Newly elected Congressperson: Public office must be earned

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a newly elected US Congressperson from NY who is considered somewhat of an anti-establishment progressive having unseated a long-serving Congressperson in the Democratic primary. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, she seems to be very much in favor of the standard notion of a competitive struggle for power. She recently made the following comment (a-propos the power of the party machine):

That broken mentality, that public office is something you wait in line for, instead of earning through hard organizing, is exactly what voters want to change.

“Waiting in line for public office” is largely what a sortition-based system is about.

10 Responses

  1. Yes, but that may be nit-picking.

    Within the current system, not only does her statement make sense, but it can be interpreted – I would interpret it – to be hostile to privilege within politics, which is one of the driving values of most of us here at Sortition Central – or are we Starship Sortition? ;)

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  2. > that may be nit-picking

    To me that is a major point. The idea behind that quote (and it is a rather common idea in reformist circles) is that the problem with the electoral system is that its meritocratic mechanisms have been corrupted. In reality, the problem with the electoral system is that it is ‘meritocratic’ rather than democratic. That is, it concentrates power based on various competitive criteria rather than distributes power equally.

    (Surely we’re the Central Revolutionary Sortition Committee…)

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  3. Indeed, nearly every elected official believes they have “earned” their power…. whether by dutifully waiting their turn within the party hierarchy, or by being a good organizer … They feel worthy (more worthy than ordinary citizens). I speak from experience (having been a “very worthy feeling” politician myself in the past.)

    As an aside… As a radical, I sought election because I wanted to promote dramatic change in society in a particular direction. I remember being confused when I discovered many of my fellow representatives (in this small little state of Vermont) had no agenda… nothing in particular they wanted to accomplish. They just enjoyed the honor of being one of the “elect.” They also felt that they were representative of their community, so would tackle issues from that perspective as they came in front of them. Actually that is sort of the spirit we expect sortition law-makers to exhibit. It is people like me (who come with an agenda) that will be rare in sortition.

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  4. The proportion of chamber members with an agenda will track their proportion in the population.

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  5. Yoram:> The proportion of chamber members with an agenda will track their proportion in the population.

    True, and as the numbers will be small and as there are many agendas, the outcome will be random in the pejorative sense. That’s why sortition can have no role to play in agenda setting. And if participation in the minipublic is not quasi-mandatory, then the number of members with an agenda will increase sharply (thereby reducing its representativity) and it will also be wide open to manipulation by lobbyists and other groups with their own agenda.

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  6. The other factor is that members with an agenda are likely to be more skilled in the black arts of persuasion than the average Joe, that’s why I claim that the role of the jury should be to listen in silence to the competing arguments and then determine the outcome (as in the Athenian nomothetai). I can understand why members of this forum with a background in radical political activism are not attracted to this model, but would suggest that democratic norms should trump the wish to “promote dramatic change in society in a particular direction.”

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  7. Keith,
    To the contrary… A mini-public is the only legitimate means for agenda setting in a democracy. It will of course need protection from lobbying, and other manipulation. A separate mini-public must establish the rules and procedures to assure balanced presentations, etc. Unlike votation or an elected chamber, only a mini-public can be free from the manipulation allowed by voter rational ignorance and the electoral imperatives of candidates (who are more concerned about short-term appearance than long term impacts of policy). A mini-public can bring in all kinds of experts, engage in bona fide risk assessments, and use verified facts, rather than manipulated impressions, in setting an agenda. Keith will argue that different mini-publics of this sort might select different agenda items, and so this is invalid. To the contrary,… there are an infinite number of possible legitimate agenda items, and exactly which rise to the top can vary depending on who is selected for the mini-public, but ALSO for ANY deliberative body, the selected agenda may vary day to day. There is not one perfect democratic agenda, but rather a host of possible legitimate agendas, and another host of bad agenda items (that an elected chamber or votation might select, which a mini-public would more likely reject.)

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  8. Hi Terry,

    I guess we’ve been over all this a hundred times before, so will limit my response to your claim:

    >bad agenda items (that an elected chamber or votation might select, which a mini-public would more likely reject.)

    If the final decision is in the hands of a nomothetai-style body then agenda-setters will have no choice but to offer proposals that the average voter is likely to find amenable, otherwise their agenda-setting will fail. Harrington made this argument in 1656 and it still applies. Given that we know (from both statistical theory and practical example) that such a body will be truly representative, why do you want to waste time arguing for an additional function for sortition whose democratic credentials are (at best) questionable?

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  9. Terry,

    >A mini-public is the only legitimate means for agenda setting in a democracy.

    I hope that you will agree that you have derived this conclusion from a purely theoretical understanding of representation [misunderstanding, imo] and that your proposals for such a body are speculative [wishful thinking, imo]. Your claim is full of imperatives (“must”) and conditionals (“can”) and is open to dispute [witnessed by my paranthetical remarks]. By contrast the case for the nomothetai-style body is robust (both theoretically, historically and empirically), so why can’t we all focus on that for the time being?

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  10. > for the time being?

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the New Jerusalem is unlikely to come about any time soon (for those of us of a non-millenarian persuasion). It would be a shame to forfeit the former for the latter — the likely consequence of the pursuit of pure sortition. Given that pure sortition allows no efficient role for existing elites (other than your dignified superannuation plan), it’s unlikely to prove an attractive option in their eyes.

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