A Letter to the President

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Letter to the President

I wrote another letter to the president. I’ve written many times before, and never receive an answer. So this one I wrote to someone who works for someone who knows him.

It’s probably lousy. It’s certainly too long. Can you tell me which parts to omit to make the next one better?

When I say “too long”, I’m serious. This will be 4 posts.

January 5, 2016

Dear Friend of the President,

It is very, very difficult for a mere civilian to reach anyone who has the president’s ear.

We all see problems in politics. Those like yourself who know it best are well versed in the many reasons about why it’s dysfunctional. Many of these reasons blame certain people or laws.

There’s certainly some truth to them. But much is missing. The 2014 Princeton study found that America hasn’t been a functional democracy for the last 35 years. They didn’t look back further. But the problems stretch far back.

So many parts are broken– campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts of interest, voter disempowerment, apathy and ignorance. Lying into war, creating enemies of other cultures. The main message of this letter is this: Please consider the possibility that there’s more to it than the reasons we tell ourselves.

I’m a software engineer, trained in problem solving. At times I’ve spend full days and weeks and even months immersed in a problem. I did this with politics.

Blame and confusion are often prevalent when first looking at a problem. Blame comes from bias, being “inside the box.” Confusion often accompanies disbelief that things have been so messed up, and for so long. But at it’s core, confusion points to a lack of understanding. So I spend many, many hours with a problem seeing how it works until blame and confusion disappear. With politics, I saw finally that no one was to blame, and that the results we’re seeing are the correct results, given our system.

The next post will start with what I discovered.

The Real Cause of America’s Political Problems

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Letter to the President

In this part of the letter, I identify the real cause of our political problems, and point to the solution- the piece that’s missing.

The cause: Lack of design.

Our political system simply wasn’t designed to produce the results we want. That’s the fundamental cause of our problems. It wasn’t designed to engage or empower voters. It wasn’t designed for transparency. It wasn’t designed for accountability.

That’s the short-version of the reason we have all these political problems. There was intention and hope. And 240 years ago it was a good design. It produced a lot of the results they wanted. But even back then, the design didn’t take into account political parties. That wasn’t too bad because political parties weren’t well established. And communication was so poor that a country “of the people” mainly meant it meddled very little in people’s lives.

America has changed

In the last 60 years, the world has changed so much that the founder’s original designs are even less effective. There were huge differences when America was founded. Todays corporations were illegal in America. Lobbying was taboo. There was no “big media” much less an internet, radio or TV. There wasn’t even reliable mail service! And political parties were in their infancy. And of course, government was much, much smaller.

No one is to blame

In almost any system, people do what they see is appropriate. In America, citizens have the ultimate power. But we can’t wield it. It’s only natural that others try. The myriad special interests fight over our power. Special interests, including the media, manipulate the people as best they can to win elections. And in the process, politicians are often corrupted.

Changing campaign finance laws might weaken them a bit, but not much. None of the proposed improvements will change this.

What’s missing: accountability.

I’ve talked with many hundreds of Americans. None had a robust definition of “accountability.”

Instead, we believe a myth that accountability happens in elections. But it doesn’t, except maybe a tiny, tiny bit. Especially in today’s elections where incumbents and money have tremendous advantage. Very little accountability is delivered in elections.

Accountability exists in a boss-employee relationship and in a teacher-student relationship. These work pretty well. In these systems there are structures in place that enable the employee or student to be accountable and the boss or teacher to hold them accountable. And it happens day to day, weekly, and month by month, not just once ever two to six years.

This is what’s missing from our system: Practical ways to deliver both sides of accountability.

I hope that hooked them. The next part will be about what happened.

I Failed to Launch the Solution to our Political Problems

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Letter to the President

I designed the solution, but I failed to launch it. After outlining the problem and then stating the cause of the problem, this 3rd part tells why I failed.

Designing a solution wasn’t too hard once I identified what accountability was. I made a rigorous definition of it and applied it to politics. It’s a bit more difficult in politics because “the boss” is made up of millions of voters, so we all need to be able to work together. But it turns out that’s not too difficult.

It seems difficult because we seem divided. But I don’t mean “work together” to solve our problems. We just need to work together to hold politicians accountable. That doesn’t require discussions or even conversations, though it does require robust communication. (This is another misunderstanding most people have, that “communication” means having a conversation. That’s just one kind of communication.)

An accountability system

I designed an accountability system- a way for politicians to be accountable and citizens to hold them accountable. And it turned out to be very attractive to politicians. In fact, the six I managed to reach were even willing to be paying customers! Well, once I had a product.

And I talked with hundreds of citizens. About 80% were willing to try it. And there were millions of people in groups who would be the perfect first users. Growth looked quite doable. It would require a competent team, but the design is technically doable. So I looked to build a team.

I failed. I’m not well connected

I failed. I’m not well networked. I don’t know entrepreneurs or philanthropists with the resources or vision to make this kind of a difference. 

People listen to the president for direction and inspiration. They don’t listen like that to me. Most people are afraid of politics and sink back into the myths they know, like “you can’t change human nature” and “politicians are corrupt” and “it’ll never work”. Most people bring cynicism to both politics and new ventures. I almost put together a team twice. With funding, about $2 million, it’d be easy. But without funding, most people couldn’t consider it. I failed.

In the next part, I wrapped it up and made my pitch.

Real Democracy is Possible for the Future

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Letter to the President

In this last section, I paint a picture of what’s possible for the future, and make an invitation. This is the fourth and final part, after 1- outlining the problem , 2-stating the cause of the problem, and 3- what happened last year.

The President regrets

President Obama, about a year ago, said he deeply regretted not healing, nor even lessening, the partisan divide. It’s too bad he wallowed in regret instead of convening a presidential commission on it. It’s too bad he didn’t make “improving politics” or “political reform” one of the subjects on the whitehouse.gov contact page. It was too bad that he didn’t respond to any of my letters.

The difference in the last election

With this system, a moderate and reasonable Republican could have won. And Bernie would have probably beaten Hillary. And Hillary would have certainly beaten Trump (none of them answered my letters.)  With this system in place, I believe centrist and moderate candidates would have won many more seats. And many more people would have voted.

What’s possible for the future?

With this system, we can make Congress function well. Pragmatic, problem-solving politicians can win many more seats in the next election. If we work quickly, w\e can even go far in holding Trump accountable (assuming he succeeds in gaining office.)

Once we have this system, what would we change? I predict the first things would be to enact all the fixes we’ve been wanting, to elections, to campaign financing, to conflicts of interest, to gerrymandering, and more. We can restore honesty and integrity to American politics and government.

What’s needed: A team

But I can’t do it alone. Can you help? Do you think President Obama would like his legacy to be transforming America into a functioning Democracy? Might he have some time soon to help me gather a team and some funding? Would you help?

I could write down all the details, but this letter is already too long. And the myths about why-politics-are-this-way are very compelling. I’m hoping this essay will open the possibility of a real solution. We’ll need to talk about the details.

Please, give me a call. Let’s talk. And please share with the president what’s possible for the future. Perhaps, coming from you, he’ll listen.

And then I sent it into the ether. Feedback? And please remember to join our announcement list.