THE BLOG

Can a Fresh Generation of Legislators Change Congress?

03/18/2015 05:15 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015
Tetra Images - Henryk Sadura via Getty Images

"American Democracy is doomed," wrote Matthew Yglesias in a provocative essay recently.

He wrote:

"Rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right. Maybe Bush and Obama are dangerously exceeding norms of executive authority. Maybe legislative compromise really has broken down in an alarming way. And maybe the reason these complaints persist across different administrations and congresses led by members of different parties is that American politics is breaking down."

Yglesias' essay made waves, capturing the attention of columnists across the country, including Ezra Klein, Ed Kilgore, Jonathan Chait, Ross Douthat, and Dylan Matthews.

Each had a different take about how American democracy had broken down, whether we could expect a crisis, and how our institutions would change to correct for increasing partisan gridlock and polarization. Unlike Yglesias, most of the pundits who responded conjectured that we would continue to see a politics of gridlock and an ever-strengthening executive. Ezra Klein posited that we will just muddle through. Ed Kilgore explained why our system -- not Britains -- best fits Winston Churchill's adage: American "democ­racy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment, except for all the oth­ers."

They seem to suggest two visions for fixing our broken system. We could continue to have an ineffectual Congress where gridlock not only prevents Congress from passing laws but it also prevents it from checking a powerful President. This would lead to a massive expansion of Presidential powers. Alternatively, as Chait suggests, a new politics of the left driven by demographic changes will defeat conservatives at the polls at every level... starting around 2030.

A future where Congress can neither check the president nor enact policy is unacceptable.

Yet his conversation about the doom of American democracy offers little hope for anything but "muddle," a stronger President, and a weaker Congress. Chait comes closest to addressing the role that new generational ideologies will play in reshaping government by suggesting that demographic changes might defeat the far right. He may be right, but a lot can change in 20 years. And Klein at least addressed the fact that people were unlikely to force the system to change. "True the American public hates Congress. But they've shown little interest in fundamentally changing it. Instead, they've tuned it out," wrote Klein.

Indeed, it is hard to argue with Klein. Efforts to fundamentally change the system have failed to offer a path to victory, a vision for what principled bipartisan collaboration could look like, and importantly leaders who can champion that vision. These campaigns have mostly been aimed at improving discussion and dialogue or the quixotic task of drafting a third presidential ticket. That all changes with Run for America. Run for America is a new citizens-powered initiative aimed at collapsing the barriers that prevent innovative, future-focused, and solutions-oriented candidates from running for office.

At the same time as pundits prophesied doom and drew blanks when looking for a solution, Run for America listed all 435 House of Representative seats as open jobs on LinkedIn, offering powerful reminder that these positions belong to the people not the parties.

RFA seeks nominations for the most inspiring leaders in every community from veterans to educators, entrepreneurs to social innovators, and scientists to civic leaders. And energy is building. In a week, more than 450 hundred people have been nominated. Hundreds of RFA supporters are working to draft candidates, boost civic engagement, and organize their communities. By joining forces with Common Sense Action to create Run for America Action, RFA now has an active presence on 40 campuses in 20 states.

By fall 2016, Run for America will have recruited, trained, and worked to elect a slate of 12 candidates -Democrats, Republicans and Independents. These candidates will remain principled in their political ideologies but will formulate and commit to action on a joint policy platform on the great employment, budgetary, and environmental challenges of our day before launching their campaigns. This is critical -- for our democracy must be a means to debate and ultimately solve our nation's greatest challenges.

With dynamic candidates from all backgrounds and cutting-edge campaigns focused on winnable elections, RFA offers the best chance to expand the electorate and bring principled yet collaborative leadership back to Washington.