Gridlock, inaction, inequality: is it any wonder that democracy seems an endangered species in the U.S. and elsewhere?
“Ordinary citizens have little or no influence on public policy,” write Page (Decision Making/Northwestern Univ.; Living with the Dragon: How the American Public Views the Rise of China, 2010, etc.) and Gilens (Politics/Princeton Univ.; Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America, 2012, etc.), “while affluent and wealthy Americans and organized interest groups—especially business groups—often get their way.” Thus, perhaps, ever it has been, but now in so pronounced and undisguised a way that those ordinary citizens are taking fewer and fewer steps to involve themselves in governance. In a wide-ranging survey filled with facts and figures that sometimes threaten to overwhelm the narrative, Page and Gilens examine methods by which to democratize institutions that have seemingly become hostile to democracy. For instance, “a constitutional amendment may be needed to accomplish one crucial reform: the regulation of money in politics.” If, they add, the Supreme Court does not see fit to undo Citizens United and other measures equating money with speech, such drastic action may be the only possible remedy in order to undo undemocratic judicial review. Other measures might include constitutional reform to apportion senators by population instead of merely two per state, which they characterize as “highly undemocratic,” and efforts to depolarize political parties, which are so divided, in part, because the system is structured to encourage that separation. On a more practical level, always with the argument that the solution to democratic problems is more democracy, the authors urge that senatorial filibusters “actually engage in debate”—and “germane” debate at that, so that simply not showing up or reading the phone book would no longer be winning stratagems.
On the dry side but with provocative suggestions for how to revive democratic practices through citizen action and institutional reform alike.