“How do you fix Congress?” (The missing answer.)

Twelve departing members of Congress offer their thoughts in a N.Y. Times opinion video. The responses focused on attempting to fix the culture of Congress–how members from opposite parties used to get along but now don’t. To the extent, they mentioned structural or institutional changes, these too were devoted to improving congressional culture–like the idea that orientation for new members be bipartisan. None mentioned the possibility of changing the way members of Congress are elected, not even a mention of the need to curtail aggressive partisan gerrymandering, or making districts more competitive so that there aren’t so many safe seats. Perhaps it’s not surprising that elected officeholders would not think to change the means by which they themselves were elected, but now that they are exiting the institution, perhaps they can give more thought to that component of the problem–as all of us who care about the future of American democracy should. As I wrote in my recent Virtues and Institutions essay, we must pursue electoral reforms that are centripetal in nature, to counteract the current extent of partisan polarization. If members of Congress were elected by means of voting procedures that were more centripetal than those currently in place, it would be much, much easier to foster the kind of consensus-seeking congressional culture that these exiting members of Congress so regret is lacking.

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