Democracy At A Crossroads

Photo by John Hayden

Photo by John Hayden

“If democracy deadlocks here, we raise doubts about democracy everywhere.”

Sen. John Kerry made that sobering comment during his farewell address to the U.S. Senate this week. He’s leaving the Senate to become the new U.S. secretary of state, America’s ambassador to the world.

I don’t know about the whole wide world, but I think we have good reason to be concerned about the state of democracy here in America.  

We’re fortunate to have serious and experienced people, like Kerry and Hillary Clinton, the retiring secretary of state, in public service. I’m confident that they’re prepared for their heavy responsibilities, and know what they’re doing. I believe Kerry has the discipline to keep his eye on the ball, and not be distracted by hollering in the grandstand.

I believe people like Ms. Clinton and Mr. Kerry understand the importance of taking the long view, that is, considering the impact of our actions ten years from now and 100 years from now.

But generally speaking, I can’t say I have the same confidence about members of Congress and members of our state legislatures. We have many capable people in our legislative bodies. But when they gather together in Congress and the state capitals, they seem unable to focus on what’s important, and impotent to accomplish what needs to be done.

Our elected representatives are hamstrung by institutional corruption and obsolete legislative procedures. They’re mired in a swamp of special-interest money.

“Standing here at this desk that once belonged … that once belonged to President Kennedy and to Ted Kennedy, I can’t help but be reminded that even our nation’s greatest leaders and all the rest of us are merely temporary workers.”

Politicians need to heed Kerry’s reminder that the people’s representatives are temporary caretakers and decision makers.

In my own state of Maryland, political leadership has calcified in place. One four-year term follows another with hardly any change in leadership of the General Assembly. Do the president of the Maryland Senate and the speaker of the House of Delegates have life tenure? Thankfully, we don’t have that problem on the executive side. The Maryland governor, like the president of the U.S., is limited to two four-year terms.

In Virginia, the governor is limited to one four-year term. That seems a little extreme. But maybe it’s time to consider term limits.

Eight years would be too restrictive for the legislative branch. The pool of potential candidates is not unlimited. The average person is neither willing nor able to make the sacrifices necessary to step into the political arena. There’s a learning curve in being a member of Congress or of a state legislature. Experience has value. Term limits in the range of 12 years, or 16 or 20 years, might be a good compromise.

Term limits alone will not reinvigorate Congress. Our political divisions in America seem to be deep and persistent. Wealth is concentrated in a small plutocracy. Many voters continue to be alienated, disinterested, and uninformed. The system is awash in special-interest money.

Democracy can flourish in a society that values people and empowers individual voters and candidates. But our society seems to value money, luxury and entertainment; and to empower wealthy individuals and corporations.

So, is American democracy in danger? Can our political institutions function effectively, or are they in the process of breaking down? Every election now is a test.

— John Hayden

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6 Comments

Filed under Democracy, News

6 responses to “Democracy At A Crossroads

  1. Just tweeted your blog for others to read. Good thoughts on term limits and political leadership that has “calcified”.

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  2. From an outsider John looking in on US politics, I hope that you are right in that those in power are looking towards the Next 100 yrs for their actions now are going to have consequences long term for all of us our world…
    Here in the UK it seems while one political party spends times building, the other spends time tearing it all down again… Those who are now in opposition are bemoaning the state of our country, and yet they had 12 yrs to get it right… It is now only through their bad spending/Borrowing and policies we are now reaping those years which this Coalition government is now even at odds in its decision making at trying to rectify.

    But the monetary systems World wide are struggling .. For we have become out of balance with greed and profit making.. That is why somewhere along the line in our future we are all going to come Unstuck!… for the Glue that holds communities together has been eroded in our selfish have now pay later throw away societies..

    The Crossroads are here… and its up to us to start and make personal choices in how we want our future to evolve… If not…. what sort of a world are we leaving for our Children’s, Children to inherit?

    A very interesting read John, even though I dont personally understand wholly US Politics…. 🙂 I’m just a simple woman who knows WE are the Ones who put these people in Power.. and yet we have long forgotten the Power we each hold… For we are the Ones who have to step up and shout out and change that which we know isnt right…
    Every Action was once a thought!.. What we THINK we create..By Right Thinking we create Right Action.. or something like that! 😉

    Many thanks John for taking the time to comment upon my last post…. I so very much appreciated your comment….
    Blessings
    Sue x

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    • Sue, I didn’t mean to imply that ALL of those in power are wise enough to take the long view. I was only speaking about some of the best, such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. And Barack Obama, I believe.

      I’m afraid the powers that control investment and business are primarily focused on the short term, quarter-by-quarter profits and economic growth. And I’m afraid that many in Congress and the state legislatures are beholden to the economic elite. Corruption and misinformation are not universal (I hope), but they are pervasive enough to affect the course of history.

      I think political and economic conditions are probably similar in the U.S. and Great Britain and Canada. I don’t know enough about the rest of the world. Let’s just say I’m not optimistic about the control of political and economic power in places like China, Russia, or many developing countries. Many other places may be on the verge of anarchy and chaos, or totalitarian rule.

      I expect to have more to say about the state of democracy, and especially about the two-party systems that dominate in Britain, U.S. and Canada.

      Sue, I hope you will write about specific personal choices and actions you have in mind.

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      • John, thank you for that reply.. 🙂 I wish too I had the confidence within our governing bodies.. But the facts are speaking for themselves as we see our systems eroded daily here…
        The small town where I live the high-street is having to close shops there are so many empty boarded up premises.. The Big Supermarket chains have come to the edges of towns and sell everything from petrol- to clothes and electrical goods..
        The well known stores which have been in business for years cannot compete and so go into receivership ..
        There are no jobs as trade goes overseas for cheap production..
        Our younger generation are aimless and even when they have good jobs they cannot get houses because they are not granted mortgages without Huge deposits..
        I would think that it is the very same in the USA.. and Canada..

        My visions some years back I saw a collapse of society as we know it.. but I also saw terrible storms world wide.. as our weather structure alters… ( another story here as i believe and have seen evidence from many various sources that HAARP is having an affect upon our weather.~ I also witness daily the Chemtrails which I know are not normal flights above my own home.. We are being Messed with in BIG Ways.. )

        I understand how our collective thoughts have a direct affect upon our creation of the future.. And for me personally I believe that each of us cannot now blame another for the state we are in.. We each must own up to contributing … We are all of us responsible..

        We buy into this way of life, through buying goods on credit. we care not for the environment as we throw away plastic containers.. We let the pharmaceutical industry poison us with a pill for this and another pill for that and one to counteract the first pill… and so on…
        We watch and eat the Foods which we know are full of additives which are addictive and again poison our systems, so we get obese and then you can buy the diet products,.. On and on we have gone…
        Thinking that the gadgets we buy save us time, as we keep up to date with technology and the ‘Jone’s’ ..
        While all the time all they do is keep us in debt, in ill health with stress as we are overworked and work till we drop because the pensions are now all taken up with those who no longer can find a job to contribute to the system..

        Life HAS to CHANGE>..

        But no one will change it.. unless we Stop buying the goods and listening to they hype of the Media…

        What I do think will happen John, maybe a long way off yet, maybe not.. I really hope not for my Children and grandchilds sake..
        But the monetary system will fail..
        And with it society as we know it will collapse..

        Changes are going to happen and we need to understand that to survive such changes we need to prepare….

        Communities are going to have to pull together, and Co-operatives are going to have to work together both to feed each other and provide skills…

        We sit in our comfy homes and think it will never happen… But my vision was a powerful one.. One I hope I never have to see..

        But like I said/ THOUGHTs Create… and if I keep thinking the worst.. then all I do is bring that into being… So if I want CHANGE.. I need to change the way I act, the way I think and the way in which I perceive things This is the only way I can change the world..
        By changing ME and My own actions ~ If I am a more caring individual and send out love and harmony, hopefully more will do the same…
        A pebble sends out many ripples… So all I can do is send out and change my self… I may only be one person
        But if everyone everywhere altered their life styles and thoughts to embrace the positive rather than the negative.. We could create a more positive world…

        Sorry.. My fingers did the talking yet again..

        so they are my thoughts John… we will all of us need how to become more self-sufficient in the very near future are my thoughts!

        Thank you my friend… Have a brilliant Week ahead and keep doing your own bit to Change the World. One Action at a time.. 🙂 Sue

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  3. Thank you so much, Sue, for your wise observations. I think you state it in a way that many people can understand. When I first started this blog, I thought I would write a lot about the importance of living simply and frugally. But I’ve been mostly distracted into writing about more general political and economic issues, which I don’t fully understand. I’ve long thought that consumerism and materialism are ruining us, and that our social, economic and political institutions are not as strong as many believe.

    Food, in particular, is one thing we take for granted. Here in the U.S. and Canada, we’re fortunate to have seemingly endless farmland for producing food. But many things can go wrong, both on the farms, and between the farms and the consumers’ tables. I think we need to pay much more attention to the sustainability and safety of our food supplies.

    Ideally, we should live in smaller houses or apartments, eat food that’s locally produced, and consume far less fossil-fuel energy. I admit that my own efforts to move in those directions fall woefully short.

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