Professor Barbara Sinclair on PBS

Rob Lanphier robla at
Sun Feb 23 15:36:40 PST 1997

This is a call to action to get involved in an online debate on PBS's
forum, and to seek out some people that were on the nationally televised
forum and get them information.

PBS has recently aired a program entitled "The People & The Power Game:
The Elected: The Presidency & Congress", on which, they included a
discussion with a group of experts and a representitive smattering of

This was the typically frustrating conversation that you see all of the
time on PBS. They do a mediocre job at finding the problems (usually
finding the symptoms and not the disease), and then do an abyssmal job of
finding solutions, not even thinking a tiny bit out of the box.  One of
the "radical"  propositions was to increase the terms of congressfolk from
two years to four years. 

The thing that upset me most was that:
A)  They asked the questions that *begged* answers such as "proportional
representation" and "Condorcet's method"
B)  They had a political scientist there who should have been able to give
those answers.

The political scientist, Barbara Sinclair, a professor of political
science at the University of California in Riverside, basically said "you
need to strengthen parties", which would imply "oh, proportional
representation".  In fact, you could almost taste that answer as she set
things up for it:

    SMITH [moderator]: So, what do you do [to get teamwork in government]?

    SINCLAIR: The [...] way is you elect the team and that means a party. 
    And, so, I would say we might think about ways of strengthening party.
    But the strengthening it out in the countryside. I mean, don't give a
    Congressional leader -- uh -- the power to coerce someone. See if you
    can get a system so that the coalitions are built from the bottom up. 

This sounds like proportional representation and parliamentary government
is what she is leading up to.  Not the answer I would have wanted, but
certainly a respectable and defensible position.

Instead, this is what she was leading up to:

    SMITH: Let me go to Professor Sinclair. You were talking about
    strengthening parties. Is there any way to strengthen parties? 

    SINCLAIR: One thing you can do -- uh -- is funnel more of campaign
    money through the party. 

    SMITH: In other words, the people would make their campaign
    contributions, not to the candidate but to the parties. 

    SINCLAIR: Yeah and --

    SMITH: [Interrupting] And the parties would parcel it out?

    SINCLAIR: That would be a possibility -- uh -- also within terms of
    broader campaign finance reform -- uh -- the parties could be given
    that TV time, the frank, the mailing privileges and the parties would
    do both more generic advertising for the party and the platform as a
    whole.  Also a more radical suggestion would be to get rid of
    primaries, go to caucuses and conventions and, therefore, give voters,
    I think, a greater incentive to become active in their local parties.

    SMITH: Wouldn't there be a danger that people would not become more
    active, but would withdraw entirely, say, well, it's all the
    professional politicians, they're going to conventions, they don't
    care about me, don't even have a primary? 

    SINCLAIR: Sure that's a danger, but we're getting pretty close to that
    now any way with this -- uh -- only about half of the people voting in
    the Presidential elections. 

I was floored at the lack of critical thinking here.  It wasn't just
Professor Sinclair, it was the whole lot of 'em.  However, I'm
particularly upset at Professor Sinclair's performance, because it is her
job to know what she is talking about.

The transcript, and other online resources associated with the program,
are on the PBS web page:

On there is an online forum, which there is an outside chance that Barbara
Sinclair is actually reading this, but it looks like a great place to
cherry pick for people to get involved with our effort.

Barbara Sinclair's essay "An Effective Congress and Effective Members:
What Does it Take?" is also available online.

I made a half-hearted effort to find her email address, but with no luck. 
I'd really love to involve her in a debate with this group.

We really need to target the experts right now, because they clearly are
either not armed with the facts, or are ignoring them.  Either way, we
need to pull these highly-visible experts into the debate, or else we'll
forever be a marginalized effort.
Rob Lanphier
robla at

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