Blaine: A possible solution to America’s broken political system

Wesley Blaine, Op-Ed Contributor

My cousin picked me up from the airport and immediately started talking politics. He does not like Donald Trump but dislikes the candidates that are running against him.

I was hesitant to wade into this political tsunami. I am a moderate who wants to someday live in a purple country. I envision a day when Democrats and Republicans can work together for the betterment of everyone. Until that day comes, I feel inspired to help.

For instance, I know the psychological toll our political system puts on us, so I volunteer at a suicide intervention hotline. Callers routinely tell me that our current political climate makes them angry, anxious and even suicidal. Answering the phone, we recommend coping strategies like setting limits on news consumption or avoiding news all together.

Why can’t we participate in our political system without feeling like one side is always winning while the other side is losing? Why can’t our system work for everyone, all of the time? I believe it can improve with structural changes at the federal level.

For starters, we need mandatory term limits in Congress. As it stands now, someone can camp out in Congress for life. This enables senators and representatives to fight with the other side, get nothing done and then complain to their constituents that ‘the other side’ is the problem.

A term limit is a deadline, and a deadline is a powerful psychological device that elicits action. As a writer, if I did not have an editor giving me a deadline, I would waste my time playing Xbox, throwing a Nerf football with my son or endlessly flipping through Google News. Similarly, congressional term limits would encourage Congress to work together to achieve goals that help the majority of Americans. Or not. If they chose to fight, bicker and do nothing for eight years, then their empty legacy would reflect that.

I also believe that we need to leverage congressional salaries to incentivize legislative progress. Right now, the average person in Congress is paid $174,000 a year. They get this money whether they do their job or not. What if everyone in Congress earned a base salary of $80,000? And what if there were financial incentives in place if they hit certain objectives? One objective would be balancing the budget. If Congress balances the budget, everyone gets a $30,000 bonus. Another objective would be showing up to vote. If they vote 75 percent of the time, they get a $5,000 bonus. If they vote 100 percent of the time, they get a $20,000 bonus.

Incentivized pay is commonplace in the private sector because it works. Human nature moves toward what pays the most. Both salesmen and CEOs know this. Business owners know this when they pay their staff a bonus based on key performance objectives.

These objectives could be set, and monitored, by an independent and anonymous committee that could function like the anonymous committee that monitors the Kentucky Derby. This would ensure that the rules are being followed without any risk of bribes or financial contributions.

What if we also abolished the political party system? This would be difficult and take a lot of change. Change is hard but necessary because our current system is broken. A system that serves the party in power while neglecting everyone else is not what our Founding Fathers envisioned for us.

Labels and stereotypes are also unhealthy and psychologically damaging. Yet the political party system is a label that includes multiple stereotypes. Democrats are stubborn donkeys. Republicans are unchanging elephants. Democrats are atheists. Republicans are religious zealots. Democrats burn the flag. Republicans salute it. These labels and stereotypes are unfair, unhealthy and create tension and dissension among us.

Labeling a candidate as a Republican or a Democrat forces us to take a side. This is driving us apart as a nation instead of bringing us together. It’s a wedge when what we need is a bridge. I see this as proof that we have become The Divided States of America instead of The United States of America.

If we abolished the political party system, it would force candidates to run based on their beliefs and ideas instead of a party label that comes with stereotypes. It would also force constituents to understand what each candidate stands for instead of making a voting decision based on whether a candidate is a donkey or an elephant.

I realize that my ideas contain flaws. I encourage you to add to what I’ve put forth, with the goal of creating a political system that serves everyone, all the time.

Wesley Blaine is a graduate student at Northwestern. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.