If you don’t like the system, change it.
And so they did in California. Last Tuesday, California’s voters (by a wide margin) approved Proposition 14 that will replace traditional Party Primaries with a wide-open election. The top two vote getters from that election will face off in the general election.
Clearly many Americans are fed up with partisan politics. A feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness colors political discourse in society as citizens view with frustration the lack of productive collaboration occurring in the halls of government: America held hostage by its own political systems. Yet while our historical systems have muted the will of the people, those same systems have always been pregnant with the solution. Our political system has, from inception, empowered the people to make changes through elections. We the people have always been the holders of the power. Our failure to use that power has inadvertently transferred practical power to politicians but citizens still wield the hammer.
A victim-mentality has taken root in the American psyche. We have forgotten (or, more accurately in this generation, never known) that the American system of governance depends on an involved electorate. I’ve grown weary of the whining and complaining that constitutes our political activity vice action or initiative, so I was understandably euphoric to see that California voters have thrown off their shackles and exercised the power they have always held.
If you don’t like the system change it.
Proposition 14 isn’t likely to have a large immediate impact. Primary voters are usually passionate, very involved citizens with strong allegiance to a Party or an issue. Increasing the number of choices and creating a realistic path forward for independent candidates isn’t likely to generate greater voter turnout. Name recognition is as important as anything else in a primary and nothing presupposes name recognition like being an incumbent or having a party’s endorsement. In the absence of Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt running for office without party affiliation, there may be few independents reaching the November run-off.
But that isn’t the point. Prop 14 demonstrates that Americans want change; that Americans will vote for change; and that the latent power of the people can be awakened. That is a source of optimism for me and should be a harbinger of shifting attitudes to politicians at large.
Our forefathers knew they had not created a perfect system. But what draws it nearer to perfection is that with such knowledge they installed evolutionary mechanisms to ensure that citizens could bend the American political system to the needs of the people at any given time. The loudest voice was given to the collective mouths of America’s voters and it resides there yet today.
There are likely to be many unintended and unanticipated consequences of Prop 14 (some of which may be good, it should be noted) but I’m proud to see that California’s eschewed the fear of the unknown in an effort to address that which they are certain is a problem. Progress can only come through constant efforts to improve. Those efforts, though, come with the risk of failure. But when we freely acknowledge that the status quo is insufficient then we have no choice but to accept those risks.
California has demonstrated its willingness to be a part of the solution rather than perpetuating the problem. I hope this is but the sleeping giant’s first yawn and wakeful stretch of a very active period.