WASHINGTON — Political reform does not have to be as pie-in-the-sky as Americans often see it, New America’s Lee Drutman argued Tuesday.
Drutman, a senior fellow at New America, a liberal-leaning think tank, promoted the findings in his recent report “Political Dynamism: A New Approach to Making Government Work Again.”
He argued that by targeting partisanship and campaign finance excesses, Americans can vastly improve the political system.
“A lot of people think government isn’t working for them,” Drutman said. “And you know what? They’re wrong.”
He asserted that many citizens have a hard time accepting trade-offs — compromise in governing – which is why they need politicians to do it for them.
“I think citizens have an important role in our democracy, but I just don’t think we can have direct democracy,” Drutman said.
Drutman, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley, advocated abandoning the utopian ideal that many have of political reform. Most politicians, he said, fundamentally want to do what’s best for the people they represent.
One of the biggest problems, he said, is that politicians have to focus so much of their energy on fundraising that they cannot spend enough time actually being on their day jobs as government officials.
But Drutman said the biggest issue is public attitude.
“There are just a lot of people who don’t care about politics,” Drutman said.
Drutman said little will change without more vigorous competition within gerrymandered congressional districts.
“We are selecting members of Congress based on their ability to raise money,” Drutman said. “It creates this incredible gatekeeping mechanism for keeping a lot of policy entrepreneurs out of Congress.”
Michael Golden, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, agreed.
“The people with the most money have the most influence, access, and ultimately the most say in that process,” Golden said in a phone interview.
But Golden also said the 2016 presidential campaign may be evidence of a shift away from that system.
One of the “big reasons you have Trump and Sanders surprising everyone,” he said, is that they are confronting the other presidential candidates about their donors. And the public is reacting.
“Especially in this election cycle, I think the people are rising up on the issue of money and its corrupting influence in our system,” Golden said. “The question is, is it enough?”