I agree with Congressman Dingell’s idea to remove big money from politics in order to ensure politicians’ independence, but I think that same idea needs to be applied to the press. As long as the press is controlled by for-profit organizations, journalists’ independence will be subject to influence just like politicians taking money from big donors. The explosion of hundreds of cable-TV news stations in the 1980s and the creation of the 24/7 news cycle opened the gates to undermine the legitimate, in-depth print and television journalists who created and cared for the Fourth Estate.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
There are, of course, many things wrong with Congress, but former Representative John Dingell puts his finger on the two most salient problems with his call to abolish the Senate and publicly finance elections.
The first is a heavier lift, one I’ve wrestled with, but I think Dingell has hit on a solution to cut the Gordian Knot: Combine the two houses into one.
Combining the two houses—effectively shifting the Electoral College system to a unicameral legislature—would lessen the danger that each house poses to interests of big-state or small-state residents. Giving each state two at-large representatives, elected statewide, would somewhat diminish the ability of the larger states to dictate the workings of the House, honoring the federal character of our government without maintaining the massive insult to democracy that the Senate is fast becoming.
The other issue he identifies is the corrupting influence of campaign money on our legislature. Several jurisdictions are experimenting with different models for public campaign finance. In Montgomery County, Maryland, we just elected a publicly financed candidate as our county executive, a progressive who could never have competed against well-heeled opponents in the primary and general election without public matching. There are still a few kinks that we need to work out, but our first experience with publicly financed campaigns has been positive and delivered better, more competitive campaigns than we would have seen using traditional, big-donor-dominated campaign financing. One lesson is that there is no substitute for investing years in efforts to make connections and build support. A system that does a better job of leveling the playing field, though, is still needed.
Chair, Our Revolution Montgomery County
Mr. Dingell’s proposal to abolish the Senate is part of a recent trend decrying the various obstacles to pure majority rule in the national government. While some of these have merit (elimination of the Electoral College coming to mind), abolition of the Senate would be misguided. Mr. Dingell points to the fact that high-population states like California have the same number of Senate votes as low-population states like Wyoming, and uses this to argue that the current system is a vehicle for minority rule. But, of course, Wyoming’s small population and low representation in the House of Representatives prevents it, and other small states, from passing laws to which California might object. What Mr. Dingell finds objectionable about the Senate is that California is prevented from passing laws affecting policies that California finds desirable. But Mr. Dingell ignores that residents of California have a perfectly good way to effect policies that they find desirable—pass laws within the state of California.