By Ira Seidman — part one of twelve in the series decentralize
Today the long-lived standard that civil servants should work their way up the political ladder is dead. President Trump was just the tip of the iceberg with many other apolitical candidates shooting their shot for high offices since the 2016 election including Andrew Yang, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and 25 year old Madison Cawthorn in the North Carolina House race last year. In many respects this is concerning because building our government on anything other than experience and competence does not seem like a wise way to construct a hierarchy. This is especially so at a time when we have so many problems that cannot be solved without strong and effective government — climate change, unchecked coronavirus infections, an economy in shambles, all-time wealth inequality, wars without Congressional declaration since 1942, and the largest prison population in the world as the list goes on. You would think that having strong political leaders with effective track records is what we need, so why should I, or any of these other politically inexperienced candidates for that matter, be the people to whom New York City and the rest of the US turn?
The main reason we should encourage inexperienced candidates to run is to push the more politically entrenched politicians on their ideas, legislation, and platforms. I’m running for mayor of New York on a promise to institute direct democracy through our representative framework. I call this decentralizing power and it works like this — as mayor I would send every bill on my desk to referendum and only sign what 60% of New Yorkers support (per these referendum votes). The only exceptions would be for initial cabinet appointments and emergency responses that cannot wait, both of which will go to referendum as soon as possible. For some this may draw parallels to the town meetings of colonial days or internet-voting where the majority truly rules. It’s become painfully obvious to me over the years from what I’ve read in school like Julius Caesar to the bosses and teachers I’ve seen abuse their authority, that power corrupts. For others the examples are more deadly, like what Black Lives Matter has shown us so clearly about police brutality. It is not a coincidence that the institutions that face the most doubt and resistance today are the ones with the most power — government, police, banks, and the military. Unfortunately, for some reason, all of the politically experienced candidates do not seem interested in decentralizing power, and so the most likely way this idea will ever be represented on any debate stage, much less our government, is if outsiders run.
The second reason new candidates should be welcomed to run is because government has so consistently failed to meet the basic needs of its people. Can we really afford to keep playing musical chairs with the same people in different roles? In the richest country in history why are 40 million Americans in poverty? In the innovation center of the world where every day we are closer to colonizing Mars why are so many of our neighbors homeless and hungry? The reasons are complex, but a large part has to do with a government that is more concerned with keeping power than actually helping its citizens. The rate of progress for the rich is limitless, but the rate of progress for the poor is pegged to the minimum government intervention necessary to avoid unrest. Until we have a government that is truly in the hands of the people, this will go on. Until we decentralize power representatives will continue to represent their own interests first. It is with this understanding that we should stop prioritizing candidates who come directly out of this system, a system that so badly needs to change.
For democracies to survive it is imperative that political involvement is both widespread and informed. Without both we have people’s interests going unrepresented and/or people not voting in their own self-interests. Regrettably, lots of campaigns today revolve around raising money from wealthy donors and for PACs to run advertisements, host steak dinners, and hold just enough rallies along the campaign trail to keep momentum. Oh, and keep the people engaged of course. This is a long way off from the town greens where citizens used to speak freely and the best ideas would rise to the top. As imperfect as those times were with heavy restrictions on voting for women, blacks, the illiterate, the imprisoned, and others, there was a beauty to the free-flow of ideas that should not be forgotten because of the uglier threads in that fabric of history. I’m dreaming of a day where we live up to our promise of a more perfect union by going back to a time that truly gave no one citizen any more say, and more importantly power, than anyone else. I cannot think of a better way to move towards this vision than to encourage local citizens to run for office on the quality of their ideas, and leave behind the corrupting influence of money and political connections that riddle so many campaigns today.
Finally, my detractors will say that I do not have the management experience required to run the biggest city in the union. The issue is that if I wait the 30 years needed to be a “conventionally-qualified” candidate my city may be under water because the corrupt government did not act when we had a chance. Others will say “this campaign is a joke — he isn’t taking campaign donations and doesn’t stand a chance.” To you I say just because you’ve never seen a campaign succeed without donations does not mean it cannot be done, and it especially does not mean that I cannot do it. I’m passing on the well-oiled managers who efficiently serve the special interests, and if this resonates with you I sincerely ask for your consideration.
The currency for holding political office should be ideas before anything else. Unfortunately, many voters today value cherry-picked track records and name-recognition above the actual details of a candidate’s plan. Catchy slogans like “Medicare for All” and “Build that Wall” abound, but both proposals fail to recognize the roots of their respective issues, much less propose effective solutions. Why are we not talking about how Congress limits the amount of residencies available for American medical students? Why are so few leaders pushing immigration reform that would implement exorbitant fines for employers who give jobs to undocumented workers in conjunction with a streamlined application that takes months instead of decades? Without candidates like Andrew Yang, it could have been years if not decades before solutions like universal basic income appeared on a debate stage. Without a candidate like me, it could be longer before direct democracy is seriously considered. Whether or not any of us inexperienced candidates are truly fit to lead, we should be encouraged to run to hold other candidates to a high standard while giving voters options. Of course actually electing us is a different story for the next paper in this series; all I am asking for now is your genuine consideration as a voter, but more importantly, as a neighbor.