Reforming Congress

Having watched american politics from the sidelines, and through the highly polarized lens of dysfunctional media, one has to wonder what the CIA World Factbook means when it says that the US has a "strong democratic tradition".  I don't see it.

I don't see a press that is capable of objectively reporting the facts.  And I don't understand how you can have a democracy when politicians get elected mainly on the basis of how successful their heavily funded PR campaigns were.

The only obvious way to start fixing the severely dysfunctional political process would be to outright ban campaigns as they exist today.  No more political commercials or advertising.   No more donations from corporations and private parties.  No more special interests keeping politicians as pets.  Strict anti-corruption laws and strict enforcement of same laws.

The only campaigning that should be allowed is unscripted debate on public television.  With a tight regimen of fact-checking and public exposure of politicians who lie or distort.

If politicians are allowed to lie and misinform the voters and to leverage billions of dollars in elaborate propaganda efforts to gather votes you do not have an election as much as you have an auction -- where the power goes to the highest bidder.


  1. In Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt summarizes three papers he has written about his research into the effect of campaign funding on election outcome, and what he has found is that contrary to common belief campaign founding has a most weak effect on actual election outcome.

  2. Yes, I read the same book and if memory serves it provides some actual numbers as to how big this effect is. (For presidential elections the effect is big enough to become a deciding factor. In senate elections the race has to be very, very close).

    But there are a few aspects that worry me vs. democratic process.

    The first is that campaign funding need not be direct. It can be indirect in that parties not directly and formally affiliated with a candidate play a big role in elections. A good recent example would be the fake grassroots movements in the US right now (that have since spun out of control). The "Tea Party" is largely a product of this and it played a major role in the last senate elections.

    The second is that there is no real, unscripted debate. The voter is exposed to a barrage of political advertising, speeches and soundbites that have been calibrated against very active polling. It dumbs down public discourse and inflates the importance of rather unimportant wedge-issues. The process is also very vulnerable to the popularization of falsehoods that the press devotes an enormous amount of time on.

  3. The political system over here is rotten to the core. And things didn't exactly get better after SCOTUS's 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC in 08 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission ).

  4. @Fredrik: I forgot to point out the obvious: I wasn't making any statement to the effect that the amount of funding directly equates to success.

    But a campaign is in a PR-effort by nature and the election result is the defining metric of success for that PR-effort.

    Sadly, in that PR-effort the candidate's position on important (non-wedge) issues and truthfulness of his or her statements play only a very minor role. This is where the press is failing the voter today.