Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

President
Let Freedom Ring, USA

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Let Freedom Ring

The 'Pledge to Read'

by Colin Hanna
 

Commentary for American Radio Journal

By Colin A. Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring

Our nation's founders and our Constitution's framers had a radical idea a couple of hundred years ago: that the people could elect representatives to enact laws to secure liberty and order society, rather than having that society ordered by dictate from a king. Like all truly radical ideas, it was also a simple one. If you were to ask any of the original Federalists whether the system that they designed would likely produce legislation that was so lengthy and complex that not even one Representative or Senator debating and eventually voting on a bill had actually read it, I'm sure that they would have given a puzzled stare in return. Debate and vote on a bill that none of the debaters or voters had even read? Why, that makes a mockery of the very idea of a deliberative process. US Senators often proudly describe theirs as the world's greatest deliberative body. How great can a deliberative body be that deliberates without knowledge of the matter being deliberated?

As unthinkable and undemocratic as that predicament may have been to our eighteenth-century framers, it is an everyday reality in the 21st century. We have so festooned the system that they gave us that it no longer works. This spectacle broke into the consciousness of the average citizen when it was revealed that the stimulus bill was so enormous and complicated that no one really knew what was in it. Not just no Member of the House or Senate — but quite probably no one in the entire United States. Lots of people knew parts of it, but in all probability, not a single person in our nation of more than 300 million persons had actually read the entire bill. Certainly no legislator knew enough to cast a truly informed vote. What a mockery of democracy!

It happens every day of course, but it terms of scope, a particularly egregious repeat of the same travesty happened again this week, with the cap and trade or cap and tax bill — arguably the largest single tax increase in the history of the republic, likely to be passed by a House who had not read it, and sent on to a Senate where hopefully it will receive a mercy killing. It may be intellectually honest to vote against a bill that you haven't read, but it should be morally and politically indefensible to vote for one that you haven't read.

The next similarly significant piece of legislation will be the health care reform bill. Appalled at the prospect of 16% of the nation's gross domestic product being reconfigured by a few hundred legislators who haven't read the bill that would spell out the restructuring, my organization, Let Freedom Ring, proposed an idea which is both radical and simple: a pledge to be offered to every Member of the U.S. House and Senate which simply says that the signer pledges not to vote for a health care reform bill that the legislator hasn't read — and that hasn't been made available to the public and media sp that they could read it also. The pledge is exactly one sentence long. It reads: "I pledge to my constituents and to the American people that I will not vote to enact any healthcare reform package that I have not read personally, in its entirety, and that has not been available, in its entirety, to the American people on the Internet for 72 hours so that they can read it too."

What a simple idea — and, in the everyday reality of politics today, what a radical idea. Yes, the same concept could be applied to all legislation, not just the healthcare reform bill — but we have to start somewhere, and that seems like a good place to begin to rescue the original ideal of our participatory democracy from the sorry spectacle into which it has since descended.

If this makes sense to you, then I urge you to join us by taking action today. Go to PledgeToRead dot com, download the pledge, and forward it to your two Senators and your House member. That's Pledge To Read dot com. You can also find it from Let Freedom Ring's home page, LetFreedomRingUSA dot com.