According to a recent Associated Press report, Americans’ confidence in all three branches of government is at near-record lows. The 2014 General Social Survey finds just 23 percent of Americans have “a great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court, 11 percent in the executive branch and 5 percent in Congress. Meanwhile, in a Gallup poll, Americans name ‘government’ as the most important problem facing the U.S., ahead of, notably, ‘economy’ and ‘jobs.’

At the same time people are hungry for a government that works and there is a large and untapped resource that could help make that happen – the American people.

The Founders’ vision of a government guided by the common sense of the people is an ideal that needs to be re-asserted into our political system. Bringing the informed voice of the people to the policymaking table – through the Citizen Cabinets we now have up and running in three states – will introduce this fresh new dynamic into the debate and that can only help.

These Citizen Cabinets will give members of Congress a more accurate understanding of their constituents’ views, rather than relying on the unreliable impressions they get from letters, phone calls and packed town hall meetings filled with boisterous advocates (the preferred trident of tactics from the deep-pocketed special interests). It will produce public input that is better informed and directly focused on the actual policy choices members of Congress are facing.

By creating a highly visible forum in which government leaders are demonstrably listening to the people, this will help restore public confidence that their voice is being heard, setting a new example and tone for a more positive relationship between the people and their government.

The other main benefit will be a better-informed electorate. Each time the Citizen Cabinets take on an issue, the same survey instrument they use – called a “policymaking simulation” – is posted online. So anyone can go through it and get a briefing on the issue, review the policy options Congress is considering and the best arguments on each side, then make recommendations they can share with their own representatives.

All the information is reviewed in advance by congressional staff experts in both parties, so everyone can be confident it is accurate and fair.

A Congress that listens to a better-informed electorate will be able to move beyond polarization and gridlock, make better decisions, and focus on serving the common good, rather than special interests. A public that sees this kind of change happen will have more confidence that government is working as it should. Yes, we the people have the power to do this.


photo by Rob Shenk via flickr