"Civic Engagement and
The Revival of American Democracy"


Forthcoming in ET CETERA: A REVIEW OF GENERAL SEMANTICS

Andreas Teuber
Brandeis University

 



History plays tricks on us. There was a time, surely, or so we might think, when citizens had a key, if not invaluable, role to play, in the democratic life of the country. Looking back, the Minutemen who rushed to arms to defend their homes and their community serve as instant and uncontested models of the good citizen.


Public Service

But we have come a long way from that moment in our history. Our young men and women still fight for our country, but they do so less spontaneously and without their own muskets. There was a sudden surge in patriotism following the September 11th terrorist attacks, but military enthusiasm has declined as the response to the threat of global terrorism has grown more complex and the enemy no longer has a single face.

It is also not clear that we should hold up the military fervor of a young man to protect his hearth and home as an ideal of good citizenship. Indeed, the militiamen in Concord and Lexington who took to the woods to ward off the British were fiercely independent. They joined the fight when they saw the enemy coming and they returned to their homesand their plows as soon as the British disappeared over the hill.

A few years later these same men protested conscription. When James Monroe, then Secretary of State, proposed the first draft in 1814, Daniel Webster stood up in the House of Representatives to remind the administration:

In my opinion, Sir, . . . the nation is not yet in a temper to submit to conscription. The people have too fresh and strong a feeling of the blessings of civil liberty to be willing to surrender to it.

When the first draft law went into effect in 1863, more than one thousand protesters were killed in the draft riot that took place in New York City during that year. Americans have a long-standing ambivalence towards the idea of service and today we no longer have a draft. Perhaps this is not altogether such a bad thing, but it may not be the best thing if a more committed citizenry is needed to sustain a truly vital and meaningful democracy. Military service is required of all citizens in the State of Israel and such service unquestionably provides a training ground for each new generation of dedicated citizens, committed not only to the security of the state, but to a richer social and political life for all Israeli citizens.


The Good Citizen

A question for us - for those of us who live and vote in the United States - is what common expectations ought we to have of one another as we begin the 21st century? What makes us good citizens?

Are we the citizens we want to be or can we, must we, do better? If we can do better, what qualities and attitudes do citizens need to have to guarantee the health and safety of a modern polity? And, perhaps, most importantly, where will the next generation of citizens be trained?

In thinking about this question for myself, although it is the sort of question that, surely, we need to think about together, I have come to believe that most of us, myself included, are pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, as Americans we want to be "left alone" to pursue our own individual dreams, hopes and desires; yet, on the other, we yearn to participate in a more meaningful public life in pursuit of goals that reflect our commonality rather than (merely) our differences.

Looking back on the decade prior to September 11th, it may appear, however, that we have resolved our competing impulses in one direction as opposed to the other, in the direction of a more private, less public side of ourselves. Indeed, it is part of the lore of what it means to be an American, that we are drawn to the value of privacy and a spirited independence. Citizenship to most Americans tends to be viewed largely as a matter of rights rather than as a set of obligations and responsibilities, as a defensive strategy against the potential tyranny of the state. We are a "private " people, deeply concerned to preserve and protect an arena in which we can pursue matters that concern nobody else but ourselves and into which we believe no community has a right to intrude.

The distrust of public authorities dictating how we should spend our hard-earned capital was so much in evidence at the founding of the country that even today many Americans are inclined to be suspicious of public bodies and of public life in general. This tendency in the American grain is undoubtedly healthy in its skepticism of all-too-powerful governors, but I suspect, and in this suspicion I do not believe I am entirely alone, we have become too private, too focused on rights, too individual to sustain a vital democracy in the new millennium.

If there is to be much hope for the future of democracy in America, we need to become more public, more communal and more cognizant of our responsibilities towards one another.

Of course, this is not just for me to say; this is a conversation we all need to have, and one we need to have amongst ourselves. It is one of those issues that is sometimes described as belonging to the national conversation. We need to think together about what might be done to shift our political inclinations in a new, more public, more communal, more responsible direction. Finally, I want to share some of my own reflections on the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th and wonder out loud whether - in the midst of that great trauma and loss - stirrings of a more meaningful sense of "things public" (res publica) can be detected.


The Very Idea of Citizenship

Of course, not so long ago, it would have been difficult, if not impossible to have this conversation. Indeed, citizens were never at the forefront of people's imagination in the early modern period. Machiavelli in The Prince (1513) writes of citizens as if they were spectators who "look on" as their leader "pretends to be somebody he's not." By the time we get to Shakespeare a little less than a century later, he does not even take the trouble to give citizens a name, calling them, in such plays as Julius Caesar, simply and uninspiringly "The ‘First’ and ‘Second’ Citizen." Much later when D. H. Lawrence tried to think of the worst thing he could say of Benjamin Franklin, he called him, "that GREAT citizen, Ben Franklin."

No doubt this brief excursus might lead us to conclude that citizens are a rather "dull" lot. Indeed most of us do not even think of ourselves as citizens, and if we do, it is not an occupation or role that first comes to mind. We are doctors and lawyers, and landscape architects and teachers, Jewish and Catholic, before we are citizens. Indeed if we view ourselves as citizens at all, we see ourselves as being so only every two or four years. We are citizens, if we are citizens at all, intermittently. Even then, that is, even when we do exercise our citizenship rights and go to the polls, we are identified by the press and political analysts not as "citizens," but as "voters," a rather attenuated form of citizenship.

Perhaps Rousseau, who already wrote in 1750 in his Discourse on Science and the Arts, got it right: "We have physicists, geometers, chemists, astronomers, poets, musicians," he wrote, " . . . we no longer have citizens." Like some rare species of bird sighted by a zealous amateur ornithologist, citizens are "rare birds" indeed.

A Martian coming down to earth might suppose the species to be extinct, finding early references in Plato's dialogues to Socrates as "a citizen of Athens" and late references in the book to the Broadway musical. Les Miserables, which already shows signs of a decline in the concept, since "citizens" there are "members of a Chorus" without particularity, "man barricades," and have the annoying habit at the slightest provocation of "bursting into song."

If voting is an example of civic engagement at its most minimal, it is -simultaneously -easy to measure. Studies of voting patterns at the end of the nineteenth century indicate the nearly four fifths of those eligible to vote went to the polls, not only in presidential elections but also in "off" years. From then on, however, the trend is not very encouraging. From 1896 to the end of the 1920's voting participation fell to as low as two-fifths, then started to climb again, reaching 60% when Kennedy was elected in 1960. It fell steadily again until now when only half of those eligible bother to vote at all.

This cannot be good. It suggests - by this one measure at least — that we are less committed to the public's business and less virtuous than we were a little over a century ago.

A recent survey of American teenagers reveals that only 12% of them believe that voting is important to being a good citizen. To make matters worse, these results do not seem to be merely a function of youth. Comparison of teenage groups indicate that "the current cohort, " as Mary Ann Glendon reports "knows less, cares less, votes less, and is less critical of its leaders and institutions than young people have been at any time over the past five decades." Such news is likely to make those of us who dream of revitalizing a sense of American citizenship extremely depressed. How, indeed, do these reports make you feel? Any cause for alarm?


Top-Down v. Bottom-Up Approaches

In tune with this trend, political science classes that are taught in the United States have focused less on citizenship than one might like. I say "than one might like" because we live in a democracy and the most important role in such a form of government, one presumes, is the role of citizen. Instead there has been much emphasis in political studies on political leadership and the policies and decisions of politicians, such as Truman's decision to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or George Bush Senior's decision to begin the Gulf War. Recently there has been much interest in the role played by leaders of the Arab countries and how they might facilitate peace in the Middle East. People wonder what Sharon is thinking or what Arafat will do. It's as if citizens in the modern world take a back seat to the political events of the day, acting more like fans at a sporting match than active participants themselves. Perhaps Machiavelli had it right when he portrayed politics as a kind of theater, the Prince as an actor and the citizens of Florence as members of an audience, eager to applaud their leader's every move so long as what he did resulted in what was best for the principality as a whole. But can this portrait provide a model for citizens in a vital democracy?


Citizenship-as-Legal-Status v. Citizenship-as-Activity

We - those of us who now live and vote in the modern democracies - are not inclined to view our membership in the political community solely in terms of spectatorship. Still many Americans see their roles as citizens solely as a legal status, rather than as an activity where the quality of one's citizenship is a function of the depth of one's commitment to participation in the political life of the democracy. A view of citizenship-as-legal-status focuses exclusively on citizenship rights and neglects a theory of citizenship that requires greater emphasis on responsibilities and virtues. Some writers have described these two conceptions of citizenship: as "thick" and "thin." Those who see citizenship as an activity rather than solely as a legal status, regard their view as a "thick" or "robust" vision of the citizen.

The view of citizenship-as-legal-status as opposed to an activity is called "private" or "passive" citizenship; what it means to be a citizen is largely a matter of securing (for oneself) a list of passive entitlements in the absence of any duty to participate in the public life of the community. Still, as Stephen Macedo has said, echoing many others, "the benefits of private citizenship are not to be sneezed at."

Indeed, it's a conception of citizenship that has preoccupied us throughout much of the postwar period, that is, the post-Second World War period until quite recently, until, I would say, the last ten years or so, when it has come under attack and begun to appear inadequate as a full-blown conception of what good citizenship in a democracy requires. The most important expression of this conception to emerge in the postwar period was T. H. Marshall's Citizenship and Social Class, which was published just after the war in 1949. Marshall argued that whatever else citizenship might be said to require, it required first and foremost that everyone be treated "as a full and equal member of society." And, he argued the best way to achieve this was to extend to all adult members of the society an increasing number of civil, political and social rights, i.e., a full and meaningful cornucopia of citizenship rights.

Political rights, which in the early days of the Republic were enjoyed by only a few property-owning Protestant men have now been extended to women, blacks, Jews and Catholics and other previously excluded minorities. So, too, certain basic social rights have been established - to public education, unemployment insurance, social security benefits, and various forms of health care. These benefits are indeed "not to be sneezed at."

But in the last few years this postwar conception of citizenship-as-rights has come under increasing criticism. The postwar conception with its passive acceptance of citizenship entitlements is now seen as being in need of supplement (or replacement) by the exercise of citizenship responsibilities and virtues. So, too, some have begun to suspect that a conception of citizenship-as-rights is inadequate in and of itself to establish a sense of public-spiritedness, a sense of commonality, among the members of a democracy. Is it sufficient to sustain our democracy merely by including historically disadvantaged groups on an equal basis or do certain qualities and attitudes among members of the community also need to be specifically cultivated?

Perhaps there are just too many of us and a conception of citizenship-as-rights is all we can realistically hope for. As states become larger, citizenship activity becomes more and more unwieldy. Yet Aristotle defined democracy, not as "a method for selecting one's governors," but as "participation in ruling." One recalls the phrase ingrained in the Declaration of Independence that ours is a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." So, we might wonder, paraphrasing the title of a famous Dylan song of the 1960s: "Where Have All the Citizens Gone?"

Where indeed? Should we then throw up our hands in despair and not even begin to think of ways to cultivate a more active citizenry? Let us start with voting, despite the fact that there is likely to be more to good citizenship in a democracy than an occasional visit to the polls every two to four years. What might be done to bring more Americans eligible to vote to the polls?


Proposals for Reform

Here, quickly then, are a number of suggestions for electoral reform. Some will be familiar to you, some less so. You may wish to discuss each proposal before moving on to the next. So, too, you may also wish to add several proposals of your own.

It is sometimes suggested that the American people are simply "apathetic," that so many do not vote because they are "too lazy" or "do not care." While there may be some truth to these criticisms of the American electorate, a more obvious explanation for low voter turnout is to see it as a "rational" response to the situation at hand. Many may simply not bother to vote because they sense that their vote will not count or that their voice will not be heard. Surely if you believe that your vote will not count or that it will be ineffective, there is little incentive to vote. The response "Why bother?" would be an understandable response of a reasonable citizen who genuinely believed that his or her vote did not matter.


The Right to Vote

A right to vote is surely key to citizenship and so it is perhaps surprising that there is no such right explicitly granted in the U. S. Constitution. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has frequently stressed that a vote is absolutely essential because "it is preservative of other basic civil and political rights." A right to vote, however, is more easily protected in theory than in practice and the mere possession of such a right cannot mean very much if the vote to which one purportedly has a right does not count or turns out to be effectively useless. For a right to vote to carry any political weight it must also be a right to a vote that counts, and to a voice that is heard, coupled with a civic education that prepares each and every citizen to take advantage of the opportunity "for full and effective participation."


I. A Vote That Counts

In the 2000 presidential election many were surprised to learn that sometimes not all votes are counted. As things turned out, votes were sometimes not counted for a variety of reasons - due to out-of-date voting machines in some cases, or poorly designed ballots in others leaving voters confused about how to mark their ballots in such a way that it would register a vote for the candidate of their choice. So, too, a vote might not have been counted in the aftermath of the election because counters picked to recount "under votes" disagreed over whether a "chad" of a punch-card ballot had become detached or whether, according to instructions issued by the Florida Supreme Court, they were unable to find, considering the ballot as a whole, "a clear intention" of the voter to vote."


A National Ballot

The natural remedy for this would be for American citizens to direct Congress to establish a uniform set of election procedures which would include the design and provision of a standard National Ballot.


A National Election Commission

Congress should also establish a National Election Commission with supervisory powers over all national elections. If and when disputes arose, they could be resolved by officials of this agency who would be appointed on a nonpartisan basis, subject to review, as some have suggested, by federal judges with life tenure rather than by state partisan political officials, such as secretary of state Katherine Harris and elected state judges as was the case in Florida.


Uniform Election Machinery

The public should further demand that Congress fund a National Election Commission to enable it to design and finance electronic voting equipment or computers that clearly display voters' initial choices and make it possible for voters to confirm those choices, with a warning to voters if they inadvertently make a double choice in a single category. No doubt security protections and reliable digital identification systems would also need to be developed.


Expanding Polling Hours

Citizens should further demand that polling places be open for the same time periods across all time zones in the country so the polls close simultaneously at one and the same time throughout the nation. So, too, some public discussion should probably take place about the value of changing the day of the national election from a Tuesday, a workday, to a Sunday. If this is not possible, given the strong religious sentiments of many Americans, consideration might be given to expanding the number of days of polling. Several European countries now put aside two days for national elections, making it easier for voters to find time to get to the polls. If religious concerns are taken into account, this would not only rule out Sunday, but Saturday as well, the Jewish day of rest and Friday, too, a holy day for most Muslims.


Time Zones and Press Coverage

Television networks should be barred from reporting election results in one time zone before polls have closed in another.


Abolition of the Electoral College and the Direct Election of the President

The 2000 National election made it plain how antiquated our current system is. For one of the few times in our history, candidates for President and Vice-President won in the Electoral College but not in the popular vote. Most Americans see the point of the election process, and especially the election of the President, the one political office that we all vote on together, as a reflection of the will of the people. The original authors of the United States Constitution saw the matter differently. They simply did not trust "the people" to elect the President directly, preferring to erect the rather Byzantine apparatus of an Electoral College, attended by what the Framers of the Constitution believed would be independent and knowledgeable representatives appointed by the individual states, and who would be capable of deciding for themselves who the next President and Vice-President should be. On the heels of the 2000 election an opportunity arises to rid us of this relic and incontrovertibly elitist system and replace it with the direct election of the President and Vice President by popular vote. Some have argued that this move will incline candidates to campaign and spend money only in populous states such as New York and California and ignore the smaller states, but this outcome is not as clear as it might at first appear. Under the current system almost no time was spent by either presidential candidate in New York because both parties saw New York as "safe" for the Democrats. If we switch to a national popular election format, candidates are likely to campaign wherever they think they might pick up undecided votes and that could happen anywhere. The smaller states nonetheless see "some advantage" in the antiquated system and would perhaps block an Amendment to the Constitution that would be necessary to eliminate the Electoral College. Still what do you think? Would you like to see the Electoral College abolished in favor of the direct election of the President and Vice-President?

 

Raffles, Prizes and other Incentives

Some have suggested that a way to get more eligible voters to the polls is to give them incentives to vote - by letting them enter their numbered voting stubs in a lottery for a turkey or a year's supply of baked goods or a second car. Others worry that while turnout may increase slightly, to do so undermines the point and purpose of elections and destroys the seriousness of the occasion. What do you think? Are you in favor of some sort of incentive system?


Mail-in Ballots

Getting to the polls is not always easy and so some have suggested that we allow voters who find it difficult to get to the polls, to vote by mail as we now allow absentee ballots. John Stuart Mill was opposed to postal balloting when it was proposed in England in the mid-nineteenth century in England. He believed that a trip to the polls was a sign of civic engagement and commitment to the process and was worried that the voter who was allowed to sit at home and fill out a postcard would take his role as an elector in too frivolous a light. What do you think? Would you be in favor or opening up the process of mail-in ballots?


Online Voting

The contemporary equivalent of the mail-in ballot is the proposal to enable citizens to vote online or over the Internet. Here again digital identification would need to be foolproof and security precautions watertight. But presuming these conditions were met, would you be in favor of online voting?


The Depth of the Problem

Of course, sometimes even when all votes are counted, not all votes matter. Or to put the point slightly differently, there are a variety of ways that votes can fail to count, and such failure can come about not only as the result of antiquated voting machines or poorly designed ballots. Political analysts, for example, note that any election which is won by a margin of 10% or greater was probably not competitive. In 1996, 201 of 211 seats in the New York State Assembly were won by margins of 10% or more. Thus there were 201 "safe" seats. This may have been "good" for the incumbent or the member of one or another of the major parties, but was it good for the voter? In all 201 cases we might say citizens in those districts were in effect politically impotent. They cast their votes, but their votes made no difference to the outcome.

Their votes did not matter; they did not count. Spoiled ballots may be one way votes do not get counted; here is another, more subtle, and perhaps more troubling way.

Another circumstance, not so dissimilar to the phenomenon described above, wherein citizens have discovered that their votes do not matter or suddenly matter less or hardly at all, is the political circumstance that comes about as the result of a shift in the size of the population in a particular region of the country, causing some districts to grow disproportionately in size relative to surrounding districts. So, for example, in 1960 there was a significant movement of the population in many states from the rural areas into cities.

To dramatize the point and the problem, imagine that there are four voting districts, three rural and one in the city, each with roughly 100,000 eligible voters. Imagine that there are two representatives per district in the state assembly. Imagine that 40,000 eligible voters move from each of the rural districts into the city. Imagine that the year is 1960 and that there are still four districts, three in the rural areas with a size of 60,000 each, and now one in the city with a size of 220,000; yet the number of representatives stays the same. As a result of these demographic changes, the rural interests, 45% of the state's residents, now control 75% percent of the votes. This outcome guarantees that the policies of the rural interests will be adopted in the state assembly. A resident who lives in the city in this region no longer has a vote that counts! How might these developments be prevented or addressed?


Equal Election Districts

One way to remedy the above situation is to require our imaginary state assembly to redraw its districts so that each representative in the state assembly represents an equal number of people. This is indeed what the Supreme Court decided needed to happen in the 1964 case Reynolds v. Sim. The Court maintained that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that each member of the legislature represent an equal number of citizens. This was the famous "one person, one vote" decision and it forced many state legislatures and assemblies to redraw the boundaries of their districts. Do you agree with the Court’s decision? If so, why? If not, why not?


An End to All Forms of Gerrymandering

Of course there are more ways than one to redraw the boundaries of a district and this became the problem with the Court's famous "one person, one vote" decision, and if it's not a problem with the decision itself, solving the problem in the way the Court did, i.e., as it did in Reynolds v. Sim, created the new and somewhat intractable problems of gerrymandering. Reynolds was based on the Court's contention that each citizen had a right to "full and effective participation in the political process; " in other words, to a vote that counts! But the Supreme Court underestimated the ingenuity of the American legislator who immediately discovered ways to redraw the boundaries of districts so that they each had an equal number of citizens but in such a way that the redrawing still accomplished partisan ends. Imagine that in our hypothetical case, the boundaries are redrawn by the state assembly to create four "new" districts of 100,000 each in the following way: one district of 100,000 of city residents is created along with three districts of 60,000 residents from each of the former rural districts plus (in each case) 40,000 of the city residents. Thus four districts of equal populations are created, but the rural interests still dominate the vote. A city resident who lives in the city district has a vote that counts but city residents who live in districts that combine city and rural resident are effectively disenfranchised, at least when it comes to the representation of city interests. These maneuvers fall under the rubric of gerrymandering. As John Denvir has written, "Gerrymanders are the Achilles' heel of American electoral politics. Clever politicians armed with computers and census maps have the ability to gerrymander despite Reynolds."

Usually, the examples of gerrymandering are more insidious than in our hypothetical. This fact is neatly illustrated by the Supreme Court's decision in Mobile v. Bolden in 1980. Wiley Bolden was a black African-American who lived in Mobile, Alabama. He lived within the city limits and voted every year for city commissioner. He usually voted for the candidate who was black, but a black candidate never won. One would perhaps suspect racism, but in this case the more immediate answer is gerrymandering. Thirty-five percent (35%) of the city's eligible voters are black, so you would expect that a black candidate for city commissioner might occasionally be successful. Indeed a black candidate has never won a place on the city commission in Mobile in the entire 20th century. Blacks are fairly segregated within the city of Mobile, living in one area more than any other. If there were districts by area, one might expect blacks to win an

occasional seat on the city commission, but whites in Mobile have opted for an "at large" system of elections in the city. Since the elections are citywide the three positions on the city commission have always gone to whites. African-Americans have been outvoted 65% to 35% every single time for all three commissioner positions. The Supreme Court in Mobile v. Bolden upheld the city's system of "at large" elections. It stated that to be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, it would have to be shown that Mobile's system was adopted explicitly to harm African-Americans, and the Court opined that there was insufficient evidence that this was so.

Mobile's "at large" system of elections is just one form of gerrymandering. There are others. The Supreme Court has not challenged this practice directly and has come to accept it as part of the American political system. What is your own view of this matter? Are you opposed to gerrymandering in all its forms or do you believe we should learn to "live with it" as part of the American way?


The Voting Rights Act of 1982

Congress, however, has taken its own look, does not like the gerrymander's tactics, and has tried to mitigate some of its more damaging effects. In 1982, largely in response to the Court's decision in Mobile v. Bolden (1980), it amended the Voting Rights Act to allow a racial minority to ask a court to order and establish member districts to replace an "at large" system, if they could show (1) that the majority tended not to vote for the minority candidate, (2) that the minority on the whole did tend to vote for the minority candidate, and (3) that the residential patterns of the minority would allow it to elect a minority candidate if member districts were established. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act as amended, African-Americans and other minorities in "at large" districts throughout the country were able to show that all three factors were obtained in their areas, and challenged the prevailing systems. In Mobile, the Court ordered that member districts be created and three districts were established, one which included much of the residential area where blacks lived in the city. Again as John Denvir has written: "For the first time African Americans held political power roughly proportionate to their population in the city. They had a vote that counted." But Mobile is still a somewhat small victory. The "at large" method of disenfranchising minorities has been challenged, but other forms of gerrymandering persist. It continues to be difficult, if not impossible, for many minority candidates who are successful in their bid for election, once they are in the legislative assemblies to pass legislation favorable to their interests. In 1993, the Supreme Court again weighed in on this issue and decided in Shaw v. Reno that some of the new member districts created to replace the "at large" systems, had disenfranchised blacks and other minorities, and were themselves in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


One Person-One Vote v. Preference Voting

In 1970 James Buckley of the Conservative Party won election to the U. S. Senate from New York by defeating the incumbent Republican Charles Goodell and the Democrat Richard Ottinger with a plurality of 38% of the vote. In this case the two more "liberal" candidates received 60% of the vote, yet failed to defeat the conservative. So you might say, the more liberal policies preferred by the majority, were overwhelmed by a minority of staunchly conservative citizens. If the system had not been "one person, one vote" but instead had been conducted under a preference voting scheme, the citizens could mark their choices in order of preference, by placing the number ‘one’, ‘two’, or ‘three’ next to the names of each of the candidates. The majority's wishes would have prevailed and either Goodell or Ottinger would have won.

Much the same might be said of the recent French election where 17 candidates competed in the first round for the French presidency and in which Jean-Marie Le Pen, the candidate of the extreme right, squeezed out the popular Prime Minister Lionel Jospin by winning just 17% of the vote. All the polls predicted a tight race between Jospin and President Jacques Chirac, only to have Le Pen squeak past Jospin who received just 16% of the vote in a large field. Again, under a system of preference voting, where French voters could vote for the candidates in order of preference, Chirac and a more liberal candidate would have been finalists in the next round since liberal-left candidates had the support of more than 60% of the voters. In Florida in 2000, Gore would have won under a preference voting scheme since Nader, for example took 12% of the vote: one assumes that Nader and Gore would have been higher on the list of preferences among voters sympathetic to either candidate than Bush or Buchanan. There would no doubt be constitutional obstacles to preference voting after decisions by the Court such as the" one person, one vote" decision of Reynolds v. Sim, but if these obstacles could be overcome would you prefer such a voting scheme to "one person, one vote?" When you think three-person races such as the race between Buckley, Goodell and Ottinger in 1970 for the U. S. Senate, wouldn't such a scheme be fairer, even more democratic than "one person, one vote?"


Proportional Representation

There is a voting system that does make it possible for all the votes of all citizens to count. Proportional Representation (PR) is the system employed by most modern democracies, although not here in the United States, and it is the most effective antidote to the tactics of gerrymanders who manipulate the geography of districting to disenfranchise segments of the voting population. Here is how PR works. Imagine that there are 100 seats in a State assembly. Imagine, too, that there are four parties: a Democratic Party, a Republican Party, a Green Party, and a Conservative Party. Each fields a hundred candidates. Say the Democrats get 35% of the vote statewide, the Republicans 39%, the Greens 19%, and the Conservatives 7%. As a result of the statewide elections, the Democrats would get 35 seats, the Republicans 39, the Greens 19, and the Conservatives 7. No vote would have been wasted. Each citizen's vote would have counted, since each voted for a candidate of his or her choice, and, in each instance, seats were "won" in the Assembly.

If we apply this method to Mobile, African Americans would garner one of the three commissioners in a citywide election since African Americans have 35% of the vote.

A system Proportional Representation will have a different "feel" to it than our present system. Here in our imaginary case, the Democrats will, in all probability, pay attention to the Green Party since together they control a majority of the seats in the assembly. There have been criticisms of this system despite some of its more obvious advantages. Political analysts complain that the smaller parties have a disproportionate degree of control over the legislative agenda insofar as the dominant party may need to rely on their support to maintain control of the assembly. The Green Party is part of the ruling coalition in Germany. On the flip side of this concern, there is the benefit that many who support the agenda of the smaller parties will be motivated to participate and take part in elections because they believe, not unreasonably, that their vote will count. Here, too, there are constitutional obstacles to adopting a new system such as Proportional Representation. The constitutional objections are likely to be too strong to overcome in the case of presidential elections and elections for the U. S. Senate, but less likely in the case of election to the House of Representatives.

Still Proportional Representation does allow more citizens to participate in a meaningful way in elections and would provide each citizen with an opportunity for "full and effective participation" in the political system. Compared to the current system it is probably more democratic. What do you think? Are you sympathetic to the sorts of benefits that a system of Proportional Representation can provide?


Compulsory Voting

Of course, if we are really concerned about political participation and voter turnout, why not require voting to be compulsory as it is in countries like Australia, Belgium and Luxembourg. There is little doubt that by making voting compulsory, participation in elections will increase. Australia has the longest history and experience with compulsory voting. In all three cases turnout is very high. In each case a fine is levied if and when a citizen fails to vote. It is not large. In Australia, I believe, it amounts to the equivalent of approximately 25 U.S. dollars, not much more than a parking ticket, but it seems to be enough of a stigma to have such a fine imposed on oneself to give most Australian citizens an incentive to "turn out." In Australia the fine may be waived if a citizen has an appropriate excuse. The biggest obstacle to introducing compulsory voting here in the United States is likely to be the widely held view of voting as a right rather than an obligation or a responsibility. In Australia, it is the conception of citizenship itself that serves as the deepest reason to vote. There, citizenship is viewed as an "office" that each individual citizen holds and that has both rights and responsibilities associated with it. Three such responsibilities are national service, voting and jury duty. A number of countries have, nonetheless, adopted compulsory voting as part and parcel of the electoral systems.

What do you think? Are you in favor or opposed to compulsory voting? Here is where many of us are caught in a dilemma. We value the rights we have and yet, we bemoan low voter turnout, and yet we are reluctant to introduce any policies or programs that would restrict our rights.



II. A Voice That Is Heard

Earlier, I suggested that there is surely more to having one's vote count than having a punch card identified correctly as a vote for x. Insofar as we care about "full and effective" citizenship as well, we probably should also be concerned that each citizen has a relatively equal chance to affect the outcomes of elections. In this regard we should be not only concerned that each of us has "a vote that counts," but also " a voice that is heard."


Freedom of Speech

Not every citizen can afford a full-page ad in The New York Times announcing to all the world support for a particular candidate or legislative initiative. So, too, not every citizen has access to a candidate during a presidential election or an invitation to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House. Both these matters are freedom of speech concerns and both are relevant to a citizen's having a vote that counts. Few would deny that freedom of speech is a fundamental right; it is guaranteed in the U. S. Constitution at the founding of the country. But often what each of us has in theory is not borne out in practice. Take, for an example, the efforts in 1982 by non-profit group, The Community for Creative Non-violence. This group could not afford an ad in The New York Times; they sought instead to erect a "tent city" in Lafayette Park across from the White House to call attention to the plight of the homeless during the dead of winter. They were allowed to set up their tents, but barred by the National Park Service to sleep in the tents overnight to demonstrate the frigid conditions that many who were homeless had to endure throughout the winter. The case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court which ruled in 1984, that sleeping overnight in the tents could be construed as "symbolic speech" hence protected by the First Amendment, but that the National Park Service’s "no camping" regulation was not directed at the protesters' message, but designed to "protect the grass and shrubbery." The "no camping" rule was a means to achieve such a goal. The First Amendment gave the judiciary no "authority," the Court opined, "to replace the Park service as the manager of the National parks or endow the judiciary with the competence to judge how much protection of park lands is wise."

The decision, of course, deprived the demonstrators of their right to "full and effective participation in the political process." They could not afford full-page ads in major newspapers or "television time" or hefty contributions to the campaign funds for legislators who might be sympathetic to their cause. These latter ways of getting one's voice heard is available to wealthy individuals and groups, but not to the Community for Creative Non-violence who needs to rely on staging "events" that will draw the press to cover the message they are trying to get out. The Court, in its decision, did not weigh the concerns of the Park Service against the "free speech" concerns of the protesters. So long as the Park Service could say that its "no camping" regulation was not directed at suppressing the message of the protesters, that was sufficient for the Court to find that the constitutional rights of the protesters had not been violated.

But is this how the balance should be struck? A consideration that will weigh heavily on how each of us thinks the balancing should be done, will rest, ultimately, on the importance we attach to political speech and to the value of ensuring that each citizen has a fair and equal chance to gain the public's attention.

In his famous concurrence in the free speech case Whitney v. California (1927) Louis Brandeis, the namesake of our great university, expressed an opinion about the deeper meaning of free speech in a democracy that, in its turn, intimates a different outcome in the case of Clark v. Community for Creative Non-violence in 1984, a result that perhaps should have, when you take a Brandeis view of the value of free speech into account, been decided in favor of fostering the speech of the protesters rather than the government's shrubbery:

Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the Statewas to make men free to develop their faculties; and in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. . .that the greatestmenace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that should be the fundamental principle of the American government.

What do you think? How would you have resolved Clark v. Community for Creative Non-violence in 1984 had you been sitting on the bench along with the other Justices having to make the decision?


Campaign Finance Reform

When Roger Tamraz, an oilman from Texas, was asked by Senate investigators whether he thought the $300,000 he gave to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996 was "a good investment," he replied that next time he would contribute $600,000. When he was asked what he got "in return for his investment," he replied that he "was able to gain access to the White House seven times." He also said he believed that this access "resulted from his contributions." When he was asked if he had voted in the 1996 National Election, he said he "had not bothered," adding that he thought his contributions were "more effective."

Tamraz was only a footnote in the campaign contribution scandals that emerged in 1996, but it is stories like his that may incline many less wealthy voters to think that their own votes will not matter and their voices will not be heard. "After all," the ordinary citizen may wonder, "aren't we all supposed to be political equals?"

Political campaigns at all levels have now become so costly that often only the wealthiest among us or those with access to monied interests are able to get a toe on the line and into the race. But hadn't Congress limited campaign contributions by individuals to $1,000 already in 1974. How was Tamraz able to contribute to Clinton-Gore with such a law in place?


An End to "Soft" Money

The answer is fairly simple and one you surely know. Tamraz did not give the money directly to Clinton-Gore - he gave it to the Democratic National Committee. In 1996 the Clinton-Gore campaign raised $62 million and accepted matching funds equal to that amount in taxpayer money on the condition that the campaign limit its expenditures to the total of the two sums combined; Clinton also personally oversaw the fund raising for the DNC for which he and Gore raised another $45 million, $300,000 of which came from Roger Tamraz.

This state of affairs came about by another U.S. Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. The Court reviewed what Congress had done, which intended when it was originally passed, to prevent the very sorts of things from taking place that raised so many eyebrows during the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign. But the Court intervened between the campaign finance reforms passed by congress and 1974 and Clinton-Gore in 1996. The Court decided that a limit on individual campaign contributions and the public financing provisions making public "matching" funds available to the candidates provided they agreed to certain conditions, were constitutional, but that a limit on expenditures by the candidates and by others, such as the DNC, violated their constitutional right of free speech. Paying for ads of the candidate can gain a wealthy individual just as much influence as a direct contribution to the campaign. Indeed, in 1988 the infamous "Willie Horton" ads that gained such notoriety and seemed to have tipped the election in favor of George Bush were paid for by a In this most recent set of campaign finance reforms passed by Congress, provisions have been included to ban all so-called "soft-money" but as you can imagine, several law suits have already been filed challenging these provisions in the new reforms for being in violation of free speech.


A More Equal Playing Field

One of the primary concerns of Congress in passing campaign finance reform bills in 1974, and again in 2002, has been to level the playing field. The problem here is not, as it was in the case of Clark v. Community for Creative Non-violence, a problem of "too little voice," but a problem that some, the more well to do, have too much voice (influence) relative to everyone else. But the Court in Buckley thought this was not a proper First Amendment concern and so struck down Congress' attempt to limit expenditures, replying to the Congressional goal as follows:

It is argued, however, that the ancillary governmental interest in equalizing the relative ability of individuals and groups to influence the outcome of elections serves to justify [expenditure limitations]. But the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.

But I cannot help but think what Justice Brandeis would think of this decision given his deep understanding of freedom of speech, that, for instance, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary; and that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.

Without expenditure limits and with the ingenuity of creative investors each and every attempt by Congress to block one avenue whereby wealth allows some citizens to dominate the discussion, is likely to be quickly replaced by the discovery of another avenue, which brings me to the next suggestion for reform.


Public Funding of Elections (Maine's New Law)

Some have suggested that the only truly effective way to insulate candidates from monied interests is to introduce public financing of all elections. Some balk at this, calling it "welfare for politicians." But there are a great many advantages. Many politicians complain that raising money becomes a full-time job, a year round series of event. It has been estimated that publicly elected officials spend about half their time engaged in fund raising activities to pay for their re-election or their past campaign debts. Public financing of elections would free politicians up to do the business they were elected to do, i.e., the public's business. The State of Maine recently passed the Maine Clean Election Act with voter approval. It calls for public funding of all candidates who can show strong citizen support. Each candidate receives a percentage of the average amount spent across the board in the previous election. A candidate could still use his or her own money but were this to happen to a significant degree, the law enables the opposition to dip into the public funds for an "extra draw." The new law was in place for the 2000 elections and appears to have attracted many new faces into the political field, drawn from a much broader section of the community than in 1998.

What do you think? Would you support a similar Act for National Elections? Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky and someone who is completely opposed to public financing, calculates that the total campaign costs for the National Election in 1996 came to $3.89 per eligible voter. Does this look like a bargain to you, or do you think this is too high a price to pay for fostering the goal that citizens participate as equals in their governance, and as a way of remedying the distortions of public discussion created by large infusions of money from the wealthiest among us such as Roger Tamraz?


III. The Need for Civic Virtues

No doubt if half of the reforms, listed above, came to fruition, the shape of our civic life would change dramatically, but even if all of them were put into place, a side of what it takes to be a good citizen would still be absent. There was a time - several of the Founders seemed to think this way - when it was believed that democracy could flourish without a virtuous citizenry. By creating separate powers and checks and balances, a House and a Senate, a federal system of somewhat autonomous states, and a judiciary to serve and protect minority rights, it was thought tyranny and oppression could be prevented without great vigilance on the part of the citizenry. Individual citizens might pursue their private interests without an eye on the common good, and the public interest would, as it were, "care for itself" so long as private interest checked private interest checked private interest. But the belief that certain procedures and institutional arrangements alone might do the trick has come to appear less convincing. Indeed in the absence of a fairly heavy dose of public-spiritedness from an engaged and virtuous citizenry, the public interest is likely to atrophy and die.

Just think how any number of public commitments require some degree of civic virtue to have any hope of being successful. If citizens are not willing to reuse, recycle, or reduce their consumption of energy, it is hard for the government to protect the environment. If citizens do not care for themselves by engaging in regular exercise, consuming a healthy diet and resisting cigarettes, it is hard for the government to provide adequate health care; and if citizens are exceedingly intolerant of one another's differences, it is hard for the government to establish a more just society. But if the governments need cooperation and restraint from the citizenry, citizens need help in cultivating the virtues essential to good citizenship. Where are these virtues to be learned?


The Marketplace

More than two centuries ago, Montesquieu, writing in his Spirit of the Laws, saw commerce and the marketplace as an arena in which individuals might be schooled in the quieter passions. He spoke of "dou" ("sweet") commerce, a far cry from the picture of commercial society that one finds in Dickens in the mid-nineteenth century in Oliver Twist or Hard Times. The "belching" mills of Manchester would hardly have seemed "sweet" and the use of child labor less sweet still. Yet to Montesquieu looking at modern commercial activity closer to its inception, it appeared to him to offer a training ground for self-discipline and restraint and produced a gentler, calmer people than the religious zealots and political fanatics on the streets of Paris. To Montesquieu, commerce was a school of civility, helping to form both the human character and competence necessary for good citizenship in a Republic. I mention Montesquieu's vision if only to show how far we have come. Today in the wake of the collapse of Enron and the dot.com world, the arrest of Mike Milken for securities fraud, and the shredding of documents at Arthur Anderson, the marketplace is hardly perceived as a "school of virtue."


Political Participation

Aristotle and Rousseau emphasized the intrinsic worth of political participation, arguing that on the one hand, political life was "the highest form of human-living together that most individuals can aspire to" and, on the other hand, that by being active in public life individuals acquire the capacities and attitudes of mind that are necessary to be good citizens. Political participation itself, on this view, will teach civility, tolerance and responsibility. But such faith in the educative possibilities of political participation seems less compelling in light of low voter turnout and the general indifference to public life that accompanies it.

As has been noted, "most people find the greatest happiness in their family, work, religion, or leisure, not in politics." Modern civic republicans seek to explain the indifference to public life in its impoverishment, "compared to the active citizenship of, say, the ancient Greeks." No doubt there is some truth in this, but, then again, as others have argued "it is more plausible to view our attachment to private life as a result not of the impoverishment of public life but the enrichment of private life. We no longer seek gratification in politics because our personal and social life is so much richer than the Greeks."


Voluntary and Secondary Associations

So if neither the marketplace nor political participation will suffice, where might we learn the virtues essential to good citizenship? There has been a tradition in America, first observed, perhaps, by Tocqueville that finds value and meaning in the voluntary organizations in the society - in synagogues, churches, unions, neighborhood groups, ethnic associations, cooperatives, non-profit groups, charities, men's and women's support groups, sports clubs, and environmental groups. It is here, in these organizations that, as Mary Ann Glendon has written, "human character, competence and capacity for citizenship are formed."

But is this true? Tocqueville believed certainly that the local town meeting and similar types of voluntary organizations were the "seedbed of civic virtue," teaching participants the art of public deliberation, cooperation and trust. A closer look, however, at the track record of a great variety of contemporary voluntary organizations creates a mixed result at best. Some organizations might be held up as model associations, teaching the very things that good citizens must master if the democracy is to stay healthy and strong. But some churches teach deference to authority and intolerance of other faiths. Some ethnic associations often teach prejudice against other ethnic groups. Robert Putnam, who recently did a study of the current state of voluntary organizations in America, first in an article intriguingly titled "Bowling Alone" and then in a book of the same name, found that membership in any number of organizations, was "up," although membership was an extremely attenuated form of participation. So, for example, Sierra Club membership has increased but now there are far fewer "activist" members and many more subscribers, members who simply pay an annual fee in exchange for Sierra Magazine. So, too, many join various voluntary associations, in particular religious and ethnic organizations, to retreat from the society at large rather than to learn civic virtue.


Public Education

So if not in the marketplace or from political participation itself or in voluntary associations, wherein might the next generation of citizens be trained? The most obvious alternative, of course, are the public schools themselves. So, too, of all the virtues that citizens in a modern democracy need to acquire - the ability to question authority and the capacities needed to engage in public deliberation - are best learned in school. Here now I am not thinking of high school civics on the order of a set of facts about political institutions or the memorization of the names of the American Presidents. I am thinking of capacities of mind and spirit.

The ability to question authority is important in a democracy, of course, because the people elect representatives who purportedly represent their will, and the people need the capacity to judge whether that will has been represented and whether their representatives are doing their job and conducting themselves in ways that should continue to hold office. The capacities required to deliberate with others in public are more complex, but equally critical in a democracy. Decisions in a democracy are made in free and open discussion and so discussion and the capacity to participate in it is a key element of what it means to be a good citizen. Indeed, theorists, such as John Stuart Mill defined democracy as "government by public discussion." The virtue of public discourse is also not just a readiness to participate in discussion with others about the public business, it requires the capacity to make one's views known and to make them known in such a way that they are understood and heard. It includes the capacity, as William Galston has stressed, "to listen seriously to a range of views which, given the diversity of liberal societies, will include ideas the listener is bound to find strange and even obnoxious." It is not enough just to make pronouncements or make threats or shout one's views, but to present them persuasively and without manipulation. One must learn, too, how to convince others of the value of one's own ideas in light of reasons that they can recognize and might find minimally reasonable. Hence it will not do to quote merely the Koran or the Bible in defense of one's views if one is seeking to persuade the body of citizens as a whole. Public deliberation by citizens in a democracy requires citizens to be justified on the basis of private faith and those that might be capable of public defense.

These capacities to question and speak and listen to what others have to say are, however, simple as they may sound and not without controversy. To teach children to be skeptical of political authority and to step back from their own religious and cultural traditions in the course of defending their views is likely to lead children to question their parents' choices, as well as to question tradition and religious authority in private life. And, as a result, not unsurprisingly, traditionalists have objected. Based on concerns such as these, the Amish sought to withdraw their children from the public school system, and won a limited victory before the U.S. Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972). The victory granted the Old Order Amish the right to take their children out of school at the age of sixteen to forestall the complete erosion of Amish traditional beliefs by the core principles of the democracy.

So, again, we encounter a problem that reflects our competing impulses to satisfy two sides of ourselves - a private and public side. The solution, if solution there be, must come in striking the right balance between the two. But what do you think? Do you believe that the public school system should teach civic virtue and specifically the ability to question authority and the capacities needed to engage one another in public discourse?


Lowering the Voting Age in Municipal Elections to 16 (The High School Vote)

Cities have the authority to set the requirements for voting in city elections and for city council members, and, armed with this authority several cities in the United States have decided to "experiment" by reducing the voting age to sixteen for city-wide elections to allow high school students to get involved in the political process before they turn eighteen. There are often several arguments given for making this move: one, that it would increase interest in politics among the young, that it would influence apathetic parents of these young adults to take an interest again in political process (called the "tickle up" effect), and that school projects could be organized around the upcoming municipal elections. What do you think? Are you in favor of lowering the voting to 16 in municipal elections? Would you support this proposal if it were on the ballot in your city?


IV. Coda: September 11th and Civic Renewal

September 11th has come and gone and it is perhaps, still too soon to tell in what ways we - all of us - are a different people. Before that fateful day the present administration was, or so it seemed, headed towards a withdrawal from the rest of the world. There was talk from Rumsfeld and others in the Defense Department that the Clinton administration had become involved in too many conflicts around the globe. The new folks in town told us that we would be picking our fights more carefully now, and that we would become involved only if our most central national interests were at stake. And then the terrorists struck and we were reminded in a most devastating way that we are not alone.

Many Americans, not only New Yorkers, found themselves looking to and receiving comfort from Rudy Giuliani, the Mayor of New York, whose presence in the days following the attacks seemed to transcend his own individual identity. Giuliani came to represent a larger ideal in spite of himself. He spoke for us and came to represent what we held in common. There was an outpouring of respect and admiration not only for the Mayor of New York, but for the fire fighters and police officers, a police force not held in the highest esteem during Giuliani's tenure in office. From a people who take a lively interest in their own private affairs, there was a burst of sentiment for public figures and for those men and women engaged in the public's business.

For many of us who not only witnessed these events but lived through them as well wonder whether this outpouring of public-spiritedness will have a lasting effect on the American political culture. Will the public spirit triggered by September 11th, so spontaneous and genuine at the time, spill over into other areas of our social and political life or will it stay wedded to national security concerns? Will it and the recognition that we are not alone in the world that accompanied it temper American individualism and the isolating effects of a too narrowly drawn self-interest?

In looking back on the 2000 National Election through the lens of September 11th, what now seems more troubling than the spoiled ballots and outdated voting machinery is the way we "see" ourselves as citizens. Citizenship is not just an amalgam of a specified set of rights and responsibilities. It is also an identity, an expression of one's membership in a political community.

John Stuart Mill, writing nearly a century and half-ago, expressed concern about English plans to adopt a secret ballot for national elections. When I first read what Mill had to say I found his remarks to be puzzling. Now, however, they make sense to me and I repeat them here with a certain kind of nostalgia. What I realized some time after my first reading of Mill, and what may appear obvious to you today, was that he was not so much speaking about the electoral reform itself as he was about the identity of the kind of citizen the reform would have a tendency to encourage. Writing in 1859, Mill's complaint may seem oddly out-of-date with respect to the secret ballot. But England had not yet adopted a secret ballot. Indeed a secret ballot was not established in England until 1872, and we did not adopt a secret ballot in this country until the 1890s, although Kentucky was the first state to do so in 1888.

In any event, here is what Mill said and what I found so puzzling. The problem with a secret ballot, he wrote, "is that the electors will come to think of the vote as something for their own use and benefit to dispense with as they see fit." This was puzzling since I thought to myself, "Isn't that what a vote is: something for my own use and benefit to dispense with as I see fit?" Then I read further, but what Mill went on to say only made matters still more puzzling. The problem, he continued, is that voters will come to think of their vote "as a right" and of themselves as "consumers shopping for policies in their interests. But, I found myself saying to myself, "Isn't that how voters think of themselves? Isn't that how we think of ourselves?" And then it dawned on me!

Mill had a different conception of a citizen than I did. The difference between our two conceptions could not have been more dramatic. For Mill the citizen sees the vote as a "public trust" and asks the question: "What is good for us?" For me the citizen sees his vote as a private right and asks the question "What is good for me?" For Mill the question might be: "Shall we have more public schools?" For me that very same question became: "Do I want to pay more taxes?" Which citizen are you and which would you rather be? And why?