In a meeting with LaVarr Webb this morning two topics really stuck with me that seem to illustrate the most important political problems that we face as a nation. The particular issues we talked about were at the level of our state government, but both issues apply equally well to our federal government and often in more local government settings as well.
The first of these two topics that we talked about was the need for ethics reform – specifically gifts to legislators. Webb has close experience with politicians at the legislature over many years and he talked about how those legislators are often frustrated that people view or suspect them as being corrupt. He said that in his experience they rarely are corrupt but he believes that they can and should address this issue because our state legislature does not have strong safeguards in place against corruption in the event that someone were corrupt. I immediately thought about the Change Congress movement being pushed by Larry Lessig. Lessig articulates the problem as being one caused not by bad people but by “good people working in a bad system.” I believe that his primary method for changing the system is applicable to all such cases. We should persuade our candidates to commit to:
- Not take lobbyist or PAC money
- Ban earmarks (this problem seems most acute at the federal level)
- Support public financing of campaigns.
As citizens we can request that our candidates make these commitments. This can be a filter by which we can determine for ourselves which candidates are serious about changing the bad system. Personally, I will never support a candidate who will not commit to these principles over a candidate who has made this commitment. (And I will ask any candidate I hope to support to make this kind of commitment.)
We later got onto the issues of the violation of the principles of federalism. This is when government tramples the rights of individuals or lower levels of government. This happens so frequently in small ways that many people think it is how the system is supposed to work. Here the solution is that citizens must insist at each level of government that individual liberty and the sovereignty of lower levels of government be carefully protected. Obviously there are some cases where the good of the whole overrides the choice of a part but everyone should be as careful to guard against running over their neighbors with the ideas that they favor as they are at complaining when they feel imposed upon by the ideas of others (and sometimes we need to be more vocal when we feel that we are being bullied by the enforced ideals of others).