Our Democracy Must Be Revived — If We Hope To Achieve The Dreams of Our Wisest and Best

John Dewey said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his or her own child, that must the community want for all of its children.”

Dewey hit philosophical gold when he came up with that one sentence. It is a sentence worthy of several book length contemplations. Dewey’s sentence makes a powerful suggestion about who should most influence a community; in his view it should not be the dumb, the bigoted, the uninformed, or the political powerful who should have the most influence — it should be the wisest and the best. What a great idea.

It is interesting to contemplate what actions a school board might take, if its members were the best and the wisest citizens in the community. It is interesting to contemplate what actions the Ohio Assembly might take, if its members were the best and wisest citizens in the state. If our democracy was working as it should, and produced democratically committed quality leadership, it is a safe bet that our institutions would become transformed and we would experience revolutionary improvement in every aspect of our lives.

But our democracy is not working as it should. One good example of how our democracy does work is from a few months ago when Montgomery County Republicans announced that in my House District, the 37th, Peggy Lehner was anointed their choice to take John Husted’s place in the Ohio House. Regardless that Peggy needs to win the March 4 primary and the November election, it is widely assumed that her ascendancy to the House from her gerrymandered district is assured. The Republicans discouraged other potential Republican candidates from participating in the primary. Whether Peggy is the wisest or the best in her district or whether she is far from being so, doesn’t really matter. The Party has spoken. Clearly, our democracy is not working, because, our political system is all about projecting partisan power, not about promoting effective democratic processes.

So, how can our democracy be improved? It seems to me it will take a lot of hard work. Many more people need to be brought into the process and to bring those people into the process will require effort. The 25 or so Republicans who anointed Peggy is simply not a large enough or diverse enough group to be qualified to choose a representative for 110,000 voters. Democrats are guilty of the same types of actions. It’s not a one party failure. Our democracy is not working because both major political parties are failing us. Our democracy will improve when sufficient voters and party members demand improvement. Wouldn’t it be nice if grassroots Republicans as well as grassroots Democrats started to demand that their own parties exercise effective democratic processes, such as promoting vigorous primary contests?

I believe many voters are ready to abandon knee jerk partisanship and are hungry for their democracy to become more effective. Democrats need to try harder. And Republicans in Democratically gerrymandered districts need to try harder, too. A party that shows a commitment to reviving democracy in a gerrymandered district, and that shows a commitment to promoting good candidates in a vigorous primary contest, I believe, would receive unexpected support from voters who are sick of the current closed system. A party that would promote a vigorous primary contest, I believe, would receive support from many voters who feel neglected by their party and who would welcome a chance for meaningful political input and participation.

Wouldn’t it be great if DaytonOS could be at the center of an authentic democracy effort that would create an effective connection of voters in Montgomery County — an effort sufficient to improve our political system? This is not a small goal. As I said, to revive our democracy will take a lot of work.

Two important dates are upon us — January 4, 2008 and March 4, 2008. By January 4, 2008, we need to greatly expand the list of candidates in both parties who are seeking election to the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. And between January 4 and March 4, we need to find ways to use the power of the internet to create authentic community where these primary candidates can have an opportunity to articulate their ideas and where they will have the opportunity to meaningfully interact with their potential constituents.

I am hoping, and I think it is possible, that DaytonOS can help create the type of community where meaningful political discussion helps wise and good ideas to emerge, a community that gives potential leaders the means to effectively communicate. I like Dewey’s sentence. It says to me that we need to revive our democratic process so that, as a community, we can identify and pursue what is wisest and what is best, and so that, as a community, we can reliably identify and elect those who will best legislate for us.

I believe here is the idea whose time has come: We need to work to vitalize our democracy so that the dreams of the wisest and best among us will come to the fore, so that the greatest hopes for our democracy can come to reality.

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12 Responses to Our Democracy Must Be Revived — If We Hope To Achieve The Dreams of Our Wisest and Best

  1. T. Ruddick says:

    Has anyone worked to remove the Ohio regulations that favor Republicans and Democrats while burdening other parties?

  2. Mike Bock says:

    The only Ohio regulation I know of that favors the major parties is the regulation governing the number of signatures required in order to place a name on the primary ballot. I reported that fact in my recent DaytonOS article, “Few candidates have returned petitions …”, http://daytonos.com/?p=581

    To run for the Ohio House or Ohio Senate, 50 signatures are required for Republicans and Democrats,. To run for the Ohio House as an Independent, about 400 signatures are required. To run for the Ohio Senate as an Independent about 1300 signatures are required.

  3. David Esrati says:

    Nice ideas Mike- and I think DaytonOS is just getting the ball rolling. Note my post of last week about the SNAFU at the Montgomery County jail- http://daytonos.com/?p=565 and the response, directly from Sheriff Vore. Bring ideas to the forefront- from the people, and we start to see some reasoned reactions from leaders.
    As more people discover this site- and others, we’ll be better able to measure the candidates by the power of their ideas- instead of by the money in the campaign fund to buy media awareness.
    I’ve tried to keep an open discussion of my ideas on http://www.esrati.com and now here on http://www.daytonos.com and one of the things I’ve challenged our elected officials with- is to have their own sites so there is no more- he said, she said after a vote- we get the answers straight from the leaders mouth.

  4. Mike Bock says:

    Thanks David.

    I’m glad Seriff Vore is using DaytonOS to directly answer questions and give good explanations.

    I like your thought about DaytonOS, “We’ll be better able to measure the candidates by the power of their ideas- instead of by the money in the campaign fund to buy media awareness.”

    I’ve referred to my article above in a second blog I contribute to now and then, Alone on a Limb, and suggested in “How to Make the Big Leap Needed To Become An Effective Alternative Media?” that DaytonOS should seek to become an effective alternative media for the Dayton region, and that to be effective we need to create content and opportunities that will attract 10,000 participants on a regular basis. 10,000 is a huge goal that I pulled out of the air — but, my thinking is that in a county of over 500,000 voters at least 10,000 focused voters would be needed in order to impact the county.

    The fact is, the potential for growth in DaytonOS is based on the solid reality that Dayton obviously needs an effective alternative media. Dayton’s need for an alternative media is a force that can and should be channeled. I don’t think it is unreasonable that 10,000 can be attracted to DaytonOS, because I feel that there is a huge need for the community service that DaytonOS can give. If DaytonOS is to grow into its potential, however, there will need to be a lot of work from a lot of people.

    But work is really the wrong word — zeal, interest are better words — zeal and interest inspire commitment, inspire work. There are plenty of individuals in the Dayton area who have a lot of zeal to help their democracy and many of these individuals, I feel, would gladly support an effective alternative media. How to bring those individuals into this DaytonOS internet community is the question. As you say, we are just getting the ball rolling.

  5. T. Ruddick says:

    Mike, last I knew, there were also differences in record-keeping and reporting–something along the lines of Dems and Reps getting a full audit once every four years, other parties getting audited annually. Not a minor inconvenience. I suspect there are other cases of unequal treatment.

  6. Mike Bock says:

    Thanks Dr. Ruddick. Regardless that the case can be made that Independents are treated unfairly by our system, still, someone who want to seek election to the Ohio House as as an Independent only needs to find 400 signatures, or so, to get on the ballot. That seems a pretty low threshold requirement, much larger than the number of signatures (50) required for Republicans and Democrats, but still the requirement for an Independent is low — an Independtent who wanted to become an official candidate should easily be able to find the required number of signatures . I’m surprised that more Independent candidates don’t make the effort to get on the ballot. It is an unusual happening when a third party candidate emerges.

  7. Stan Hirtle says:

    This post hints at but then goes nowhere with one of the two major structural problems with democracy; the drawing of legislative districts, by those who happen to be in power, in ways that favor themselves. (The other is money).
    Efforts to do something about these tend to fail, in part because people in power keep things the way they are, but also because other people don’t care, or are afraid that the unintended consequences of change could be worse. Or perhaps because democracy is not a “values issue” that motivates voters by making them feel that the foundation of their life’s meaning is threatened. Attempts to do referendums about these democracy issues, when they are designed by political science professors and similar “experts” fail because people don’t trust the experts or don’t see any reason to care, but in part because movements of that sort have to come from the bottom up.
    So what should democracy look like? How do you prevent manipulation of boundaries? How do you prevent the wealthy from dominating? How much say should people have in what happens to them? Are some things, wars for example, too important to be left to the voters?

  8. Mike Bock says:

    Stan, thanks for the comments and questions. I’m going to start an answer to your question — “What should democracy look like?”

    It seems, to me, that the foundation for democracy is community. The fact that our democracy is in shambles, to me, logically follows from the fact our communities are not working effectively. Even our political parties are failing to work as effective democratic communities.

    To believe in democracy is to believe that ordinary people, through education and through the good examples, within community, can act together for their common good, can advance the ideals of their culture — can work effectively to assure liberty and justice for all. Historically, of course, belief in democracy has been considered foolhardy by many who feared democracy’s power to upset comfortable social orders and who felt it much better, therefore, to leave the control of government in the hands of the propertied, the wealthy, the elite. This distrust of democracy, we need to remember, is very much alive today, and very much impacting why our democracy is acting ineffectively.

    Carl Rove was considered a genius for coming up with a strategy to skew the system with hundreds of millions of dollars, and to win the election of a man who, by any measure of good judgment, should never have been elected — George W. Bush. I don’t think Rove was focused on making our democracy effective. He was doing everything in his power, in fact, to make our democracy ineffective.

    We should be worried that about 90% of US House seats are considered “safe,” and, therefore, regardless of any voters’ tsunami seeking change in our government, at most only 50 House seats, of 435, are ever in jeopardy. We should be alarmed how far our government fails to be of people, by the people, or for the people. We should be disgusted that our democracy is so broken that here in Montgomery County, it will make no difference whether, or not, our two US House Representatives, John Boehner and Mike Turner, defend or explain how they voted as our Representatives.

    The story of what is happening in the Republican gerrymandered 37th Ohio House District, where I live, is illustrative of what is happening in our democracy as a whole. But, I’m thinking — of course the whole story has not been told, yet. After all, if there is any place in the world where democracy should flourish, shouldn’t it flourish in Ohio’s 37th House District? Shouldn’t there be some way to help it flourish?

    I have to believe that when the pendulum goes too far, the force of common sense will bring it back. I have to believe that democracy in Kettering is not completely dead. There are plenty of Republicans in the 37th who are disgusted with the notion that this election — that should provide an opportunity for meaningful community communication and interaction — is simply about electing a Republican. I have to believe that there are plenty of habitual Republican voters in the 37th who could be persuaded to change their vote. Given the chance to vote for an attractive alternative candidate, I believe, these “persuadable” voters would easily forsake their usual partisan allegiance. If Democrats in the 37th District sponsored a vigorous primary contest, one that attracted Republican and Independent interest and participation, I believe that they could produce a candidate that might just win the 2008 Ohio House election. I can see a scenario where voters in the 37th could vote Democratic. But, it would take a lot of effort from a lot of Democrats to build the type of community where such an upset could happen.

    We think of New England type Town Meetings as a good example of how strong democracy comes from strong communities. It is within community that democracy has the best chance to flourish. So how do we create community? The internet provides a big opportunity and I feel that it is possible that DaytonOS can become a force for community that the 37th District needs — as well as all Montgomery County needs. I’ve written an article that suggest that DaytonOS should work to create an alternative media community of 10,000 regular participants.

    The place where strong community should be evidenced is within our political parties. Our formally organized political parties should consist of large groups of idealistic, knowledgeable, committed individuals who work together, democratically, within a strong community. This vision of political parties as democratic communities is quite at odds with the reality of political parties centering power in a “boss,” or in a handful of entrenched activists — the political reality that even today advances Peggy Lehner and nullifies the 37th Ohio House District primary process. Our political parties need to change their focus from winning elections, ala Carl Rove’s methods, to winning elections by vitalizing democracy with good ideas that educate and inspire potential voters to political action, by vitalizing democracy by empowering visionary and capable candidates. Our political parties must, themselves, become vital communities that, through their structures and processes, demonstrate and celebrate effective democracy.

    We can’t wait for the parties to reform themselves. Here in Montgomery County, there are about 550 precincts and each precinct can elect a precinct leader to serve on their party’s County Central Committee. The parties themselves, in order to be reformed, need an infusion of democracy that new members could bring to their group. Many of the County Central Committee seats in both parties are currently unfilled and it seems to me the hope to vitalizing Montgomery County’s democracy should focus a vigorous strategy for reforming the major parties — through democratic action at the precinct level — that would bring new blood into the County Central Committees.

  9. T. Ruddick says:

    Hirtle, my big idea for preventing gerrymandering is simply to abolish legislative districts and the “winner take all” model.

    If my idea ever had a snowball’s chance of seeing the light of day, all elections would be conducted across whatever governmental boundaries–all Ohio legislative and administrative elections would be state-wide. Moreover, every voter would receive only ONE vote for any office, regardless of the number of seats open.

    For example: Dayton commission elections would allow each voter to vote once for the candidate of choice–and the two or three highest vote-getters would take office. Probably gives Abner Orick a shot at re-election and puts some incumbents at risk.

    Do this for the state house and senate, and we’d see some interesting changes. Some would take office with state-wide campaigns, but metropolitan centers could place a regional favorite–the Dems and Reps would still dominate, but they’d have to work a little harder to get votes for others than their front-runners. And best of all, those Libertarians and Greens and Reforms and those wheeky-wacky Natural Lawyers would stand a chance of marshalling their voters and getting one of their numbers in the house.

    And yes, mayors and governors and secretaries of state would still come almost certainly from the two major parties–at least for a while.

    Yes, I’m describing a European parliamentary system but without little fiefdoms carved into the body politic.

    Sure, it may never happen, but do you like it?

  10. David Esrati says:

    I love the winner take all- just because we might actually get some independent, original thinkers weighing in on the legislation. They won’t be able to pass anything- but at least, different ideas may actually get some airtime.
    I also think we need a none-of-the-above option- where if that option wins- they all go away and we start over- or an option to vote for or against a candidate – making it possible to cast negative votes against someone like GWB- and giving the advantage to whoever comes in second- but, you don’t get a positive vote to weigh in with.
    Can’t be any worse than what we have now- that’s for sure.

  11. Mike Bock says:

    Dr. Ruddick, I think your election idea is very interesting. Right now, representation is based on geography. I live in the 37th Ohio House District and I will vote for a candidate to represent the voters defined by the fact that they live in this geographic region. You are suggesting that groups of voters could just as easily be defined by their allegiance to a certain candidate or a certain party and that these groups of voters might have no specific geographic identification — other than the fact that they live in Ohio.

    Your idea would certainly greatly diminish the current central importance of gerrymandering, and, by connecting voters by interest, individual and ideology, I can see that many more potential voters might actually vote and, in fact, might actually become very politically active. I can see that major political parties to respond to this plan may decide to implement authentic organizational changes to bring more active participation at the party level.

    I seem to be only thinking of positive results. I’ve not tossed this idea around enough to think through what negative results there might be. How do the enemies of this plan see it?

    I like your idea. I’m convinced that we need to be doing everything possible to vitalize our democracy. Maybe this is it. So, have you composed the needed Ohio Constitutional Amendment?

  12. T. Ruddick says:

    Mike, I think a lawyer ought to write that amendment. I’m just an old professor and occasionaly word-merchant, and while I can fake legalese I cannot compare to a seasoned professional :-)

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