Is Democracy working? What is governance? More specifically, what is good governance? How do we draft public policy for the greater good? How does being a progressive impact governance and public policy? Is conservative policy good for society? Is progressive policy? Has money for influence corrupted our system and destroyed how we govern? What is the interaction between Federal, State and Local public policy?
This is the first in a series of essays which will explore these and other ideas; this first essay attempts to define governance and public policy to create a common basis for an exploration and a blueprint for the success of democratic society.
Included in this essay are my original notes & illustrations.
The basis of American democracy is our Constitution, and it is with this vision of a more perfect union that we all agree to recognize certain inalienable rights. This is the basis for the laws, government, institutions and judicial system of the United States. The Constitution names these inalienable rights as Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of happiness.
What do these inalienable rights mean in the context of public policy and governance? How exactly do Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness interact with public policy to create a more stable society for all? Conversely, what are the policies that destabilize society?
Public policies are the guiding principles we create, agree to, and enact, and are the lever we use to create stability in our society. Governance is the manner by which we organize and implement these guiding principles and includes norms of behavior we adhere to for the common good. Together these are the basis of the common agreements we have made to each other to live in a civil democratic society.
Our founders were very clear that the basis for our agreements, while imperfect, were necessary for the success of this great experiment in self-rule.
Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness therefore must be the basis of every policy, ordinance and piece of legislation we enact, as well as every budget we pass in order for us to be successful as a society.
Elected officials need to pause and consider these before every vote and ask the questions, does what we are about to do uphold our guiding principles and will it move us forward in creating a more perfect union?
These foundational principles are not only guidelines, they offer us a clear blueprint for creating a stable environment where good governance can flourish.
The interaction between governance and public policy is often overlooked. We need to be aware of how the intent and impact of a policy can be corrupted and how influence by money in politics has been the catalyst to the unraveling of our common good and is in fact anti-ethical to good governance.
From public education to environmental protections our inalienable rights are being trampled and destroyed by an ideology that contradicts our basic principles of democracy, not to mention common decency, ethics and logic. While money and wealth creation are fundamental to our economy, there is little doubt that money for influence has corrupted our politics and done real harm to our democratic society.
We need to remember that these United States were the first time a nation was to be governed for, by and of the people. Individuals would not be tethered to a class. Wealth would be created, not just inherited. We cannot underestimate the importance of this principle to the concept and success of self-governance. It is very likely impossible to have one without the other. But does this mean money for influence in government is inevitable, and if so, is corruption in and of government also inevitable?
To answer this let’s go back to the Constitution and the inalienable rights: Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness, which, after all, are the building blocks on which we rely to create stability, security and opportunity, i.e. economy, which is the mechanism by which democratic society operates.
What are the root causes of economic stability? If we believe they are the three inalienable rights, we can define them to create a simple paradigm that will provide us with a basic equation of what good governance and public policy need to accomplish to be successful:
- Life = environment
- Liberty = equality
- Pursuit of Happiness = education
The establishment of strong guidelines and public policy to ensure protection of our environment, equality and education system are therefore necessary in order to provide a stable and strong economy. Or if we want to represent as an equation:
life + liberty + pursuit of happiness = successful democratic society
environment + equality + education = economic stability
So why are we allowing the destruction of our inalienable rights? And is it inevitable that the creation of wealth leads to poor governance?
It seems that a country founded by rabble-rousing community organizers and based on the idea that all men are created equal would be able to protect our rights without allowing erosion of our democracy. Why aren’t we?
The Art of Democratic Society
The method we use to create and maintain our society is governance. And if we want to be successful, we need to define and agree upon the principles of good governance. Back to those inalienable rights. Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Environment, equality and education. This is where we start.
What are the barriers to success? What does bad governance look like? For starters, the antithesis of good governance is pay to play politics. We will not be successful if we continue with status quo establishment paid for by special interest money for influence and questionable fundraising and tactics. It is time to stop the money-go-round and elect ethical leaders who will move forward with bold ideas to build a successful democratic society for all, committed to diversity, transparency and inclusive practices.
Let’s also be clear, we don’t need to decide if we need more welders or more philosophers. That is a false equivalency. We need both. We have always been a nation of farmers, artisans, trades men and women, teachers, doctors and yes, philosophers. The men who wrote our Constitution were certainly inclusive of all these traits, even if devoid of gender or race-based diversity. Do we doubt that Franklin, Jefferson, Washington or the others were both learned as well as skilled? Do you think they had to sit for some standardized test before they were permitted to devise our democracy?
We aren’t all one thing and none of the other. We can be both intellectual and mechanically inclined. We can be multi-faceted and insist our government reflect our values. And we can expect an evolution of inclusivity as well. How we govern is that reflection.
Right now, it isn’t a very flattering reflection is it? How did we get here? How is it we now have a regime in power that thinks putting children in cages is okay and both parties seem to think money is more important than issues and buying elections is acceptable? We can look at one example of where governance has been failing us, public education.
Governance has been used by those who want to privatize everything to dismantle public education. The dark money shadow groups that don’t believe in public good, only private profit. For decades they have been working to ensure they launder our public money into private profit.
And the last vast pile of money they haven’t been able to touch is local property taxes. Why? Because local control of public schools and local taxing authority by school districts kept this money out of their reach. Your taxes go directly to your local public school. The money-go-round hasn’t been able to divert these funds to be laundered, at least not totally.
When the far-right conservatives could not dismantle public education outright, they resorted to backdoor dark money solutions. From for-profit charters to privatization, standardized testing and outsourcing, the “free market” conservatives have been trying to destroy public education in order to pilfer local property taxes and gift those funds to private corporations, for-profit companies, donors and special interest funders, for example the for-profit charter school companies and education management companies.
When that failed, they cut funding and forced massive unfunded mandates onto local schools which caused property tax increases, creating the false narrative that teachers and education are the problem when in fact the problem is the unfunded mandates.
This is a clear example of where basic principles of governance based on our inalienable rights would lead to public policy in the public interest when we have bold progressive leaders with political courage and conviction. It also shows why we need ethical leaders. In addition to protecting our children local leaders can protect our environment, promote public education and promote equality.
More on those in the next installment of “On Democracy”. Stay tuned and get ready, we are going to do great things.
We are the problem. We are also the solution.
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