Guest column: Gravel’s road

Guest column: Gravel’s road


By Jon Saltzman


Published: Monday, March 1, 2010

Updated: Monday, March 1, 2010

More than two years ago, everyone laughed at then-presidential candidate Mike Gravel’s objective proposal to amend the Constitution  and switch to a more directly democratic system. Such a radical reform was considered as outlandish as his stone-throwing campaign ad (if you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out). But now, after a year of political deadlock, it is becoming ever more apparent that former Sen. Gravel (D-Alaska) just might end up being vindicated.

It was June 2009 — yes, it has been that long — that President Barack Obama started his presidential quest for health care reform. Five months later, the House of Representatives passed its version of  his proposal. Keep in mind, the Democrats had more than 75 more members in the House than the Republicans did.

More than a month after that House victory, a demolished and weakened bill passed in the Senate — the same Senate where the Democrats held a 60-seat supermajority. No, really, the same Senate.
Then came the clear and transparent deals that would be made on a compromise bill that could be passed in both houses. Wait, no, I meant the private backroom debates that saturated Congress’s winter break. It seemed as though the politicians had finally realized true political compromises, with all the dark secrets behind them, could not be reached in the public sphere.

So after the private talks, then could we get our health care? Of course not. All we got was more gridlock. We deserve better.

Switzerland has a direct democratic system: If 50,000 citizens sign a form demanding a referendum on legislation within three months, a national vote will take place in which only a majority of citizens are needed to pass the referendum. OK, maybe it’s not exactly direct democracy, but it’s pretty close.

You may point out that Switzerland has a population about 1/40th the size of the United States’ population. Nonetheless, keep in mind this system of referendum was established in 1848.

Nowadays, we have the Internet. We can go beyond any semi-direct democratic system and establish a fair, truly democratic society. Just imagine how much easier our legislative system would be without party inflexibility, powerful lobbyists and personal disputes among politicians. Health care could have been passed eight months ago!

One constitutional amendment could change our nation forever, making it the proud democracy that our forefathers envisioned. Had they possessed the tools we have today, they would likewise see how easy it would be to incorporate everyone into the government.

Realistically speaking, this can be done. If we all demand more power from our government, we can make change. Think late 19th- and early 20th-century progressive movements. Think civil rights sit-ins. Now is the time for action.

Write your representatives, organize marches, send letters to those easily manipulated Tea Partiers. We can do this, people — it’s what this country is all about.

This is the vindication of Mike Gravel.

Jon Saltzman is a freshman anthropology and government and politics major. He can be reached at jonsaltzman at gmail dot com.