What does classroom democracy have to do with who's committed to Clean Elections?

This morning my wife and I spent an hour in my son Benjamin's class. He's in third grade. His teacher had thought it would be great for my wife and I to come in and talk about Election Day and the importance of voting. We were happy to do it.

We talked about all the signs they see on the side of the road, the commercials running on television, and what elections mean. We also had them throw out examples of things that they didn't think were political, and we told them how they were. (They offered things like, "This textbook isn't political!" and "Getting sick isn't political.") Of course, our son Benjamin, who has watched me working on passing Clean Elections in states, actually knows who Tom DeLay is (go figure), etc., tried to be the star of the show. We went from discussing all of the things that are impacted by the laws passed by people we elect, to going through the voter file for our small town to see if their parents were registered to vote. Their homework: Make sure their parents vote, and go with them, if possible.

I couldn't help but think, though, about what a disconnect there is between the classroom democracy taught to our kids and the real world democracy practiced by consultants, fundraisers, lobbyists, and power-seekers. Leaving, I also couldn't help but wonder if any of those kids in Benjamin's class would ever be turned on to politics enough to run for office someday. If so, they'd better make their next birthday party a fundraiser.

I'm only half joking. Who can run major office today? This election wil cost an estimated $2.6 billion. It costs between $1 and 2 million for  a challenger to stand a chance. Most have to spend more. It's out of control, and now, out of reach for far too many qualified Americans who see public service as a calling rather an avenue to riches by cashing-in at the end of their time in office. If you spend any time in our public schools, you are immediately confronted with the need for qualified political leaders willing to invest in what's right (education) versus what's wrong (the war in Iraq). But our political system doesn't always pick the best leaders. It generally picks the best fundraisers though. How much overlap is there?

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Candidates hate it. Voters, too. So why can't we fix it?

I'm talking about the special interest money-drenched campaign finance system, which seems to act like a corruption-magnet, while shutting people and good candidates out.

Today's Washington Post story points out that this election is characterized by an unusually large number of races with corruption or personal scandals - perhaps as many as 15 races, according to the story. Fifteen is the Democrats magic number. If you're a Republican, I guess you could say that at least the corruption story has been localized. Isn't that what Tom Reynolds - who running in one of those 15 races impacted by scandal - wanted? Races to be determined not by the news of a corrupt Washington, but 435 individualized elections?

For more than a year, Democrats have tried to gain political advantage from what they called "a culture of corruption" in Republican-controlled Washington. Republican campaign officials insist the theme has not caught on with the public, but even they concede that many individual races have been hit hard.

Though it is clear that the war in Iraq is the dominant nationalized issue of the election, I do think there's a larger theme at work here that invokes the corruption at a national level: this Republican Congress is not listening to the people - they are out of touch, too cozy in Washington, and are stuck defending the status quo mess of their own making. So far, the Democrats have succeeded campaigning on change - change the course in Iraq and change politics-as-usual in Washington.

Should the Congress change hands in January, the Democratic leadership has promised to pass ethics and lobbying reform in the very first 100 hours of running the House to break the nexus of lobbying and lawmaking, in their words. The policy they're suggesting at this point -- Pelosi has pointed to a mixture of lobbying and ethics reforms -- are fine on the surface but don't go to the root of the problem: the pay-to-play, privately-financed campaign finance system that privileges those with money over those with ideas.

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Sweeping Political Reform Measure Gains Strength in California

Isn't it time to get big money out of politics?

Prop. 89, on California's November ballot, would accomplish just that.  It restricts political contributions by corporations, unions, and special interests, and sets up a system of public financing so candidates can give up fundraising altogether.

The campaign got a major boost yesterday when Phil Angelides--the Democratic candidate for Governor--strongly endorsed the initiative, saying,

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California Nurses Kick Off Clean Money Campaign at Cheney Corporate Fundraiser

Does the culture of corruption have a cure?  

California's nurses think so.  

This week, nurses are in the process of turning in 600,000 signatures to registrars around the state to qualify an initiative for "Clean Money Elections," also known as public financing of elections.  Think of it as the Jack Abramoff anti-dote, or as the comprehensive campaign finance reform that voters are desperately looking for.  You can read about it here and here.

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Pro-Business Liberalism

This is a critical point. The Democratic Party is the party of business. The Republican Party is the party of corporate theocrats. - Matt

Too many liberals are reluctant to embrace the pro-business label. Meanwhile, the DLC Joe Lieberman types are really corporatists who claim to be pro-business. This contradiction places the Democratic Party in a hole because our political dialogue doesn't distinguish between those who are pro-business and corporatist. The distinction is important because the corporatist Republican Party has benefited from the perception that they are the pro-business party and the modest risk-taking entrepreneur has supported them against their own interests. Meanwhile, the Democrats are enduring the worst perceptions among voters from both wings of their party: liberals reluctance to identify with pro-business policies makes the party appear in favor of handouts while the DLC reinforces the suspicion among voters that the Democrats are just as corporatist as the Republicans. It's an odd contradiction and a rare feat of political ineptitude: the two wings of the party have managed to make Democrats appear socialist and corporatist at the same time.

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