No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, you more than likely hate politics. That’s likely in part because it divides us by creating two sides of an aisle to sit on. A government should bring us together in unity, not split us up into constantly warring parties.
It seems like the only thing we can agree on is our frustration toward The System and The Man. For those of us in the United States, politics is broken and we know it. Where we get stuck is in blaming one another for why it’s broken. And fixing our government seems like a confusing and futile task.
But I think there are few achievable changes we could make to our political system to make things better. Not perfect or even great — but better. And perhaps these are steps in the right direction toward even more improvements in the future. The important thing is progress towards unity.
I’d like to pretend for a minute that I was given complete control to change the political system in the United States. I’m the temporary authoritarian ruler of the entire country and I get to change whatever I want. But I have to give it back after I’m done, because — let’s face it — I would be a terrible authoritarian ruler. I mean, there are no good authoritarian rulers, so at least it’s not just me.
But if I could change whatever I wanted to change, here’s where I’d begin.
No more political parties
Imagine if you went to a party — it’s crowded and noisy. But there were a few people controlling the music and the refreshments and when everyone went to the restroom. All according to some strict ethical code that we supposedly agreed to simply by showing up at this particular party. Eventually, you just give in to the peer pressure so you can manage to stay at the party — but all of the rules don’t make for a very fun party.
That’s obviously an oversimplification of our political party system, but it’s certainly the way things feel sometimes. Two masses of people who have to compromise on what individuals believe just so two opposing viewpoints can give voters an oversimplified idea of who they should vote for.
Why do we even have political parties? What purpose do they serve anymore? Our founding fathers intended for our political system to be adaptive to continue to be relevant well into the future (our current time). But we’ve gotten lazy and forgotten to continue updating the operating system — we’re treating our government like an old laptop by continually snoozing critical app updates.
Many local elections (like that for mayor in my city) don’t designate candidates with a political party. There are no primaries where you have to declare a party to vote. You can take a guess as to which party each candidate would line up with, but they’re not forced to toe some arbitrary party line. And as a result, these elections are usually more civil.
Not to mention that the two dominant political parties rarely fully align with most voter’s actual preferences and ideals. They try to amalgamate all of these ideas into a giant, conglomerate mess. And they tend to marginalize the more moderate voters who don’t want to choose a side.
Getting rid of political parties might be difficult because they’re entrenched in our bureaucracy. But we should at least acknowledge that they’re not as helpful as they pretend to be. And then we can start deciding on steps to dismantle this unnecessarily cumbersome political structure.
Implement ranked-choice voting
In the United States, we practice what’s commonly known as a winner-take-all voting system. You vote for one candidate for office and the person with the most votes theoretically wins (except when they don’t). This is the system we take for granted, but there are potentially better options out there.
For instance, there’s a lot of attention being paid to another system called rank-choice voting. It’s just about as simple as winner-take-all, but it’s far more effective in actually selecting candidates people actually want to take political office.
Hasan Minhaj recently dedicated an entire episode of his Netflix show Patriot Act to rank-choice voting. And he does a better job of explaining how and why this voting system works better than what we have now.
Seth Godin also recently talked about ranked-choice voting on his business podcast Akimbo. He expands on that concept by sharing a few ideas on how to create a month of online voting where people could change their vote an unlimited number of times. I have plenty of questions on how that would work—but I’m intrigued by the idea.
Or maybe even testing out a lottery system like Malcolm Gladwell explored in a recent episode of his Revisionist History podcast. That approach may not work (at least not initially) for high-profile races (like the president or a governor), but it could with small elections no one actually pays attention to.
Either way, we shouldn’t take our current voting system for granted. Many people defend a winner-take-all approach because it’s all they know. But it may no longer be the most effective means of choosing suitable leaders. Perhaps we should vote on what system to use.
Establish term limits
Setting limits to how long candidates should be in office has long been an issue for American democracy. And many people are in favor of establishing some reasonable boundaries for our politicians. But guess who has to be on-board for those limits to be imposed? That’s right — the very politicians that these rules would restrict. So big surprise that they’re not in favor.
Data shows that incumbent candidates nearly always win re-election. The numbers are shocking. It seems like the main qualification for serving in office is having already served in office. And it creates a self-contained system that produces more and more entrenched bureaucrats. Imposing reasonable term limits for public office would help maintain new perspectives within politics.
The twenty-second amendment to the US Constitution famously imposes term limits to the highest office in the land — the president. So no one will legally be able to challenge FDR’s record of four terms in office. The commander in chief has a maximum of two terms. But I think that’s too many.
My suggestion is to limit each president to ONE term of six years. What our current system has created is a first-term that’s entirely focused on re-election, and a second term that’s just complaining that they can’t get anything done without a Congress controlled by their party.
With one six-year term, a president can’t focus on re-election because there is none. They’ve got one shot to establish their legacy. No more, no less.
Run candidates through a combine
During any election cycle, there’s much speculation about the candidates. Do they know the Constitution? Are they mentally qualified to do this job? Are they really as dumb as they appear? And all we have to base our answers on what they tell us about themselves in campaign ads or empty promises they make during debates.
What if we could devise a system that would actually help us understand a candidate’s qualifications better? And what if it was in a gladiator-like entertainment style that was inspired by football. That’s right, I’m talking about introducing a political combine.
Instead of the 40-yard dash and bench presses, we’d put high-profile political candidates through a series of mental tests to see how qualified they are for the position they’re vying for. And we could even keep the Wonderlick test they give future NFL players. (And maybe keep the 40-yard dash, too).
Instead of nation-wide hand-shaking campaigns, we could ask candidates to compete and measure tangible results. What is this candidate’s IQ? How well does this candidate know our nation’s history? To ensure there’s no cheating, we could televise the whole thing and make it a big spectacle. We can always argue who “won” a political debate, but there would be no argument over these test results.
No more campaign fundraising
Looking for a topic more controversial than term limits? How about campaign finance reform? Face it — changing the system of political donors and activists needs to change. We’re just not sure how.
And the problem is the same with term limits — the people with the power to change the current system are the ones who benefit the most from that system. They won’t change it on their own.
So I just say we throw the entire thing out. How was it helping us anyway? (Answer: unless you’re a major corporation or a lobbyist, it wasn’t.) In my system, there would be no campaign fundraising.
No more fancy dinners with donors. No more glad-handing and cabinet appointing people who gave the most to your campaign. No more super PACs —or anything else that sounds like a lame superhero.
Instead, we pull together a large pool and divide it evenly between all candidates. That’s exactly how much money you have to spend on elections. And don’t worry about spending any of that money on advertising, because all media is obligated to give equal ad space between candidates. No need to spend on traveling with a campaign, because candidates are focused on performing at the combine.
Educate the voters
We could institute all of these changes and it still would be broken if we didn’t have one important thing working — the public. A great political system can be — and has been — derailed because of an ignorant and apathetic constituency. That’s not to say that voters are dumb — but history has shown that we don’t know much about politics or politicians.
It would be tempting to say that only informed people get to vote. But that’s not fair. In fact, that tactic has been used for years as a means of voter suppression. So the question becomes: how do we encourage political literacy among voters without requiring it? Can we create a more educated voting populace without mandating that as a requirement of democracy?
There are some awesome voter education resources out there — like I Side With, Vote Smart, Fact Check, Open Secrets, PolitiFact, and TurboVote. But you can’t demand that people use any of these. All we can do as individual citizens is better inform ourselves and hold those around us accountable. It’s difficult to challenge friends and family on politics, but staying informed helps keep those conversations from being too personal or biased.
Is this a perfect system?
No — this is not a perfect system. I’m flattered that you’re asking that question, but I’m not arrogant enough to think I’ve got this whole thing figured out. No one does. And there is no perfect system. Because politics — just like everything else — involves people. And we can be the worst sometimes.
Is this system better than we have now? I have no way of saying for sure because this political structure would never happen. I’d like to think some of it could happen. Mainly because the system we have now is irreparably flawed and needs a major overhaul. Even if we were to just institute a single piece of this puzzle, it would be an improvement.
What do you think?
How would you change our political system?
Do you agree with any of my hair-brained ideas?