by the Democrats who are now “shocked” that it has been used more than they expected.  This is always predictable.

All of this may be insignificant sophistry when compared to the role of money in politics.  In Edmund Morris’s excellent biography of Teddy Roosevelt, there is ample evidence that special interests had a role to play in government one hundred years ago.  However, he mentioned that Taft essentially campaigned for President from his front porch in 1908.  How much did that cost?  We are now spending billions on political campaigns and the voters have no idea where most of this money comes from, or where it goes.  Limiting campaign spending has spectacularly failed (we keep thinking that Prohibition will work) since there are always loopholes and unscrupulous people.  What we need is public accounting of every penny spent on campaigning.

OK, there’s a loophole in that too — since PAC money, and other money financing advertising which supports a particular political position is not accounted for.  I do not know how this can be controlled either since it is like controlling pornography — whose definition of campaign spending is used?

Looking back on this letter is discouraging because there are no answers.  Why do voters in this country care so little, such that having a 60% voter turnout for a major election is considered good and some elections have a 20% turnout?  Perhaps we should be happy that the others don’t vote, since they likely know so little about the issues.   I think this is the most depressing aspect of our democracy.  There was a thoughtful piece written recently in the University of Pennsylvania alumni magazine suggesting that we pass a law requiring everyone to vote.

How sad would that be?

Since you are bothering to write these essays, it means you really care about our long standing democratic republic.  We strongly agree with each other in that regard.


Richard E. DeGennaro

Written by Kristen Moran

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