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Monday, February 14, 2011

A Return to Common Sense: Seven Bold Ways to Revitalize Democracy by Michael Waldman

 Some good thoughts but...


Michael Waldman
Written by a former speech writer for President Bill Clinton, A Return to Common Sense: Seven Bold Ways to Revitalize Democracy features a series of suggestions for how to improve democracy in America. His seven suggestions are:

1. End Voter Registration as We Know It.
2. Rocking the Vote. (issues such as voter ID, changing election day, changing the primary system.)
3. Stop Political Hacking. (use electronic voting machines but with scan-tron type backups.)
4. Campaign Finance Reform (public financing based on the NYC model)
5. Gerrymandering (stop the creation of "safe" districts for both Democrats and Republicans)
6. Flunk the Electoral College (recommends not changing the Constitution but rather going around it at a state level)
7. Restore Checks and Balances (more Congressional oversight of the Executive branch)

I have no problem with many of these suggestions but Waldman is a bit simplistic in some of his recommendations. For example, he suggests a national voter registration system but has no plans for how local election officials should deal with local registrations.

He bemoans the fact that fundraising is so important to the modern Congress and the election system that demands an endless supply of funds. He also is bothered that Congress does not do enough to oversee the Executive Branch (with some justification, in my opinion) but on page 128 belittles the efforts of Congress to investigate the Clinton Administration's use of White House Christmas Cards to fundraise. Huh, you'd think he'd be all for oversight and limiting fundraising...

Interestingly, he is very excited about Congressional oversight over the Executive and never worried about the growing power of the court system in "creating " law.

His recommendations on changing the election day, the way we create Congressional distructs, having paper backups for electronic elections, campaign finance reform and increasing Congressional oversight have value. On the other hand, his suggestions for the other problems are, quite often, silly and should be dismissed out of hand.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. A good place to start the discussion, but not the end.

Reviewed on May 17, 2009.

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