By Mark Tapscott |
Neither Democrats versus Republicans nor liberals versus conservatives will define 21st-century politics. Citizen legislators versus career politicians will. The citizen legislators will win by embracing the Internet and the wisdom of crowds.
Politicians in both major parties who repeatedly seek re-election to keep “bringing home the bacon” while feathering their own nests are careerists. Candidates in both parties who bring the real world to Washingtonto clean it up — and who can’t wait to return home — are citizen legislators.
Careerists thrive on the power, perks and prestige that come with being insiders. Until now, their power stemmed from a monopoly on information, which they selectively shared with the rest of us. Theirs is the world of old media, big impersonal institutions and spinning “experts.”
By contrast, citizen legislators thrive on the power of principle and the liberating independence that comes with being outsiders. Their power stems from their cultivation of information to the widest possible audience and the accountability that comes with such transparency. Theirs is the world of Internet-based new media and the collaborative networking that thrives there.
As long as the careerists remain in power, they will continue aggrandizing themselves, while making government bigger, more costly and less able to deal with emergencies like Hurricane Katrina and the coming entitlement crisis.
It doesn’t make much difference anymore which party has the congressional majority. The Senate’s Water Resources Development bill, for instance, has 446 earmarks, the House version 692. (Earmarks are measures giving members of Congress exclusive control over the spending of federal tax dollars on a project they favor.)
Those figures exceed the then-unprecedented total for the 2006 GOP version of the same bill, despite Democrats’ promises last year to clean up the Republicans’ culture of corruption epitomized by the explosion of earmarks between 1996 and 2006.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s defense of Rep. John Murtha’s angry spittle-laced tirade of threats last week to forever cut off a GOP representative from getting earmarks for his district confirms that the new boss is pretty much the same old boss, just a different party label.
What’s needed is a massive and continuing infusion of new blood — citizen legislators — in Congress. The careerists will never agree to that, of course, so it will have to be imposed from the outside. That’s where the Internet, the wisdom of crowds, term limits and a potential new post-partisan political movement converge.
The evidence of this percolating movement is seen in the successful campaign last year to win passage of the Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act spearheaded by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Coburn-Obama directs the Office of Management and Budget to create a searchable, Google-like Internet database of most federal spending by 2009. Bloggers and Internet-savvy advocacy groups from across the old political spectrum made the critical difference in getting the bill passed. Backers believe the new database will rally public support for more effective controls on federal spending.
Many elements of the same transpartisan coalition of bloggers and advocacy groups came together again this year in the OpenHouse Project led by the Sunlight Foundation to create a lengthy list of Internet-based recommendations for opening up the House of Representatives to greater citizen access.
But these two measures only hint of what could be if the transpartisan coalition coalesces into a genuine movement. Using the Internet to transform government by making it far more transparent and enabling vastly greater citizen participation can unite people across the ideological spectrum.
What if their energies are focused on breaking the career politicians’ stranglehold? Coburn-Obama and the OpenHouse Project encourage change at the margins. Term limiting Congress would fundamentally shift power back to the people.
It can be done because the Constitution allows states to propose amendments. Three-fourths of the public supported term limits before the Republican congressional leadership killed it in 1995. There is no reason not to think the same or even more support would come forth today.
Using the Internet and trusting the wisdom of crowds is the way to force that infusion of new blood and radically change American politics and government.
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott’s Copy Desk blog.