Improving the Democratic Process Begins at the Local Level

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Credit: Western Journalism

As in any diverse democracy, we are constantly confronted with disagreement and tough decisions on every level of governance. Anticipating the diversity of opinions, our Founding Fathers set in place the tools necessary to resolve conflict, aiming to give all members of society a voice in the political process.

The increasingly polarized nature of politics, however, is making it virtually impossible for our democratic process to function. Conflict resolution is no longer about solving problems, and has transformed into a game of winners and losers, pitting lawmakers against each other, not next to each other.

“We’ve created a political system where it makes no sense to talk to people across multiple perspectives,” argues Martin Carcasson, director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University in a recent San Diego seminar on What Kind of Talk Does Democracy Need. 

So, what’s the solution? It starts with democratic communication.

The Conversation We Should Be Having

While some issues are easily resolved, others involve competing underlying values, tradeoffs, and paradoxes that cannot be solved in full by science. These problems require judgement on core values – values like freedom, equality, justice, and security.

In order to solve for these problems, however, the conversation must transcend the basic judgement of whether these values are good or bad, and instead needs to analyze the tensions inherent in balancing these values in the decision-making process.

The ongoing conversation on the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, for example, is often oversimplified in the national dialogue. If you’re for national security, you must be against freedom, right? 

Framing those who support surveillance in the name of national security as intrinsically against freedom ignores the complexities involved in balancing national security with our value of freedom.

The conversation we should be having is about the tensions involved in policy making and how best to accommodate for the diversity of thought.

The conversation we should be having is devoid partisan rhetoric and party labels and includes opinions from multiple perspectives.

The conversation we should be having focuses on policy, not the partisan politics that has bred a system where anything good for one-side is automatically bad for the other side.

What Kind of Talk Does Democracy Need?

Martin Carcasson continues to argue that the only way to have these types of conversations is through deliberative democracy.

Deliberative democracy, he explains, is “an approach to politics in which citizens, not just experts or politicians, are deeply involved in public decision making and problem-solving.”

It originates on the local level, at town hall meetings, public forums, classrooms, and community meetings. It involves cooperation, collaborative processes, relevant data provided by experts, nonpartisan perspectives, and civic participation.

If embraced by local communities, he argues, it has the power to transform politics in Washington and the democratic process.

What Kind of Media Does Democracy Need? 

Deliberative thought should not be practiced solely by those making the decisions; rather it extends to those entrusted with reporting on the deliberative processes and articulating the results to the public – the media.

In its traditional role, the media acts as a watchdog of those in power, relaying information and reporting on community based solutions. In its deteriorating form, however, the media mirrors the dialogue of our elected officials in Washington, narrowly depicting issues as two-sided.

The same set of issues arise in the media all across the country, whether it’s on TV, in newspapers, or shared digitally. Headlines are edited to sell a story, debates are condensed to 140 characters, and the issues discussed in the media are predetermined by politicians who want to stay in power.

“A deliberative media would focus more on engaging broad audiences, uncovering the underlying value dilemmas and tough choices inherent to public issues, and providing the public with a clearer understanding of both the relevant facts and the relevant tradeoffs tied to key issues.

Such a media would shift away from a focus on conflict and politics as a spectacle and take more responsibility for improving the quality of public discussion,” argues Carcasson. 

In order to foster a democratic society in which citizens can learn from opposing opinions and embrace alternative solutions, the dialogue should move away from politics, and focus on the deliberative processes involved in policymaking. It’s up to the media to follow.

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  1. Massimiliano Cane granted that we realize that local in the global age means glocal, at least, and that geography is only one dimension, we have moved from intents to implementation
  2. Mary Hofker Bush started that!!! Chenny was even worse, Rice, Rove, can't remember the other S---t head name right now!!
  3. Kevin C. Smith Big question...some small answers: -Stop campaigning AGAINST things, tell me what you're FOR. -Stop treating democracy as a winner-take-all contest, remember that it is a constant, ongoing, process. -Dismantle all processes that perpetuate institutionalized political parties.
  4. Jim Dunn Stop electing Lawyers, elect liberty minded conservative politicians.
  5. Somaura Jackson http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jod/summary/v012/12.3mainwaring.html
  6. Amanda L Arteno you guys are not really independent, are you..
  7. Dwight Wing Hold America Hostage
  8. Kalind Patel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt6coesuy0A This video sums it all up. Makes really good points
  9. Dave Lentz Voters need to be steered away from single issue "litmus tests" and a "bring home the bacon (to our district)" mentality.
  10. Jeremy Landry Abolish political party affiliations from having any proper representatives in office. Reduce parties to people supporting specific candidates rather than candidates supporting specific parties. Candidates should be inherently independent and represent their state. Their state is their party when it comes to senate and house. Instead, we have two warring factions trying to divide and conquer the country on behalf of fascism of massive corporations they work for. And it's working, unfortunately. It's no longer 'cool' to be independent. People seem to have an 'us vs. them' mentality to politics and it's like a cancer of real freedom.
29 comments
Massimiliano Cane
Massimiliano Cane

granted that we realize that local in the global age means glocal, at least, and that geography is only one dimension, we have moved from intents to implementation

Mary Hofker
Mary Hofker

Bush started that!!! Chenny was even worse, Rice, Rove, can't remember the other S---t head name right now!!

Kevin C. Smith
Kevin C. Smith

Big question...some small answers:

-Stop campaigning AGAINST things, tell me what you're FOR.

-Stop treating democracy as a winner-take-all contest, remember that it is a constant, ongoing, process.

-Dismantle all processes that perpetuate institutionalized political parties.

Jim Dunn
Jim Dunn

Stop electing Lawyers, elect liberty minded conservative politicians.

Dave Lentz
Dave Lentz

Voters need to be steered away from single issue "litmus tests" and a "bring home the bacon (to our district)" mentality.

Jeremy Landry
Jeremy Landry

Abolish political party affiliations from having any proper representatives in office. Reduce parties to people supporting specific candidates rather than candidates supporting specific parties. Candidates should be inherently independent and represent their state. Their state is their party when it comes to senate and house. Instead, we have two warring factions trying to divide and conquer the country on behalf of fascism of massive corporations they work for. And it's working, unfortunately. It's no longer 'cool' to be independent. People seem to have an 'us vs. them' mentality to politics and it's like a cancer of real freedom.

Billie Willa Lynn Krause
Billie Willa Lynn Krause

I like my little community where we all live together and hear the other side's point of view.

Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith

It's is not supposed to be a partnership with the people that are there. You have the Elites desiring total control and free will of our Liberties and Personal Property and a small group will to defend it. At this point this is what we need, not more of what got us into this situation.

Harvey Redgrandad Smith
Harvey Redgrandad Smith

When I hear the words democracy, I have to ask, democracy for whom? Democracy for the working class or democracy for the capitalists? Face it the capitalist system we now have is cancerous and is circling the drain,no tinkering around the edge is going to do anything

Jason Roll
Jason Roll

One side will always attempt to gain more power than the other.....That is why I believe a 2 party system will not work. A chair can not stand let alone hold any weight with only two legs. We need a third a part true to the constitution to put both sides in check....men and women that will take action when ANY politician move against our constitution the way they have been for some time now. How many people have we seen lately come out a blatantly lie to congress lately...yet nothing is done. Even when one of those people admitted that he lied. We have a government filled with incompetence. Those on the left protect a man who has stepped far outside the boundaries of the presidency because he stands for an ideal that has made people lazy. Success and hard work are looked down upon....as if those of us who have worked so hard and succeeded are some how stingy because we are now enjoying life........Well guess what, I earned it and they can't have it.....and my guns ensure that fact. Perhaps it's time we remided our government where their true place is

Edna Brenton
Edna Brenton

Don`t vote for any incumbents. (professional politicians) They would then have to depend more on each other and no one would feel superior.

John Eisenschenk
John Eisenschenk

.

Flee from Party issues and partisan politics.

Vote Independents for Independence.

The ONLY way that We The People can govern is with every DULY elected public servant being Independent.

.

Rob Harrington
Rob Harrington

ACLU, millions of property owners are being turned into slaves and sharecroppers while their property rights are being infringed upon. Where are you guys?

Bob Conner
Bob Conner

Listening, the main key to dialogue, is almost a lost art.

Samuel Genson
Samuel Genson

A problem (not THE problem) is that the job at the highest level has ceased being about policy making and has become politics. The job is campaigning. As soon as a person is elected they must start worrying about re-election. That is not to say something like term-limits is the answer. it just seems that people are not re-elected on what they have accomplished but what they have said (or not said as is often the case).

Charlotte Dean
Charlotte Dean

The structure and courtesy involved in formalized debate is something that hasn't been well popularized in American middle and high schools, with an emphasis on school sports competition to foster unity instead of a more complex and intellectually stimulating intra-school exchange of ideas. My brief debate experience as a kid helped me learn how to amend my argument at the last second based on new information and to listen carefully to opposing arguments to spot the logical inconsistencies instead of rebutting emotionally. It helped me understand how opinions come in a multitude of spectrums, all interlocking and interacting in different ways. Formalized debates for kids get them comfortable with complexity, with causality, and most importantly with the (shock!) possibility of being wrong. Once I realized that the forum would not attack me for being wrong but would contribute to amending my argument to align better with logic and fact, I learned not to stigmatize "wrong-ness" and thus opened up innumerable possibilities for changing direction comfortably without feeling like my whole understanding of the world was being attacked. A great commentary on the IMMENSE and DESTRUCTIVE stigma of "wrong" and how it prevents us from finding the right: http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

Shawn M. Griffiths
Shawn M. Griffiths

"It originates on the local level, at town hall meetings, public forums, classrooms, and community meetings. It involves cooperation, collaborative processes, relevant data provided by experts, nonpartisan perspectives, and civic participation."

I wish there were more calls for this. This is exactly what the democratic process and political discourse needs.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

these value propositions arent a zero sum game. When one value is chosen over another, it's important to keep in mind that all of them are important.

Lucas Eaves
Lucas Eaves

I do really think that the only way every day Americans can take back the democratic process is by getting engaged at the local level before we can change anything at the state or federal level.

Brian Iniguez
Brian Iniguez

America is uniquely rooted in Christian ideals, and that comes out in moral-driven issues. While this is a great way to apprach an issue, I sometimes fear that we depend on our hearts way more than our pragmatism these days. This is what leads to firey protests and deaf debators.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

The way in which people communicate politically is imperative in order to have a better democratic process. But I really think the root of the issue lies in the democratic process itself. The zero-sum nature of campaigning and politics isn't conducive to better discussions, but it's been perpetuated by the political climate in the US. Again, I could be wrong, but it's great to see more organizations take the time to address this.

Jen
Jen

My parents told me when I was a child, this is why God gave us 2 ears, and only 1 mouth.