When Democracy Doesn’t Work, Pick a Different Democracy?

With Congress at a 13% approval rating, it’s probably fair to say that the great democratic experiment is suffering just a little. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court striking down the giving limits for campaign finance just about guarantees that government decisions are now in the hands of the highest bidder if they weren’t before. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that politicians are likely to feel more obligated to “the people” with money than they are to those without. Some comedians (and realists) have even joked that Congressional representatives should be forced to wear logos belonging to their corporate sponsors like NASCAR drivers. Or, at least, a lot of politically-minded folks certainly feel that way.

I like thinking about these sorts of things – y’know, what’s wrong with the country and how we should fix it. But as just some average Joe in little ole Tennessee, I sometimes think, “Why even bother worrying with this? It’s not like any arguments or solutions I could think of would ever make it to Capitol Hill.” But it’s still fun to think about; I even enjoy reading a good Facebook argument here or there where an art major and a biology student engage in civil bitter discourse employing their knowledge of the Constitution they gained from that one college class they took where they spent all of a week talking about American politics. On the one hand, it’s silly and unproductive if not also depressing to watch (or be a part of). On the other hand, the fact that we live in a country where we’re afforded the freedoms to engage in this level of banter is something we all too-often take for granted. And I also think there’s something to be said for the way discourse can impact not so much the people we’re arguing with but, instead, ourselves. I’ll try to put that another way –

Though I’ve got a pretty ugly history to the contrary, I generally try not to engage in Facebook politics these days unless it’s to provide an interesting fact or to shed light on a theological concept, since my education is situated within that realm. But my goal isn’t to change anyone’s mind the way it once was. Instead, I’m more interested in changing my own mind. I want to be challenged and pushed, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that my goal is selfish in that way. Rather than pretending like I could change the world with my words, when that’s actually silly, I at least know I can change myself if I’m open to listen and hear out the perspectives of others. That’s education to me, and I want my education to be a lifelong experience, not something restricted to a few golden days at Wabash or Vanderbilt. In that sense, I love a good Facebook argument. And I suppose I’d like to think our whole world would be better off if we argued with that goal in mind – the goal to change ourselves instead of others, but seeing as how my wishful thinking contradicts my goal to change only myself, it’s probably best not to get caught up in that kind of meta reflection.

So, not too long ago, while complaining about the state of the union to family in what amounted to one of those arguments where none of us were actually going to change anything, I was surprised when my Dad offhandedly made a few remarks about how he’d make the country better. It was surprising because I can’t think of a single time where Dad made a staunchly political statement at all, so when he just sort of quipped about a different system of government entirely, I wasn’t expecting such a, well, brilliant concept: his basic idea was to randomly appoint everyday citizens who would be required to serve in legislatures much the way citizens are required to serve on jury duty.

Call it legislative duty. I’ve been turning this idea over in my head for a while now, and I think it’s actually more democratic than our current republic. It would need some tweaking to deter corruption, but with the right checks-and-balances in place, it might just work. That is, you’d have to make sure the selections happened randomly but that they would be representative of state demographics (though I think it would become somewhat obvious if they were not). You’d also have to have something in place to make sure that people would perform their assigned duties and were capable of fulfilling their obligations to the state (via something akin voir dire), though as a friend of mine pointed out, “if you relegated current congressional salaries towards compensation for this, people would actually want to do it.” And if it were something people wanted to do, it would increase the likelihood that it would be done well. It would also do away with political party alliances (or at least extreme ones) and increase the likelihood that people were voting their conscience in the best interests of their fellow citizens. You could keep, say, the Senate, and let the new group replace the House of Representatives. The executive branch could be responsible for selecting representatives with the judicial branch responsible for confirming them to either two or four-year terms.

I mean, it would never happen. But in a day and age where money decides policy, it was just nice to think about something different for a change. It was nice to be challenged by a totally different idea in the midst of what is usually just silly, harsh arguments where everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong.

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