Thursday, September 29, 2011

Institutional Change?

Maybe the problem with American democracy is that we have too much democracy.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue (Dem.) seemed to suggest this when she commented that we should consider suspending congressional elections until Congress passes legislation addressing our economic ails.

While she might have been joking, we are not. The American political system suffers from hyper-democracy with too many elections, and we suggest amending the Constitution to reduce the number of these elections.

When looking back on the most prominent institutional change to our governmental system in the last 60 years, we cannot ignore the problems that have arisen with the addition of new elections.

The use of primary elections to nominate party candidates for office has added an entirely new round of elections to our system causing government officials to focus even more on campaigning while distracting them from governing.

Using these primaries to nominate candidates was heralded as a progressive movement toward more democratization as the smoke-filled rooms of party bosses selecting their preferred candidates were replaced by the ballots of ordinary party supporters who express their preference for candidates.

But this institutional change has created a political system even more dominated by a culture that prioritizes campaigning over governing.

As soon as candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives win office, they realize that their next electoral challenge could come in a primary election in as little as 18 months. Time spent crafting legislation or working on bureaucratic oversight often gets spent on raising money and developing plans for the next election battle right around the corner.

The result is a political system that greatly diminishes the time representatives focus on addressing policies without the added distraction of election politics.

But scrapping the primary election process would not be a reasonable solution due to the complexity of getting all 50 states to agree to this change as well as the likelihood that party bosses would again grow dominant.

Our solution to this problem of hyper-democracy is to have fewer elections by lengthening the term of the member of the House of Representatives to 3 years and increasing the presidential term length to 6 years.

The result would allow our representatives more time to govern rather than using their time to politic. Extended terms would also reduce the amount of political gridlock that inevitably occurs when candidates hold out on policy changes to await the results of the next election.

So we agree with Gov. Perdue (even if her suggestion was in jest) that the 2012 elections for the House and President should be suspended as we pass the 28th constitutional amendment to lengthen these terms. Perhaps our system might then be able to bring the focus back to governing rather than politicking.

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