Contract to Unite America!

Contract to Unite America!

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

“Why would anybody want to be in politics these days?” Hollywood on the Potomac asked the author of Contract to Unite America Neal Simon at a book party in his honor at the home of Juleanna Glover & Christopher Reiter in Washington, DC co-hosted by Carl Cannon of Real Clear Politics. “Well, this is part of what the book’s about, particularly with our current system. I think most people start off with good intentions but if you want to be in office and you want to remain in office, you’re forced into one camp or the other. Every incentive pushes you there. So I think most people in our government actually are good people who are just responding to bad incentives.”

Simon ran for office “because I feel like the system is so broken. I would talk about it at my kitchen table all the time with my kids and talk about it with a lot of people around me. And I was encouraged to run and it felt like I had an opportunity to maybe make a difference. I knew I was a long shot from the start, but I really ran on a set of principles of trying to make our government function better than it does today.”

Neal Simon

As to whether there is any camaraderie today as there was between then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil and President Ronald Reagan: “It happens less and less. Ever since Newt Gingrich encouraged the republicans to go home every weekend, it happens less and less. I think that’s part of the problem – personal relationships. And the Democrats are equally as guilty of that as the Republicans. But the lack of personal relationships in Washington hurts when you have Congress going home most weekends. And one of the rules that I propose is rather than have these four day weeks, to have five day weeks and then one out of every four weeks go home. So you keep people in town with the idea that they’re more likely to stay over the weekend between the weeks and more likely to form human relationships.”

Book synopsis:The alternate domination of one faction over another, natural to party dissension…is itself a frightful despotism. George Washington’s nightmare has been realized. In his farewell address in 1796, Washington cautioned against the baneful effects of political parties. Despite his warning, the U.S. government has become paralyzed by partisanship, while national challenges go unaddressed.  In this analysis of United States politics, Simon shows how degradations in party primaries, campaign finances, and election rules have caused American self government to collapse into gridlock and divisiveness. But the American promise is so much greater. The basis of our political systems, the first U.S. president noted in his famed address, is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. Capitalizing on personal insight derived from Simon’s political campaign along with extensive research, Contract to Unite America provides specific, practical solutions for an improved government and a better tomorrow.” Real Clear Politics

Neil ran for the Senate as an Independent, which was perfect for me. Would’ve been better if he’d won, but he didn’t. But that was, in a way, good because he had time to write the book,” said Cannon. “It’s called Contract to Unite America. Some of you in this room remember another contract. It was not designed to unite America, it was designed to do something else but we can argue about that another time.”

“I’m not a career writer and I’m not a political scientist, but I wrote a book about political science or about politics. And my experience was really running companies. So when I ran for office I thought a lot about the incentive structure. You guys think about this. ‘If any one of you wanted to be in Congress, what would you do?’ The first thing you’d do is you’d look at your districts in your States and you’d figure out that 90% of the districts are noncompetitive in the general election; 70% of the Senate races are noncompetitive in the general election. So the only thing that matters in those States, the locked Republican and locked Democratic States, is the primary.”

Cathy Merrill, Juleanna Glover, Gloria Dittus

“As Carl mentioned, I ran for Senate. I ran as a moderate independent. I ran against all the partisanship and divisiveness and the bad results that we get.  So the book tells some of the stories from my campaign. It tells stories from other campaigns from around the country and it’s very much about 10 specific reforms to change that incentive structure, to change the way American politics works. And everyone of the reforms is supported by 60% of Americans or more. Some of them are as high as 83% of Americans. But the problem is most of them are opposed by the political insiders in both parties. So this is not a red book, this is not a blue book. Someone here asked me: ‘Did you grow up a Democrat or a Republican?’  My mother was a Democrat, my father was a Republican and I registered as an Independent the day I was 18. So that’s what the book is about, how can we change this dynamic so we don’t always end up with the choices that we have. There are thousands of people around the country that think the way I do and think we need to reform our political system. It needs millions of people to make this happen – to put enough pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation to get it all done.”

“So I will tell you from my experience on the campaign trail, we are not nearly as divided a country as the press makes you feel and as we all often think. Most people want us to come together, they want us to get stuff done. I personally believe that they’re being manipulated by a very partisan and polarized media. They’re being manipulated by leaders who are out there calling each other evil and stupid and demonizing each other and that’s all they’re listening to all day long.”

The above commentary has been edited from the speeches.