Loud speech. Boasting. Crude behavior. Drinking alone. Drinking too fast. Buying rounds. Stumbling.
Our politicians show all the signs of intoxication. Democrats and Republicans alike have taken to Twitter to rant and rave in ALL CAPS. The Senate and House floors are empty chambers, with the exception of singular officials praying that one constituent will turn on C-SPAN to catch their remarks. And, at seemingly every level of government, officials are promising to buy everyone rounds, only to leave their communities with empty glasses — legislators are happy to promise transformative legislation but rarely follow through.
Our democracy is stumbling from the depressing effects of the political equivalent of alcohol — power. What it needs is a political stimulant — structural changes that free officials and civic servants from another sip of power and orient them back toward assisting the public. By adopting changes like term limits, nonpartisan elections, and a unicameral legislature, aspiring and current legislators will have fewer means to chase power and, therefore, more time to focus on their actual job — policymaking.
Imagine how much more productive our legislators would be if they weren’t so focused on competing for power on several fronts. The chase for greater power limits the effectiveness of our democracy as officials compete for donors’ dollars, party positions and retweets from influencers.
Our democracy needs a cup of coffee that helps it recover from its power-induced hangover. Coffee, unlike alcohol, is a stimulant. And trading one for the other can have a big impact on productivity. A glance back at history makes clear that the switch from a depressant to a stimulant can accelerate society. Consider that Europeans used to consume alcohol with every meal.
That all changed with global trade emerged in the 1500s and coffee became readily available. As coffee became the drink of choice for breakfast and lunch, Europeans experienced revolutions in economic production, thought and governance. It’s not surprising that day-drunk Europeans didn’t function well. It’s also not surprising that politicians pursuing power through various channels are distracted from actually doing their jobs.
Structural changes that stimulate policymaking are required if our democracy is going to function in the 21st century and beyond. Term limits can stop the greatest fundraisers from becoming the longest-serving officials. Nonpartisan elections can reduce the need for officials to climb the party ranks, and help them instead exercise their supposed expertise in legislating. A unicameral legislature would diminish squabbles over committee placements and other unnecessary posturing that was only relevant when the two legislative chambers served different functions. These may seem like big changes, but they are sorely needed.
The world is moving too fast for us to accept a democracy that refuses to experiment, learn and try again, all in the name of protecting the current allocation of power.
Absolute power corrupts, absolutely, but even the chance to obtain power can corrupt a system. Current candidates and officials are on a stair-stepper of political power — striving to take step after step up a hierarchical ladder that seemingly never ends. The result is tired, cranky and out-of-touch officials. It’s time to stop drinking and start working. Coffee is the perfect solution. Let’s stimulate our democracy by freeing it from the intoxicating effects of power through necessary structural changes.
Kevin Frazier is a law student at the UC Berkeley School of Law and serves on the advisory board of the Common Sense Party.
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