The one thing YOU can do to fix our broken government
As divided as we are as a nation, there’s one thing that a significant majority of Americans across the political spectrum agree on: our government is broken.
Our hope is to convince all of you who feel this way that the most effective solution—perhaps the only solution—to fix our government is for you to get directly involved in changing it by running for office yourself.
In a recent Gallup poll, only 34 percent of Americans said they are satisfied with our country’s system of government. What’s even more telling is that in 2015 the number one problem Americans said our country faced was not the health of the economy or national security, but government dysfunction.
This widespread disillusionment and disdain for our government is manifest in the current state of our politics. In the 2014 midterms, fewer eligible voters went to the polls than in any cycle since World War II. At the same time, Pew Research found that Americans have abandoned the two major parties on such a large scale that the 39% of us who self-identify as independents—the largest percentage in more than 75 years—outnumber the 32% who consider themselves Democrats and 23% who affiliate Republican.
While those on the left and the right don’t agree on the culprits of government dysfunction and the ways it adversely affects our lives, there is more agreement on the root causes than partisans in both camps might want to admit, as the anti-establishment candidacies for President of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have illuminated.
The portrait of America these candidates have painted is that of a nation controlled by deep-pocketed special interests who manipulate the system for their profit at the expense of the rest of us. The reason these insurgents have enjoyed such popular support so far is that this view gels with what so many of us feel: We citizens have little say—if any—in our government’s decisions and our elected officials serve their self-interest and those of the rich people who fund their campaigns rather than the public good.
As more Americans than ever have grown disgusted with how the sausage is made in Washington, they have simply turned their backs on government, refusing to participate, or embraced the notion of some sort of revolution. While these reactions are understandable, we believe that the way for us to achieve the aim of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is for we the people to become citizen candidates. And there has never been in America a moment like this one for citizen candidates to roar!
We know how outlandish this proposal sounds at first blush. The explosion of money in politics has made the notion of becoming an elected official seem more remote than ever. But while this enormous hurdle virtually prohibits all but a handful of us from making a viable run for Congress or Governor, there are many, many other offices to pursue that are actually attainable.
519,682: That is the astonishing number of elected officials there are in the United States at all levels of government combined. With about 245 million Americans over 18, that means more than 1 in 50 of us are electeds at this very moment—and many more of us are former or future officeholders.
In other words, though becoming a candidate may seem out of reach to most of us, the odds are multiple people just from your high school class (and likely not its most impressive members) already occupy some kind of elected office—be it town mayor, city council person, auditor, school board member, or any of the other thousands of positions up for grabs in every state in the union.
Why would you want to serve in a modest, local rung of government, possibly for no pay? Simple: It gives you a seat at the table when it comes to making key decisions that affect your life, whether it’s deciding tax rates, what regulations to enforce, what services to provide, or what direction your community should take.
Indeed, the only real way to overcome the powerless feeling that your government is not representative of you is to become your own representative within it.
Of course not everyone has the natural gifts to lead or legislate, but we firmly believe that there is no better way to learn respect for government, as well as to grasp its limitations, than to actually be a part of it. And no surer way for us to have better candidates from which to choose than to encourage more people to throw their hats into the ring.
To triumph in an election, you have to listen to your neighbors and take to heart their priorities. Even in defeat, you have to shake hands with scores of strangers, get to know them in their living rooms, and harness the strength of your friends and family members. This crash course in real-world civics is one from which we all benefit.
Win or lose, you gain valuable insight into what’s wrong with our system and what’s right with it, which in turn empowers you to comprehend how we actually might go about fixing it.
The government relies on a very simple scheme to preserve its corruption and persist in its incompetence: keeping you at arm’s-length, out of sight and out of mind. It’s time we foiled that cynical strategy. It’s time you ran for office.
Morgan Pehme is a PIX11 News political contributor and co-host of Effective Radio on AM970 in New York City and WVOX 1460AM in Westchester. Nomiki Konst is a political analyst, who appears regularly on television and radio, and a former candidate for U.S. Congress.