Edwards’ democracy agenda

Senator John Edwards has announced a platform called “The One Democracy Initiative: Returning Washington to Regular People.” Under the heading of “open and democratic media,” Edwards endorses net-neutrality rules and laws against concentrated media ownership. He proposes full public financing of Congressional elections, which I believe is the only way to reduce the power of special interests. He also proposes a ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists and a ban on bundling. Under the heading of election reform, he calls (among other things) for a universal system of paper ballots.

Overall, the Senator has chosen to adopt the strongest versions of the ethics and “good government” proposals that have been considered since Watergate by Public Citizen, Common Cause, the League of Women voters, and their allies. I defended all these ideas in my 1999 book, The New Progressive Era (although I talked about common-carrier rules instead of “net neutrality”). It’s intriguing to imagine what would happen to Edwards’ platform in Congress. Of course, for him to win the presidency, there would first have to be a pretty profound shift in the political landscape.

Meanwhile, Edwards calls for national deliberation to take place every two years on a different issue. He would use a combination of technology and face-to-face meetings to involve one million citizens. Edwards cites AmericaSpeaks and the November Fifth Coalition as sources for his “Citizen Congress.”

It’s a strong program, but there’s room for other candidates to match Edwards or to make forays into other aspects of a “democracy agenda”–for instance, expanding the opportunities for national and community service, improving civic education, rethinking the federal civil service, and revising No Child Left Behind so that citizens can get more involved with their schools.

[See also Archon Fung’s op-ed in the Boston Globe.]

3 thoughts on “Edwards’ democracy agenda

  1. airth10


    You’re an expert on the matter. Is America a Democracy or not? I hear so many people saying that America is not a Democracy. However, if it doesn’t always appear to behave democratically at least the fundamentals are there in the workings. It is basically government of the people, by the people and for the people. Isn’t it?

    Thank you

  2. Peter Levine

    I’d say: Yes, the United States is a democracy.

    A good society has to balance numerous values that trade off or conflict. Thus perfection is impossible. Some of these values could be called “democratic”–e.g., responsiveness to the public, real respect for ordinary people’s creative abilities. These values are reflected in the US polity, but not as much as they could be. Indeed, they are not honored as much as they could be consistent with other important values. That’s the measure of our failure to be a democracy. But it would be unfair to assert that we aren’t one at all.

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