Why Political Reform Should Be Priority Number One

The tragic aspect of Barack Obama’s first term in the White House is that a president who was elected on the promise of changing how politics works, and whose main political passion was the crafting of consensus, was instead ground down, defeated, and made ordinary by the democratic process. As Noam Scheiber’s recent book, The Escape Artists, suggests, Obama would have been better off, given the magnitude and urgency of the economic crisis in 2009, had he simply forgotten about hope, change and finding consensus, and instead fought his way cynically through the political process as it is.

But it would be a mistake to think of process-reform as a luxury. The political dysfunction in Washington is now its own crisis—one to be addressed on its own terms. If the economy recovery remains on solid ground—a big if, of course—Obama should reclaim, both on the campaign trail and upon re-election, his original mission and passion: Reform of the political process. Pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded in July 2011 that voters are more open than ever before to thinking about economic inequality and stress as connected to political inequality and a sense that the “the game is rigged” and people “do not think their voices matter.”

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