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Why Government Needs to Go "Back to the Future"

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We must get back to a politics that serves the people in order to save the future of our country. That's why I decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives as an independent, citizen-funded candidate in this year's election, and that's why I am embarking upon a 15-county "Back to the Future" tour through Pennsylvania's 10th district in a 1981 DeLorean.

At 25, I have not been able to see what national politics looks like when it actually works. Like many others in my generation, I've come of age in an era of government dysfunction, marked by an aging Congress that only grows more partisan and more dominated by special interests with time. But I know it has not always been like this.

Thirty-two years ago, for example, there were 344 members of the U.S. House on the political spectrum between the most conservative Democrat and most liberal Republican; the average cost of a winning Congressional campaign was $626,000 (adjusted for inflation); and 677 bills in the Congress became law. Over the last three decades later, however, the political center has disappeared, deep-pocketed interests have usurped our democratic process, and legislative activity has nearly come to a halt.

Now, only 18 members comprise the ideological middle ground in Congress; the cost of a winning campaign has skyrocketed 150% to over $1.5 million; and the 113th Congress has passed just 121 bills into law, putting it on track to be the least productive in modern times. Meanwhile, the latest Gallup poll found a historic low level of confidence in Congress, at just seven percent. Most Americans now believe, for the first time in our history, that today's young people will inherit a lower standard of living than previous generations.

In the face of large, known and growing sustainability challenges -- from increasing national debt to rising carbon emissions -- our government is failing the people and our future. A political system that once was able to muster bipartisan majorities to enact Social Security, pass civil rights legislation, establish the Interstate Highway System, reform welfare and balance the budget can no longer grapple with any major national challenge or opportunity.

Without a functioning government, how will our country be able to flourish in the future? When the status quo of economic, environmental, educational, and energy policy in America is no longer serving us and is weakening our competitive position in the world, how can we break the gridlock and special interest corruption in Washington?

To fix our politics, we must first reconnect with what once animated national governance: a process that is based on conciliation rather than conflict, representation that is focused on the people rather than the parties or the campaign contributors, and leadership that is rooted in public service rather than self-preservation. This may require systemic political and electoral reforms to change the modern incentives of elected leaders, such as primary election, redistricting and campaign finance reform.

We must then reimagine politics for the 21st century, including: crafting a new political program that transcends both parties' hardened dogmas, where government is viewed as a platform, rather than as a panacea or as the problem; leveraging technology to bring more people into the political process in a more meaningful way; and reforming our centralized, hierarchical institutions and bureaucracies to put citizens at their center.

As my late mentor Doug Bailey used to say, "America's secret sauce is that our Constitution provides the stability and the people provide the change." We have been gifted a unique system of self-government in our country, but we must not forget that it is not self-perpetuating. Our republic's continued success requires keeping in touch with the values it was founded on, while simultaneously adapting to new times, challenges and opportunities.

As I drive around the 10th District of Pennsylvania this month, I aim to offer the people a chance to get back to what once made our country great and build upon this legacy, so that we can pass a better future on to the next generation.