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In his State of the Union Address this week, President Obama lamented the state of politics in America and proposed: if we want better politics, it’s not enough to just change a Congressman or a Senator or even a President; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.
Thank you, Mr. President! We welcome your powerful and unequivocal support for political reform. As you note, the problem with our politics today doesn’t sit with our elected officials themselves, but with the systemic incentives that encourage if not impel them to support policies intended to appeal to special interests or partisan insiders.
The President has charged all of us to stand up and demand change in the political process. Open Primaries activists are answering the call, taking a bold reform agenda to the states-and directly to the people. This year, voters in Arizona and South Dakota will consider "top two" and anti-corruption measures in 2016. We are joining with reform minded legislators from Michigan to New Mexico to push for real structural change.
2016 State of the Union Excerpt
And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe most important thing that I want to say tonight. The future we want, all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.
A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.
But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t — it doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, it doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.
Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise or when even basic facts are contested or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.
Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.
But my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any president’s — alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber — good people — who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.
But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.
I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around.
Let a bipartisan group do it.
I believe we’ve got to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.
And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution, because it’s a problem. And most of you don’t like raising money. I know. I’ve done it.
We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder. We need to modernize it for the way we live now.
This is America. We want to make it easier for people to participate. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.
But I can’t do these things on my own. Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.
What I’m suggesting is hard. It’s a lot easier to be cynical, to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is, all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and our actions don’t matter.
But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.
We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want. It will not produce the security we want. But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.
So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it, our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen, to vote, to speak out, to stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody somewhere stood up for us.