In Conversation with Bob Edgar

April 24, 2012

On April 24, 2012 Jonathan Fanton sat down with Bob Edar for a discussion about his work as head of Common Cause, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to increase transparency and accountability in American politics. For more information on Common Cause, click here.

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our ongoing program on the election of 2012. Tonight we have a very special guest, Bob Edgar, who is President of Common Cause, a movement of over 400,000 members determined to improve our democratic form of government. Its mission statement is direct, powerful and inspiring: “Common Cause is dedicated to restoring the values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process.”

That statement resonates with one of Roosevelt House’s central themes: to encourage the Hunter community, especially students, to engage in the political process. Voter registration is available on the first floor of the Roosevelt House. And our Public Policy Program is helping first-time voters understand how to translate their views and opinions into informed votes whether for individuals or on issue referenda. Indeed, this is a theme of our ongoing series, The Road to November: Exploring America’s Challenges on the Way to Election 2012, which examines the key social, political, and economic issues preceding the November 2012 Presidential election. You might be interested in our next event in this series on May 8, when Jonathan Alter will engage Ira Shapiro in a conversation on his latest book, The Last Great Senate.

Surely, this series would impress Franklin Roosevelt, who said in one 1938 address to the nation that:
“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.”

I am particularly pleased that Bob Edgar is part of this program. I joined the Board of Common Cause not only because I believe in its mission but because I think Bob Edgar is an extraordinary leader.

Trained in theology at Drew University, he was the United Protestant Chaplain of Drexel University until being elected to the House of Representatives in 1975. During his six terms in the House Congressman Edgar led efforts to improve public transportation, fought wasteful, pork-barrel projects involving the country’s water usage and supply and authored the community Right to Know provision of Super Fund legislation. After Congress, he was President of the Claremont School of Theology for a decade and then served as general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ.

Under his leadership, Common Cause has new energy and focus. He will tell us, I am sure, about the Amend 2012 campaign aimed at cleansing our electoral system of the pernicious influence of big money. And the Common Cause spotlight on redistricting programs, efforts to modify the filibuster system, improve government accountability and transparency, challenge the tax-exempt status of the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), and much more.

A recent poll suggests increasing numbers of Americans distrust our political process and policy formation. A Fall 2011 Congressional Budget Office poll found that 89% of Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing.  In a recent Gallup poll a record low 10% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing and 86% disapprove. An April 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 64% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track (washingtonpost, April 11, 2012).

That is a dismal and deeply disturbing commentary on the state of our democracy which was founded as a “city upon a hill” to set a standard for the world. No wonder that our Constitution no longer serves as the model for new democracies.

A recent New York Times article entitled “The Constitution Has Seen Better Days” notes that “Among the world’s democracies, constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall” since the end of World War II. Even Justice Ginsburg said in a speech in Egypt earlier this year, “I would not look to the US Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.”

This is not a state of affairs we should allow to continue. It is time for the American people to transcend party lines and engage with bipartisan organizations like Common Cause to get our democracy back on track.

Bob Edgar will share with us his ideas on what we as citizens can do. After his remarks, he and I will have a conversation for 10 minutes and then open up to your questions and comments.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Bob Edgar.

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