|The first one, in broad terms, should be fairly easy to answer: We're trying to keep refining our social institutional landscape in ways which improve the quality of life, increasing 1) the robustness with which we produce the things (both material and non-material) that facilitate a higher quality of life, 2) the sustainability of our processes for producing it, and 3) the fairness with which opportunity to benefit from that production is extended to all human beings everywhere. Of course, this also involves continuing to discover what "a higher quality of life" really means, and what it is that really does contribute to it. So, such considerations as work/life balance, opportunities for personal and spiritual growth (however one chooses to define them), and the aesthetic qualities of our shared space and the pleasantness of our shared existence, all figure into the mix.
Of course, many of our disputes, and our most fundamental ideological chasms, are defined by the relative weight we assign to these different components, and how we define what best contributes to a higher quality of life. But understanding that helps those who choose to be reasonable people of goodwill do a better job of more effectively addressing those differences and discussing them in productive ways.
The second question is far more difficult to answer, because it involves understanding the complex systemic dynamics of the world we live in. The obvious answers are rarely the most effective ones, and often particularly counterproductive due to the unintended consequences that had not been considered. But politics is not driven by systemic-understandings; rather, it is driven by successful marketing strategies.
More than any other thing we ever discuss, this is the fundamental obstacle we face. The ultimate challenge we must confront is: How do we most effectively liberate and mobilize our collective genius in service to the broad goals described in answer to question number one?
There are some clear answers concerning how not to do it:
1) Do not advocate for government by plebiscite. This aggravates rather than mitigates the problem of policy being captured by marketing strategies rather than guided by reason. As in any other information-intensive endeavor, the principal (which is the people, in this case) hires agents to dedicate themselves to those information intensive tasks. And in many others, the stakes for the principal are certainly comparable: After all, when you employ a surgeon to perform a life-or-death operation on your child, the stakes are as high as they get for you personally.
A representative democracy has two demands placed on it: a) to hold the agent accountable to the principal, so that the agent is acting in the principal's interests. This is best accomplished by most effectively aligning their interests, such that the agent's interests are as identical to the principal's as possible. And, b) to ensure that the agent is not only motivated to act in the principal's best interest, but is also equipped to do so effectively. This involves mobilizing the greatest degree of expertise possible in service to the agent's mission.
2) Promote open-mindedness rather than ideological entrenchment. We benefit most from a robust discourse, fueled by a combination of humilty (after all, even the smartest of us recognizes how dumb we really are), and commitment (I may be dumb, but I sure want to keep dedicating myself to becoming less so, and to mobilizing what knowledge and understanding I do have to maximum public benefit).
We should not assume that what we think we know is the incontrovertable truth. That is the stuff of Crusades and Jihads, of theocracy and totalitarianism, not of progress. When we catch ourselves arguing implacably with others who are not arguing indefensible positions, then we are probably not contributing as well as we might to the discovery of wisdom. It is not the robust commitment to a position that is dysfunctional, but rather the inability to ever sway or be swayed. Whatever good the debate itself might produce, there is no way to harvest it if no party can be moved. A court requires a judge or jury; the academy requires peer review; and the people require something that does more to settle the truth of our disputes, for our elections only settle the crude popularity of competing positions.
In other words, we need to work at better aligning what is popular with what is right, and that is something more, and more useful, than merely working to convince everyone else of our own positions.
This is a discussion I think we need to be having, including all who are willing to have it. It's not really about whether Romanoff or Bennet is the more honest or more corrupt. It's about seeking subtler understandings, and the means of implementing them, together.
Yes, of course, that's not the way it is, and that's not the way it is going to be. But that is what we should be moving toward, every time we try to move in the direction of progress.