Symposium | Halfway Home?

To Tame the Fanatics, Fix Democracy

By Pete Buttigieg

Tagged Congress

Democrats are back in the game, with a U.S. House majority and gains in many statehouses. But now that we’ve gotten some points on the board, we risk forgetting our duty to change the game itself.

To be sure, we must immediately undertake many conventionally important projects: contain the White House without overreaching, defend liberal achievements from Social Security to the ACA, and advance consensus policies like infrastructure investment. Reclaiming the mantle of freedom that Republicans relinquished along the road to Trumpism, we must act to secure Americans’ liberty against private as well as public sources of unfreedom. And when it comes to twenty-first century security, we must face issues ignored or abandoned by the GOP, like nuclear security, election security, cyber security, and climate security.

Yet even this heavy agenda will miss the moment, if it’s all we offer. The stakes of this political season are much higher than those of any election, as the time has come to do something about the weakness of our democracy itself.

The whole story of American progress could be told as a lurching but unmistakable march toward political equality, approaching a day when every American’s vote truly matters. Yet in my lifetime, this progress has not just slowed but gone into retreat. As we know, voter ID laws, felon disenfranchisement, twisted registration requirements, and purges have diminished access to the vote. Meanwhile, many votes are successfully cast, yet mean little in the context of gerrymandered districts. The Electoral College effectively means that, in a state like Indiana, our votes for the presidency only matter every 40 years or so. At least we Hoosiers have it better than fellow American citizens in the District of Columbia or the territories, who have no vote at all for Senate and, almost more insultingly, vote for a delegate in Congress who, in turn, may not vote on the floor.

When will we outgrow the Electoral College and become a nation where the people pick our President? Why are we loath to adjust the size of the House of Representatives, or act to ensure that voter registration is made either universal or obsolete? Who can rebut the premise that every American citizen ought to have two senators and a real member of Congress? And why are we afraid to push a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote? Such reforms are ambitious, but far from absurd—certainly not in a country that once amended its Constitution to ban drinking, only to regret doing so and change it right back.

Without such fundamental reform, we can’t fix the democracy deficit that helps give rise to fanatical congressmen and abusive presidencies. Such bold proposals also hold the key to something we will need in order to hold the attention of a new generation: an agenda that would mean as much in 2050 as in 2020. This is no time for meek plans, and Democrats who still fret over finding a meaningful party “message” should remember that it’s encoded in the very name of our party. After all, we are Democrats not least because we are democrats.

From the Symposium

Halfway Home?


Let's Keep It Simple: J-O-B-S

By Isabel Sawhill


See All

Read more about Congress

Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of Southbend, Indiana.

Click to

View Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus