Is there a better time than the holiday season to think about a new way forward for our nation? Even as the U.S. political system seems paralyzed by partisanship, former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards offers hope for a different path in his latest book, The Parties vs. the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans. Fresh off appearances on major national networks, including PBS’ Charlie Rose, CNN and NPR, and with positive reviews from the national press and former colleagues alike, Edwards brings his message to Lafayette on Dec. 19 as part of IND Monthly’s Lecture Series, sponsored by IberiaBank.
Americans were polled ad nauseum during the 2012 election, mostly to reveal the differences in our voting preferences. But these polls also confirmed that we are overwhelmingly united in our rejection of the bitterly partisan structure that currently divides us as a nation. Few Americans understand the role political parties play in the equation. Our system is designed for robust debate and ultimate compromise, but we seem to be at a point of entrenched dysfunction. Can anything be done about it?
Parties control the election process at the local level, determining who appears on ballots, the redistricting of political jurisdictions at the local and state levels, and the setting of primary rules. Parties also control how Congress operates, which in recent decades has increasingly discouraged debate and compromise. Votes are locked up during the party-controlled committee process, with minority party proposals rarely considered at all. Free deliberation, so central to the founding ideals, has been almost completely eliminated. Today’s voters know only a system in which partisan interests trump American interests.
Edwards is one of America’s most important and informed voices to deal with this stalemate and urges a different path. In this highly acclaimed new book, he offers a new diagnosis and a radically different cure.
The core problem, he argues, is that we’ve surrendered to both political parties powers that belong to the people. He argues that we as citizens, not the Constitution, have given the parties these powers and offers a nine-point plan to restore function to our democracy: create open primaries, where parties could endorse any candidate but not decide which candidates voters may consider; establish nonpartisan panels instead of state legislatures for redistricting; allow contributions only from actual human beings; establish nonpartisan congressional leadership; balance the structure of congressional committee appointments, staff and the process for bringing bills forward; make the House Rules Committee bipartisan; eliminate the architecture of division (lecterns, cloakrooms and seating divided by party lines); establish a longer workweek for Congress and include more bipartisan gatherings and work sessions; and eliminate one-party White House strategy sessions.
Edwards offers this considered opinion after having represented Oklahoma in Congress for 16 years, where he served as a member of the House Republican Leadership and on the Appropriations and Budget committees. He has been an informed observer since leaving Congress in 1993, having taught at Harvard, Princeton, the University of Maryland and Georgetown. He is now vice president of the Aspen Institute, a regular commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and has been a columnist for some of American’s greatest newspapers. I hope you’ll join us for this important conversation.