In the particular bill you researched, isn’t it true that all you needed was to see how the bill…
David Piepgrass
31

I want to highlight your entire response. Wonderful. Thank you very much. Thought provoking.

A few quick responses before I mull over what you wrote in greater detail:

  • I tried the GovTrack.us bill tracking feature before I wrote the story but I couldn’t make sense of it. Could be user error, though. Here’s the change-tracking for the House version. Since the entire text appeared to change I couldn’t hone in on the offending lines. Maybe GovTrack.us could explain that process to us?
  • That experience is actually what led me to the Genius concept. The media discussion centered on a handful of objections, allegedly political insertions by the House. Yet the track changes made it look like the entire bill changed. If the stalemate was really about a few lines shouldn’t we be examining those specific lines? Fix them and the bill passes.
  • You’re right that “gotcha!” politics is rampant and a big impediment to honest dialog. And this is very much a voter driven-problem (we incentivize the media to play the game.) Most people I talk to want “real” politicians, yet paradoxically the same people will jump on a political opponent’s “real” quote if it advances their side’s narrative. To error is human; if we want humans representing us we need to be more tolerant of errors.
  • Still, this issue might be helped by a congress.genius.com (a la http://law.genius.com/) debate system. My observation is that politicians claim they are acting in good faith on a substantive solutions, but the other side is acting politically, thwarting progress. And that narrative is not only easy for partisan voters to swallow, it’s remarkably difficult for non-partisan voters to penetrate. If the media could easily verify that the side claiming the substantive moral high-ground actually made an effort to extol the benefits of their substance, then maybe the media would be less likely to print unfounded claims, and maybe the public would be less likely to swallow the narrative. To be sure, it’s no panacea.
  • I disagree the system wouldn’t work out of absence of public interest in it. Wikipedia works for the public, even though only a handful of people — relative to the overall population — actually contribute. It doesn’t have to be seen by everyone, just enough people to influence the discussion of policy in a less partisan, more substantive direction
  • Wikipedia itself is a great example of what happens when people are empowered to pursue what intrinsically motivates them. In the book Drive, Daniel Pink describes Microsoft’s attempt to digitize the encyclopedia. Here’s a rich, powerful organization ready to harness and publish the knowledge of experts: sounds like a winner. Simultaneously, another organization was trying to disrupt encyclopedias, though their plan was the exact opposite of Microsoft’s: pay nothing to compile the knowledge, just rely on intrinsically motivated volunteers. Daniel’s point was that everything we’ve traditionally believed about motivation — that rewards (money, power, etc.) and consequences motivate best — would favor Microsoft Encarta over Wikipedia. Yet, today we know that Wikipedia won the head-to-head battle. The empowered, intrinsically motivated public beat the panel of chosen, funded experts.
  • As an aside, that example also shows that money and power doesn’t always win. We see it over and over in business, yet we think politics can’t be disrupted by underfunded outsiders.
  • Fair point re: single subject bills. Still, on slam-dunk agreed upon legislative priorities I think a single-subject is ideal. Part of my difficulty following the legislative trail on Zika was that other bills had been introduced in the House, Democrats in the Senate had been thwarted introducing standalone bills, and what was passed was omnibus appropriations. It muddled the information trail to the point that the say-so of legislators was all I had to go on.
  • I’m open to proportional voting as a solution. Also interested in ranked/instant-runoff voting. The “wasted vote” crowd is out in force this year. Hold your nose and vote with party!
  • Open to democracy vouchers too.
  • Related to that subject, the staggering amount of money spent on campaigns is crazy to me, regardless the efficacy of those dollars. “I want to be elected to give money to the poor! But before I can do it I must spend nearly a billion dollars promoting myself.”
  • Here, here on Citizens United. Not only did the perversion of the U.S. political process start before it, the case itself stemmed from government’s ability to exclude information from debate. The idea that the government has the power to ban a book if that book is a funded form of express advocacy should be opposed by anyone in favor of open-source information and transparency.
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