Browder Addresses Future of American Democrary in New Book
By Chloe Albanesius
Former Rep. Glen Browder (D-Ala.) is worried about the future of American democracy.
"America is changing in important and unsettling ways, and we owe it to future generations to address these changes positively," he said.
One way Browder hopes to accomplish this goal is through his soon-to-be-published book, The Future of American Democracy. To be released by University Press of America, the tome will be a collection of Browder's public lectures on American democracy; it will be available sometime in 2002. In the syllabus for his class on the same topic, Browder purports that America is developing a fundamental civil illness and it is time for a Tocquevillian checkup of American democracy.
"I think it's the most important thing that I'm doing - particularly getting the message to young people," the 58-year-old said.
These days the former Congressman is surrounded by young people, teaching as an eminent scholar at Jacksonville State University in Alabama and a distinguished visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Browder feels right at home on the JSU campus.
The students "remind me of myself when I was coming along," he said. "I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do in my life, but I knew that I didn't want to work in the mill or the fields or the factories."
As Browder was "coming along," he spent a year as a sports writer for the then named Atlanta Constitution before becoming an investigator at the Atlanta office of the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
"That was about the time the Voting Rights Act was being implemented throughout the country, primarily the South," he recalled. "It was a tense opportunity, but an opportunity to participate in something that I thought was pretty important."
Browder's work with the commission inspired him to return to school. In 1971 he earned a master's and doctorate in political science from Emory University, enabling him to become a professor of political science at JSU that same year. This paved the way for his entrance into politics in 1982, when he became an Alabama state Representative. Five years later, Browder was named Alabama secretary of state, where he remained until he won a seat in Congress in 1989. He served four terms before returning to JSU following an unsuccessful Senate bid.
Browder's primary interest at JSU is American democracy, but his area of expertise at the Naval Postgraduate School is relations between Congress and the Pentagon.
"The Naval Postgraduate School is a very technological and sophisticated environment," he explained. "These are the people who are going to shape America's national defense 10, 20, 50 years down the road."
The politician turned educator doesn't limit himself to these two campuses, however. Browder has participated in the Richard C. Lugar Program in Politics, which he described as "an association that is designed to get real former Members of Congress out to the young people of America so that they can comprehend Washington and Congress through some other medium than the formal, sometimes negative forms that seem to dominate public discourse."
He said the program's main message is that "Congress is representative of the American people, [and] as a whole, Congress wants to do what's right in terms of American democracy."
While in Congress, Browder sought to achieve this goal as an advocate for campaign finance reform. He soon learned, however, that finding common ground on such a volatile issue would be difficult.
"Frankly, I don't believe that campaign finance reform is a realistic solution," he said. "I'm for it, [but] public officials and politicians need significant amounts of money, and there are very limited sources available to them. So in our system of elections, special interest will continue to be the source of money."
Browder urged lawmakers to strive for consensus. "My friends, the reformers, need to come together to search for realistic solutions so that the process doesn't become too splintered, allowing the opposition to derail the movement."
In addition to pressing for campaign finance reform, Browder was also active as a member of the National Security Committee, with a special interest in chemical weapons. He voted to authorize the use of force in the Persian Gulf War and said that if he were in Congress now he would also have voted to authorize force in response to the recent World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters.
"It's going to take a renewed commitment for us because it's not going to be fast and it's not going to be easy," Browder said. "I think the terrorist activity we saw on Sept. 11 is going to impact America very similarly to the assassination of President Kennedy and Pearl Harbor. I think it will help define or redefine this sense of being American."
Browder stopped short of blaming U.S. intelligence agents for the recent attacks. "It's going to be very difficult to prevent terrorism," he said. "[Sept. 11] was not a high-tech assault that got through our defenses. We can take some steps to make it less likely to happen, but I just don't think we'll ever be able to perfectly guarantee to the American people that it won't happen again."
Still, Browder is confident that the United States is up to the challenge. "You're never prepared for a full-scale war at a moment's notice," he said. "But we do have the programs and policies and personnel to prepare." He hopes chemical weapons will not enter into that program. Browder was a critic of the Pentagon's reluctance to release information surrounding possible troop exposure to chemical agents during the Persian Gulf War, exposure that may have contributed to a mysterious illness now affecting its veterans. Since leaving Congress, Browder has appeared at several conventions and written articles on the subject for publications such as The Moscow Times.
As for chemical warfare in the coming months, the ex-lawmaker is skeptical of a large-scale operation on American soil. "I doubt if any nation will confront the United States directly with chemical or biological weapons," he said. "However, the nonstate actors might do so. I think the greatest danger is that our forces will be caught in the crossfire somewhere in an argument between other states and nonstate actors."
For the moment, Browder is looking at the conflict at hand. "I think just about every community in this country has some direct tie to the people who lost their lives in this attack," he said. "What we have to do is be able to manage our response in a way that fits in with a democracy that has to defend itself."
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