Is American government now “broken?” And, if so, how do independent voters view this and is there anything they can do to correct it? Those are some of the questions raised by CNN anchor Don Lemon in a segment on Sunday.
I was on the independent voter panel along with Omar Ali, historian and independent, voting analyst and Nicole Kurokawa, an independent voting analyst in Washington. Here is the full transcript of that segment:
LEMON: All right. Here’s a question: Is government broken? A simple question with huge ramifications for the country and for members of Congress in this election year.
Now, Senator Evan Bayh sounded that warning this week as he announced he will not seek reelection, saying the Senate has become so partisan it’s almost impossible to get anything done.
So, CNN will be focusing on this question this week and we’re getting started tonight with our independent voter panel — because we think — we like hearing these voices from our independents.
There is he. He’s becoming a regular now, and Joe Gandelman. He’s the editor-in-chief of the “Moderate Voice” blog. He’s joining us live from San Diego.
JOE GANDELMAN, MODERATE VOICE BLOG: Hi.
LEMON: Omar Ali is an historian and independent, voting analyst in Washington.
Hello to you again.
And there she is, Nicole Kurokawa, an independent voting analyst in Washington.
So, I want to start by asking you — I’ll start with you, Nicole — what is broken government and what’s not broken government? So — or should it be left alone? Is the government broken? Is it not? Should it be left alone?
NICOLE KUROKAWA, INDEPENDENT VOTING ANALYST: I don’t think the government is broken, actually. I think, you know, we’re not able to get a lot of legislation through right now but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the government overall is broken.
LEMON: Why do you say you don’t think it’s broken?
KUROKAWA: You know, just — like I said, just because we’re not passing health care legislation or cap-and-trade doesn’t mean that the process is broken. The founders envisioned a slow, deliberative legislative process and that’s what we’re seeing right now. These are major decisions that they’re trying to get pushed through and the public isn’t necessarily behind all of them. So, I think seeing that things are taking slower or things are going slower than perhaps they would have otherwise is not necessarily — it doesn’t mean that things are not working.
LEMON: OK. Omar Ali, you know, we talked about Evan Bayh saying that he’s not going to run for re-election. He gave that press conference and then this today, he wrote a letter to the editor of “The New York Times,” says, “Why I’m leaving the Senate,” by Evan Bayh. And he goes on to talk about it, basically talking about partisanship.
This morning on ABC, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and also, governor — who was he on with this morning? Rendell and Schwarzenegger from California — excuse me — on this morning. Rendell was talking about partnership and so was Schwarzenegger. And he said this. He said — Schwarzenegger says, “I am working with Governor Rendell. I’m also working with independent Michael Bloomberg and that’s why this partnership is so perfect because Bloomberg is an independent, Rendell is a Democrat, I’m a Republican. So, what we’re trying to say is that we are rebuilding America, but it’s not a political issue. It’s a people issue. We want to serve the people of America.”
Then he went on to say this about the stimulus plan and hypocrisy. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I find it interesting that you have a lot of the Republicans running around and pushing back on the stimulus money and saying, this doesn’t create any new jobs and then they go out and do the photo-ops and they’re posing with the big check and they say, “Isn’t this great? Look what the kind of — the kind of money I provide here for the state. And this is great money to create jobs, and this has created 10,000 new jobs, and this has created 20,000 new jobs.” And all these kinds of things. It doesn’t match up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s hypocrisy.
SCHWARZENEGGER: So, it’s exactly some, I think —
GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It’s hypocrisy in the highest level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So if what he says it is indeed true, then what is the solution at least for Independents? Do you believe that it’s true? And do you believe that Independents have a solution? And I guess the question is, do you believe that Republicans and Democrats can work together with this as an Independent?
OMAR ALI, HISTORIAN & INDEPENDENT VOTING ANALYST: Well, I think that all kinds of partnerships are great. I think that’s fine. But it’s more than just partnerships between the two major parties. We’re not looking for bipartisan governance in this country. I think Americans are looking for nonpartisan governance. And Independents have solutions that have been practical and working.
So, for instance, in terms of the national level, things being demanded by Independents are including Independents in the Federal Election Commission, including having open primaries across the country and nonpartisan redistricting. See, it’s not just individuals getting together at the high levels of governors —
LEMON: Do you think Independents are included enough? Do you think there’s enough there?
ALI: No, it’s not. In fact, there are structural limitations against Independents, from participating as full-fledged citizens in this country. In some ways, there’s sort of a Jim Crow against Independents in this country which runs everything from getting on the ballot, if you want to run for president.
LEMON: What do you mean by that? Explain that to our viewers.
ALI: Well, what it means is, for instance, if you say you, Don Lemon, wants to run for president of the United States, you would have to get over 30 times the number of signatures than you were if you were running as an Independent than if you were a Democrat or a Republican.
LEMON: And you think that is discriminatory?
ALI: Absolutely. The Federal Elections Commission is made up of three Democrats and Three Republicans. It’s bipartisan. It’s not a nonpartisan entity. And yet, they are overseeing all of these campaign election rules which discriminate against Independents and third-party candidates. So there are structural issues that Independents are concerned about.
Redistricting is another issue. So there are a whole set of structural issues that Independents have been raising. And leaders in the Independent movements have been raising this for many, many years. People like Jacqueline Salit, people like Dr. Lanorth Aloni (ph), Jim Maja (ph). And there are all kinds of leaders out there that have been pushing for this for many, many years. and so I think it’s a great opportunity now as the tea party movement has come up, that they can distinguish themselves from the Independent movement because the Independent movement is far more inclusive than what we see out there.
LEMON: And, Jim (ph), perhaps this is one of the nicest discussions that I’ve seen, talking about that interview this morning on ABC about a Republican and a Democrat working together. and I think Governor Schwarzenegger said, listen, people in Washington have to figure out that they are working for the good of the people and not for the good of the party. So, Jim — sorry. Joe, what do you say to that?
JOE GANDELMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE MODERATE VOICE: Well, I think what has happened is gamesmanship has started to [trump] policy. When Evan Bayh talked about the fact that our politics had [be]come almost tribalism, it’s become, I’ve often said, like a sports team, where nobody is really — they don’t want to listen to each other. Everybody is too interested in scoring points and check mating the other. And I also think that there really are some real problems with government working right now because I’m totally in agreement with Evan Bayh with what he said about the filibuster. Until they put it down to 55 votes and the Senator has to be there for it to take place, it could be abused. The problem is that both political parties want the filibuster when they are not in power, and they don’t want [the] filibuster when they are in power. Both parties are really hypocritical on the issue of the filibuster.
LEMON: Well, there is a case thought that people said, if you want to make a difference in Washington, you don’t quit. And they made that same criticism of on Sarah Palin as well. There is the thinking that if Evan Bayh wanted to make a difference, he should stay in there and fight.
GANDELMAN: He should have. But he probably just felt like he was bumping his head against the wall. The real danger with the way our [politics] are going right now is that thoughtful people, people that are not into what I call the talk radio political culture, where there is this demonization and name calling and you try to take somebody out. You try to basically —
LEMON: It’s become theater.
GANDELMAN: It’s professional wrestling is what it is.
LEMON: So listen, I asked Nicole. Nicole she said that she doesn’t believe that the government is broken. Do you believe that the government is broken?
GANDELMAN: I think right now what we see in Congress is broken. I don’t think the founding fathers wanted to see this kind of paralysis. There is tyranny of the majority and there’s also tyranny of the minority right now. It’s hard to sift that out because the minority is going to be the majority, the majority is going to be the minority. But right now, the Congress is [not] working. And a lot of people are really disgusted because nothing is happening.
LEMON: Omar, do you believe that the government is broken?
ALI: Yes. I wanted to add to what Joe was saying, which is, the latest CNN poll came out saying that 86 percent of Americans believe that the government is broken, 85 percent of Americans don’t want to see Congress elected, re-elected. There’s a great deal of anger against the parties. And Independents have solutions that they are offering to do something about the politics paralysis out there.
So I think, you know, what we’re going to see in the coming sort of months and the coming years is the rise of the Independent voter in ways that are going to help —
LEMON: Stop right there. Who — what Independents — and where should we be looking for these Independents. Is there an Independent somewhere or a number that you can point out that we should be paying attention to?
ALI: Yes. Absolutely. There’s actually — anybody can go to it, Independentvoting.org, has — is a site that brings together associations of Independents from around the country. It’s being led by Jacqueline Salit, who has been somebody that has been at the forefront of pushing for the structural reforms. People can go to these places. There are associations of Americans who don’t want to be affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. They want to be Independent.
Now Independents may swing one way in one election cycle and then another way another one. But their message remains the same — something must be done about the political and partisan paralysis that we have in Washington, D.C.
LEMON: Omar, Nicole, thank you so much. I appreciate you guys joining us on a Sunday. It’s always a great conversation. I wish we had a whole hour longer to talk about it.
ALI: Thank you very much.
GANDELMAN: Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you.
CNN is taking a really hard look at the cracks in our systems. We are cutting through the political games for you and looking for the fixes here in a new series we’re calling it “Broken Government.” Look for it all this week, all this week, right here on CNN.
FOOTNOTE: We will try to get the video of this segment up on TMV later in the week. Also: I’ve made some minor changes in the transcript (a few of the words on the transcript aren’t correct and don’t match the DVD I have).
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.