In his 2014 State of the Union message, President Obama signaled his intention to get around the polarization and gridlock that have plagued Congress in recent years by more aggressively using his executive powers to get things done.

His frustration with the partisan gridlock in Congress is understandable, and widely shared by the American people, but is this the best way to break the impasse?

Our Constitution gives Congress the right to obstruct the President’s agenda, and it allows the President to act independently on some matters through executive orders. But elected officials are not simply meant to pursue whatever they want within the limits of the Constitution. That’s not what the Founders had in mind, and not what the American people see as the proper role for elected officials.

The Founders thought elected officials should also be guided by the ‘sense of the people,’ and not just at election time, but on an ongoing basis. As Thomas Jefferson said, the people should be the ultimate ‘arbiter.’

The people provide legitimacy in a democracy, and when government is perceived as not being aligned with the people—as it is today—it loses legitimacy.

The Founders were confident that a government guided by the sense of the people would be able to move beyond polarization and find common ground—and there’s a lot of research saying they were right—the American people are far less polarized than Congress and do tend to think in terms of the common good, not just their own self-interest.

New methods for consulting the people have been developed that offer great promise in helping government leaders find more constructive ways to work together and improve the state of our democracy. Find out what you can do to help.

There is a lot of talk these days about inequality. While the focus has been on economic inequality, the roots of this problem are in the inequality of influence on government decisionmaking. Members of Congress spend a large portion of their time on fundraising. This means that they spend a lot of time hearing from people who have the means to make large campaign contributions. Clearly this means they also have more influence, if nothing else because they get the chance to be heard. The Founders would shudder (or worse) at the notion that some citizens or organized interests (what the Founders called ‘factions’) would have such disproportionate influence.

The Citizen Cabinet is an antidote to this inequality of influence. The Citizen Cabinet as a whole will be an accurate mirror of the values and priorities of the entire citizenry, not just those who have the means to get in front of members of Congress.

The Founders believed that if government leaders were guided by the citizenry as a whole they would be more likely to serve the common good. Research in the field of public consultation does reveal that when Americans are taken through a process that simulates the process a policymaker goes through—getting briefed on an issue, hearing arguments for and against policy options and then finally making recommendations—they do actually think about the common good, not just what is in their personal interest.

Thus having a Citizen Cabinet to advise elected officials is clearly one of the best ways to counter the inequality of influence in our country today, as well as the unequal outcomes that result from it. Learn more.

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