There’s a truly shocking and powerful video out there by the actor Jennifer Lawrence (if you’ve been wondering where the Academy Award winner has been, it’s apparent that she’s been busy in a civics class somewhere).

The shocking part is that, quoting from a Princeton University study that looked at 1,800 public opinion polls conducted over the last 20 years—and you’re not going to like what they found—when there is zero public support for a law, there is a 30% chance that Congress is going to pass it; if there is 100% public support for a law, there is, wait for it, a 30% chance that Congress is going to pass it.

This goes a long way toward explaining why we can’t get common sense gun safety laws like thorough background checks for criminal history and mental illness, even though about 90% of Americans say they want it.

The report goes on to say that public support has a “statistically non-significant impact on public policy.”

If you’re not even a little clairvoyant, and I’m not—I thought I had ESP once, but it turned out it was just ESPN—you have probably already figured out that it has everything to do with money. You see, once elected, politicians spend 70% of their time raising money for re-election. In the Senate, that means office holders have to raise $45,000 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for 6 years to raise enough money to get re-elected. The study goes on to point out that only .05% of Americans give more than $10,000 to politics, and you begin to see why politicians depend wholly on a tiny group of billionaires and powerful lobbying groups for political oxygen (read: money).

All of this explains the gerrymandering of districts, where the crazy shapes make sure that only 14% of Congressional races are competitive. Let that sink in for a moment. Yup, 86% of Congressional races are predetermined, leading to a mass exodus from the two major parties: currently, only 24% identify as Republicans, 32% say they’re Democrats, while 42% say they’re Independents.

So while the American people would like to solve problems—like the fact that one-in-five children here grow up hungry and in poverty, or that we imprison more people per capita than China or Russia, or that we can’t make any headway in acknowledging, let alone taking action against climate change—nothing happens.

Ms. Lawrence is the spokesperson for the nonprofit, nonpartisan group, Represent.us, that has a multi-point plan to get us out of this mess. And don’t worry, I’m not going to drag you into the weeds because it’s all pretty simple, common sense stuff:

•End gerrymandering, (this could be done by passing either of the election reform bills currently stalled in the Senate);

•Institute “rank choice voting” (giving Independent candidates a chance);

•Have automatic voter registration (also part of the stalled election reform bills);

•Overhaul lobbying and ethics laws to stop the revolving door from Congress to K Street where former lawmakers get stupid-rich by exploiting their access and buttonholing former colleagues;

•End the flood of “dark money” by mandating full transparency of political spending so we know who is influencing lawmakers;

•Tighten campaign finance laws—one proposal is to give every voter a $50 voucher so lawmakers fundraise at the constituent level, not at the lobbying level.

Represent.us has put these measures into proposed legislation called the Anti-Corruption Act. They claim 87% of Americans—91% of Democrats, and 83% of Republicans—are in favor of its passage, yet I have never even heard of it. I don’t doubt that if lots of people knew about it, those numbers would almost certainly be true, but it seems weird that no one I know in political circles is talking about it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pass legislation that nearly all of us want? But they point out the obvious: “It’s like asking the fox to put a lock on the henhouse.” I part ways with their enthusiastic reform approach here. Knowing federal officeholders have no incentive to fix a problem from which they profit, Represent.us says that since states have jurisdiction over their election laws, we need to pass these reforms at the city and state levels, but I haven’t found very many state legislators who would give up their dreams of greater power in favor of democratic principles. (It is said that when senators look in the mirror, each sees the next president.)

Still, I wish them luck in their plan to bring conservatives and progressives together to enact local laws that make their way to Congress. As they rightly say, “If we do nothing, nothing changes.”

How would you like to regain your power?

©2021 Jon Sinton

(1) comment

Mimet the Wise

The easiest way to regain power to the people is to prosecute, fully, the corrupt elements in government. Ghislaine Maxwell, whose customers in US Government still walk free, making your laws and interfacing with your lobbyists, are the problem. Why isn't "harsh prosecution of corrupt politicians" a priority? Why is locking up child s** traffickers such a low priority?

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