Paul Jacob

 A South Carolina Congressman shouts “You lie!” at the president and theresult is predictable: A thousand discourses on incivility and thebreakdown of civilization and honor and . . . [   fill in the dang blank yourself   ].

Yeah, I’m as worried about incivility as the next father of three. But,let’s be realistic: There are worse things than impolite politicians.There are foolish politicians, corrupt politicians, evil politicians .. . and all the policies that they can make even worse.

And speaking of policies to alter, there’s Jonathan Alter, one of our nation’s top civility mavens, with a new plan. Alter saystoday’s problem is too many “jackasses.” He tweaks the presidenthimself for using the very word to describe another incivility, laterin the news week. He thinks we should move heaven and earth toundermine the national slide into disgrace and jackassery.

How? Well, according to his assessment, if we adopted Washingtonstate’s new electoral system, which he calls the “open primary,” the“jackass quotient” among our representatives would decrease.

I’ve written about Washington state’s latest foray into electoral reform, before. Grunge-rock bassist Krist Novoselic challenged the system this summer for its assault on freedom of association. He’s a man who’s for electoral reform, but he’s particular: He wants reform done right.

As I read it, Alter wants the reform done wrong.

And this is not just an academic issue. Mr. Alter really is promoting Washington state’s new system as the one for all states. And he has reason to think it can be exported. California legislators put it on next June’s ballot. If Californians aren’t careful, they could be stuck with a goofier system than they have now.

What Alter seeks is a way to keep “extremists” out of representativepositions. He says the current system encourages them. And he has apoint. Certain kinds of partisan extremism areencouraged, or at least accommodated. We have two major parties, andthey have carved up the electoral landscape pretty well, between thetwo of them.

Washington’s new system addresses that in a clever way. Clever, because it lookslike it’s giving everyone more choices, while ensuring that, in theend, voters have less diversity to choose from, and a greaterlikelihood of voting for incumbents.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.