When Middle America thinks about Switzerland, we think of cheese, chocolate, watches, Alpine skiing, the Red Cross, anonymous banking, and political neutrality. Yet it would be truly awesome if America could also come to understand Switzerland’s historic democracy. Its rich history contributed a blend of representative and direct democracy that has given the Swiss a powerful layer of tyranny protection that America so desperately needs. Switzerland’s legislative process could hold the key to transforming America’s legislature into a truly representative body of the American People.
The Swiss legislative process includes several steps similar to America’s but adds at least three that boost the antioxidant protection of their democratic blend:
• Laws are proposed by Switzerland’s executive branch
• Then a unique formal opinion poll is conducted of its citizens (Antioxidant #1)
• Amendments can then be proposed by a number of organizations outside of parliament (Antioxidant #2)
• The legislative branch conducts a series of debates to modify and pass each law
• If within three months after passage, citizens gain 50,000 signatures demanding a referendum, then citizens can vote whether or not to veto the law that was passed (Awesome antioxidant #3)
Imagine if this process was in place in America today and Middle America was asked to decide whether to keep a billion dollar, deficit creating, authorization bill passed by Congress and sent to a referendum vote! These three antioxidants would dramatically shift the balance of power toward the will of the American people.
•Power and authority would shift back to the states and local governments
•Political parties would have less ability to direct legislation to the extremes
•Elections would become less important as citizens would now have the ability to veto
•The size of our Federal government would dramatically shrink
•New legislation would have to compromise to avoid the threat of a referendum
Our Constitution gave 50 percent legislative “veto power” to the Senate, a body that was originally intended to represent America’s 1 percent elite. It gave the other 50 percent “veto power” to the House, a body that was intended to represent America’s not so elite, our next tier business class of 20 percent of the electorate. Congress’s representation of the top 21 percent effectively exists to this day, especially in matters of finance, business, property rights, and wealth distribution. The Swiss antioxidants would give the remaining 79 percent of Americans a bit more representation to introduce legislation. Yet its true power to revolutionize our political system would come from providing Middle America the incredible power of the veto.
I have in passing proposed another alternative that not only gives Middle America the Swiss power of the veto but also adds the power to introduce legislation. This alternative sounds radical in that it adds a third chamber to Congress, making a tri-cameral legislature. It would continue to include the House and Senate in their present form, and would add a third chamber to represent the 79 percent of Middle Americans. This chamber would include 10,000 representatives each holding non-renewable, one year terms, elected from boroughs across America. The representatives could introduce single issue bills if backed by 5,000 supporting signatures. The people’s chamber would ensure that the people’s bills could no longer be buried easily in the black hole of committees, breaking apart the democratic logjam created by America’s international business, banking, and elite.
It would also prevent the other two chambers from passing harmful legislation through the exercise of the people’s veto. The Senate could continue to protect the interests of the elite. The House could continue to opportunistically affiliate with the elite and second tier. The people’s chamber could veto their efforts when they ignore the will of Middle America.
If such change were possible, this people’s chamber would force compromise. No longer able to subvert, bully, manipulate or overpower, Congress could be corralled into a submissive order of compromise for the good of all. Some might argue that a three chamber Congress might prove too easily bent by populism forcing compromises that could cause undue civic strife. The Swiss system might appeal to their fears by buffering populist sentiment.
Yet a tri-cameral legislature is not a radical concept. It is a throw back to Roman representative government. The Romans had 10 chambers of class representation with 35 representatives in each body. Their laws forced representatives in each chamber to fit an exact financial class. The lowest chamber had representatives that were actually very poor. The highest chamber represented very few Romans, their 1 percent elite, while the lowest body represented a majority of Romans, their poor working class. A third American chamber would merely mirror a Roman system that existed in harmony for hundreds of years and would only highlight class distinction that has always existed in our Congress.
Some might claim that this third chamber would more than highlight class distinction, that it would beat the drums of class warfare that is now forming ranks in Washington. While America has not had open class warfare since the 1930’s, warfare threatens to erupt again as Middle America continues its slide into wealth disparity. Yet wealth disparity is already a spotlight on class differences and a lack of middle class representation, and doesn’t need a third chamber to highlight class distinctions that are already clearly visible.
Instead of further dividing the country as some might fear, a third chamber would help to repair the rift that is forming. When lack of representation reaches an extreme, Americans are prone to revolution as can be seen in our founding, Shay’s Rebellion and the Civil War. The real threat is that lack of middle class representation could deteriorate the legislative process to that extreme. This third body could mitigate the frustrations of our failing legislative process.
If America could learn the strengths of Swiss direct democracy, we would clearly see that Congress is in need of drastic change. It either has to regain its independence from PACs and lobbyists with a complete reform, as is being called for by many, or if left as it is, an adulterated representative democracy, then America must call for supplemental support. That support could come from a third chamber to initiate legislation for Middle America and to veto the reckless spending and gutting that the other two chambers of Congress are incapable of stopping on their own. Or perhaps we could look to the example of Switzerland and give Middle America the power of the veto through the referendum.
Either idea is as revolutionary as it is fair and representative. Which revolutionary, courageous idea will be harder to codify into America’s Constitution? Are we ready to completely reform our current two chambers? Should we add a third chamber? Or instead, should we give the American people the antioxidant power of the infamous Swiss referendum?