Maybe Our Government isn’t the Problem

Maybe it’s How We Choose Our Elected Leaders

Over the past month, Edward Snowden has simultaneously become the most revered and reviled name in the world. He has taken it upon himself to let the American people know that, over the past several years, our federal government has taken our tax dollars to build the world’s largest data center to spy on us, in the name of keeping us safe.

Enough can’t be written about how terribly misguided the PRISM program is, and I’m glad so many have chosen to speak out in support of Edward Snowden, against the NSA, and against lackluster responses our elected leaders have given us in regards to their decisions to implement these programs.

However, I’m still terribly concerned.

For two reasons. First, while many people have written about Snowden’s revelations, I’ve seen very little written in the way of ideas and/or action taken to prevent something like this from happening in the future.

Our government is spying on us, and we complain on Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, Brazilians are rioting over a ten cent raise in bus fares!

We should be ashamed. As citizens of a country that was founded by overthrowing an oppressive government, we should be doing more. Sure, the ACLU and a few other organizations have brought forth lawsuits, but I have a hunch that a lawsuit against the entity that writes the laws will not end in favor of the plaintiff.

Besides, aren’t we a nation of workers and dreamers and doers, not suers?

We can do more, so why aren’t we? The government already has their fix to stop the next Edward Snowden, so where’s ours? What are we going to do to prevent our government from abusing their power in the future?

I’m not really the type for instigating riots, but thankfully the folks at Medium have created this wonderful platform with the mission of sharing ideas, no matter where they come from. So that’s what I want to do - share some ideas, and observations, on how we might prevent problems such as this, now and in the future. I’m hoping if it doesn’t inspire action, at least we can change the discussion from “What happened?” to “What can we do?”

Before I get into that, my second reason for concern stems from the fact that, post 9/11, our government appears to be stuck in a death spiral of ignorance, partisan bickering, and general dysfunction. If this was the goal of 9/11, the terrorists sure did a damn good job. I know I have my political biases, and I’m sure you do as well, but this doesn’t seem to be a red or blue problem. Not when 78% of us disapprove of the job our current leaders are doing.

So naturally, the question I’ve been asking myself lately has been “Why are our leaders in Washington struggling to do their job? How did they manage to fool themselves into thinking that, in order to keep us safe from terrorists, they need to spy on each and every American, violating the 4th Amendment and (I sincerely hope) putting their jobs in jeopardy in the process? “

Are we hiring incompetent people for the job, or is the environment they are working in making their job impossible?

If the problem is the latter, I don’t have a good answer. I hope and want to believe instead the problem is that we’re just picking the wrong people. I know we all have our biases. I sure don’t like to admit when the team I’m rooting for might be at fault, and I’m sure no one else wants to admit this either. However, maybe it’s time we, as Americans, started to accept responsibility for our problems. Instead of blaming the other side of the aisle, the wealthy, the poor, or those in Washington, maybe it’s time we ask ourselves how we can fix things.

To start, let’s examine how we choose political candidates. For the most part, we still rely on Old Media (television, radio, newspaper, etc) to report on candidates leading up to primary elections. I see several problems with this system.

  1. Old Media has an incentive to get your attention, not provide you with information needed to make an informed decision. Keep in mind this is an industry that is also struggling financially due to the competition from the Internet, making media sources even less inclined to sacrifice profits for unbiased, informed reporting. This means the candidates who draw the most attention, usually by taking extreme positions, are the ones who get the most coverage. I would hope those who vote in primary elections do their homework before voting instead of choosing the name they’ve heard most in the media. However, I’ll admit I don’t do this for local elections. Do you?
  2. Those who vote in primaries are most passionate about achieving their party’s ideals. This turns into votes for candidates who also want to stick to those ideals, and end up taking extreme positions on issues in order to do so. While primary voters may think this is great for the party, I’m pretty sure it’s not great for the country. We need pragmatism, compromise, and new ideas to move our country forward, but our funnel for political talent is designed to promote extremism, intransigence, and idealism.

We need a new funnel.

So the incentives of our Old Media/primary voting system are no longer aligned with what is best for our country. How can we create a new system? What resources do we have which we can use to build a new funnel for political leadership?

What about Social Media? We’re all connected these days. Some of us love to rant about politics on Facebook. Others have become afraid to speak out about anything controversial on the Social Network. But what if we leveraged it to find new political talent? Who do you know in your network that you trust the most? Who, of your ‘friends’, has the best ideas for solving some of our most pressing problems?

Who do you know that is just a good, honest person?

I’m sure you could go through your friend list and choose one or two people as answers to these questions. What if we got a little more granular with our questions? Who do you trust most on gun control issues? Who knows most about economics? Think you could still find people?

What if you asked your friends to answer these questions, and their friends as well? All of a sudden, we’re going to start seeing a few individuals showing up as people’s choices again and again. Maybe it would be premature to start calling these individuals candidates, but it’s a start.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather place my trust in a candidate who was collectively nominated through my social network, as opposed to one the media and voters in primary elections chose for me. If we want a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shouldn’t we the people be choosing our candidates?