Winning Back America

America's greatest threat is our failed democracy.

That's the conclusion shared by a former Secretary of State, the new head of the IMF and our former Secretary of Defense. Corporate CEOs admit they're sitting on their cash because they don't see any certainty coming from our government.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who warning, sums it all up:

"We are now in uncharted territory when it comes to the dysfunction of our political system. It appears that as a result of several polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing this country."

How did we get here?

Over the past two decades, extreme liberal and conservative PACS have systematically targeted centrist politicians who have been willing to work across the aisle for the benefit of the nation.

Possibly the most striking example on the GOP side of this pressure was John McCain's (R-AZ) race for Senate in 2010. Terrified by a serious primary threat, McCain shifted all of his major positions to appease the far right base of the GOP.

Liberal groups are adding their pressure too. Recently, Politico reported "Big Liberal Money May Skip Moderates." Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, claimed that Democrat PACs who had supported centrists in the past weren't going to do it his cycle. "We're really not going to waste time or money on some people that just really haven't fought for anything other than their own special interest."

Far left and far right PACs have terrorized candidates who fear primary challenges from partisan opponents incentivizing extremism and penalizing compromise. The result is candidates in both parties have one direction to move -- to the extreme.

Republicans are more conservative than any time in modern history and Democrats are more liberal. Trends show that after the 2012 election they will be more polarized.

Politicians in both parties have been incentivized to become extreme. To win back our democracy we must change the incentives. Here's how we do it.

Here are the four steps we can take to make get Americans their government back:

Step 1. Make Extremism Uncool: Identify the 20 most extreme Members of Congress from both parties who have refused to compromise on important issues. Begin with the list that's been tracking the most extreme members of Congress since 2004.

Step 2. Money: To take on our broken system, we need to raise the funds to win by its rules. We need to create a grassroots campaign of donors who will give money to challengers of the most extreme Members in their primaries. We also need to recruit business leaders with the resources to turn the heat up on the extremists.

Step 3. Awareness: Run ads in extreme Member's districts saying "Did You Know You Are Electing an Extreme Member of Congress?" national ad campaign that identifies the most extreme members of Congress as threats to national security, our economy and our children's future.

Step 4. Recruit: Support public service-minded candidates to run against the targeted list in their primaries. Get their pledge to work across the aisle in the next Congress. Help them raise money and provide training.

Use the 2012 election cycle to educate and support a few races. Plan on having a roster of candidates ready for 2014. For the first time in 20 years, we can pressure our political class to put our country before their extreme ideologies.

Washington politicians are made of the most plastic substance known to man. As pressure from the center hits them, they will shift and adjust to put our national interests first again.

Our democracy has failed because we've outsourced it to a handful of ideologues and donors. Let's stop complaining, get organized and fight for our nation's future.

The future of our country is too important to allow us to sit by while extremists take it hostage. Let's take back our government and create an America that will be even greater for the next generation.

Rich Tafel is founder of Public Squared -- training leaders how to engage their government.