Still fourteen months away, the 2012 presidential election is heating up faster and more furious than most anyone would want. Stuck with a stagnant economy and jobs market, skyrocketing debts and deficits, failing schools and crumbling infrastructure, Washington’s focus has turned to bickering about elections instead of getting anything done.
President Obama, with an eye towards November 2012, spins every speech into an “us” vs. “them” appeal in hopes of holding his base.
The GOP presidential candidates, ramping up for their primary battle next spring, scramble to prove they’re the most “right” to the few thousand activist Republican primary and caucus voters in the early contests who crown their nominee.
The Republicans and Democrats seem stuck in their ideological holes, and if anything, seem to be digging deeper. Gerrymandering has made the jobs of most Members of Congress safe from everything but an ideological challenge in their own party’s primary — and so the parties’ bases have become the party bosses.
Both parties are locked in the same primary system that requires candidates to pander to their ideological zealots in the early Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida contests. And the key feature of the general election campaigns is an effort by both parties to maximize turnout of the base, rather than seeking to win the support of the majority of voters in the middle.
The parties, the candidates and the campaigns poll daily, if not hourly, which means they follow rather than lead. And when the candidates have anything to say they tend to say it in sound bites that guarantee their 15 seconds of fleeting fame on today’s ideologically leaning cable news networks.
In short, the two parties, and their candidates too, have awaited the future instead of shaping it. That is a formula that may permit their survival in the two-party duopoly they have created, but it is deadly for the country.
And millions of Americans in the middle are left wondering, “Shouldn’t there a better way to pick candidates for the highest office in the land?”
In fact, there is a better way. Americans Elect (www.AmericansElect.org) will hold the first national online convention in June 2012 to nominate a balanced ticket for President and Vice President. Every registered voter, regardless of affiliation, can become a delegate to debate the issues, draft the candidates and select the nominees. Once nominated, the Americans Elect ticket will be on the ballot in all 50 states (Americans Elect has already been ballot qualified in Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, Florida and Michigan and is currently gathering ballot petition signatures to be included on Colorado’s ballot) and will be a competitive, third choice when we elect our next president in November 2012. Who will be the Americans Elect nominees for president and vice president? That’s up to the delegates to decide. Anyone constitutionally eligible can run or be drafted for the Americans Elect nomination.
Giving the American people another option when voting for president, a third voice at the table balancing the extremes on the right and the left, can rejuvenate our democracy. It can improve our politics. It can empower the people. It can enable them to tell Washington “stop the games, our country is better than that.”
It’s not just a better way to choose a President; it can be a mid-course correction to bring our democracy into the 21st century.
Are there challenges for something as audacious as Americans Elect? Absolutely. Can Americans Elect conduct a fair, verifiable online nomination process? Will capable candidates step forward to compete for the nomination? Will a president elected without a supporting party in Congress be able to drive legislation? Stay tuned.
So is it perfect? Probably not. But when have our politics ever been perfect? For the majority of registered voters in America who are not happy with either party right now — the politically homeless — Americans Elect may be a blessing, a chance to re-boot Washington and our national politics into something better. Perhaps leveraging the collaborative power of the Internet can help us discuss the common challenges, recruit the best candidates and select the best nominees.
America is nothing without innovation. That is just as true in its politics as it is in its economy. The Internet has been a disruptive force on virtually every facet of our economy, our lifestyles, our society. To survive and thrive, institutions have had to adjust to the radically altered online marketplace of ideas, competition, choice and change swirling around us. But the parties act as innovation Luddites, desperately clinging to an analog political system in a digitally-enabled society. The promise of Americans Elect is not just about advancing our political technology, it’s about giving our leaders the political space to lead like they used to — and can again.
The sad story of today’s politics is not the story of yesterday’s America. When there were no overnight polls, leaders had to follow their instincts and often stumbled into leadership. When national TV news came to all from three large networks that reached all, the newsmakers talked to all of America, and made their case to all of America.
The bigger the issues, the bigger the leaders. They reached across the aisle to find the common ground needed to achieve fundamental change. That wasn’t just the story of world wars, the Cold War included. It was the story of Social Security and civil rights and Medicare and welfare reform and every fundamental policy change since the Great Depression. The parties found common ground and kept America changing with the times. They led.
That is the importance and promise of Americans Elect. With public excitement and engagement over a better way to choose a President, Americans Elect can mean our politics can change. New leaders might find new courage. The old parties might set aside some old politics to compete for the common ground so many Americans want them to find.
It’s not just that we should update our politics to use our new technology. It’s that we must update our politics to rediscover the old America. We are better than what our tired, hyper-partisan politics have allowed us to become.
Jim Jonas is a communications and marketing consultant in Denver. He serves on the advisory board of Americans Elect.