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Mark Schmitt on choosing an agenda for a second Obama term: "Political Reform Should Be Priority Number One"


As part of a New Republic roundtable on what Obama's agenda should be for a second term, Mark Schmitt argues as follows:


...If Obama wins re-election, he should tackle the challenge of political reform directly, aggressively, and creatively.

The political dysfunction in Washington is now its own crisis--one to be addressed on its own terms. If the economy recovery remains on solid ground--a big if, of course--Obama should reclaim, both on the campaign trail and upon re-election, his original mission and passion: Reform of the political process. Pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded in July 2011 that voters are more open than ever before to thinking about economic inequality and stress as connected to political inequality and a sense that the "the game is rigged" and people "do not think their voices matter."

....Congressional obstruction has now crossed the line into what James Fallows of The Atlantic calls "nullification," including blocking the implementation of existing laws. All the barriers of law and custom that had put a modest check on the influence of money on elections and legislation have fallen--most of them not directly because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision but more because of a cultural sense that anything goes, combined with lack of enforcement. Rather than moving to open the electoral process, eleven states have enacted or tightened voter I.D. requirements since Obama took office.

Among his suggestions, Schmitt notes some proposals TDS also discussed in a Strategy Memo "A Common Sense Populist Communications Strategy for Rebuilding Trust in Government". For example:

....While Obama's dreams of a warm deliberative conversation with congressional Republicans were evidently naïve, the broader public, beyond the angriest activists and partisans, has shown itself open to a real conversation. When Obama inevitably moves back to thinking about long-term federal deficit reduction, rather than appoint yet another blue-ribbon panel of Washington grandees and CEOs, he should instead launch a process that would engage tens of thousands of Americans in a guided, deliberative discussion of the choices on taxes, health spending, and retirement.

And also:

...There are also small steps that Obama can take to make government more accessible to citizens. Consider, for example, the statement most of us now receive annually from the Social Security Administration detailing our lifetime earnings and expected benefits. That's an innovation from the mid-1990s, and it helps dampen Social Security demagoguery by showing that the program is real and its benefits predictable. While open databases of information such as recovery.gov, which tracks spending from the 2009 economic stimulus, are great resources for specialists or people with time on their hands, they are no substitute for more tangible gestures that can make government visible to ordinary, busy people.

Be sure to check out Schmitt's piece and also the TDS Strategy Memo.