Political books are a dime a dozen these days. But finding one filled with practical wisdom and much needed real world prescriptions for our myriad political ills? That is invaluable.

Michael Waldman has written such a book with "A Return To Common Sense."

Michael’s succinct summary of the current hurdles to democracy brings the desperate need for reforms home for all of us:

…The United States imposes the most onerous voter registration rules in the West. Political campaigns are awash in some $5 billion dollars in privately raised funds. This absurd system forces candidates to spend so much time fundraising they have little time to tend to the public business. Few legislative elections are even faintly competitive, thanks in part to computer-aided partisan gerrymandering. The number of Washington lobbyists has tripled in a decade, overwhelmingly representing commercial concerns, paralyzing Congress and ensuring that policy tilts toward narrow interests and the wealthy. And all the while, in the wake of September 11th, the historic balance of power among government branches has tilted badly off-kilter, with power authority surging to the presidency, and the White House claiming unprecedented authority to act above the law and beyond the reach of the courts.

Michael’s work with the Brennan Center for Justice, and his prior role as Bill Clinton’s top aide for political reforms and speechwriter, gives a practical perspective — from proposed legislative fixes through assessment of leadership failures across the branches of government.

Michael begins with needed election reforms which promote a wider, fairer democracy.  Taking on voter roll purges, ID laws, and other machinations against voting franchise expansion, designed to cast doubt on the motives of those  — the poor, the single mothers, the inner cities and rural voters alike — whose voices are marginalized in our increasingly "pay to play" political system.  

But Waldman does not simply identify anti-democratic problems.  He goes on to analyze pending legislation and legal action, and potential new avenues for change.  

This includes getting more technologically savvy people involved in poll-watching and election day work — to prevent gaming the system from within, essential to prevent electronic ballot box stuffing.  Bringing in honest expertise to supplement technologically-challenged traditional poll workers is key to future democracy, and is far-too-often a last-minute thought only after fraud has been alleged.  

How much more has been missed the last few years?  And how do we argue for a wider voting franchise when voters cannot be assured a fair and free election result?

Beyond that, A Return to Common Sense tackles reforms regarding gerrymandering, public financing of elections and removal of the electoral college.  Michael argues the pros and cons, with an eye toward changes which support the public business and minimize the constant craven money-grubbing fundraisers with the highest common monetary base.  

What we have now is a system awash in cash from a few, which drives the policies at odds with the needs of far too many of the rest of us.

Finally, A Return to Common Sense tackles the restoration of checks and balances between the branches of government — better oversight, restoration of the rule of law, and a wholesale rejection of executive power at the expense of our nation’s democratic heart. Michael lauds Congress for oversight efforts on war profiteering and the US attorney purges, but cautions:

…other than these highlights, many committees have been slow to use oversight as a tool not just for exposing scandal but for building policy arguments.

When we had David Iglesias on recently for discussion about his book, In Justice, we discussed the "reservoir of credibility" in government that takes years to fill, but only a few moments of bad acts to drain it dry.

Where people are willing to fight for something better, there is still yet hope:

All through American history, pressure for change builds, often unseen, until suddenly it is time, once again, for renewal….Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, wrote words true then and truer today, "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind." We can honor the spirit of our own founding, and make our nation once again the cause of all humankind, if we once again put democracy at the center of our politics — where it belongs.

We must demand better from our government and from ourselves, or change will never come.  With that, I welcome Michael Waldman to the FDL book salon and open the floor for discussion.

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

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