Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Can't We Have a Robot Senate?

As election time approaches and the political junkies work themselves up into a state of almost sexual anticipation, the question everyone is asking is, will there be a bunch of new mostly wealthy, mostly white people in the Senate? Will these people succeed in the Republican party's mission to have the government to almost nothing? If Democrats can barely pass legislation with a nearly 60-40 majority, how in god's name is anything going to be accomplished if the Senate is split roughly 50-50?

If you read George Packer's New Yorker article published over a month ago, you'd know that barely anything gets accomplished in the Senate now. Senators spend a couple days a week in Washington and spend the rest of the time flying back and forth from their home states, where they fundraise, pretend to listen to constituent concerns, and occasionally fuck people they aren't married to. The groundswell of populist rage--I have no idea what that phrase means, incidentally--isn't just directed at Democrats, it's directed at Congress in general. People think that elected officials are doing a shit job, and it's hard to argue against that.

To be fair, criticism of Congress comes from both ends of the political spectrum. Right-wingers think the government is trying to take over every facet of their lives, while left-wingers think the government isn't doing enough. But everyone agrees that the people in Washington are clowns at best, and evil, homicidal clowns at worst.

The solution? Replace them all with robots.

I know you can't replace everyone with robots. The House should remain dominated by humans, at least until machines acquire the ability to feel pain and love, but the Senate would be much more efficient, and probably better supported by the populace, if they were robots. The advantages are obvious: no sex scandals, no embarrassing PR gaffs (unlike the late Ted Stevens, the robots would know the internet is not a series of tubes), and they would never make vicious attack ads. Best of all, there would be no filibustering.

In fact, if robots were the only Senators, there would be no campaigning at all. Here's how an election would work:

1. Instead of voting on candidates, voters would go into the booth and decide how they feel about a number of issues. Are you pro-gay but anti-abortion? Do you want your children to pray in school but also support cap and trade? Just check those boxes, and leave a box blank if you don't know what it's talking about--or in the great American democratic tradition, you can let your opinion be known about issues you are totally uninformed about.

2. The Senate robot for your state would be reprogrammed after the election so its views would match those of its constituents, and it would vote accordingly. If you wanted to, you could also introduce a home-state bias so the robots would try to get military bases and corporate headquarters to move to their states, just like the fallible fleshy senators do. Or leave all of that back room politicking to the humans in the House and have the Senate be a realm of pure issues.

3. That's it. The only problem with this system is that if 51 percent of people in 51 percent of the states believe something absurd and dangerous, like "We should go to war with Iran right now," the robot Senate might try to make that happen. So maybe we institute a rule that 55 Senators have to agree on something in order for it to pass. It would still allow more pieces of legislation to be passed more efficiently than the current arrangement, where you apparently need 60 out of 100 Senators to agree on something for it to become law.

The advantages are too numerous to list here, but some benefits of a robot Senate would be an extremely short legislative session (they could decide on every bill in about a minute), and best of all, people wouldn't elect candidates without knowing their positions first. In the current situation, voters elect one party to Congress because they hate the other party and are shocked and dismayed when the new party in power attempts to enact the policies it said it was going to attempt to enact. (I'm talking about the Democrats and their health care policies, in case that wasn't clear.)

What would be the downside to having a robot Senate? Can anyone think of one? Keep in mind that the House would still be human, so legislation and the amendment process would go on as usual, just not as much in the Senate. I guess the robots could suddenly acquire intelligence and force all humans into death camps, but that probably wouldn't happen. Almost definitely not.

1 comment:

  1. As they say on Facebook, which I know is another thing that works by connected tubes, I "like" this alot. But, as you say, the problem would still be that 51% of the people (or even 55%) could vote for some really destructive thing like going to war or ending all taxation. Here's a counter-proposal: 1) "liberal" education for everyone that teaches citizenship and critical thinking (yes the two go together) and 2) jobs, human-sized workday and a 2-weekend, and a living wage for everyone so that people have energy left over for always continuing their education and taking part in their communities and government. Thus, intelligent voting and frequent rallies, forcing our legislators to do the right thing rather than "fucking things up," as you would say.