What issue should concern citizens most? That answer is hidden in plain sight. But even important “think tanks” miss it. Exhibit A is the annual Global Security Review convened by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. Aimed at examining specific challenges and threats facing the international community, the conference chose the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, nuclear disarmament and proliferation, Iran and the economic crisis to head the list of this year’s major issues. Each is important. None however is the most pressing.
The overarching issue facing us is governance and the lack thereof. That condition extends from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe with Iran and Iraq in between. As I argued in my last book, America’s Promise Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking Our Nation, Exhibit B is the American process of governance. It is badly broken. Without repairing governance, we are naive to think that healthcare, the economy, climate change and the wars abroad are self-correcting.
While the symptoms and causes of broken and dysfunctional governance vary from state to state, the pathologies are similar. Governments are simply overwhelmed by and hence incapable of coping with the large and growing numbers of problems they face in providing services their societies require to function and in some cases even to survive let alone thrive. In advanced states, the inability to deal with domestic and foreign issues manifests in failing or failed governance. In war-torn states such as Afghanistan and Iraq, without some form of effective authority, no matter how many horses and king’s men are thrown into the fray, violence and chaos will continue.
Governance is by no means coincident with the establishment of democracy. As seasoned BBC reporter Humphrey Hawksley argues in his new book, “Democracy Kills,” the pursuit of “one man, one vote” has produced deadly downsides — and not only in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interestingly, however, when asked to rank the most critical or important issue and danger to the public, governance is never explicitly mentioned.
In the United States, the failure to govern is bipartisan. Sadly, politics has become focused on winning and holding office and not on governing. Discrediting and demolishing the opposition in this process regardless of party has become the norm and the aim. Ideology and the excessive influence of right and left extremes of both parties have made the four “G’s” — gays, guns, God and gestation periods — litmus tests for policy, corrupting what once was genuine political debate over ideas. And, that too many Americans have rejected entering politics on grounds of the excessive intrusion into private lives to the unsavory matter of the permanent hunt for campaigns donations needed for election and re-election is a further symptom of the decline in governance.
As a result, the U.S. government is incapable of addressing critical issues that cannot be deferred without incurring future huge costs or risks. Healthcare, Social Security, explosive debts and deficits let alone wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that show no signs of ending happily require solutions. But as was the case in the bailouts of the auto industry, the responses so far merely added to already huge debts and delayed the day of decision when the companies will either fail or be left to their own devices.
In the United States, a new revolution is sorely needed. The public must recognize that without their intervention, governance cannot improve and most likely will worsen. As the Declaration of Independence so clearly stated, “When government becomes destructive … it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.”
The best way for positive change to occur is to balance or overcome the extraordinary influence of interest groups and extreme wings of both parties that dominate the electoral process and exaggerate already ideologically driven policy preferences. But how can this be accomplished? The answer is through making more of us vote.
Just over half of all eligible Americans vote. Suppose instead that figure became 75, 80 or 90 percent? What impact would that have on the political process and governance? The answer is profound. First, without seeking the vote of this new and larger majority, no party could win election. Second, because the majority of Americans who would vote are largely of the center, the extremes would be nullified or overpowered. Third, the power of interest groups would likewise be mitigated. And perhaps more Americans would be interested in entering government.
Yes, not everyone would like or consent to be made to go to the polls even if they did not cast a vote. But make no mistake: Our future rests on re-establishing governance. That requires public intervention even if we have to mandate that all Americans who are able must vote.
Harlan Ullman is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the National Defense University. This essay was syndicated by UPI.