Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Could we do worse if we had a public service lottery?

Imagine no more congressional elections. No more donations to cover campaign expenditures and buy congressional votes. No more whining and name calling; no more oversimplified debates calibrated for the lowest common denominator.

Instead, a national lottery would select, district by district, citizens obligated to serve in the House for two years and in the Senate for six. This would be a service combining elements of jury duty and the military draft.

If you got picked, it would be mandatory to serve. Barring serious illness or distress, you would have to leave your job and take on the work of the congressional seat for which you were selected.

Citizen lawmakers would be paid the same salary they were making before being selected, with cost of living adjustments. They and their families would be housed at public expense, like the military, while in Washington. There would also be a fund for travel home and expenses of office. There would be no gain, and their should be no loss.

Their obligation would be to study the issues before the nation, propose solutions and vote, the same as members of Congress today. They could pick and hire advisers, just like members of Congress today.

Sure, there would be some crazy ideas (aren't there many today?). Yet if we couldn't trust 500 or so citizens chosen at random to collectively come up with something more or less workable, then forget the idea of democracy. Yes, democracy, because representatives of the people would be in charge, with fewer blandishments and pressures than they face today.

Given the fact that Congress has been essentially a club of primarily white, male millionaires from the very beginning, this would be a significant step toward democratization. A Congress of people like you and me, chosen at random.

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