Pick Up the Axe – Strike at the Root: CenterMovement.org Preparing to Rebuild Democracy

Henry David Thoreau sometimes used horticultural metaphors in his writing.  We feature one with  CenterMovement.org’s welcome message :

I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.

Harvard Law professor and election reformer Larry Lessig likes to use another of Thoreau’s earthy images:

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

Thoreau – and Lessig – are correct.  Legislation and public discourse in the United States too often fail to get to the root of our problems.  For Lessig’s excellent presentation of what lies at the root, see here.

Or to use a medical metaphor, we are so distracted by symptoms that we ignore the source of the disease.  The poor outcomes produced in Washington are only the outward signs of the corruption infecting our Constitution and the vision of the Founding Fathers behind it.  Look to the root, and the disease itself becomes manifest.


Political careerism drives legislation that serves the narrow and short-term interests of  re-elections at the expense of the broad and long-term needs of the nation.  Is it any wonder that Members of Congress fail to address the crisis of our national debt when they can’t see beyond their next re-election?

A de facto system of institutionalized bribery and extortion funds elections, and especially re-elections.  Lawmakers raise campaign money from the same interests they regulate, which is an inherent conflict of interests.  Is it any wonder that government failed to prevent the banking crisis, when our politicians were taking money from all of the big banks as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

Rigged congressional elections give incumbents unfair advantages over challengers.  Incumbents have written the rules to benefit themselves. Is it any wonder we can’t change Washington when we can’t throw incumbents out of office?   Even in 2010, 87% of all congressional incumbents were re-elected.

Gerrymandering creates safe legislative districts that discourage competitive elections, protect incumbency, and fuels partisanship.  Is it any wonder that partisan politicians fail to compromise for the good of the country, when their homogeneous constituents are likely to reward them for ideological rigidity?

Whether we call ourselves centrists, progressives or conservatives, it is time for each of us to take up our axe and strike at the root.  At CenterMovement.org, we propose to unite Americans of all political stripes behind three essential election reforms:

These reforms represent a deal between activists of the Left and Right.  Public campaign finance is the preferred election reform of progressive and liberal activist groups, but polling data suggest that a majority of rank and file Republicans also support public campaign financing.  Similarly, congressional term limits is the preferred reform of conservative activist groups, but polling data suggest that a majority of rank and file Democrats also support term limits.  Outside of the political class, an end to gerrymandering appears to be universally popular across the ideological spectrum.  Assembled together, such a package of reforms could gain powerful support among activists of all stripes, as well as the general public.

In the spring of 2010, Pew Research reported the following:

When asked about a series of criticisms of elected officials in Washington – that theycare only about their careers, are influenced by special interests, are unwilling to compromise, and are profligate and out-of-touch – large majorities (no fewer than 76%) agree with each of the statements.

Notice how the first three of these statements perfectly parallel our three reforms.   We propose to create a coalition that is not confined to the center, but is instead unprecedented in its breadth.  We believe that Americans, ranging from members of MoveOn.org to the Tea Party, will be able to support our proposal.  We will create a coalition of outsiders, opposed only by the political class and  those corrupt interests that benefit from the status quo.

Even more important than the political power behind them, our three reforms could form a sturdy layered defense against the corruption of our democracy.  Each one aims to curb one or more of the malign incentives currently infecting the American political system.  Ultimately the three reforms must be bundled together as an amendment to the Constitution in order to rebuild and protect our democracy for future generations.  This is a task that it as crucial as it is difficult.  The system will not be reformed any time soon, but we must get started, and get started now before it is too late.

We at CenterMovement.org are in very promising discussions with some of America’s leading political players, election reform advocates, and organizations.  We have already made significant progress getting important advocates on the progressive / liberal side to support our proposal.  We are now in the process of talking to key conservatives, who are taking the idea seriously.  Indeed, it is remarkable how excited some outsiders on the Left and the Right are at the prospect of a provisional alliance with each other against the nation’s entrenched political establishment.

Please visit us regularly keep up-to-date on our progress.  Tough as these times are economically, they are even worse politically.  If you believe, as we do, that we must join together to save our democracy, please make a financial contribution to CenterMovement.org here. We need your help.