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Who Should Make Political Policy, the People or the Politicians?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message William John Cox       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink

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In the midst of what undoubtedly will be the nastiest and most expensive presidential campaign in American history, it is important to remember that the question is not so much whether a candidate is a good or bad person, but rather what should and will be the policies, objectives, and consequences of her or his administration? What do the People of the United States really want and expect their government to do on their behalf? Who should make political policy, the People, or the politicians they elect to represent them?

Founded as a republic in which representatives are elected to administer the government for the People, the United States has become increasingly more democratic as the vote has been extended from a few wealthy property owners to include most adult citizens. President Abraham Lincoln not only established that the United States could not be dissolved, but he also expanded the definition of its government from being for the People, to being of and by the People. Thus, it is the People themselves who have the inherent power to define their own government, rather than being forced to accept the kind of government offered by competing political candidates. In a democracy, it is supposed to be the people (demos) who have the power (kratia), rather than the politicians (poltikos).

The Democrats and Republicans are currently nominating the two candidates with the highest unfavorable ratings in the history of presidential elections. Before hiring their next president, shouldn't American voters be telling the candidates what the task involves, rather than listening to the candidates lie about what they will do if they get the job?

Political Party Platforms

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Currently, political policy, on the national level, is set forth in the platforms adopted by the major political parties at their presidential nominating conventions every four years. During the primaries, the competing candidates tout their proposals about what their party's platform should contain. Once they obtain enough delegates to receive the nomination, the successful presidential candidates take control of their political parties and the committees that draft the platforms. Conceptually, the American People vote for these competing party platforms, and the presidential candidates are supposedly pledged to follow these policies, if elected.

In truth--given the present merchandising approach to political campaigns--the party platforms are carefully designed as bait to sell the party's political package to the voters. Once in office, however, successful candidates are free to switch from their advertised promises, which they usually do to the detriment of those who bought their product.

Hillary Clinton's website lists 31 key programs she will fight for as president--from curing Alzheimer's disease to teaching new workforce skills. Mislabeled as policy, these programs include improving access to affordable health care, preserving Social Security and Medicare, and reducing the cost of college. Although Bernie Sanders may push the Democratic platform committee toward adopting more progressive positions, the ultimate result of a Hillary Clinton presidency will be a continuation of the pro-corporate philosophy of the New Democrats, such as her husband and President Barack Obama. This centralist orientation is largely indistinguishable from mainstream Republican policies in the critical areas of the economy, environment, and militarization.

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Donald Trump's website offers a mishmash of proposals--also referred to as policies--including tax reform by reducing taxes, immigration reform by forcing Mexico to build a border wall, health care reform by repealing the Affordable Care Act, and compelling China to live up to its trade obligations by being a tough negotiator. Given his erratic nature, these proposals offer little or no guidance as to what a President Trump might actually do when confronted with real world problems, instead of the programming requirements of reality television.

Even with the best of intentions, these propositions--in the absence of well-considered policy guidelines--provide little direction in the event of changes of circumstance, such as another major terrorist attack, or increasing crime, riots, and racial violence resulting from economic failures. Most pertinent is the inability of political parties to adopt policies that actually benefit the People whenever beneficial policies conflict with the dictates of the wealthy elite and corporations who control the politicians in both major parties?

In many respects, the current political policy-making process treats American voters like children. Just as parents quickly learn to ask their young children whether they want green beans or carrots--rather than telling them to eat their vegetables--the electoral choices offered to voters by the major parties are different tastes of the same artificially-flavored political Kool-Aid.

Policy and Programs

The concept of policy is widely misunderstood. Policy is a philosophical guideline or a path to a goal or objective. It differs from laws, rules, regulations, and procedures, which are more mandatory. Although often used interchangeably--especially in politics--there is also a difference between policy, and the programs that implement policies.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last big-picture political policy maker. His "New Deal" included a wide variety of government programs and lasted for decades, as the United States enjoyed its greatest period of political stability and economic progress. The platforms of subsequent presidents--Eisenhower's "Peace and Prosperity," Kennedy's "New Frontier," Johnson's "Great Society," Nixon's "Bring Us Together," Reagan's "Make America Great Again," Bush senior's "Kinder, Gentler Nation," Bill Clinton's "Putting People First," Bush junior's "Compassionate Conservatism," and Barrack Obama's "Change We Can Believe In"--have been marketing slogans primarily designed to peddle a variety of special-interest programs, rather than broad-scale statements of public policy. These political catchphrases are in the same category as Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" and Hillary Clinton's "Stronger Together."

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While one could say that the New Deal was also a slogan, it was much more than a label for the presidential orders and government programs adopted pursuant to it. In response to the devastation of the Great Depression, the New Deal was a vision--expressed as a policy--which proposed a new contract between the People and their government. More than words, the New Deal actually provided relief for the destitute, recovery of the economy, and reform of the financial system.

Urging the United States to become an "Arsenal of Democracy" to help the Allies defend themselves against fascism and to unify the spirit of the American People, President Roosevelt looked forward to a world founded on the Four Freedoms of speech and expression, of worship, from want, and from fear. In January 1941--when Roosevelt identified these freedoms--the world was engaged in a great war against fascism which threatened every person on Earth. Today, fascism is once again rearing its evil head, and it is being fed by the fear tactics of reactionary politicians and the militarization of the government. Fascism is threatening an American society made vulnerable by social, environmental, and economic problems far beyond the comprehension of those who lived 75 years ago. At a time when the People desperately want peace and prosperity, they are being told by their presidential candidates that war and austerity are inevitable.

The Essentials of Good Government

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William John Cox authored the Policy Manual of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Role of the Police in America for a National Advisory Commission during the Nixon administration. As a public interest, pro bono, attorney, he filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 petitioning the Supreme Court to order a National Policy Referendum; he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical (more...)
 

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