How to Fix Government and Make Democracy Work Again
A Democratic operative of 30 years, including working as a pollster and strategist for President
Douglas Schoen chatted recently with Robert Schlesinger about who is to blame and what the solution is. Excerpts:
What is the problem that you're trying to fix?
Excessive partisanship, excessive politics, an unresponsive system, an electoral system that doesn't work as well as I think it could. The disproportionate influence of special interests on our politics.
As a political consultant, are you part of the problem?
Everybody is part of the problem. As somebody who's had a firsthand look at what has created a far less effective democracy than we ought to have, I think the system itself can and should be fixed to make people like me and our elective officials more responsive and obviously both in touch and effective.
Aren't some politicians too overresponsive because of polls?
It's a legitimate concern, but it simplifies the issue. What we have now in the
How would you reform redistricting?
Very simple: nonpartisan redistricting. Basically, take it out of the hands of the politicians and legislatures. It'll work, work quickly, and change democracy.
You want to eliminate caucuses in presidential elections.
Yeah. We ought to eliminate caucuses and superdelegates. Let the people decide. You want to avoid individual state-by-state rules that could be cumbersome to one group of voters or one candidate. It's just fairer to all to have primaries.
Don't primaries skew toward a party's base?
Yeah, that's why I think independents should be able to vote in whichever primary they want.
You want to eliminate the
I don't think 13, 14, or 15 [swing] states should decide [the election]. We ought to have a true national campaign.
Why do you want to take the
I want it to be as nonpolitical as possible. I want to avoid what happened during the Bush administration with the politicization of the process and attempted politicization of the U.S. attorneys.
You would have the attorney general serve like the chairman of the Federal Reserve?
Exactly, and basically try to insulate the system as much as possible from politics.
You have a chapter on reforming the press.
I know most reporters would say the press can't be improved, but my view is that in the same way you have review of everyone else, you ought to have more independent fact-checking and verification, more review panels of what gets printed so that there's a great degree of both interactivity and oversight of the process.
Would they be government financed?
No. I would want them independently financed so that we would have a multiplicity of voices and interests monitoring the process. But I don't want government control of the media, not at all.
You also place blame with the voters.
Look, we have an apathetic public that focuses sporadically and spasmodically. I'm not sitting here saying that the voters are all perfect and everybody else is a sinner. There's plenty of blame to go around.
What's the voters' problem?
When you have an increasingly unresponsive political elite that the voters are becoming increasingly disenchanted from, leaving us without the degree of responsiveness that we'd like to have and without getting the requisite degree of citizen involvement. That's why I would give incentives and tax credits for citizen involvement and community service, free tuition for people who do national service, because I think we need much greater citizen involvement broadly defined: not only political activism but civic activism.
How would you deal with campaign finance?
For congressional elections, we want to have a system of public finance that would be in place. You want to get lobbyist contributions out and PAC money out, maybe raise the dollar limits for individual contributions. For presidential elections, I would do away with public financing--I think it's proven to be anachronistic--and I would again raise the contribution limits.
How would you deal with lobbyists?
Take them out of the system, and anytime they contact an elected official, it should be public information. To have a system where lobbyists can hold fundraisers and that gives them the greatest access and latitude with elected officials almost legalizes the buying of votes. That's not a healthy way to proceed.
What do you make of how the current administration has handled lobbyists?
On one hand, they've said that they want to keep lobbyists out. On the other hand, they appear to be working with them on some matters. They're struggling as others do to try to figure out what the proper mix is. What [President] Obama said during the campaign was welcome but clearly hasn't been practical.
What surprised you in writing this book?
That there were a bunch of what I thought were common-sense solutions that I came at as somebody who is a Democratic consultant and a centrist. It just struck me that so few issues get approached from a nonpartisan point of view. What surprised me was the paucity of positions that people take that are from what I would hope would be called the rational center.
What will surprise readers?
That somebody who has been a hardheaded, hard-bitten professional consultant at arguably the highest levels, having worked for a president of
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How to Fix Government and Make Democracy Work Again | Robert Schlesinger
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