Moving Toward Democracy

If you are the CEO of a large bank or defense contractor, you probably think our democracy works just fine. To the rest of us, it seems like our representatives do not pay any attention to our desires and there is no way to reach them. Their campaigns are superficial, misleading, and degrading to both us and them.

Unfortunately, the system can only be reformed by the people who are abusing it. It occurs to me that we do not have to wait for that to happen. Why not undermine the dollar driven political process? All we need is a website of political profiles. Not only would the positions of candidates be readily available, but the complexion of campaigning would be forced to change.

This would have to be something with the cold veracity of a Consumer Reports. It would have to have current updates and comprehensive referenced data. It would need to cover all potential candidates. It could begin with just the National level, but could one day include state and lower level politicians.

The first element would be a basic biography offering background information of the politician’s life, including education, jobs, and current position. It should include a timeline of any major changes in political positions or affiliations.

Next would be a table that would give summary positions for any politician you looked up, or all of the politicians in a race. A numerical rating would give you an idea of their stand on a subject. By clicking on an entry in the table you could get background data at deeper and deeper levels until you came to specific quotes and sources. All information would have to be expressed in a substantive form. For instance, how many times have you gotten a political mailing that said, “If I am elected, education will be one of my top priorities.”? What does that tell you? In the table, one such candidate might have a high score under support of public education. Click for details and you find they are quoted as saying that a quality education for all is the foundation of both democracy and economic development. Another candidate might have a low score for support of public education and a high score for privatization of government functions. They might be quoted as saying that education is better handled by private companies than the government. If a Senator says he wants to protect the environment, that tells us nothing. If he says that no economic considerations should weaken the Endangered Species Act then he would get a higher score on environmental protection.

In addition to political positions there would be scores for consistency, veracity, knowledge, and cooperation with the profile. Does this person tell a substantively different message to different groups. Are the facts they present at least possibly accurate? Are they at least reasonably well informed? Lastly, have they helped us fill in the voids in their profile or are they evasive and secretive?

This would not be an easy job and would have to be done with a high level of diligence and integrity. It should not be that difficult, however. Congressional discussions and public speaking engagements could all produce a useable quote or two. Records of voting on bills would not help much unless the legislator explained their reasoning or until a consistent pattern had emerged.

The real beauty is in the change this would bring to the political process. Today, campaigns try to distract voters from issues, instead of revealing their positions, or taking the time to explain them. Each strong position is seen as alienating some group. Support abortion and you lose the strict Catholics. Support reducing the deficit and you lose the anti-tax group. Some topics, such as U.S. war crimes, are not discussed by any major candidate.

If there is an easy reference source available, we can ignore the ads and the sound bites. If the candidate’s policies are transparent, the only way to win more voters is to argue and explain the positions, win hearts and minds. If the candidate has evaded taking a stand in a given area, they may be called to task. Campaigns could become meaningful.

Russ Hawthorne is not a politician, academic, or writer. His only qualification is as an ordinary citizen. Read other articles by Russ.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 19th, 2009 at 10:22am #

    This wld be a big step in the expansion of democracy and against expansion of the empire from which its ruling class benefits most.

  2. jemiller said on December 19th, 2009 at 12:58pm #

    This is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long while. Somebody with basic database skills and an interest in politics, and the requisite dedication toward objectivity, should be able to get it started.

  3. gio said on December 19th, 2009 at 4:55pm #

    Brilliant Idea !!!

  4. lichen said on December 19th, 2009 at 5:08pm #

    The suggestion of a new website is fine, but most people would still turn on their televisions to find the same corporate mainstream media propaganda and whitewashing. I think the only way to reform our democracy is to launch a huge grassroots movement that crosses all political lines to achieve that aim.

  5. Frank said on December 19th, 2009 at 10:51pm #

    The first crucial step in this direction, in the direction of an objective, educated, and analytical populace who reawakens to the reality of today and sees the need for real change is simple, and it is this: turn off ur TV.

  6. Sheila Velazquez said on December 20th, 2009 at 5:02am #

    Project Vote Smart has been doing something similar for many years. They also send out forms to people running for office and in office with specific questions, many of which often go unanswered.

    When I wrote for a newspaper, they sent me an annual guide. Since this is available free to any legit journalist, they have no excuse for not getting the facts right.