Tempered Optimism

I  was seriously contemplating not renewing my subscription to WordPress.  I hadn’t written a word in months mostly because of a combination of writer’s block and not wanting to endlessly complain about the current occupant of the Oval Office.  I buried myself in binging West Wing,  posting on Facebook, and giving money to candidates.

But after the election, I feel a bit more optimistic about the future.  Plus the Boston Red Sox won the World Series!

Democratic women are the primary reason for my cautious optimism.  If there was a “Blue Wave”, it was women.  Meredith Conroy wrote in FiveThirtyEight a week or so after the election:

Democratic women did really well last Tuesday. And many broke new ground: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a New York U.S. House seat, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib, who won in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, and Ilhan Omar, of the Minnesota 5th, will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Women also flipped districts blue in competitive races — Navy veteran Elaine Luria won in the Virginia 2nd, and former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin, who served in the Obama administration, won in the Michigan 8th.

What cheers me is the diversity of the women elected.  Young, not so young; white, black, Latino, and Asian; Lesbian, Trans, and straight; liberal and moderate.  In short, a mix that comes closer to representing American women than ever before.  I’m waiting for the stories about conflict among them, but I firmly believe that they will find a way to work together.  And work with their male colleagues.

Yes, the House needs to resume oversight of both agencies and the White House, but to continue success in 2020, legislation must be passed.  We know almost none of it will pass the Senate or be signed by the President to become law, but Democrats must have a track record of doing positive things for future success.  One thing that struck me in the fall election was the failure of the Republicans to talk about anything much except for the so-called Caravan of migrants coming to invade us.

So I am cautiously optimistic that the new House led by women will start leading us out of our dark times and back toward democracy.

 

 

The future of American democracy

I’m married to a pessimist.  He’s been reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and is convinced we are now well into the decline.  While I’m not quite so pessimistic, I admit I have my own moments of despair.  Sometimes it feels as though we have no control over the future.  Almost certainly, the Republican party has already caved in.  But events like the recent election in Alabama and the  generic polling that consistently shows a preference for electing Democrats to Congress this year give me a ray of hope.  If Virginia can almost completely flip the state legislature, why can’t we do the same for Congress?

I can think of at least three roadblocks:  Money (think the Koch’s), voter suppression (gerrymandered districts and new voter rules), and, last but not least, the age of the Democratic leadership.

A lot has been written about the first two roadblocks on my list but not so much about the third.  I love the members of the Vermont delegation but, let’s face it, the youngest is Representative Peter Welch who is exactly my age – 70.  I’m pretty sure that I am will vote for his reelection – and for Bernie’s – but there are a number of younger folks who will be ready to take their places next time around.  For right now, we need their seniority.

Moving from Vermont to national politics we have Nancy Pelosi (77) and Chuck Schumer (67).  If the Democrats retake the House, and even if they don’t, it is time for Nancy to retire gracefully.  She has served us well as both majority and minority leader, but it is time for the next generation.

Howard Dean, another Vermont politician I supported for President, is one of the few of my generation speaking out about this.  In a recent NPR interview with Rachel Martin, Dean said

The most important age group for us is people under 35. They elected Barack Obama in 2008. But now it’s time to let them take over. And they’re going to have to take over on their own terms. We have tons of talent in our party. We do not need to rely on my generation anymore. And these kids think differently. They’re more respectful of each other. They’re willing to listen to each other’s ideas and work things out. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re more conservative than we are economically than the left wing of the Democratic Party. They’re mostly libertarian.

I just think this is the future of America. They are diverse. They value immigration. They value different kinds of people. They believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. They care deeply about the environment. We need a real change in this country and the only way to do it is for us to get out.

Dean goes on to say that the party has to change because the world is changing and is no longer so dependent on institutions.  There are all sorts of interesting people running for Congress this year filed as Democrats.  I believe I read that most of the House seats in red districts have a Democratic challenger.  At this point, I think the most important role the Democratic Party as an institution can play is to help raise money as the elections will be won by grassroots workers who will not necessarily be Democrats.

So what about 2020.  The word here is that Bernie is gearing up for another run.  Yes, I know that Bernie’s base was young people in 2016, but by 2020 he and they will be four years older.  And even though there is likely nothing there, the Jane Sanders financial stuff is going to haunt any campaign.

My pessimistic husband sees no one who can run, but remember in 2007 no one thought that Barak Obama known only to Democratic activists for his speech at the 2004 Convention, could run, much less win. So let’s look at some new faces:  Seth Moulton (age 40, ex-Marine Congressman from Massachusetts); Cory Booker (Senator from New Jersey, age 49); Kamala Harris (Senator from California, age 55); Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator from New York, age 55); Amy Klobuchar (Senator from Minnesota, age 58); and Chris Murphy (Senator from Connecticut, age 45).  Look them up.  And I’m sure that there are some Mayors out there who would be interesting candidates.

I still think our democracy can be saved, but we each have to play the proper role and for Democrats of my generation, that means following Howard Dean’s example and moving ourselves to a supporting role.

 

The consequence of sexism

I’m writing this the morning after the Republicans in the Senate passed a massive tax reform bill that I doubt many of them, or their staff members, or maybe even leadership had read.  The bill wasn’t even printed but evidently photocopies with handwritten insertions and changes were passed out in the hours just before the vote.  There were no hearings.  And now we get to watch Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell try to reconcile the House and Senate bills.  I wish them no success.

So how is this bill a consequence of sexism?  I hadn’t thought about it either until I read this piece by Jill Filipovic in the New York Times.  She writes

Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump in an official “commander-in-chief forum” for NBC. He notoriously peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a tone similar to Mr. Lauer’s with Mrs. Clinton — talking down to her, interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt, while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush, currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.

A pervasive theme of all of these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.

What these journalists did when they interviewed Mrs. Clinton has the same roots as their sexual harassment.

For arguing that gender shaped the election narrative and its result, feminists have been pooh-poohed, simultaneously told that it was Clinton, not her gender, that was the problem and that her female supporters were voting with their vaginas instead of their brains.

The latest harassment and assault allegations complicate that account and suggest that perhaps many of the high-profile media men covering Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump were the ones leading with their genitals. Mr. Trump was notoriously accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault, and was caught on tape bragging about his proclivity for grabbing women. That several of the men covering the race — shaping the way American voters understood the candidates and what was at stake — were apparently behaving in similarly appalling ways off-camera calls into question not just their objectivity but also their ability to cover the story with the seriousness and urgency it demanded.

Filipovic continues

This moment isn’t about a nation of confused men. It’s about a minority of men who choose to treat women alternately as walking sex objects or bothersome and potentially devious nags. It’s about a majority of Americans who give men a pass for all manner of bad behavior, because they assume men are entitled to behave badly but hold women to an entirely different standard.

That is why it’s so egregious that sexual harassers set the tone of much of the coverage of the woman who hoped to be the first female president.

There are at least two other well known men accused of sexual harassment:  Senator Al Franken and Garrison Keillor.  It is true that both supported Clinton.  Both are alleged to have committed an act or acts that, while harassment, are rather on a different scale than Matt Lauer’s or Charlie Rose’s multiple actions.  I taught my first workshops about sexual harassment in the late 1970s to managers in Virginia state government and my staff began investigating complaints.  The manager who put his hand down an employee’s blouse was suspended; the manager who patted an employee on the rear was reprimanded.  No act can be excused, but we need to maintain some perspective.

As Filipovic writes

The 2016 presidential race was so close that any of a half-dozen factors surely influenced the outcome: James Comey, racial politics, Clinton family baggage, the contentious Democratic primary, third-party spoilers, Russian interference, fake news. But when one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history and the first woman to get close to the Oval Office loses to an opponent who had not dedicated a nanosecond of his life to public service and ran a blatantly misogynist campaign, it’s hard to conclude that gender didn’t play a role.

 And what we get is a tax reform bill that will only help the rich, destruction of the environment, alienated allies, and potential nuclear war.  Thanks a lot, fellows.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act

The Republicans have made a mantra out of repealing the ACA aka Obamacare.  I’ve lost track of how many times they have voted to repeal it, but close to 60, I think.  The surprising thing is how unprepared they really are to “repeal and replace”.  They seem to have the repeal part down, but in all the years it has been since the law was enacted, they haven’t come up with a replacement plan.  I think that even supporters of the ACA know that some things need fixing but no Republicans were willing to work with Democrats and President Obama to do so.

They could just repeal it.  This would create chaos in the health care system and upset millions.  I don’t think they want to deal with loss of support right away.  I’m not sure that voters who say they don’t like the ACA understand that things like free vaccinations, physical exams, and mammograms are part of the Act.  On the other hand, Republicans cannot seem to agree on a plan to replace the ACA.  There are a lot of ideas, but no plan and not even a framework for a plan as far as I can tell.

In the January 4 edition of the New York Times, Robert Pear had an interesting and informative article, Republicans’ 4-Step Plan to Repeal the Affordable Care Act.  In it he outlines the things that have to happen before Repeal.

05health-master768

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, second from right, listened as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, spoke after a Republican luncheon on Wednesday.

Step One is to pass a budget resolution that is filibuster proof in the Senate.

The Senate intends to pass a budget resolution next week that would shield repeal legislation from a Democratic filibuster. If the Senate completes its action, House Republican leaders hope that they, too, can approve a version of the budget resolution next week. Whether they can meet that goal is unclear.

Step Two would add details.

Republicans say they will delay the effective date of their repeal bill to avoid disrupting coverage and to provide time for them to develop alternatives to Mr. Obama’s law. They disagree over how long the delay should last, with two to four years being mentioned as possibilities.

Step Three adds in ideas from President Trump.

Within days of taking office, President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to announce executive actions on health care. Some may undo Obama administration policies. Others will be meant to stabilize health insurance markets and prevent them from collapsing in a vast sea of uncertainty.

“We are working on a series of executive orders that the president-elect will put into effect to ensure that there is an orderly transition, during the period after we repeal Obamacare, to a market-based health care economy,” Mr. Pence said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Step Four is replacement.  For which there is no consensus.

Meanwhile Democrats are also taking action.

In the Senate next week, Democrats will demand votes intended to put Republicans on record against proposals that could protect consumers. Defenders of the law also hope to mobilize groups like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association to speak up for patients.

This process is far from over.  Even Republicans put implementation of a new health care law a minimum of 2 years out – just in time for mid-terms- and more likely, 4 years away – just in time for the next Presidential election.

Photograph:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

Spring in Vermont

I’ve been gardening like crazy.  My husband and I have taken out 90% of what the previous owners had planted including the trees and have replaced them with lilacs, blueberry bushes, forsythia, and a serviceberry bush.  We also replaced two maples with a stewartia tree. (I put in a link because you probably never heard of one before. We hadn’t.)  Plus annuals and lots of perennials.  I figure that you can always take stuff out next year that doesn’t work.  All of this has helped take my mind off the mostly bad news that seems to keep coming.

Our young Stewartia tree with flowers.

Our young Stewartia tree with flowers.

Last week we caught a little break.  The Supreme Court made two decisions that, contrary to the dissenters, I think will be positive in the long run.  The first upheld the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act; the second, legalized marriage for everyone in all states.

Marriage equality began here in New England as all the local media have proudly told us.  Vermont legalized civil unions and Massachusetts was the first to sanction marriage.  As one news reader noted, “Today’s decision doesn’t really effect New England as same-sex marriage in already legal in all six states.”  That is a paraphrase, but a fact of which most New Englanders are very proud and contrasts to the defiant words from some of the Republican Presidential candidates.  Reminds me of the governors who wanted to stand in front of the school house door to prevent school integration.  Conservatives are always arguing that marriage leads to more stability so I can’t really understand why they aren’t pleased that more people will be getting married.

On the ACA, I wonder if some of the New England states like Vermont that are struggling with the necessary automation and connections to the federal exchange will just move to the federal exchange all together.  And I also wonder if states that never expanded Medicare will do so now.  But with Congressional leaders and most of the Republican Presidential candidates still hoping to repeal “Obamacare”, that is probably not likely.  In the meanwhile, more people are getting insurance and as they begin to get preventative care, costs should continue to drop.  Insurance companies, like most of us, like stability something the pro-repeal Republican should remember.

As spring slowly turns to summer here in Vermont, I’ve been thinking a lot about race.  As with many things we seem to be taking one step forward and two back.  Who would have predicted in 1964 that in 2015 we would need a new voting rights act?    Or that the unspoken racism of one of the major political parties would lead to a mass shooting in a black church?  Yes, I mean the Republican party with opposition to everything proposed by President Obama.  You can’t convince me that if the current Democratic president were someone like Jerry Brown or Tim Kaine opposition would be as virulent.  Race is at the core.  All those Senate Republicans who want to be president could prove me wrong by supporting the new voting rights legislation.  As the Washington Post pointed out, they once did so.

The Sunday after Charleston my husband and I drove down to Boston to attend church.  We wanted to attend his home church, an historically black church of which he became the first white member over twenty years ago.  The service is still traditionally African-American, but the worshippers are black, white, and Asian.  It was comforting to sit with people I have known for so many years as well as with the newcomers.  The young pastor spoke first about being “sick and tired of being sick and tired” and went on to talk about faith.  We were all given little packets of mustard seed by the children to remind us to keep the faith.  I’m finding that gardening is another way to find a measure of peace and faith that things change.  In the garden one can see the entire cycle:  planting, growth, blooms, death.  And then it begins again next spring.  We just need to keep the faith.

Photograph:  Bob Wyckoff

Looking at President Obama

The annual Gallup poll of the most admired man has just picked President Obama.  Even among Republicans he tied with Pope Francis.  But to hear some Republican elected officials and pundits, Barack Obama is the devil incarnate.  If he says the sky is a little cloudy, they will say it is clear.  So what is going on?  Are people finally catching on to what he has accomplished?  Are people starting to look beyond the media’s short attention span?  I don’t have any answers, but I know that the President has managed more than one could ever imagine given the Tea Party and solid Republican opposition to everything he proposes. Even people like Paul Krugman, who one would think would be a supporter, was not.  But Krugman has changed his mind and in October wrote a widely circulated defense.

When it comes to Barack Obama, I’ve always been out of sync. Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.

I certainly haven’t agreed with everything Obama has proposed or done, but no one agrees with anyone else 100% of the time.  And there have been some scary moments.  Remember the “Grand Bargain”?  But we can list as accomplishments the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank financial reform (despite the reluctance of Congress to fund the Consumer Protection Bureau and the recent gutting of the prohibitions on banks and derivatives.), the steady improvement of the economy (the only one in the world not on the verge of tanking again) and the ending of our combat roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But I just don’t understand the continuous bashing by everyone.  Plus, I firmly believe that the mid-term elections would not have been quite so bad if the Democrats had had the guts to run on the President’s record.

Krugman writes

But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

I think one of the problems the President has is that he is a canvas on which each person paints the picture of what they want him to be.  Michelle Bachmann sees him as a non-Christian, non-American.  Cornel West thinks he is a ‘counterfeit progressive”, meaning, I guess a conservative in progressive clothing.  The problem is people do not look at facts.  And they certainly don’t understand the character of the man.  I found this description of him on the golf course very apt.

One of the golfers who played with Mr. Obama said the way the president carried himself on the course provided significant insight into his character.

“If you came down from Mars and saw his disposition on the golf course, you would think he would be a pretty good president,” the golfer said. “He’s honest, he keeps his composure through terrible adversity, he’s unruffled, he smiles, and he doesn’t quit.”

Obama

This is why after the mid-term elections, President Obama was able to have what Kevin Drum writing in Mother Jones magazine was able to call “a Hellava month”.  Drum lists his accomplishments during November and December.  Here are a few from his list.

  • November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week.

  • November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation.

  • November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.

  • December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba.

Plus a number of judicial and other nominees were approved by the Senate before they went home for the holidays. Jennifer Bendery explains in the Huffington Post.

If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.

In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.

It may be that, in the end, his biggest effect on the judiciary isn’t sheer numbers as much as the diversity of his judges. Forty-two percent of Obama’s confirmed judges are women, 19 percent are black and 11 percent are Hispanic, according to data provided by the White House. Eleven of his confirmed judges are openly gay or lesbian.

Even the 12 nominees confirmed Tuesday night will make a mark: Robert Pitman will be the first openly gay judge to serve in the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Loretta Biggs will be the first black woman to serve as a district judge in North Carolina.

The most interesting part of the nominee confirmation story is that the last were made possible by Senator Ted Cruz who probably had no idea what he was doing.

Democrats spent the final days of the lame duck thanking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for inadvertently helping to expedite votes on Obama’s nominees. On Friday, Cruz derailed a plan by party leaders to leave for the weekend and come back Monday in an effort to force a show vote on Obama’s immigration executive action. The stunt kept senators in session all day Saturday, with hours to kill. So, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used the time to tee up votes for the 12 district court nominees still on the calendar.

With two years to go, I don’t think any of us should write President Obama off as a “lame duck”.  He seems to be freed by not having to run for office again.  We all need to stay tuned to see what he does next.

Photograph:  Uncredited from Mother Jones.

 

 

Can we cure Congressional dysfunction?

The pundits are dissecting the results of the local and state elections and speculating on what, if any, effect they will have on the 2014 mid-terms and the 2016 Presidential election.  There is plenty of time for that.  I want to talk about the current dysfunction in Congress.

George Packer posted an interesting comment in the New Yorker yesterday.  His Daily Comment began

Going to cast a vote Tuesday, less than three weeks after the government shutdown and the near-default, put me in a sour mood. Usually, I exercise the franchise in a state of embarrassing, heart-swelling affection for the imperfect republic, my under-informed fellow-citizens, confused poll workers, even the dubious names on the ballot. But yesterday, with the gross malpractice of elected officials in Washington still fresh in mind, I walked to the local polling place thinking about some of the stupidities of our democracy, grouping them into two categories: necessary and unnecessary.

His list of unnecessary traditions includes the filibuster.  While the Senate is slightly more functional than the House, the idea that every piece of legislations needs 60 votes to pass needs to be changed before that morphs into a new “tradition”.

The filibuster is an unnecessary stupidity. Senators speak reverently of the filibuster as if it were inscribed in the Preamble to the Constitution, but it’s nowhere in our founding documents. The Senate created the rule almost by accident, in 1806, and for around the next hundred and seventy years used it sparingly, until self-restraint began to disappear from the upper chamber. It has almost no positive effect—try to think of the last time a truly terrible bill was prevented from being stampeded into law by the Senate’s failure to pass a cloture vote. Rampant abuse has exposed the filibuster as an anti-democratic tool of the defeated minority to thwart the will of the elected majority.

Some senators keep making noises about reforming, if not abolishing, the filibuster—most recently last month, when two Obama Administration nominees were blocked by Senate Republicans. But it never happens, and I don’t think it ever will happen, which only shows the profound conservatism of our democratic system. We’re stuck with necessary stupidities because trying to eliminate them would do more damage than it’s worth, but why are we stuck with so many unnecessary stupidities?

While we are talking about traditions, what about the tradition that an president’s nominees get approved absent clear evidence of criminal past, lack of qualifications, or some moral issue.  The putting a “hold” on a nominee, sometimes almost at random, because the Senator wants something else to happen, is an other tradition we don’t need.  At least the Senate has managed to pass Immigration Reform, a non-sequester budget, and the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA).  There seems to be little hope for ENDA or Immigration Reform in the House.

IVoted

Packer goes on to cite the New York Times columnist, Joe Nocera on what we might do to fix some of the dysfunction.  Nocera’s suggestions include moving election day to the weekend, term limits for the Supreme Court, and an end to gerrymandering.

Move elections to the weekend. Do you know why elections fall on a Tuesday in early November? I didn’t either. According to a group called Why Tuesday?, it goes back to the 1840s, when “farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship.” Today, of course, casting your ballot on a Tuesday is an impediment: lines in urban areas are long, people have to get to work, etc. It is especially difficult for blue-collar workers — a k a Democratic voters — who don’t have the same wiggle room as white-collar employees.

Chris Rock — yes, Chris Rock — has been quoted as saying that this is the reason Election Day remains on Tuesday. “They don’t want you to vote,” he said in 2008. “If they did, they wouldn’t have it on a Tuesday.” Even if you aren’t conspiratorially minded, you have to admit that moving elections to the weekend makes a ridiculous amount of sense.

Moving election day is a solution, but we could also expand early voting and explore voting by computer and mail.  Most of all we need to do away with the absurd new ID laws where there is no evidence of widespread fraud which so far no one in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and other states has produced.  Why have ID laws when we could just prosecute anyone who tries to vote illegally?

Nocera also proposes terms limits for the Supreme Court.

 Somewhat to my surprise, most of the experts I spoke to were against Congressional term limits. Norman Ornstein, the resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that the unintended consequences of term limits would outweigh the benefits. (He cited, among other things, the likelihood that “they come to office thinking about their next job.”)

Instead, Ornstein proposes term limits for Supreme Court justices. If he could wave his magic wand, he would give the justices one 18-year term, and he would stagger them, so that a new justice joined the court — while another departed — every two years. Ornstein likes this idea, in part, because presidents would be willing to nominate older justices; now, the emphasis is on younger nominees who can remain on the court, and influence American society, for decades. I like the idea because nothing fuels partisan politics like a Supreme Court nomination. If the parties knew there would be a new nominee every two years, it might lessen the stakes just a bit, and bleed some of the anger out of politics.

I’m not sure about this, but it is interesting to contemplate.

The next suggestion, open primaries, is something we have in Boston for municipal elections.  I should note that very few candidates here identify as Republicans (I think there was one running for Mayor), but that shouldn’t hold true for most places.

Why are so many extremist Republicans being elected to Congress? A large part of the reason is that highly motivated, extremist voters dominate the current Republican primary system. Mickey Edwards, the former congressman who is now at the Aspen Institute, wrote a book last year called “The Parties Versus The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans.” At the top of his list of reforms is open primaries — which would allow anybody to vote for any candidate. Indeed, California has already adopted an open primary system, in which the top two vote-getters run against each other in the general election — even if they are from the same party. As Adam Nagourney wrote in The Times a few weeks ago, this reform is one of the reasons California’s Legislature has become less partisan and more productive. Chances are good that the same reform at the federal level would produce the same result.

California also provides an example that could reduce, if not end, gerrymandering.

As a tool to entrench the party in power, few maneuvers can beat gerrymandering. It’s another reason that the Tea Party Republicans can pursue an agenda that most citizens disagree with: thanks to gerrymandering, their districts could not be safer. Here, again, California offers a better model. It has a 14-person commission made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four people unaffiliated with either party. In 2011, the new commission redrew lines in a way that broadened the diversity of many districts. That is exactly what should happen everywhere.

Nocera talks about bringing back small donors.  I think this will take a Congressional change to modify or repeal Citizens United.

Many of these suggestions have to be implemented on the state/local level, but we should start talking about them now.  Change comes slowly because of “tradition” and people wanting to retain power, but unless something changes we are going to sink further and further into dysfunction.