News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
Big Picture

O’Rourke opens with generic call for ‘fixing our democracy’

Beto O'Rourke put a passionate if totally undefined call for fixing democracy at the center of his presidential announcement today.

"The challenges that we face right now – the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate – have never been greater, and they will either consume us or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America," the former Democratic congressman from El Paso declared in his announcement video. "In other words, this moment of peril produces perhaps the greatest moment of promise for this country."


O'Rourke went on to tick off an expansive roster of topics he would address as president including job creation, access to medical care, immigration, criminal justice reform, the rural economy and climate change. But, he said before enumerating those challenges, "We can begin by fixing our democracy and ensuring that our government works for everyone and not just for corporations."

He did not say anything more specific – about campaign finance, partisan gerrymandering, access to the polls, voting rights, ranked-choice voting, government ethics or any other topic in the "democracy reform" playbook.

Presumably, his agenda would include legislation designed to reduce the influence of money in politics, reflecting his Senate campaign in Texas last year. He came surprisingly close to unseating Republican Ted Cruz after cultivating a celebrity brand rooted in a decision to forgo donations from political action committees – and instead cultivating an ocean of small-dollar donors across the country and shattering fundraising records with almost $80 million in mostly lesser amounts.

With his announcement, though, O'Rourke is positioning himself as the most prominent White House aspirant so far – at least from the party's center-left wing – to make the challenges facing our democracy a campaign focus. Further to his left, of course, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont put criticisms of big-money politics at the heart of his 2106 quest and is starting to do so again.

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Big Picture
True
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

During his State of the Union address this year, President Trump said he would stonewall the legislative process if members of Congress don't play ball, writes Neal.

A year of broken standards for America’s democracy

Neal is federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.

The term "democratic norms" has become a misnomer over the last year. America's governing institutions are undermined by elected officials who dishonor their offices and each other. Standards of behavior and "normal" processes of governance seem to be relics of a simpler time. Our democracy has survived thus far, but the wounds are many.

Free speech and free press have been the White House's two consistent whipping posts. Comments such as "I think it is embarrassing for the country to allow protestors" and constant attacks on press credibility showcase President Trump's disdain for the pillars of democracy. Traditional interactions between the administration and the press are no longer taken for granted. Demeaning, toxic criticisms have become so common that they're being ignored. As the administration revokes critics' press passes and daily briefings are canceled, normalcy in this arena is sorely missed.

Keep reading... Show less
Register2Vote

The founders of Register2Vote, Madeline Eden and Jeremy Smith, preparing registration information for mailing in Texas last year.

After successful Texas debut, tech-based voter registration platform goes national

Having had remarkable success at signing people up to vote in Texas last year, an Austin group of activists is expanding its pilot program into a full-blown national effort to overcome the sometimes ignored first hurdle for people in the voting process — registration.

"There are millions of voters who are registered who don't get out to vote," said Christopher Jasinski, director of partnerships for Register2Vote. "But the unmeasured part of the pie is the actual number of unregistered voters."

Keep reading... Show less