This the last of four politically oriented posts (the next several will be on Product Development) that were originally driven in response to a contention made by Robert Gordon (The Rise and Fall of American Growth) that America’s best days are behind us. This last piece in the series focuses on the question of holding our elected officials accountable and how this is essential to the continuing success of the United States as a world leader not only economically, but in all the ways that have led to good outcomes for both us and the rest of the world over the past 239 years.
As I have already suggested in previous posts, I believe that it is essential to our success as a nation that we hold our officials accountable. We give our representatives (national, state and local) a great deal of authority and responsibility. And, given the impact that their role, the one that we elected them to hold, has on our lives and the lives of others we should be doing a better job of holding them accountable. One indication that we aren’t comes from the fact that we individually hold our representatives (both in the Senate and House) in high esteem, but hold Congress in very low regard—how can this be?
I want to start the core of this discussion by making it very clear I believe that we have something very special in the way (philosophy, mechanisms and institutions) by which we govern our country. Even a cursory reading of the Federalist Papers makes a convincing argument that: 1) a lot of thought went into the formulation of the constitution and how it dictates the administration of our democratic republic; and 2) that the people involved in the drafting of the constitution were something very special— smart, practical and almost eerily foresighted.
Further, I believe that our democratic republic, that is designed to promote ideals (e.g. freedom, equality, opportunity) that continually improve both the republic and its citizens, is the key to our success as a country over the past 200+ years. That said, the world has changed and have lost control of our elected officials. We can’t continue to succeed unless we revise the way we hold our elected officials accountable for their performance.
Secondly, I want to assert, in the strongest possible terms, that I believe that there is nothing wrong with being partisan. In fact, I believe that partisanship is essential to good outcomes. Debate, which by definition requires participants with differing points of view, is the forge upon which well-formed decisions are made. People have different points of view on just about any subject that you can think of. So, it is my expectation that our elected officials will have different ways of thinking about the world and want to work towards implementing their world-view into government policy, the way that the government works and the things that it does and doesn’t do.
At the same time, I just as strongly believe that the in vogue philosophy that asserts that if things don’t go their way they “can’t take their ball and go home” is unacceptable and shows a remarkable lack of understanding of how our government is designed to work.
In other words, we need to make sure that our representatives are doing their jobs and not simply being obstructionist. Compromise is a key feature of a well running society and sometimes the compromise favors one point of view and sometimes another. The absolutism that has hijacked our political/governing system is defective, destructive and has no place in our democratic republic.
I believe that it is time to develop a scorecard for each elected office that in a bipartisan way does two things:
- It helps us understand the views and positions that a candidate seeking and/or holding that office takes. This dimension of the scorecard will make candidates’ positions transparent and help voters understand how well the candidates’ positions align with their own; and
- Quite separately the scorecard would help us understand how well that candidate has performed if they are an incumbent or how well they performed in other elected offices if they held them.
Evaluating candidates along these two dimensions will help us not only understand whether we would want to vote for a candidate based upon their beliefs, but also based on how likely they are to do their job if they get elected.
Putting together a meaningful evaluation along these two dimensions will not be easy, but I am confident that if large corporations can assess their employees in an objective manner, we should be able to create a meaningful, concise and bipartisan profile (in my experience in the business world, we called them “balanced scorecards”) that the electorate can use to assess their choices.
Making such a system doesn’t even have to be done by the government. It could be done by a consortium of news organizations (they have done this on a smaller scale since…) that would then have access to the product of consortium’s database of information on candidates for office to be used in their reporting on an election.
No matter the organization, mechanism and structure by which the evaluations are gathered and presented, it is imperative that the product of the process be above reproach and that the information we easily consumable by both the novice and the wonk.