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Deliberation Day

Deliberation Day

Bruce Ackerman
James S. Fishkin
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Deliberation Day
    Book Description:

    Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin argue that Americans can revitalize their democracy and break the cycle of cynical media manipulation that is crippling public life. They propose a new national holiday-Deliberation Day-for each presidential election year. On this day people throughout the country will meet in public spaces and engage in structured debates about issues that divide the candidates in the upcoming presidential election.Deliberation Dayis a bold new proposal, but it builds on a host of smaller experiments. Over the past decade, Fishkin has initiated Deliberative Polling events in the United States and elsewhere that bring random and representative samples of voters together for discussion of key political issues. In these events, participants greatly increase their understanding of the issues and often change their minds on the best course of action.Deliberation Dayis not merely a novel idea but a feasible reform. Ackerman and Fishkin consider the economic, organizational, and political questions raised by their proposal and explore its relationship to the larger ideals of liberal democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12702-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    • 1 IMAGINE
      (pp. 3-16)

      Deliberation Day—a new national holiday. It will be held two weeks before major national elections. Registered voters will be called together in neighborhood meeting places, in small groups of fifteen, and larger groups of five hundred, to discuss the central issues raised by the campaign. Each deliberator will be paid $150 for the day’s work of citizenship. To allow the rest of the workaday world to proceed, the holiday will be a two-day affair, and every citizen will have the right to take one day off to deliberate on the choices facing the nation.

      If Deliberation Day succeeded, everything...

      (pp. 17-39)

      Deliberation Day will be a serious holiday. We will reserve two days for the deliberative exercise, with half the citizenry invited each day. This will allow the other half to continue working—permitting basic services to continue while maintaining the civic focus essential to a serious collective conversation. Some employers may compel their labor force to ignore their civic obligations, but they will do so at their peril—any such demand will be subjected to heavy penalties.¹ This won’t deter all violations, but it will suffice to make them exceptional.

      While citizens are guaranteed a day off, nobody will force...

      (pp. 40-74)

      You have just joined us in imagining a new institution. As our thought-experiment proceeds, we will show how all the main actors in a presidential campaign—candidates, parties, contributors, consultants, advertisers, issue advocates, reporters—will adapt to the new holiday. Our argument may sometimes seem complex, but the basic point is straightforward: Deliberation Day, by informing and engaging the citizenry, will transform public opinion, and in a democracy, public opinion is king. All other political actors will find that they have to adjust to its demands.

      Lord Bryce, a discerning British visitor to America in the late nineteenth century, made...

      (pp. 75-96)

      So ordinary citizenscanreason with one another constructively, and this effort at public reasoningcanmake a difference in how people think about politics and how they vote. A democracy that reasons together is likely to have different views and reach different outcomes. Deliberation makes a difference.

      Our next task is to locate the new holiday within the larger setting of American democracy—a notoriously complex system, full of Madisonian checks and balances. We cannot come to a mature assessment of Deliberation Day until we consider its dynamic interaction with the other moving parts of an intricate Enlightenment machine....

      (pp. 97-119)

      We have been focusing on the contest for the presidency. But does our initiative make sense when extended to other contexts? We begin with Congress Day and then move further afield. Other countries may be interested in some version of Deliberation Day, and we consider how our proposal may be adapted to parliamentary systems common in the rest of the world.

      We then consider DDay applications that may work on an ad hoc basis. This would permit real-world experience without committing a political system to a permanent reform. The most promising area here is the occasional referendum that nations increasingly...

      (pp. 120-146)

      Deliberation Day will be expensive. But there is more at stake than totting up the dollars and cents. We must ask what the dollar signs mean. Is Deliberation Day like an enormously expensive Mercedes-Benz—which we are free to reject merely because other consumer goods better satisfy our desires? Or are the costs involved more akin to those spent on educating the young or defending the country?

      We can’t answer these questions with economic reasoning alone. To motivate the requisite political reflection, we focus on one of our “big ticket” items: the proposal to pay each participating citizen a stipend...


      (pp. 149-172)

      We have been pursuing our project in a distinctive spirit—the spirit of realistic idealism. In Part I we put realism first: There we aimed to convince you that DDay was no pipe dream but an entirely doable project. Taking citizens as they are, and without revolutionizing society as a whole, it is entirely practical to build deeper foundations for a more vibrant democratic life.

      Having made our pragmatic case, we turn to the idealistic side of the argument. Nothing like DDay is on the political agenda of any serious movement in the world today. Many progressives campaign for a...

      (pp. 173-187)

      Having placed our proposal in historical perspective, it is time to state our case in more contemporary terms. DDay is new and unfamiliar, so the modest dimensions of our initiative are easy to forget. Each citizen gets a chance to talk with his neighbors ononeday everyfouryears—and if our experiment proves successful, the holiday may ultimately become a biennial event.

      This is hardly a call for revolution. It is a rather modest effort to adapt the great tradition of republican self-government to the challenges of a new century. To clarify our reformist ambitions, we sketch two...

      (pp. 188-205)

      In the previous chapter we reflected on a distinctively modern predicament. Millions of men and women may be attracted by the ideal of responsible citizenship, but they are constantly distracted by competing aims and ambitions. We aimed to show how DDay might respond to these perplexities of distracted citizenship, serving as a signal for a coordinated effort toward responsible participation in politics without too great a sacrifice of competing goals. In this chapter we turn away from dilemmas confronting individual citizens and consider how DDay responds to larger structural problems of the polity as a whole.

      We have already dealt...

      (pp. 206-220)

      In the midst of World War II, one of America’s greatest social scientists had a bright idea. Robert Merton was then an up-and-coming sociologist helping out on the war effort. With the Roosevelt administration trying to build public support on the home front, Merton came up with a simple but revolutionary proposal. Why not pretest the effectiveness of “morale-building” propaganda by trying out the messages before small groups who could share their reactions in frank discussions focused on the broadcasts?¹

      And so the “focus group” was born with a distinctive rationale: “In contrast to the polling approach, it uncovers what...

    (pp. 221-228)
    Eric Tam
    (pp. 229-232)
  8. NOTES
    (pp. 233-269)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 270-278)