THE BLOG
11/12/2012 10:13 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Reflections on Elections

OK, that was fun, in a perverted way. But for all the billions raised and spent -- for all the supercilious TV spots spinning their little hearts out -- where did we end up?

Right back where we started.

And divided we stand, still.

Well, at least we still stand. Sorta.

So what to do?

First, consider the obvious.

Recognizing the reality of the current political zeitgeist, President Obama will not likely propose any of the ten or so mega-transformational policies the country desperately needs to address its many, growing, metastasizing, and potentially lethal problems. The still Republican-controlled House will still try to block the most substantive elements of the president's agenda. The still Democrat-controlled Senate will pooh pooh but remain feckless.

We're number one!

There is an answer, though, but nobody dare say its name, as it garners no votes or ratings.

I speak of you -- and me -- and all of us colloquially known as The People. No, no, no. This is not yet another in a long line of day-dreamy calls for us to "come together" -- or for our dear leaders to somehow magically unite us rather than divide us. Rhetoric like that is not only meaningless mush, but even as an idealized goal, it's utterly wrongheaded.

We are a collection of individuals whose political views are based on values, both of which are shaped by innumerable forces, some well-informed, some not, some rational, some not. But nearly always in conflict with one another, to one degree or another.

So, when I say we-the-peeps are the answer, I'm not suggesting some mythical paradise where we all share the same views and values. I speak of a new kind of citizen. A Serious Citizen.

One who acknowledges we're a nation united by certain ideals, but divided on how to interpret them. Always have been, always will be. And those interpretations, and the philosophies and values they're based on (consciously or not), lead us to perpetual disagreement over how to best define and achieve our goals.

At the same time, however, Serious Citizens also recognize that the status quo is killing us, and that's not a very good plan. So we need to try something new. But what?

We consider ourselves responsible citizens. We try to stay informed on the issues. We vote at every opportunity. Even volunteer now and then. But it's not enough. We feel stymied, frustrated that there's no truly effective way to have our say in the political decision-making process that affects all our lives.

And we're wrong.

Enter Citizen Deliberation Forums. They come in many shapes and sizes, and have many different names, but they all share certain fundamentals. These are not typical town hall meetings, led by politicians, allowing citizens a moment at the mic to ask a question. These are citizen-driven forums -- assisted by trained facilitators -- that enable diverse, demographically-representative members of a community to deliberate with each other on ways to address tough issues.

These forums can and often do lead -- as has been proven in thousands of test cases -- to super-majority consensus across political divides. Done right, policy proposals emerge that elected officials ignore at their own peril.

Scale them up so they're running continuously in every community in the country, and we'd finally have the antidote to our polarized, paralyzed, politics-as-usual. It would be participatory democracy writ large. And the only solution to a top-down political system that is broken beyond repair.

Let me repeat. There is zero chance the political system can fix itself. It is too far gone. So we either bury our heads in the sand, and hope for the best (while betraying our children's future), or we seize the very real opportunity at hand to express our seriousness.

If you've never heard of citizen deliberation forums, don't worry. No one else has either. Like I said, it doesn't bleed, so it doesn't lead. But you can start learning about it here.

We will always disagree about everything in an un-reflective, non-deliberated frame of mind. The key is to move beyond our psychological default positions. Fortunately, citizen deliberation forums are a field-tested, ready-to-deploy method for helping us do just that.

And do it without screaming. Or street theater. Or spending money we don't have. Or inviting not-so-special interests to corrupt the whole damn thing all over again.

This is the only way we can move beyond the knee jerk. The only way to transcend political divides. Not permanently on all things. But on issue after issue. And in so doing, provide our elected representatives with supermajority mandates to do the people's business, or find a new line of work.

Just think about the possibilities. Millions of Americans, taking self-governance seriously, utilizing highly effective tools and processes to develop real public wisdom, and ensure its political embrace by exercising the kind of authentic people power that naturally flows from this form of citizen-driven deliberative democracy.

Sure, it's a little starry-eyed. But it is achievable. It better be. Cause nothing else can fix what ails us politically. Nothing.

So dream on if you think the election will produce anything remotely close to the kind of action this country and our communities, and the people who live in them, need to survive and thrive in the future. Let alone our kids and grandkids. And theirs.

Now that the election is in the rear view, before we all go back to sleep until it's time for the next anti-reality show, consider giving some expanded thought to our role in this thing called democracy.

We built it. We knocked it down. We can build it up again.

We must.

Seriously.

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