In the recent “Too Much of a Good Thing,” Peter Orszag suggests that if we had a little less democracy, we might all be a little better off.
First, it’s stunning for a recent former OMB Director turned Citigroup VP to suggest that too much democracy is to blame for what ails Washington. Even if Orszag feels played by Congress, that’s no reason to suggest bypassing it; that’s the only representation most of us have. If you’re a bank VP that has the campaign money and lobbying habit that Citigroup does, then it’s apparently fine to have 12 people stand in for the rest of Congress.
For the rest of us, though, it’s not ok. Processes like the Super Committee don’t just make the process “somewhat less accountable” to voters. We don’t know what’s happening, and it’s entirely likely that we won’t see what’s in the deal the supercommittee reaches until it’s too late to change it. Deregulated campaign finance laws allow members to accept donations and solicit secret, even undisclosed and unlimited donations. That’s not a marginal change.
It’s now legal for Senator Murray to ask for a million dollar check for a sympathetic organization, and to then immediately walk into the super committee room to “negotiate” with her colleagues.
When people say they want Washington to find a way to get things done, they don’t mean that they want 12 people to secretly decide the fate of the entire country, while raising secret money on the side.
The “serious” arguments on behalf of the super committee process are anything but. Polarized politics aren’t a result of open deliberations.
When technocrats insist that budget and spending discussions are too serious and too adult for the American public, we’re diminished as a result. People rely on distorted, reductive, partisan spin for news in part because we can’t see the actual news. Moving real decisions out of the political arena will only diminish our politics further. If our politics are vapid now, imagine if the major votes of the last 5 years didn’t happen through the Congress, but instead through special joint committees the Congress bound itself to, where we didn’t know who pushed for what, and both parties congratulated themselves on their leadership.
Campaigns wouldn’t have been run about health care, the bank bailouts, wars or the role of government, but instead an even more vapid PR version of what’s actually happening. Campaign videos are starting to look more and more like high production value movie trailers, let’s hope our leaders don’t create a process where they’re actually based on fiction.