"Representative Democracy for the Modern Era" by Michael J. Farrand

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY FOR THE MODERN ERA
A Proposed Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


"As . . . new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times."
Thomas Jefferson, 1816


INTRODUCTION

Our Constitution has guided the United States of America through considerable social upheaval, economic strife, and military conflict to the pinnacle of the world's nations. But, the country has undergone dimensional social, political and geopolitical, economic, military, and technological changes over the past two plus centuries that strain the revolutionary governmental system designed for wholly different times and conditions. Deficiencies grow increasingly apparent in political representation, empowerment, and accountability, as well as in the attraction of the most able statesmen to political service. Proposed governmental reforms, such as a balanced budget amendment and term limits for elected officials aim to redress these shortcomings, but deal only with the symptoms of the problem. To fix the underlying causes we might well heed the entreaties of the Founding Fathers to keep pace with changing conditions by updating the fundamental functioning of the Federal executive and legislative branches and the related electoral processes.


REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRACY

The United States Constitution was the revolutionary miracle of modern government when introduced in the late 18th century. It fashioned numerous democratic innovations related to popular representation, governmental empowerment, and governmental accountability--not to mention federalism and the protection of human rights.

Representation
Staggered executive and legislative elections and electoral terms of varying lengths ensured an appropriate level of democratic participation, while guarding the nation against extreme shifts in the mood of the people. With a third of the Senate selected at each election of the House of Representatives, and the President chosen every other election, extreme popular movements tend not to translate directly into extreme political power. The two-year terms in the House let the voice of the people translate regularly into political power. The resulting political stability has engendered unparalleled economic development, and helped drive us to world leadership.

Empowerment
Empowering the executive and legislatures separately has aided military success. In wartime, Presidents have claimed executive privilege and prosecuted wars directly, with minimal interference from Congress. This feature helped the U.S. resolve a major Civil War without splintering and emerge victorious from two World Wars, not to mention the "victory" over Communism.

"A President can declare war and conclude peace without being hurled from his chair."
John Adams, 1809

Accountability
An elaborate system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches, combined with the bicameral nature of the Congress and the separation of legislative and executive powers, would maintain governmental accountability.

Attraction
The founding of the United States of America was blessed with the presence of a political elite, a group of exceptionally able and visionary men, we now refer to as the Founding Fathers. Creating modern representative democracy through the drafting of the Constitution, and later serving in various positions in the government they had designed, they laid the foundation for the subsequent greatness of our country. Little doubt existed that they would serve in the new government, due to their relative qualifications and a sense of noblesse oblige, so they did not need to concern themselves overly with designing the future government with a mind toward attracting able leaders. Having served as President, though, many of their number desired to escape the office as if from a jail, calling for change in the design of their new government. This was in the very earliest days of nationhood, prior to the dimensional changes that would subsequently transform the country, and place enormous stress on their experimental government.


DIMENSIONAL CHANGE

Over the past two centuries, the social, political and geopolitical, economic, military, and technological conditions under which the Federal government operates have undergone dimensional change.

Socially
Early settlers desired liberty from governmental tyranny which in their homelands across the sea had limited their religious practice, chance at prosperity, and happiness. The expectation that the government might step in to protect workers--shackled to severe industrial conditions, indentured, enslaved, or otherwise--was as alien as the newly arriving peoples. Today the American drive for unfettered economic advancement and absolute personal liberty has become more complex. The people now demand government be the principle guardian and promoter of their standard of living and quality of life. They call upon the Federal government to maintain high levels of employment, prevent crime, care for the sick, combat drug abuse, provide high-quality education, etcetera.

Politically
The Founding Fathers had little experience with democratic government, outside of their studies of ancient Greece. Contemporary nations of the world in their time were run mainly by monarchies or outright tyrants. Their fear of democracy, especially with a largely uneducated populace, was such that the republic they envisioned would only experiment with limited popular control. They checked power they granted the people, and to its representative government, with the separation of powers, staggered and misaligned elections, and the electoral college. Two hundred years experience working within a representative democracy, and a far broader education of the populace, lessens our fear of democracy.

Geopolitically
Our 18th-century population of a couple million in thirteen contiguous British colonies, occupied less than a million acres of eastern land along the Atlantic ocean. Since then the population has multiplied a hundredfold, approaching 300 million in 50 states, and occupies four times the land area. Population density has increased almost twenty times. Our mainland territory now spans almost three thousand miles across the continent east-to-west, with lengthy coastlines and continent-wide borders along two foreign nations. The largest state, almost a fifth of our land mass, sits a thousand miles from our mainland across foreign territory. This Alaskan peninsula juts into the Arctic Ocean, and toward Russia (separated only by a narrow strait), creating half of our total shoreline. Another sits three thousand miles into the Pacific ocean. U.S. possessions and territories dot the globe. The impact of this expansion on social demands, economic diversity, diplomacy, trade complexities, contraband protection, transportation needs, exposure to military threat, immigration management, etc. almost exceeds definition.

Economically
The country has gone from a simple agrarian British colony and trading outpost, to the largest economy in the world, representing more than a fifth of the global economy. Growth derives today from complex and rapidly transforming industries, highly dependent on technological advancement, and must be managed in terms of ever-increasing environmental protection trade-offs and international competition. Battles in the global economic marketplace require highly skilled governmental dealings with other countries, perhaps more intricate than the conduct of warfare. Even major industry, great laissez faire proponents of old, cries out for governmental assistance when competing internationally.

Militarily
Once a ward of England, with settlers facing skirmishes mainly with native tribes, the U.S. has become the world's undisputed military leader, the only military "superpower". With this position often comes the responsibility of managing world affairs, while maintaining American interests and her position in the world. The prospect of the U.S. being challenged in this leadership role by the only nation in a position to do so over the coming decades, i.e., China, would likely be unappealing to most peoples of the world.

Technologically
The U.S. has been transformed by great advances in communications, that have granted the news media considerable power in the political process. The media today possess perhaps the greatest influence in determining election results, influence that is not politically accountable or effectively balanced by official governmental power. The amount of time and energy public officials must devote to managing media exposure, coupled with the loss of privacy, can make running for and serving in political office highly unappealing. The dimensional changes in these fundamental conditions place extraordinary pressure on a system of government designed for a wholly different era.

Governmental Responsibility
With the changes in conditions has come a revolutionary change in the role of the U.S. government. Originally envisioned as the umbrella for the states, focusing mainly on providing joint national security, making treaties, coining the national currency, and regulating interstate commerce, the federal government responsibilities have expanded considerably. Domestically, major needs it addresses newly or in a greatly expanded fashion include:

  • communications
  • economics
  • education
  • emergencies
  • environment
  • health
  • security
  • space exploration
  • taxation
  • transportation
  • welfare


While the U.S. standard of living is among the highest in the world, its quality of life is considered among the lowest of the developed nations, affected as it is by poor education, income disparity, high crime, lack of public health care, etc. Raising this quality of life across these dimensions requires a marshalling of related expertise focused intently on creating long-range plans that help build a better future.

In the international sphere--where the U.S. seeks to maintain its position, protect its interests, and help "manage" the world for the good of itself and other nations--the areas of responsibility remain much the same, e.g., diplomacy and security. But we now preside globally as world leader economically, militarily, technologically, and politically to a large degree. And the appearance of highly complex issues such as global environmental protection, nuclear weaponry, terrorism, economic unions and trade zones, etc., require expert focus and visionary solutions.


CURRENT SYSTEM STRESSED

"Throw the bastards out!"
U.S. Voters, every election year

After tossing the previous "bastards" out, and installing the "lesser of the evils" to office, the voters generally find the new "bastards" just as tossable. The newly-elected politicians experience the same difficulties when trying to make the representation, empowerment, and accountability systems created in the 1780s deliver what the public want over two centuries later.

The U.S. economic and military position in the world, though still dominant, may not be sustainable over the long-run, given raging domestic ills--most particularly substandard public education. As the world continues to look to the U.S. for leadership, with little real alternative, we seem to respond tardily and without reference to a long-term vision.

Representation
Just as staggered elections and varied election terms assure that no general popular mood translate into political power in the government, they also eliminate the possibility of a strong popular mandate empowering government to act boldly in addressing social needs. The relatively brief Presidential and Representative terms decreed by the U.S. Constitution necessitate short-term views, hamper the implementation of long-term policies, and divert precious attention and energy away from the managing of domestic and international affairs to almost continuous reelection efforts. The more frequent the elections the more the media exercise their considerable powers over electoral outcome, forcing candidates to exert time and energy on manipulating this power rather than representing the will of the people. Presidential term limits eliminate the people's right to re-elect leaders they support. The Electoral College dilutes direct popular election of the President. By making each state "winner take all", it forces campaigning and political focus on the largest states, overlooking the needs of the the "fly over states", and, perhaps, the overall good of the nation.

Empowerment
The separation of executive and legislative powers:

Complicates policymaking
and fosters adversarial relations within government, especially when opposing parties control the White House and Congress, or the individual Houses of Congress. Lacking direct control over the massive Federal bureaucracies, Congress has developed an extensive standing committee system to oversee them. The result is often "pork barrel" politics and "wheeling and dealing", where to pass legislation requires funding unrelated pet projects. This complicated structure dooms passage of any integrated set of complex policies and attempts at slimming the national budget.

Complicates implementation of policy
as Congress approves executive appointments to head federal departments and agencies--a process that has become so long and disruptive that positions may go unfilled for years awaiting Congressional go-ahead. Congress controls departmental funding, effectively eliminating executive control. Department heads possess no direct mandate from the people, so lack sufficient power to negotiate with Congress or control the large bureaucratic organs they direct.

Reduces party power
as no single party can formulate and implement a given set of policies without a considerable amount of compromise to the process. Without strong parties, individual elected officials face alone the challenges of making policy, raising election funds, campaigning, and managing the media. Having handled these Herculean tasks successfully, he must then attempt to force his constituents' will upon the larger political machine often without benefit of coordinated party action. The primary system, a relatively recent invention resulting from a weakening of party unity and power, only furthers intra-party strife. During the primary campaign, candidates from the same party must effectively destroy each other in order to win, with predictably deleterious effects on the political effectiveness of their party.


The President must devote considerable effort yoking this political ganglia to his policies, rather than to developing an overall, long-term vision for the nation. He often puts principal focus either on international or domestic affairs, as to manage both capably, given the diversion of his limited resources to internal politicking, considerably strains human capability. With both the executive and the legislative in this mode, the government lurches from crisis to crisis--at home and abroad--letting immediate urgency set priorities and allowing resurgent states of emergency to relieve the responsiblity to get out in front of events so as to avoid being run over by them.

Accountability
The separation of powers diffuses responsibility for governmental action. One branch of government can always claim, rightly in many cases, that the other branch was at fault for a failed policy. Voters cannot hold the directors of executive departments, the true implementers of policy, accountable at the ballot box. Presidential and House of Representative terms of differing lengths, combined with the staggered Senatorial elections, thwart the people's right to remove undesirable public servants as a group.

"We'll blame the President and he'll blame us and we will so obfuscate the issue that the voters will not be able to fix responsibility."
1970s U.S. Congressman


Attraction
Statesmen are generally drawn to public service by their ability to make substantial impact. As currently configured, the U.S. political system does not offer much potential in this regard without the application of superhuman effort. The toll government service extracts proves highly unattractive to potential office seekers, especially the constant drive to raise money and maintain media coverage for reelection efforts and the highly intrusive media exposure candidates subject themselves and their families to.

The media scrutiny of presidential appointees to head governmental departments and agencies has become so destructive few qualified people would rationally consider exposing themselves to it.

The primary system by itself has a distinctly negative impact on the attraction of the most able statesmen to public service. Contesting primaries makes the political campaign overly long and extraordinarily expensive. The battle for individual states exposes candidates to a perverse degree of media scrutiny, exposure required for victory. The long, expensive, media-focused campaign rewards campaigning talents over governing abilities.

"No government is better than the men who compose it."
Thomas Jefferson


POPULAR PROPOSALS ADDRESS SYMPTOMS

Proposed governmental reforms, especially term limits and a balanced budget amendment, seem designed with little consideration of the dynamic and integrated nature of the political system. And they address the symptoms and not the underlying causes of the problem.

Limiting electoral terms reduces the incentive for exceptional people to seek Federal office and for elected officials to perform well once elected. Term limits take away the democratic right of the people to reelect capable leaders, while automatically deposing experienced politicians who have learned to make the system work.

Reducing the Federal deficit and debt significantly requires sustained and robust economic growth. Visionary governmental guidance can drive such massive economic expansion. A government whose spending is arbitrarily limited by Constitutional amendment may not be able to make the necessary investment, for example, in technological development, which could result in manifold returns, thereby closing deficits and retiring debt. Reductions in spending, or conversely, increases in taxes, may not substantially reduce the deficit as they mitigate against economic growth.

"Let us . . . avail ourselves of our reason and experience, to correct the crude essays of our first and unexperienced, although wise, virtuous, and well-meaning councils."
Thomas Jefferson, 1816


REDESIGN FOR CONTEMPORARY CONDITIONS

Keeping pace with dimensional changes in contemporary conditions demands substantial alteration of the structure and function of the Federal legislative and executive branches across the interrelated planes of representation, empowerment, accountability, and attraction of the most able statesmen. Generally these changes involve:

  • Dedication of one set of elected officials to manage international affairs and another to domestic affairs.
  • Direct appointment of popularly-elected officials to head executive departments.
  • Lengthening of electoral terms.
  • Alignment of electoral terms.
  • Elimination of electoral term limits.
  • Elimination of the Electoral College.


Coordinated application of the modifications to the structure and function of the executive and legislative branches, and the related electoral processes, synergistically enhances their overall beneficial impact. More specifically, these enhancements include:


Structure and Function
  • The President and the Senate have the responsibility to manage international affairs and to develop a long-term vision for the nation.
  • The Vice President and the House of Representatives have the responsibility to manage domestic affairs and the day-to-day functioning of government.
  • The President appoints popularly-elected Senators to head Federal agencies involved in international affairs, e.g., diplomacy, national security, and international trade.
  • The Vice President appoints popularly-elected Representatives to manage those agencies dealing with domestic issues, e.g., internal revenue, health, education, and welfare.
  • Only the annual Federal budget, formed by joint effort between the chambers, requires approval from both the Senate and the House.
  • Members of each house have the right, and on demand the duty, to take part in the debates of the other house.
  • The heads of executive agencies are subject to regular question periods by legislators from all parties.



Electoral Processes
  • The party holding the highest number of seats in each Congressional chamber rules that chamber.
  • The Presidential candidate nominated by the ruling party of the Senate becomes President and the Vice Presidential candidate nominated by the ruling party of the House becomes Vice President.
  • The President and the entire Senate stand for election concurrently every six years.
  • The Vice President and the entire House stand for election concurrently with the Senate, and again between two and four years afterwards, the exact time to be determined by the ruling party in the House and publicly announced at least two months prior to polling.
  • All elected officials serve at the will of the people or their party without term limits.

The inherent greatness of the U.S. Constitution is crowned by the inclusion of a process for adapting it to changing times. And the Founding Fathers strongly encouraged the application of this provision. This amendment process provides an accepted way to make limited adjustments to the Constitution without threatening tenets considered sacrosanct by most Americans, such as the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States.

"Should that which is now offered to the People of America, be found on experiment less perfect than it can be made, a Constitutional door is left open for its amelioration."
George Washington, 1788


PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

  1. Each party contesting seats in the Senate shall nominate a candidate for President of the United States. The Presidential nominee from the party receiving the majority of votes in the Senate (the "ruling party") shall become President. The President shall appoint Senators to serve as directors of executive departments and agencies managing international affairs and national security. These directors shall originate bills related to their agencies and submit them for Senate approval. The President shall have one vote in the Senate.

  2. Each party contesting seats in the House shall nominate a candidate for Vice President of the United States. The Vice-Presidential nominee from the party receiving the majority of votes in the House (the "ruling party") shall become Vice President. The Vice President shall appoint Representatives to serve as directors of executive departments and agencies managing domestic affairs, internal revenue, and expenditures. These directors shall originate bills related to their agencies and submit them for House approval. The Vice President shall have one vote in the House of Representatives.

  3. All Senators, Representatives, and appointed officers, including those of President and Vice President, shall serve at the will of their party, without limitation on number of terms, and all successors to vacant offices shall be determined by the appropriate party.

  4. The President of the United States shall present to a joint session of Congress each year a long-term vision for the nation and its role in world affairs. Each chamber shall then generate and implement policy in consideration of this vision. The annual Federal budget bill, formed by joint effort between the chambers, shall require approval from the Senate and the House, with the President of the United States mediating all related disputes. Members of each chamber have the right, and on demand the duty, to take part in the debates of the other chamber. The ruling party in the Senate and in the House, and specifically the heads of executive departments and agencies, shall be subjected to question periods by legislative representatives regarding the performance of their duties, such question periods to be conducted during joint monthly sessions of Congress.

  5. The people of the United States shall select the Senate every sixth year from candidates nominated by each party. The two candidates receiving the largest number of votes from each State shall take seats in the Senate.

  6. The people of the United States shall select the House of Representatives on the same day as the Senate, and then once again between two and four years after. The year and month of this mid-term election year shall be determined by the ruling party in the House and shall be announced publicly at least two months prior to polling. The candidate receiving the largest number of votes from each Congressional district shall take a seat in the House.

  7. If the ruling party (the party holding the highest number of seats) in either chamber should receive less than a simple majority of the seats, it may form a coalition with another party, or other parties, to achieve a majority of seats.

  8. The Electoral College shall hereby be abolished.

  9. All other powers and conditions not expressly altered by this amendment shall remain in effect.



BENEFITS

This amendment proposes substantial enhancements in the structure and function and electoral processes of the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. federal government. These enhancements greatly improve representation, empowerment, and accountability of the Federal government, together with the attractiveness of public service.

Representation
  • Alignment of elections for the Senate and the House, and derivatively for the President and Vice President, allow a general popular mood to translate into a powerful popular mandate across the government.
  • Popularly-elected representatives in both legislative houses would be appointed to manage the executive agencies, granting these officials greater power to harness these bureaucracies to popular will.
  • Renewable terms preserve the right of the people to reelect public officials they deem to be in their best interest.
Since parties would have more control over devising and implementing a coordinated set of policies, they might choose to scuttle the primary system and directly appoint the leaders they prefer to follow. The people would have less direct input in this nomination process, but the most representative democracy is the one that most ably implements the will of the people. Because the party functionaries would presumably grant more importance to governing ability than to media appeal in their candidate selections, the result would be a government headed by more capable leaders enjoying broader support of their party. As such, they would be more able to propose a series of policies and implement them, thereby better representing and serving the needs of the people.

Empowerment
  • As the President and Vice President would each represent majority parties in their respective houses of Congress, each would have greater power to implement an overall vision without the overwhelming interference of an opposing party.
  • The direct association of executive with legislative functions would contribute to the ability of the ruling party in each house to implement an overall integrated political program effectively.
  • Decoupled management of domestic and international affairs
    • provides for focused attention on each sphere
    • selects and grooms those with appropriate abilities
    • prevents emergencies in one sphere from directly affecting the management of critical affairs in the other
    • frees the President from the day-to-day management of government to allow him to focus on international affairs and to fashion a long-term vision for the nation.
  • The direct appointment of popularly-elected representatives to head executive agencies eliminates the lengthy and media-intrusive approval process, greatly enhances their power to implement policies, and contributes to a streamlining of the Congressional committee system.
  • Minimal checks and balances between these two spheres of influence allow the separate representatives to implement the will of the people more effectively.
  • Six-year Presidential and Senatorial terms provide much needed time to enact long-term policies while reducing reelection pressures.
  • Concurrent Senatorial terms provides for a single group of Senators to work together on policies determined in a common political era and energized by a shared popular mandate.
  • "Floating" mid-term election in the House lengthens the average term of office to three years and reduces the duration of the mid-term election campaign. It also makes the actual performance of representatives in office serve as their ongoing political campaign, giving the ruling party a powerful incentive to excel in order to enhance their power through the ballot box.
  • Renewable terms reward exceptional performance in office.


Accountability
  • With one group making and implementing a promised set of policies in the international or domestic sphere, with only the necessary level of political interference from an opposing group, the people can hold that governing group directly accountable for their success or failure in specific policy areas.
  • The chief implementers of policy, the heads of executive agencies, can be held accountable at the ballot box and through monthly Congressional question periods.
  • Renewable terms hold officials continuously accountable for their actions.
  • With aligned elections the people can throw all the "bastards" out at once if they desire.


Attraction
  • Elected officials have increased potential for "making a difference" through bold and effective governmental action.
  • The separation of the management of domestic and international affairs, the reduction of checks and balances, and the streamlining of the policy generation and implementation processes reduce the official workload substantially, particularly for the President.
  • Renewable terms provide incentive to exceptional people to run for, and remain in, office.
  • Less frequent elections, and greater assistance in financing campaigns and counteracting media power from a more unified party, lessen the burden of governmental service.



CONCLUSION

America has enjoyed a long run of success with a Federal government system designed by the Founding Fathers in the late 18th century. As proof of their visionary powers, the makers of our Constitution encouraged those who came after them to change it as necessary to keep pace with new developments. The dimensional transformation of the nation over the past two centuries strains an antiquated system struggling to cope with current demands, and urges us to heed this advice. The amendment proposed here offers significant enhancement of governmental representation, effectiveness, and accountability while substantially heightening attractiveness of public service. Such fundamental redesign of the structure, functioning, and electoral processes of the executive and legislative branches promotes our quality of life, standard of living, and position in the world.
2002 by Michael J. Farrand