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Picking Our Next President's Name Out Of A Hat

Janna Malamud Smith: If this nation is truly a democracy, why not let our citizens give governing a try? In this photo, people gather on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, May 8, 2015, to watch Vintage military aircraft from World War II fly over Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Janna Malamud Smith: If this nation is truly a democracy, why not let our citizens give governing a try? In this photo, people gather on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, May 8, 2015, to watch Vintage military aircraft from World War II fly over Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Perhaps you’re old enough to remember the draft lottery. If not, it was what — between 1969 and 1973 — decided if a young man served in the military. A government employee put a lot of little plastic capsules inside a big glass jar. Depending when the one with your birth date in it was drawn, you either went to Vietnam or stayed home.

I’m thinking it’s time now to reinstate a lottery, but this one would be for choosing our next president and Congress. Instead of anymore “democratic” elections run by billionaires and gillionaires manipulating politicians like puppets on strings, I’m thinking that if we want to have even a snowball’s-chance-in-hell of saving our democratic process — not to mention our country, a lottery might be just the thing.

We’ll put the names of everyone 18 and over into a very big glass jar, spin it around, and pull out a president and vice president, a Senate and a Congress. If it proves as useful as I imagine, down the road we can add governors, cabinet members ... Heck, why not CEOs of Fortune 500 companies while we’re at it?

I’m thinking that if we want to have even a snowball’s-chance-in-hell of saving our democratic process -- not to mention our country, a lottery might be just the thing.

Think how much more representative the results would be. We’d get leaders from every social class, race, age, immigrant group, and they’d have diverse job skills ... And we’d get to include everyone who of late has felt too marginalized and disillusioned to vote. I bet they could shed some light.

What’s not to love? Like anyone who’s ever looked around — or served on a jury — I am quite certain that the elites who tend to gain office have no corner on wisdom, justice, fair play, common sense, or problem solving. So, if this nation is a democracy, why not let our citizens give governing a try?

Sure, I know the arguments for professional politicians: we need people with experience who understand how the sausage is made. We need people who have proved their strength of character by surviving all the stresses of primaries and campaigning. We need people with carefully crafted platforms.

Perhaps, but I’m no longer so convinced.

The price has just become too high. By the time candidates get elected in the United States (even if we are only the 17th most corrupt country in the world on a list of 175) they are so indebted to so many special interests, so dependent on corporate money and donations, so crippled by the ridiculous two party gridlock, so fearful of not getting reelected, and so paralyzed by 24/7 media exposure, that they’ve long since given up on proposing anything innovative, brave, original, integrity-filled, or radically useful. (OK, I agree, Elizabeth Warren may just prove to be the exception, if so, we’ll let her stay in the Senate for life.)

Think how much more representative the results would be. We’d get leaders from every social class, race, age, immigrant group, and they’d have diverse job skills... 

My initial thinking about a lottery came to me some years ago when I was imagining a movie script. In it, I had Bette Midler playing a single mother with kids, living in a housing project, who is chosen president by a lottery system. Back then, I enjoyed the fantasy because — after Gary Hart -- we got so carried away for awhile eliminating candidates for sexual peccadilloes, that I thought a lottery might solve that whole distracting public shaming thing. (When we make politicians run around so much they don’t see spouses for years on end, do we really believe the majority will be faithful? But I digress.)

More to the point, I got interested in the script idea because — after years working in a housing project clinic — I had learned that the poor and marginalized people I’d come to know were often wonderful human beings, with really astute perspectives on many things — including the foibles of our political system. I realized we’d all be much better off if we included their voices in the public discourse. But now, since Citizens United has become the law of the land, and since we’ve repeatedly seen that Congress can rise to no occasion — think global climate change — I’ve realized a movie won’t do it. I’m thinking we ought to go all the way.

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Janna Malamud Smith Cognoscenti contributor
Janna Malamud Smith is a psychotherapist and writer.

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