Dear Secretary Clinton,
I have grown up with you as my First Lady, and as a New Yorker and NYS voter I was proud that you were my Senator and Secretary of State. As an upstater, in particular, I am grateful to the care and listening you did there during the Binghamton floods when I was a grad student, and in support of developments like the Wild Center in my home town of Tupper Lake, NY. I have seen first hand your attention to detail and your concern for common Americans. The thing is that I am not sure this kind of caring is what the electorate wants or needs from its leader right now.
As a Professor of Political Science and patriot, I wonder if you fully appreciate how broken our system and political culture are both in fact and in the minds of Americans. Do you appreciate how long a process it has been – since the political turmoil in the late 1960’s, culminating with Watergate- to get here. American democracy, for many Americans, has lost its vigor and its promise. It’s been under strain for some time.
Americans are turning to more extreme and uncompromising policy positions like Libertarianism or the Greens in desperation. But, the frustrations that Americans have with the political status quo find their origins beyond policy. They go beyond Americans not ‘getting what they want out of government’. Even suggesting this implies the deeply consumerist view of politics that is a major part of the problem, and that I – with relief – saw being repudiated somewhat by the rhetoric of the speeches at the Democratic National Convention with its appeal to civic republican approaches to citizenship – particularly in the President’s speech and yours.
Now, I think it is fair to say that when speaking of Trump, our very Republic is in danger along with the prosperity and stability of the world at large. However, win-or-lose the possibility that a Trump got this far is telling. This is bigger than you, me, or the Democratic party. This election is about love of country and a national crisis.
You have an opportunity to break with the reputation of many as a party hack, a system politician, and someone a little too concerned with your own political survival than principle or those you serve. At this point the truth of these perceptions is immaterial; not with Trump bearing down on our way of life. But, this political weakness can inspire strength. As Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” The very weakness you have as a candidate may just make you the perfect person to fix our fragmenting republic. Only Nixon could go to China, and only Hillary Clinton can reform our politics.
You have the opportunity to be a transformational President that – even if you are only able to serve one term – would go down in history for so much more than the symmetry of your chromosomes, being the spouse of a former President, and the end to a career of a caring and effective public servant with impressive policy chops. I am thinking more like a Lincoln, or an FDR than a ‘change maker’ with some effective programs.
I urge you to think big, and consider doing something deeply revolutionary, good, and popular. I would like to urge you to consider making central to your campaign through November into the first 100 days a sea change in American politics and to make this truly a campaign not for Hillary Rodham Clinton, not for the Democratic Party, not for a basket of policy plans, but for a rejuvenation of American democracy and a controlled reorientation towards the world. In short, I urge you to give our Republic back to its people.
Specifically, ask you to consider series of other measures to transform American politics to be the primary focus of your first 100 days.
- Repeal the 1929 Permanent Reapportionment Act fixing the size of the House of Representatives to the same size it was in the 1910’s and commission a expansion or supplement to the U.S. Capital in the form of a U.S. Forum building to house a much larger House of Representatives. Such a House would permit more ‘average Americans’ to campaign for and win seats, as well as lowering the cost to alternative parties competing to enter Congress. Together this will bring new ideas and new pressure on the major parties as was the case in our early history largely before the House became fixed in size.
- Advocate a “Right to Political Participation and Competition Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution which would consist of
- A clause setting a federal standard for voting eligibility in elections for federal offices so that felons that have served their time, those without IDs of a particular type, or any of the myriad of other qualifications do not experience different standards of citizenship between the states with regard to federal elections while opening up opportunities for machinations by state party organizations.
- A clause explicitly guaranteeing and defining the right to a reasonably accessible polling place in elections for federal office (Congressional seats and the U.S. Presidency).
- A clause declaring election day and the Monday prior to it a strictly observed national holiday for all non-essential employees. A long weekend reserved for serious reflection and citizen involvement in non-economic purely citizenship oriented activities.
- A clause setting a federal standard for the apportionment of districts every 10 years using non-partisan commissions. At the hands of the major parties, state legislatures have abused the power and have vandalized the U.S. constitution following the Supreme Court’s decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer. Rather than the lower house being responsive to short-run concerns and popular enthusiasm, it’s composition is now determined every 10 years. With a turn-over of the Senate happening only every 6 years, this makes the U.S. Presidency the most salient office in the land for the average voter. It is also the least accessible. Not only is this counter to the founding design of the framers, it is dangerous and corrosive to our democracy. The current Democratic Party plan to simply counter the GOP RedMap project with a counter BlueMap project simply fuels further cynicism in our process unnecessarily.
- A clause setting a far lower federal standard for ballot access for alternative political parties for federal offices (Congressional Seats and the U.S Presidency).
- A clause prohibiting the public funding of private party organizations’ nomination procedures. Political parties are and should remain private civic organizations. They should not have their internal elections paid for with public money. Moreover, fusing party organization with the constitutional apparatus is more a property of Marxist-Leninist constitutional theory than the Liberal Republican theory under-girding our Republic.
- A clause committing the House of Representatives to have a number of seats determined by the cube root of the national population (rounding up to the next odd number)
- A clause that would invalidate the ruling of Citizens United and set a maximum amount that individuals may contribute to a candidate or party organization annually.
- Promise to establish new constraints the American President’s capacity to use force abroad without consent of Congress – and particularly the use of drones.
- Promote and Support the American Anti-Corruption Act.
You are a well-trained lawyer, so I trust you realize that voting eligibility, rules on apportionment, and ballot access rules are currently set in the states. To make your commitment to this goal more powerful you should publicly and privately use your substantial party resources and networks to both incentivize and persuade state-level Democrats to pursue the same goals at the state level.
In support of your constitutional reforms you might reach out to 3rd party leadership to join you in this campaign and persuade their membership to throw their votes to you in this election. Together, this plus top-to-bottom mobilization of the Democratic Party to actually save and enhance American democracy would publicly commit you to work as hard as only you can to realize this constitutional amendment and it would go some way to convince a jaded electorate that you are serious and unable to renege – thus obviating the trust issue.
Now there are a number of obvious objections to this, the foremost among them being that these measures will substantially weaken the duopolistic control of the political system by the Democratic Party and the GOP. So, why do I think it is important to your interest and that of the country’s for you to consider my advice?
Firstly, simply the election of Donald J. Trump, to say nothing of his actual governance, will destabilize global markets and international stability that will make the reaction to the Brexit vote look like a minor ripple. Losing this election is not possible. Go big, or we all may be stuck at home for a long time.
Secondly, the primary motivation for voters to vote for third parties as spoilers in Presidential elections is that by voting for a third party they believe they can help to create ‘traction’ to have a real alternative in the following election year(s). All these parties have planks in their platforms about opening up political competition. They hold out the long-term promise of a more open system.
You can be the person to give them what they want: A promise that these alternatives will have far greater ability to challenge and compete at the state, local, and Congressional level (and perhaps even the Presidential level – though you and I both know that this is unlikely). In short, rather than the hope of maybe in a few election cycles the American people can expect greater opportunity to participate and compete in our politics, you can promise it for the next election cycle, or at the latest the one following it.
Thirdly, you have a slate of wonderful proposals. I like many of them. I, and most Americans have little faith you can make them work in our current ossified system of government. Any plan you do use to circumvent Congress merely opens you up to charges of executive overreach and further drives the cynicism and desperation that is fuelling the current election cycle. Your proposals are traditional left Democratic planks. Your base supports them. But, even your base must have doubts after watching Obama fight and struggle to even get a centrist Supreme Court nominee a hearing. Look at it from the perspective of people that vote but don’t show up to rallies. Should they believe you?
I know. You are a “change maker”. But with a permanently gerrymandered House of Representatives you are asking Americans to elect you, and elect a majority Democratic Senate (since there is no hope for the House) so that they might get… a Supreme Court they like? Maybe some watered-down version of your policy plans? That is what you currently can credibly offer the American People compared to Trump offering large if unarticulated fundamental change? You must understand that our reliance on the Court to make progress is becoming seen as a sign that our democratic elected institutions cannot govern. How long do you think this can go on before a strongman dictator without regard for the separation of powers can win? Who will be harmed?
Fourth, pushing these proposals for your first 100 days demonstrates exactly how not out-of-touch you are with the current depth of crisis perceived by our polity and the role of your own party in it. By explicitly rising above partisan politics, indeed above the current party system entirely to perhaps weaken your party in the service of the American people you make it very difficult for anyone to charge you with being a self-serving machine politician again.
Fifth, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party simply cannot manage all the diversity of American political ideals and goals within themselves in a way that will not tear the Parties apart and leave the American people increasingly cynical. If current events haven’t made this plain to high ranking leaders like yourself, I do not know what will. The era of decentralized media has simply diversified the agenda and the narratives to too large a degree for the major parties to corral voters willingly into their coalitions. Major parties simply can’t control the narrative as they used to during the broadcast and print ages. Both parties would be healthier with legitimate and credible challenges at their margins. It would develop and allow to flourish new ideas that might be co-opted by the major parties, while not straining the ability of the party organization to facilitate governance. If a major party gets too far out of wack, it would allow them to be more easily replaced.
Sixth, and most importantly, I hope that it is obvious to you that our system of government is in crisis and this crisis has made America vulnerable to the threat of tyranny. At such a time country must come before party – totally before party. You must be prepared to sacrifice the entire party and your career for the well-being of future generations of Americans and the integrity of the global system which relies on American stability. Consider a GOP implosion. What will replace it? Are you advocating one-party rule until some group of individuals can resuscitate the carcass of the GOP? What if Trump (or the next Trump) is able to win simply because not viable alternatives could earn a reputation in Congress and in the States? Our party system must remain limited with a small number of parties, but it needs to be less ossified if it is to flex and move with the times. Before the second world war there were far more movements that fought their way to relevance as third parties in the House, and the States. It should be so again.
This election is bigger than you, the Democratic Party, or even the millions of uninsured, today’s hungry children, or any other group your proposals might help today. Being a national leader, as you know, is not only about helping those you can see and touch and listen to. Sometimes it means choices that are in the best interests of all of us and our descendants. You need to take a longer view. You are at the end of your career. What do you wish to be your legacy?
It isn’t enough to narrowly defeat Donald Trump as ‘the only competent choice’. He and his enablers must be electorally and spiritually crushed. You must be able to look Speaker Ryan in the face and have him know that opposing this agenda after he enabled a would-be dictator means he either cooperates or see his party destroyed after the next census in a popular rout. You must put a warning down for would be demagogues and for the world that is watching that the American people and its leadership are capable of resisting the winds of chaos, cynicism, and dictatorship currently buffeting the nations of the world.
That, Madam Secretary, involves going outside the standard parameters of politics of the past decades. Trump wants to take us someplace we have never been before. It will take a ‘establishment politician’ like yourself to lead the political revolution with any credibility, and with responsibility. It is my hope that you will consider this advice which I believe will enable you to lead in the tradition of those who have enabled us to be at our greatest.
My votes and wishes are with you and your candidacy,
Brandon C. Zicha, PhD.
PS: I use that picture on top because I could have been a doppelganger for Bill in this photo until my early 30’s!