Paul Jacob

It’s tedious to discuss the federal government: one soon runs out of synonyms for “spineless,” “reckless” and “out-of-control.” But as the clock ticks on world fiscal thermonuclear debt Armageddon or perhaps the somewhat arbitrary date of August 2 (take your pick), I wonder:

Why has no one asked us what we think?

Wait! Not polls. I’m not interested in our participation, as if cattle, asked to “weigh in” yea or nay after hearing some loaded verbal concoction about a vague debt reduction plan that isn’t actually on the table, unavailable for the whole nation to see and read and discuss.

If we are the government, why don’t we have a seat at the table?

In this particular case, I’m not even thinking of different democratic mechanisms like initiative, referendum and recall, through which citizens could check the actions of their Congress, courts, president and many millions of employees. While a big fan of some direct democratic check on government at all levels, I recognize we also need legislators and presidents to effectively represent us if we’re to have good government. Voters can’t do it all. A few of us still have jobs. So, let me suggest just a smidgen of simple transparency.

Where is President Obama’s plan?

He’s good at being “present,” but he never has a plan to pin down what he is for or against on any major public policy issue.

Where is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan? And though Republicans have offered budget plans and better specifics than the White House or congressional Democrats, we need a written plan from Speaker John Boehner on what needs to happen in order to raise the debt limit. Brinksmanship without knowing where the brink is? Crazy.

The seat we have now is in front of our television. With secret negotiations among politicians (who are largely distrusted by the public) concerning unwritten plans and offers, followed by dueling news conferences where their reflections on the unseen shadow proceedings with a good dollop of excess partisan spin, the picture is anything but High Definition.

Hey, these guys are the world’s finest at spinning the stuff we can see right before our eyes. How on earth are we supposed to divine the truth of their contradictory claims about unknown proposals from secret meetings?

It’s late in the game, but desperate times call for sensible measures — not to mention quick action. Let’s have these meetings in the open, 0n TV, on the Internet — maybe a couple reporters could scribble in their notebooks to give it ambiance.

In short, let’s bring the American people into the room where our so-called leaders are discussing our future debts. Let citizens read the various plans and proposals in black and white. The choice is simply between an informed electorate and one kept in the dark.

Mr. Obama has spoken eloquently about this. So, how about actually putting it on C-Span?

Don’t hold your breath. After ordering congressional leaders to the White House for more clandestine meetings on Saturday after Friday’s top secret discussions fell apart, Obama said, “[Congressional leaders] are going to have to explain to me how it is that we are going to avoid default. And they can come up with any plans they want and bring them up here and we will work on them.”

But shouldn’t congressional leaders explain to the people, to whom they report, rather than to the president? Shouldn’t we all be reviewing any real plans in the light of day, so that all voters can speak out? And our “representatives” can listen to our informed opinions and represent us?

Mr. President, we citizens want to roll up our sleeves and work on those plans, too.

“The only bottom line I have,” our president informed reporters, “is we have to extend this debt ceiling through the next election—into 2013.”

Again, the key principle seems clear: keep governing as far away as possible from an election . . . and those pesky voters.


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.