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Crazy Enough it Just Might Work

By Andrew Bard Schmookler  Posted by Andrew Schmookler (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 3 pages)   No comments
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A time for the people to take up the slack

Recent polls show that more than two-third of Americans feel that the nation is heading in the wrong direction. For such a substantial majority of the people, in a democracy like ours, to repudiate the direction of the country –and so soon after a major election—is a clear sign that something important is amiss.

With such widespread distress among the people, surely the question of our national direction should be topic number one in our national discourse. But the institutions we rely on for such purposes are failing conspicuously to provide such a discussion.

From our established political system –consisting of a dominant party that’s set the direction now repudiated by two-thirds of the people, and an opposition party that’s virtually mute when it comes to offering an alternative vision—we are not getting the leadership we need. Nor do our national media seem able or willing to address these questions in any meaningful way.

That, of course, is part of our national problem: our institutions are failing to perform their proper functions.

With our institutions and our leadership failing us, might we –the American people—step into the breach and do the job ourselves. When our government failed to meet the challenge of hurricane Katrina, the American people –reassuringly-- showed themselves capable of spontaneously organizing themselves as a society to help fill the gap. Can anything similar be done to tap the capacity of the American people to envision and articulate the direction this country should be heading?

Imagine a process that could effectively distill from the American people the answers to two important questions. For those who think we’re heading in the wrong direction, “What’s wrong with our present direction?” And, for those on both sides of the right/wrong direction question, “What would be the right direction?”

Imagine a process: a) that tapped into the views and the creativity of the American people; b) that was manifestly and transparently honest and fair to all points of view, c) that for those reasons was seen as legitimate and thus was able to capture national attention; and d) that culminated in the presentation to the nation of a powerful statement addressing those questions about the direction of the nation.

If such a process could be devised, would that not be a powerful and constructive event? “The People’s Non-Constitutional Convention”: We the People….If the voice of the American people could be effectively distilled and articulated, could that not provide the impetus to take our dangerously dysfunctional political process in a new and better direction, more in keeping with the true values and goals of the American people?

But can such a process be designed? My intuition says that it is possible. But the task of actually designing the process will require people who possess the requisite gifts and expertise. I invite such people to come forward and bring this idea to fruition.

Before I run it up the flagpole and see if the cat laps it up, however, I would like to propose some basic characteristics I believe the process must possess to achieve its full potential.

Basic Features of the Design

It is essential that the process not only be fair, but also be perceived as being fair. Only if it is so perceived will the process be recognized as legitimate. And only if it is seen as having legitimacy will it be able to command the attention required for its final message to the nation to have a powerful impact.

The legitimacy of the enterprise rests on two main pillars. One is already in place: the findings of the polls of widespread public discontent with the direction the country is heading. In our democracy, majority opinion establishes legitimacy.

The other pillar is for the design to be completely neutral with respect to content. That means that it should be clear to anyone reading the description of the process –the rules, the procedures—that the deck is not stacked in favor of any particular point of view or partisan agenda. The process must be not only fair but transparently fair.

To be perceived as fair and neutral, the opening stage of the process should involve a general invitation to all Americans who care about the direction of the country enough to participate in the process. That inclusivity should be backed up by a suggestion to all the people we can reach to send word of the process and the invitation around, especially to people who are on the other side of our political divide from oneself.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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