The rebirth of democracy in Philadelphia

Click here for more photos from “Renewing the Founders’ Promise.” 

Last Thursday evening in Philadelphia, nearly 200 former members of Congress, governors and Cabinet secretaries, along with hundreds of enthusiastic Americans, rededicated themselves to restoring principles and values America was founded on.

The declaration to renew the Founders’ promise was unveiled during a sold-out, robust discussion in partnership with the National Constitution Center (NCC), featuring eminent historians Joseph Ellis, Jon Meacham and Jeffrey Rosen, as well as members of Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus including former Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) and Reps. Sue Myrick (R-NC) and Marjorie Margolies (D-PA).

The event was a call for all Americans and elected officials to prioritize finding solutions to the problems that politically divide the country and directly contribute to the dysfunction in Washington.

“We are here to remember the first right that we granted ourselves: The instituting of government, and the right to govern ourselves. As it is laid out in the Declaration of Independence: To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” said Issue One President & CEO Nick Penniman.

“Americans are tuning out of the political system,” said former Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC). “They’re tired of the divisions. They want to see people working together. Members of Congress should not be spending so much time raising money instead of doing their jobs, and they are leaving because of it. They have had enough.”

Congresswoman Myrick’s comments echoed the long-running issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill: The demand for elected lawmakers to ceaselessly raise money – often up to 30 hours each week – and how congressional leadership rewards members who prioritize fundraising over policymaking with coveted congressional committee chair positions. As Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (R-PA) and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) wrote, “We used to have to arrange schedules around fundraisers for senators. It was considered the exception, and now it is the rule.” In short, political leadership, the parties and system supporting them have come to care more about majorities in the legislative branch than governing.

Panelists also discussed solutions to fixing the broken political system and the qualities of leadership that the country needs now more than ever.

“It turns out that a lot of democracy depends on unwritten rules around decorum, restraint, empathy, duty—all of these qualities we assume were the guardrails for responsible public service,” former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) added.

“There is so much political engineering of outcomes—how much money moves in which directions, gerrymandering and so forth— but there is still an importance in having a functioning government at each level, that is responsive, and responsible, about those unwritten rules.”

Myrick added that politics, not public service, too often shapes the way candidates for office perceive of their role once they win election: “People who run for office—if they would run as a public servant instead of a politician—should be willing to make the commitment to do the job the way it is supposed to be.”

Historian Joseph Ellis took her call one step further, “A public servant is someone willing to lose an election in order to go in the direction necessary. How many people exist of that sort in the Congress of the United States right now?”

One answer to solving the country’s problems, according to ReFormers Caucus Co-chair former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), is to begin empowering and electing officials from the youngest generation. “We need young people to lead by putting their country above their party,” he added. “We need them standing on the Constitution, saying, ‘This is what is good for the country’.”

ReFormers also endorsed the work of the Congressional Reformers Caucus, 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives dedicated to political reform, which is modeled after Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus.

The event launched Issue One’s “Fix Politics Now” national campaign calling on candidates for office in the 2018 election to be champions of solutions to restore accountability, transparency and integrity in Washington. The “Fix Politics Now” declaration stands out as a beacon of hope to Americans who see authoritarianism on the rise around the world, and question the deterioration of democratic norms and standards here at home. Dysfunction in Washington, fueled by special interests dividing the country and vilifying candidates for office, is not a Republican or Democratic problem, but an American one. It requires the energy, sacrifice and commitment of all citizens across the country to return government to the American people.

“This group [Issue One] is an important inside-the-tent group, of people who are experienced in the political arena and are working as excellent reformers from within,” said historian Joseph Ellis. “We need an outside game as well as an inside game.”

You can become a citizen signer of the declaration to Renew the Founders’ Promise today by clicking here.

Note: Fix Politics Now is an initiative of Issue One Action. To learn more, visit FixPoliticsNow.org.