The full title of this book is The Cure for Our Broken Political Process: How We Can Get Our Politicians to Resolve the Issues Tearing Our Country Apart by Sol Erdman and Lawrence Susskind. Despite the overly long title, it's actually a fairly quick read and written in a style accessible to the average reader.
The premise of the book is that Americans are uninvolved in the political process because they feel their votes don't matter, their perspectives aren't represented in Congress and the current system results in such gridlock that nothing ever gets done. To remedy this, the authors have a number of ideas, but the centerpiece of the book is Personally Accountable Representation.
Personally Accountable Representation (PAR) consists of a few elements, the major ones being as follows:
- Preferential ballots. Rather than "winner takes all," we would rank our preferred candidates and there would be a handful of winners, likely broken into a third liberals, a third moderates and a third conservatives.
- Expanded districts with more representatives. Three representatives per district would likely be ideal to improve the chances of one representative being close to your perspective.
- Self-selected constituents. After an election, each voter gets a card listing the winners. The voter then has the option of returning that card to the representative who best represents them. They would then receive regular updates from that representative and hold that individual accountable.
There are many other elements, but those stand out. Presumably, implementation of PAR at the House level (Constitutional roadblocks prevent its use for Senate elections) would result in an electorate that is more involved in the political process, a greater sense of citizens being represented, increased accountability in government, and less legislative gridlock.
These objectives are lofty--and the authors admit as much--but their hope is that these principles will take root at the grassroots level. In time, once people have seen the effectiveness in the local school councils, board rooms, city government, etc., it is hoped that they will demand change at the state and national levels.
So would it work?
Tough to say. They make a compelling argument. I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about this book before reading it. Last year's election was long on style but short on substance, and I was tempted to lump this in with the other "change for the sake of change" notions floating around. PAR has some merit, though, and the authors have gone to great lengths to discuss the pros and cons and look at ways of mitigating many of the cons.
I think the bottom line is that PAR probably couldn't hurt. Increased voting for its own sake is of little value. Frankly, I'd like fewer people voting if those who did would educate themselves. If PAR succeeded in increasing people's knowledge about candidates and motivated them to stay informed and hold their elected officials accountable, it could be a great thing. For me that's the strongest argument for such a system. Gridlock in Congress, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. With government as bloated as it is, a bit of inaction on the part of the Big Spenders is not necessarily a bad thing.
Simply from a writing perspective, The Cure was very effective. After a short intro, the book is primarily dialog between legislators and their staff (semi-fictional) hashing out ways to improve the political system. This works well and keeps a potentially dry topic interesting. Beyond that, there is a wealth of demographic and other data, as well as an extensive appendix full of expansions of some of the ideas, stories of similar ideas tried elsewhere, etc.
All in all, I'd say Erdman and Susskind have done an admirable job of applying their years of experience in mediation to the political process. The Cure for Our Broken Political Process will likely appeal most to independents who've traditionally not been well represented but would be a good read for anyone interested in politics. If nothing else, it will likely get you thinking in fresh ways about how we got here politically and what we can do about it.
In the near future, I will follow-up with my own ideas about our current political state and some suggestions for making things better.
[For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I was sent a free copy of this book to review. I have tried not to let that unduly influence me one way or the other.]