Thursday, July 26, 2007
First, we have Alberto Gonzales, a March 2004 emergency meeting with congressional leaders, and leaked documents that indicate the subject of the meeting was supposedly the terrorist surveillance program (TSP). No matter which way the wind blows for you on this subject, somebody is lying. (AP story today - Documents contradict Gonzales' testimony).
Second, we have the revelation that Democratic New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's first and second righthand men were using the state's resources to run down evidence that his primary Republican opponent -- one Joseph Bruno, the state senate's majority leader -- was taking trips and tricks on the state dollar. We have these guys in government (like GWB's Karl Rove) whose sole purpose apparently is politicalthink. Are they really doing the people's business? Why are the taxpayers paying for these peoples' salaries?
In the Gonzales case, we have a meeting. Everybody agrees that it happened in the White House Situation Room. Gonzales says the TSP was not discussed in the meeting. Apparently some new leaked documents contradict that. Well OK. But the truly incredible thing is the "memory" of the congressional leaders in the meeting. Wanna guess how their memories break down? You got it. From the AP story by Lara Jakes Jordan:
House and Senate lawmakers who attended the Situation Room briefing are divided on the accuracy of Gonzales' account of that meeting ... Three Democrats — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle — dispute Gonzales' testimony.
Rockefeller called it "untruthful," and Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the speaker disagreed that it should be continued without Justice Department or FISA court oversight.
On the other hand, former GOP House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, "does not recall anyone saying the project must be ended,' spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck said. And former Senate Republican leader Bill Frist stopped short of confirming or denying the meeting's outcome.
"I recall being briefed with the others about the program and it was stated that Gonzales would visit with Ashcroft in the hospital and that our meeting was part of the administration's responsibility to discuss with the leadership of Congress,' Frist said in a statement.
SOMEBODY'S LYING !!!
Back to Spitzer and company.
So Spitzer's henchmen "investigated" a political opponent on the taxpayer's dollar. Now Bruno is perching for investigations by the senate body his party controls. Even the state's Inspector General, Kristine Hamann (a governor appointee) has been co-opted. What in government business is going begging meanwhile?
According to the N.Y. Times: "The controversy appears to be taking a toll on the governor’s agenda. Lawmakers are to return to Albany on Thursday, but a deal announced last week to tighten the state’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws appears to be in limbo and is not expected to be taken up. Lawmakers are expected to vote to create a study commission to consider Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan and other approaches to traffic reduction."
SOMEBODY'S WASTING TAXPAYER MONEY !!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
AP writer, Ron Fournier, asks: "How do they win their parties' nomination without appearing hostage to the kind of base politics that turns off swing voters?"
He continues: "The DLC would like to help the Democratic candidates, but none are listening. While no Democratic presidential hopeful wants to be associated with the centrist group, most of the candidates will be in Chicago on Aug. 4 to attend a convention of liberal bloggers." The DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) is an offshoot of Democrats working against the natural polarizing direction of their party, the natural direction of party (to the extreme).
DLC founder Al From is quoted in the article: "It's sort of like you play on one end of field to win the nomination, but if you want to win the game, you've got to play on both ends."
"Candidates have their own interests. I don't blame them in a sense" for blowing off the DLC meeting, From said. "They have to get the nomination, and we're not one of the interest groups parading out there in Iowa and New Hampshire ."
If Democratic politicians and activists (Republican ones as well) were small-d democrats, they would put forward their beliefs, straightforward and truthfully. And then they would accept the results of the election on the merits of the campaign. But they don't really believe in democracy, in the marketplace of ideas. They obviously don't have enough confidence in their ideology to be honest to all potential voters, primary and general election ones. I can understand that ... because their ideologies are each representative of such a small sliver of the electorate.
So, instead, they lie. The question arises: Are they lying to the primary or the general election crowd. By their actions, it is clear they lie to the general election voters because, after the election, they lurch to the left or right to please their base ... since, of course, they were elected with a mandate to carry out their message, right?
The same article exposed another psychosis suffered by partisans.
According to Fournier, From "said Bush's low approval ratings give Democrats a chance to build a lasting majority in the 2008 election..."
Interesting ... didn't the Republicans say that in 1994 when they took control of Congress and then again when they ridded themselves of the troublesome Clinton and put Republican GWB in the White House? Wasn't the RNC periphery, like Rush Limbaugh, talking about sticking the knife in deeper and eliminating the Dems forever?
They just don't get it. A majority of Americans really don't want either of them, but since we as a working majority haven't figured out how to take control and bring about change, we vote one of them into control and, when the excesses build up, we elect the other.
As long as we allow them both, neither will go away. But there is a way that we can rid ourselves of both of them -- at least from operational control of our elections and government function:
RUN FOR OFFICE AS AN INDEPENDENT !
ELECT YOURSELVES !
Sunday, July 22, 2007
What do these results tell us about the electorate? NOTHING!
Fiorina clarifies for us. One set of graphics says it all:
The top graph demonstrates a "Closely and Deeply Divided" electorate, most of whom identify with either Democratic or Republican platform/candidate. The bottom graph demonstrates a "Closely but not Deeply Divided" electorate, most of whom DO NOT identify with either party's platform/candidate, but who feel compelled to choose one of them because ... well, those are our choices, right?
If I vote for some other candidate, I'm, what, throwing my vote away or helping one of the major party candidates win, right? Remember -- those Perot voters put that scumbag Clinton into office and, well, if it weren't for Nader, Gore would have won in 2000, right?
Fiorina's book clearly shows that the electorate is more like the bottom graph. For instance:
- Did you know? ... that when asked to respond to "Too much power concentrated in large companies," 64% of "blue" state folks responded yes AND 62% of "red" states responded ... yes!
- "Immigration should decrease" -"blue" 41%, "red" 43%
- "Make English official language" - "blue" 70%, "red" 66%
- "Favor school vouchers" - "blue" 51%, "red" 54%
- "Favor death penalty" - "blue" 70%, "red" 77%
- "Tolerate others' moral views" - "blue" 62%, "red" 62%
- "Abortion--always legal" - "blue" 48%, "red" 37%
That's only a smattering of issues. A full reading of the book makes perfectly clear that most American citizens, no matter the state, are rather moderate or at least in fairly close agreement, whatever the majority position.
Fiorina writes: "The most plausible explanation is that culture wars, two nations, and similar exaggerations make an excellent story line for the media, so differences are systematically exaggerated to support the story line."
The culture war line also perpetuates control in the two major parties' hands. It's either them or us.
Fiorina quotes David Brooks: "Although there are some real differences between Red and Blue America, there is no fundamental conflict. There may be cracks, but there is no chasm."
And this from Fiorina when analyzing data about purported polarization in the electorate: "For some people a 10 percent difference in the preferences of a state or a socioeconomic group on abortion or gay rights may be sufficient to conclude that the American electorate is engaged in a culture war. Our judgment differs. Certainly, in a majority rule electoral system 10 percent differences that occur in the neighborhood of 50 percent may be politically very consequential. A jurisdiction with a small right-of-center majority may elect a hard-right Republican representative while another with a small left-of-center majority may elect a hard-left Democrat. But to infer from the polarization of election outcomes that voters in the first jurisdiction overwhelmingly disagree with voters in the second jurisdiction is both a logical error and an inference at odds with the data."
Fiorina's book is filled with supporting data. I highly recommend reading it. You will understand the American electorate a lot better than listening to Wolf Blitzer, Britt Hume or Tim Russert, or by reading the New York or L.A. Times. The "polarization" of the electorate, in other words, is more a result of the choices we are presented on Election Day than a severe division in views by the voters.
Now is the time for all good citizens to come to the aid of their country ... right?
Too many times, I have leapt to my computer to launch yet another letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper correcting yet another of these oversimplifications about the "most important duty a citizen has -- voting."
A brief visit to my local library and a chance perusal of the 25cent sales shelf reminded me of this critical fact: voting is worthless if one has no real choice.
From the sales shelf -- the 1963 political science book, The Consent of the Governed:
In a fully developed mass democracy, candidates and parties would go to the public on the basis of bargains struck among interest groups. Campaign appeals would not be based on rival principles or policies; elections would tend, therefore, to be personality contests with candidates packaged and merchandised by professional experts in public relations. The campaign and the electoral process would be exercises in mass manipulation of the electorate, planned by consent engineers.
What makes the impact of mass society on elections alarming is the new light in which electoral processes have been put by the rise of modern totalitarian regimes. It used to be commonly assumed that the act of voting was a primary, perhaps even the most important, test of whether a government is democratic. The rise of modern totalitarianism shattered this easy assumption. Beginning in the 1930's, in fascist, nazi, and communist regimes, voters began to troop to the polls in large numbers (often over 90 per cent). Nor is it enough to argue that they do so under compulsion. Apparently, they vote often with enthusiasm and feeling. The question we have now to face is, what is the significance of the voting act? What criteria must be met before the act of voting can be held to have genuinely democratic significance?
One solution commonly offered for this question is the simple distinction between a totalitarian vote cast for or against a single candidate or slate and the democratic provision of options or choices between two or more candidates or paties. But does this distinction carry us far enough? What is the significance of the vote in a totalitarian society? What does it mean to the millions of voters who cast their ballots for the single slate of candidates? The best answer seems to be that voting in a totalitarian society is primarily a social and psychological, rather than a political, act. It seems primarily to be a way of securing the psychological comfort of conformity, of expressing one's solidarity with the nation, one's integration into the basic values of the society, one's emotional oneness and belongingness in the total community.
A political act, as that term is used here, is distinguished by the fact that it is part of a procedure for settling differences and for allocating power, prestige, and influence. In this sense, only the ruling elite in a totalitarian society performs political acts; the remainder of society performs the social acts which sanctify, legitimatize, and bind the political decisions of the elite. It would seem to be crucial to the idea of democracy, at least in its historical meaning, that the civic roles of citizens should have political, as distinct from social, meaning and that the act of voting should be a political act. The existence of two or more candidates or parties in no way insures that the citizen is a participant in political decisions, as we have defined that word. Voting, even in nominally two party politics, may be an act that has primarily social rather than political significance.
Whether the vote is a political act will clearly depend on the extent to which the options, provided for the citizen at the polls, offer the possibility of genuine choice between alternative principles, programs, and policies. Unless they do -- if, for example, political competition for the vote is personality-oriented rather than issue-oriented -- then the voter's choice will at best reflect his preferences for such personal qualities as sincerity, friendliness, amiability, leadership, grooming, and charm. It will not reflect his judgment about what policies are in the public interest or how the competing claims to increased wealth, status, prestige, and power in society are to be weighed and accommodated. A nominally and formally competitive political system, under the conditions of mass society, may serve to conceal the fact that citizens are participating socially in the legitimatizing of decisions rather than politically in the making of them.
How many recent presidential elections have riden on the concepts of "Leadership in a Dangerous World" or "Put Integrity Back in the White House" or what was it "Morning in America" ??? Is there any doubt that we have been for quite a while in the era of manipulative politics? Is there any wonder why so many citizens have receded from the political forum because they refuse to be a social legitimatization of political decisions already made by party organizations.
Think about the statements I've heard from partisans:
- Democrat: "What's with this business of Republican poor people? I just don't understand why so many blue collar workers continually vote against their own economic interests by voting Republican !" (Because the RNC waves the social culture war carrot in front of their noses or point to the moral weakness embodied by the amorous Bill Clinton, etc.)
- Republican: "Democrats are so big on 'choice.' You know, like, Pro-Choice. But every chance they get, they want to regulate and restrict." (Because the DNC waves the abortion/coat hangar specter.)
More on choice next ...
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Starting in 2003, Farah has used a multi-pronged approach to expose and attack the CPD debate monopoly. He's appeared on many radio and TV news programs and he's sued the CPD for greater openness in their agreements between the Dem/Repub campaign organizations. He's been marginally successful in the federal courts due to the obvious (but unoriginalist) support of parties by the judiciary. And in the "court of public opinion," he's had much more success as, according to his web site, "citizens, academic, civic leaders, commentators, and newspaper editorial boards across the nation expressed outrage at direct candidate manipulation."
What Open Debates discovered is that previously secret agreements between the Dems and Repubs campaigns have santitized the debate formats in such a way as to stifle any real discussion of issues.
Pre-1988 campaigns began abusing the previous hosts of the debates, the League of Women Voters. The League invited Independent candidate, John Anderson, to the debates in 1980 against the wishes of President Jimmy Carter. The 1984 Dem/Repub campaigns "vetoed 68 proposed panelists in order to eliminate difficult questions," causing the League to publicly proclaim the major parties were "totally abusing the process."
In 1988, Bush-Dukakis dictated the debate format through a secret contract that the League would not accept. "The demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter," wrote the League as it bowed out of the process.
The CPD, an arm of the DNC and RNC, took over the debates, ensuring efforts to exclude third-party and Independent voices, shielding candidates from criticism about debate formats, and helping to perpetuate the control of government by the two major parties. That is their true purpose.
What has the CPD wrought? For instance ...
- In 1996, Ross Perot was excluded from the debates despite having received $29 million in taxpayer money and even though 75% of eligible voters wanted the little man in the debates. Ralph Nader got the same treatment despite overwhelming support for his inclusion in the debates.
- Followup questions were prohibited.
- Two of the Clinton-Dole debates "were deliberately scheduled opposite the World Series," an obvious attempt to reduce viewership. The incumbent, Clinton, demanded these restrictions because he was leading in the polls.
- Response times are severely limited.
- Screening occurs of town hall format participants.
- The campaigns choose panelists and moderators.
"It's too much show business and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debates. They're rehearsed appearances."
-- Former President George Bush
Why would the parties place such restrictions on the debates? Fundamentally, because they are not interested in informing the American electorate. The least amount said, the more uninformative and image-centric the campaign ads and rally photo ops, the better.
Compare that to European campaigns which are shorter and more informative. I'm no big fan of the French government, but have you ever watched the grilling of French presidential candidates by the media? Question, followup, followup, followup ... There is no escaping any issue and providing a full explanation of your position. The same with British campaigns and debates.
Open Debates has offered an alternative to the CPD -- an independent Citizens' Debate Commission. It deserves our support.
As their web site states, "The Citizens' Debate Commission consists of national civic leaders from the left, center and right of the political spectrum who are committed to maximizing voter education. Following in the footsteps of the League of Women Voters, the Citizens' Debate Commission will operate with full transparency, employ challenging formats, include popular independent candidates and sponsor presidential debates that serve the American people first."
Please go to their web site and offer your support.
As demonstrated by the previously-mentioned southeast Louisiana candidate, Independent nonpartisan voices can bring important ideas to elections. It wasn't easy for him; for instance, many people immediately associated him with the sliminess of the political class. All spare time away from work was devoted to the campaign. The media's resistance and the incumbent's snubs were not easy to take. But nearly 15,000 people voted for him, and who knows how many "disciples" carried his message forward.
To improve our democracy and public policymaking, in general, we must incorporate these Independent voices in the electoral mainstream.
- Demand the media cover all candidates.
- Require public debates that include all candidates and provide open-ended discussion formats.
- Provide for some public funding of campaigns so that those who choose the non-prostitution path can be heard too.
- Vote out incumbents who don't cooperate.
- And above all ... Run for office!
The mission of this commission, according to its web site is the following: "The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004."
If it weren't so serious a matter, that mission statement would be the best of jokes.
In 1992, Ross Perot single-handedly carried the issue that has dominated Washington politics since: the budget deficit. Then-candidate Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush ignored that issue during those periods when Perot was out of the race. And when he was in, Perot arguably "won" the debates.
But the CPD learned its lesson. As demonstrated by its exclusion of Perot in 1996 and Ralph Nader and others in subsequent elections, the CPD showed that it will never make the mistake again of including in the debates candidates not under their control.
I'm no Ross Perot fan. He often portrayed complex issues in oversimplified illustrations, and some say he demonstrated a true paranoid streak. But he should have been included in the presidential debates because he brought something to the table that the other candidates had to respond to, putting them on record on the issue.
The CPD applies "pre-established objective" criteria to determine who shall be extended invitations. According to the web site: "The goal of the CPD's debates is to afford the members of the public an opportunity to sharpen their views, in a focused debate format, of those candidates from among whom the next President and Vice President will be selected. The purpose of the (selection) criteria is to identify those candidates who have achieved a level of electoral support such that they realistically are considered to be among the principal rivals for the Presidency."
In other words, it's a horserace whose only purpose is to elect someone to the office. According to the CPD, the purpose of the campaign (which the debates are a part of) is:
- not to bring a wide swath of issues of interest to the public or
- not to inform the electorate of all potential solutions to public policy
- but simply to offer the narrow ideologies of the two main candidates.
And who's to say that a non-party candidate, given the opportunity to air different and compelling views, may not achieve that "level of electoral support" required to win the office? It's called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember, before he briefly flaked out of the '92 race, Perot had reached levels of polling support above 40 percent.
The media has culpability in this mess too. New outlets have the duty to help inform the public, but they have bought into the horserace mentality. If a candidate is not considered "viable," they largely ignore him no matter the message, no matter the ideas, no matter the solutions. If you can't win (according to someone's calculation), what's the point of bothering the electorate with this superfluous information?
Well, ask Bill Clinton why he made deficit reduction a primary focus of his presidency. Because the outsider, Ross Perot, forced him to put on record his position on the issue.
In 1996, the Los Angeles Times editorialized that Perot should be included in the debates. But, note its reasoning: "In this campaign, as in 1992, Perot plans to spend millions on taped or carefully edited 'infomercials' that allow him to present, unchallenged, his views on the nation's woes and what he would do to cure them. If he does not participate in the debates, live questioning of Perot may be largely limited to appearances with television's Larry King and other deferential questioners."
So it was Perot's "unchallenged" views that required "live questioning"? What about the views of Clinton and Bob Dole? What about juxtaposing Perot's views against those of major party candidates? Or Nader's views ... or whoever ... ?
What are the media and the political establishment afraid of? The lame anecdotes abound about feeble, weird, abrasive, unattractive "lesser" candidates embarrassing themselves in public. Well, let them make fools of themselves. The process will suffer no injury.
Excluding those candidates, though, might well injure our nation because the precise crystalline answer to the most pressing problem of the day may fall from their lips. And nobody will have heard. So what if the electorate more than likely won't elect them. To coin a phrase, "It's the issues, stupid!"
If we are to be a real representative democracy, the trend must be toward including disparate voices. Remember, the concept of Social Security was co-opted by FDR from the Socialists. Adopting a golden nugget out of a quagmire of dysfunctional political philosophy is not faulty public policy. It does not mean the unattractive candidate with one good idea will be elected.
What it does mean is that one good idea will have a better chance of becoming public policy.
It has become painfully obvious that the Democrats and Republicans don't possess all of the answers to society's needs. In fact, their games-playing often and obviously gets in the way of the public's work. Is it any wonder why more and more citizens everyday are joining the growing numbers of unhappy voters moving to the Independent center?
Isn't our political system supposed to be a marketplace of ideas? Why exclude any candidates, any ideas? In the last century, we let more voters into the process.
Let them hear ... and then choose.
Democracy, by definition, cannot allow the limitation of debate. The term "marketplace of ideas" (often used as a synonym for democracy) clearly projects a capacity for the complex and a resistance to limitation.
Two things happen during elections. Yes, people are elected to office, but beforehand, campaigns occur in which the voting public is supposed to be enlightened. The latter is the subject of this post. [NOTE: The following arguments can be applied to legislative debate under party control, but the problem manifests itself better during election seasons.]
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in U.S. electoral politics was toward greater inclusion. Voting rights for blacks, women and younger citizens; party primaries, to a degree, replacing backroom nominations. In both cases, the general electorate benefited.
But one critical role has remained largely out of the reach of the average citizen: shaping the direction and scope of campaign issues. Why? Because the door to candidacy is barely open to challengers from outside the parties, and more importantly, the door is firmly shut for non-party candidates to have a reasonable chance of being heard.
The preceding five paragraphs cover a lot of ground, so I'll break them into separate topics in coming posts. The question might be asked though: What has been the tangible harm brought by narrowing and limiting the electoral conversation?
I'll cover this in coming posts in greater detail, but for now, one stunning example will suffice:
15 years before Hurricane Katrina, an Independent candidate for U.S. Representative spent 10 months wearing out shoe leather trying to get the attention of the southeast Louisiana electorate. His main issue? A focus on rebuilding the wetlands south and east of New Orleans as a buffer from hurricane storm surge.
The supporting science had been around for decades, but no "viable" candidates (read: Democrat or Republican) had ever championed the issue in previous campaigns. You see, in south Louisiana, both parties are owned by the oil and gas industry and the short-sighted special interest group du jour (oyster fisherman, etc.); so no genuine solution, like freshwater diversion, was ever offered.
How many people died during Katrina or its immediate aftermath? How many people were (still are) displaced from their homes? How many billions of dollars in damage?
Harm? Yes, it can all be brought to the doorstep of the two-party system.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
"[Americans] are less reluctant, however, to join political associations, which appear to them to be without danger because they risk no money in them. But they cannot belong to these associations for any length of time without finding out how order is maintained among a large number of men and by what contrivance they are made to advance, harmoniously and methodically, to the same object." (my emphasis)
The purpose of this web site is not to suggest the abolition of political parties. As de Tocqueville (and the Founders) observed, people will always tend to associate for "some common undertakings." This is natural and important to any form of democracy. It is ensconced in the concept of the people being able to petition their government for redress of grievances. When they speak with a collective, loud voice, they can be heard.
But as de Tocqueville asserted, members of an association of enough size to be heard should take note of the apparent necessity that "order [be] maintained." In other words, leaders begin to control the direction and message of the association; otherwise, it is argued, mayhem will ensue. So soon, a member of the association finds himself between the proverbial rock and hard place, because in leaving the association, he loses power; in staying, he loses control of his message.
Additionally, the association member must decide whether he wishes to dirty his hands in the "contrivance[s]" parties engage in "to advance, harmoniously and methodically, to the same object."
Which all leads us back to Madison and the Federalist #10 arguments for controlling factions. Yes, they are natural. And yes, they will lead to contrivances for getting their way in public policy. But, should they be allowed to control elections and government function? No.
Association is guaranteed by the constitution. But nowhere in that document or any other from the Founders can it be found any suggestion that those associations be allowed to control our government. In fact, an honest reading of the Founders clearly notes that those associations should be maintained at arm's length from the reigns of power.
Otherwise, tyranny of the majority is to follow ...
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
So of the members sent to conference to supposedly "defend" the House bill (a stronger version than the Senate one), only one Hastert appointee voted for the bill and that did not include either of the bill's authors.
You see, 68 Republicans (only about 30% of the majority party's members) joined with almost all Democrats to pass the House bill. Hastert denies punishment was a part of his actions. But note that soon thereafter, his henchman, Tom DeLay, announced a new leadership policy: If a majority of the majority was not in favor of a bill, it would no longer make it to the floor for a vote.
Some people call this representative democracy. I call it oligarchy.
And I might add, for the latter to aspire to be among the former is the call of ordinary citizenship.
Run for office ... as an Independent.
The rest of you ... vote for them!
Magically, representation will ensue.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
And the structure he recommends? A republican form of government (elected representatives), a large country that would provide wide-ranging views on issues, and properly-sized districts from which representatives are elected. This structure, he argues, would refine and enlarge "the public views" of the nation and pass "them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens ... whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations."
"Extend the sphere," "a greater variety of parties (factional groups) and interests," "less probable that a majority … will … invade the rights of other citizens," "more difficult for (that majority) … to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other" … as Madison's argument takes full strength, you can see that these are not statements in support of any coagulation of individuals.
Communication between representatives would be checked by a natural distrust of the motivations of the other representatives. This is not a bad thing; the Founders were studiously suspicious of human nature and they saw this as the way that self-interested representation would work. The belief here is clearly that individuals, by virtue of the government's structure, would be forced to compromise with other individuals for the public good.
The remedy for the problem of faction, then, is a special kind and size of republican government, one whose focus is self-interested individuals who represent as best they can the constituents of their districts, but find it "more difficult … to discover their own (collective) strength(s), and to act in unison with … other(s)."
As it oozed into the available crevases between the Founders' words, the modern political party eventually proved to be a successful effort to circumvent Madison’s remedy for faction. Party creates artificial lines of communication between individuals elected by separate electorates; it makes it easier for groups of these individual representatives to "discover their own strengths" and "to act in unison," both activities Madison found distasteful.
There is an argument that modern parties are amalgams of disparate factions that themselves smooth the edges off factionalism. Madison did not address that argument because modern parties did not exist at the time. But a reasonable review of history and current events proves the argument to be a red herring.
Modern political parties have a life of their own, so to speak, apart from the separate factions that comprise them. In that vein, parties act like singular factions, often with the voice of a controlling majority of party faithful that do comprise a single faction, and act singularly for the expressed benefit and furtherance of the party.
Time and again, representatives who should (according to Madison) be representing the constituencies of their districts, act solely in the interest of their party. Orchestrated non-votes, filibusters, shared bully pulpit language, committee pecking order games, … all of these are stupendous wastes of the public’s time and money, all in the interest of party.
The argument is also made that furtherance of the power of a party is, in fact, in the interest of the comprising factions. Precisely! Only ideologically-narrow factions believe that their interests match those of the general public. Madison argued 180 degrees opposite – that the interests of a faction were not equivalent to the public good.
Inspect the common activities of modern parties, and you clearly see the successors of the hated factions of Madison’s day. To ignore that "the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties" is to ignore historical fact.
Madison did not argue explicitly against modern parties; but he clearly argued against the kinds of activities they engage in.
What's the issue, you ask? Well, arguing against the two Republican senators is Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), who offered the same amendment a few years ago when he was in the minority. Now that the Democrats run the show, they aren't inclined to handcuff themselves in budgetary matters. And now that they are in the minority, the Republicans are very interested in handcuffing the other side.
This is the height of absurdity and partisanship. If an idea is a good one and at different times has attracted a majority of senators on both sides of the aisle, then ... well, it's a good idea! It is a fact (both Dems and Repubs agree on this) that in 2017, the SS receipts will go into deficit, and around 2040, the "trust fund" will run out of money it has collected over the decades it has been around.
So even though everybody in Washington, D.C., knows the train wreck will happen, the will is not there to fix the problem -- that is, unless the orator is in the minority and willing to be an irritant to the majority in power.
Clearly, the only reason the issue is ever raised is for partisan purposes. This is the government we deserve if we do not wrest control back from the parties.
Factions, by definition, are incapable of providing that.
Madison then lays the foundation for the rest of the essay, that is a discussion of the "two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction": "removing its causes" and "controlling its effects."
He quickly discounts the first method because that would require either ending liberty, as discussed in my previous post, or performing an impossibility: "giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests." The former is a non-starter because liberty was at the core of what the Founders were trying to create. The latter is impossible because of the natural divisions in society caused by "various and interfering interests" such as:
- "diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate"
- "the possession of different degrees and kinds of property"
- "the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors"
- "zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points"
- "attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power" who have "divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good"
- some who are "creditors" and some "debtors," some representing "landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a money interest ..."
Finally, the last widely misquoted line involves the following sentence: "The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government." Many proponents of party misstate this by concentrating on the second half of the sentence all the while the first half clearly notes that "regulation" of the causes of faction is the "principal task of modern legislation." Not cooperation with faction, not collusion with faction, but "regulation."
Madison then recognizes that no person can be "allowed to be a judge in his own cause," meaning that everyone will naturally serve their own purposes or, in the case of elected representatives, they should represent their constituents' interests. And a group of like-minded legislators ("the most powerful faction") not only must be "themselves the judges," but also "must be expected to prevail." In no way is this an endorsement of faction-function government (that kind of endorsement would not fit with the critique of faction in the previous paragraphs).
It is simply a recognition of the realities of majority-rule assemblies. The prime focus of this essay is resolution of the problem of how "to break and control the violence of faction," not facilitate it.
What governmental structure can by its very nature "break and control" faction? We'll discuss this next as Madison gets into the concepts of a large republic with an appropriate number of representatives all representing their constituents coming together and deliberating for the good of the nation.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
In paragraph five, Madison writes, "Liberty is to faction what air is to fire..." This is undoubtedly the most misrepresented quote by the author, suggesting that the author favored faction or at worse he felt that it was inevitable since the only way to constitutionally extinguish it was to eliminate liberty. In that limited passage, Madison correctly pointed out that the cure (eliminating liberty) would be worse than the illness (faction).
But Federalist #10 is a long, verbose, and complex document, and the last thing an honest reading of it would unearth is an endorsement of faction or party ... or even resignation to its inevitability.
Madison begins #10 with a clear premise, that a "well-constructed Union" would tend "to break and control the violence of faction." That in establishing a government intended to satisfy the general welfare, "a proper cure for" faction was necessary; otherwise the result would be "mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished."
Another common misrepresentation of Madison's meaning here is that the Founders were against the "violence of faction," as represented by the likes of, say, Shays's Rebellion. You know, physical violence. But that is not the true meaning of Madison's words, as he clearly applies a very unconfined, nonphysical definition of the word later: "instability, injustice, and confusion ... in public councils" and "clog(ging) the administration."
Next, Madison points out that previous "American constitutions" (federal and state), although improving on popular government models, had not completely prevented the occurrence of faction. Complaints were widespread that "the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties."
[The term "parties" is meant to be equivalent to factions. It is ironic that the Founders used these terms interchangeably because within a generation actual political parties formed despite continued demonization of the concept by aging or recently-deceased Founders. It should also be noted that party organizations were eventually (1830s) formed not because they were thought by politicos of the day to be intrinsically good, but simply because they were not illegal and served the purposes of the leaders.]
Madison's final put-down of parties again refers to their influence on public bodies: "measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." To use Madison's words, the two major parties today clearly form a "superior force of an interested and overbearing majority" which refuses to do "the public good."
There is nothing in these opening sentences of #10 that suggests Madison thought faction had any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Granted, there is no mention of anything resembling modern day political parties; if their writings are to be taken as insight into their thinking, the Founders frankly never foresaw them. But the crossover from recognizably insidious faction to the workings of modern political parties is easy, and I believe, if given the chance today, the Founders would write powerfully and eloquently against the character and mechanics of the two major parties.
We'll continue with the analysis of #10 in my next post.
In the partisan's mind, anything that deviates from the party line is unacceptable. That means, to the partisan, that there are only two visions -- black and white -- despite the complexity of our world. Quite often in general elections, you hear the candidates mouth this view as they move further away from each other to "give voters a clear choice." No wonder so many people retreat from participating in politics.
If you believe, for instance, 1) keeping abortion legal but trying to reduce abortions to zero in every way possible, 2) the Iraq War was justified and the only mistake made was the low-balling of how difficult the effort would be, 3) gun ownership should be protected but reasonable limits are OK, 4) electricity should be provided by government alone because a marketplace for it is impossible to adequately regulate, and so on ... there is no party for you.
And according to Michael Schroeder, you're some kind of nitwit without a rudder.
Monday, March 19, 2007
This is a lie.
Our politicians are polarized, and so is the media -- who can't escape the civics class brainwash that political parties have always been around and who meekly follow in the footsteps of the political class toward polar extremes.
But make no mistake -- the populace is not polarized.
I ran for public office some 17 years ago, went door-to-door for 10 months, put holes in two pairs of shoes, and talked to a lot of folks over the span of a large congressional district. Survey after survey supports the views I developed about the populace, which is pretty much divided as follows: 20% conservative, 20% liberal, and 60% moderate. [Moderate defined: mostly a mixture of conservative views on some issues, liberal views on others, and moderate views on some others.] Unfortunately, the populace thinks they only have the two major parties to apply their political philosophies when it comes to elections.
The Founders would disagree. In our nation's colonial period and for its first 40 or so years as a nation, there were no formal parties. Why? Because the Founders knew that party candidates, by their nature, would do and say anything to get elected. Ever since the Martin Van Buren presidency, when formal parties began, politicians have attempted to polarize the electorate.
The end result, for instance, is Bush/Cheney outrageously saying that terrorists will be more likely to strike if Kerry is elected and Kerry and Co. calling the President a liar at every turn.
This is where we have come, and the Founders would have predicted it. Some say when you vote for the man, you get the party. That on the face of it would have been ridiculous to the Founders. A couple of examples: Jim Jeffords and a U.S. Representative from Louisiana named Alexander. Both changed parties after having been elected, Jeffords from Republican to Independent and Alexander from Democrat to Republican. Did either man change their stances on ANY issue? No. Did the voters who elected them the previous election vote for their party or for their stance on the issues of the day? If it is the former, then that is an indictment of our current system of "representation."
A representative should be an advocate for 1) his constituents and 2) his country. Where in the Constitution is there any mention of allegiance to party?
The political parties, through their disciplining tools, have warped representation in this country. Discipline comes in many forms, including: committee assignments, placement of bills in the legislative pipeline, leadership PAC money, and threats of primary opposition.
Can this be fixed? You bet. Can any current politician fix it? Absolutely not.
For starters, we must implement open primaries (like Louisiana) in every state, so that we can push the parties back from controlling our elections. Next, we need to encourage competent, average citizens to run as Independents for all offices, and then we 60% of moderates need to elect them to office. Once there, they can use their new-found power to deconstruct the gerrymandering system of creating safe (safe for partycrats) districts.
Next, there should be real, mandated, public debates that require the incumbent to meet his challengers, with all issues being answered. Elections are for electing people to office, yes; but first there must be an open conversation for the benefit of the voters.
Finally, we need to remove from government all vestiges of partisan politics: no free caucus rooms (if partycrats want to caucus, they should do it across the street on their own dime), no separate committee staff for Dems and Repubs, committee assignments are to be done like the 1st Congress did it (sort of a voting process). Think of all of the tax dollars we'd save by removing all of the party-based overhead to the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
Remember Anita Hill? I'll never forget when she testified before Congress, she said that one of her jobs was to be Clarence Thomas's "political eyes and ears" at the EEOC. For what purpose does the head of EEOC need any "political eyes and ears"?!
The faster we reduce (and ultimately remove) the effects of party from our elections and government, the more democratic our institutions will be. And the polarization will magically disappear.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Even if one grants the court the benefit of the doubt in its strict reading of choice and party primaries, it still missed a critical point. The court called the selection of party nominees "internal processes."
"[T]he process by which political parties select their nominees," the majority wrote, "are not wholly public affairs that States may regulate freely."
In so ruling, the court neglected the fact that party primaries are the first steps in a larger process by which the electorate chooses its representatives, a process that is a wholly public affair.
Partisans, by simple virtue of having legislated the process, have co-opted arguably the most important segment of that wholly public affair, the segment in which the most choices are presented on the ballot.
Primaries must be abolished. That would be a first step toward making government more representative.
I get a lot of grief from party proponents when I make this analogy, but I believe it clarifies this issue. If the two major parties were the Nazi and Stalinist parties, would you feel comfortable voting for either party's "Chosen One," candidates that came out of each party's "internal processes"?
Primaries have usurped a fundamental piece of the process by which Americans choose their representatives. Does this bother you? Open primaries like the one in Louisiana are the answer ...
"The framers of the U.S. CONSTITUTION had hoped to avoid the factionalism of political parties and wrote no role for them into the Constitution. Nevertheless, party divisions began during the administration of the first president, George Washington. The Federalists coalesced around John Adams and the Democratic-Republicans around Thomas Jefferson. The Jeffersonians became the Democratic party, and the Federalists were succeeded by the National Republicans in the 1820s and then by the Whig in the 1830s. The Whigs, in turn, were replaced by the Republican Party in the 1850s. Since then, the Democratic and the Republican party have been the two major parties."
If you hold the writers of this piece to tight grammatical standards, the comma in the fourth sentence is critical to their error. Grammatically-speaking, "The Jeffersonians became the Democratic party" is not connected to the phrase "in the 1820s" as is the clause "and the Federalists were succeeded by the National Republicans." Therefore, this text suggests that only the Federalists coalesced into a party in the 1820s, where actually both parties did not exist until Martin Van Buren's presidency. Yes, the "Federalists," a philosophical movement, "coalesced around John Adams" and "the Democratic-Republicans," another philosophical movement, coalesced "around Thomas Jefferson."
But these movements were just that -- movements. And the Founders actually despised the concept of being held to some common belief system, much less the discipline of a party that would hold them to that system.
And by the way, the reason the Founders, "wrote no role for them (parties) into the Constitution" was they didn't want there to be role a for them. They knew they couldn't stop them (except by the sheer weight of their personalities in the body politic) because, as Madison wrote in Federalist #10, extinguishing them constitutionally would be extinguishing free speech and assembly. But what is often misrepresented as their tacit approval of parties is simply their acknowledgement that, under this constitution, parties would be inclined to emerge, persist, and try to grab power. They disapproved of these eventualities and spoke vigorously against them.
More on Federalist #10 at length later on ...
" ... we should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national good."
Translation: If we allow parties to control our elections, we are doomed ...
It is time to lead ...
Otherwise, (like in admittedly more egregious scenarios -- Nazi Germany, Pol Pot Cambodia, Stalinist Russia), the radicalized, vocal minority will fill the power vacuum. Just because Democrats and Republicans are not as bad as, say, Nazis does not change the fact that they represent minorities of the electorate and because of the electoral system they have put in place, one minority or the other determines policy.
It is time for independents to run for office and for the rest of us to elect them. The governing minorities are taunting us. A bit like the bully, who because the overwhelming numbers of good kids don't do anything about him, continues to control the school yard.
Taunt, taunt, taunt ... gonna do something about it?
“All … combinations and associations … with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are … of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”
The book Culture War exposes the fact that the only red/blue divide in the U.S. is in the political class, not in the general electorate. Wattenberg demonstrates in The Rise of Candidate-Centered Politics that straight-ticket voting has declined drastically since early last century and the number of citizens who self-identify as Democrat or Republican has fallen 11 percent since 1952. In 1988, independent voters outnumbered any other sector of the electorate.
Does our electoral system satisfy the needs of these realities? Hardly. The party demagogues hold on to the process to protect their main interest: maintenance of party control.
There are those who argue against my position on party by saying that their representative (a member of a party) does not “toe the party line on every issue.” Sure, but the national party structure has taken on an organic function that its proponents claim is democracy in action – that is, within the party, a majority controls the direction of all of its members. Yes, this is democratic, but it is a second-level filtration of democracy.
The electorate, given the choices, is forced into one of two groups and within one of those groups, a majority controls policy. Think about that … about 25 to 30 percent of the representatives control all of policymaking. Is that really democratic? If the same set of representatives were free to express the wishes of their constituents on each individual issue – with no party discipline or control hanging over their heads – wouldn’t that be a truer measure of democracy?
In other words, an individual Democratic or Republican member of Congress can claim to be “independent” (one often hears this claim during election season), but functionally, when those members get to backrooms on the Hill, they discover that other members control the direction of positions taken by their club. Any deviations (with the rare allowed exception) are kicked to the back burner because, of course, if you are in the majority party, your view is a minority opinion and if you are in the minority party, of course, the way to displace the majority is to assimilate into a group that does everything and anything in the political handbook to besmirch members in the majority.
It becomes a game literally for the benefit of party (either one). Nowhere in sight is the representative democracy that the Founders envisioned – the slow coalition building on each issue, coalitions that reformed when the next issue arose.
No matter which party corrals a working majority, Americans consistently fail to get respectable and representative government one election after another. The result: zigzag elections as one set of bums is kicked out in hopes that the other set will correct the incumbents’ excesses – this happens until the correction becomes unbearably out-of-whack with the public’s wishes.
Abuses of power occur quickly as the excitations of electoral victory unleash the most strident elements in the winning camp. Does a 51-49 majority in a legislative body constitute a “mandate” for sweeping and uncompromising change? You hear it all the time from the political class, and always in the context of their recent victories, never when the other guys get the majority.
Because the requirement to retain power is institutional and absolute, the majority party corrupts all facets of government operation to attain that end. How many times has Congress voted on a flag-burning amendment – just ahead of elections – when its proponents knew it had no chance of winning? How about gay marriage, gun control or some other divisive issue the partisans use to yank your chain during the upcoming campaign?
Your representative – the one citizens in your district elected to office to represent you (it doesn’t matter whether you voted for him or her) – is subject to discipline from people you did not elect. Party leaders control committee chairs, making them more powerful than all other members and making your representative beholding to them in all aspects of what would be normal democratic function.
When a representative does ascend to a committee chair, the pressure continues unabated from the party machine. The possibility of being unseated is an overarching concern, as Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, chair of the Ethics Committee, found out after he and other Republicans had the temerity to censure Texas Rep. Tom DeLay on three counts of clear abuses of power.
Want a bill that is important to your constituents to see the light of day on the floor of Congress? Better play ball; the same leaders control which bills even get to a vote, not to mention their influence over whether other members will vote for your bill.
Before going on, ponder what I just said: Other people's representatives have more power than yours. Are you OK with that? Is that democratic?
A severe misrepresentation of the concept of checks and balances has currency today: divided government – one party in control of the White House and the other party running at least one house of Congress. That’s not what the Constitution says. The real meaning is that each branch jealously guards its own prerogatives as an institution. The introduction of party has warped that meaning such that when one party controls both the White House and the legislative branch, no oversight of the executive occurs. That’s how we get bad, rubber stamp legislation. How is it that President Bush can claim to sign a bill and at the same time merely give a speech in which he states his intention to circumvent the clear meaning of the legislation? And Congress does nothing – except for the other parties’ mouthpieces who are not really guarding the precious prerogatives of the legislative institution in Article I of the Constitution. Rather, they are preparing for the next election cycle.
Money that you contribute to your representative is often given to other representatives and leadership political action committees to curry favor for chairmanships (see above), fending off primary election foes, and making even more campaign funds by courting more contributors who, while sitting down eating the rubber chicken, get a better seat at the ear of your representative than you do.
Your representative colludes with his or her party to scientifically dissect you and your fellow citizens into districts that resist debate during election cycles. Drawing district lines should be done by nonpartisan (not bipartisan, but nonpartisan) commissions which are barred from using political demographics to determine district boundaries.
The electoral system has been straight-jacketed so that no voices beyond those in the major parties can be heard, that small minorities of the populace decide the general election slate, and that nominees of parties are guaranteed a slot on the final ballot. The exception is Louisiana’s open primary system in which all candidates run against each other on the first ballot that is essentially the general election (if one candidate garners more than 50 percent, the election is done). The Louisiana system should be universally implemented ... as a fundamental starting point in surgically removing party from our goverment.
1. It should be a basic foundation of a representative democracy such as ours that the voters of a given district have the right to elect whoever they wish.
If it were not for Connecticut's unique statutes that allowed Joe Lieberman to run as an independent candidate in the general election after having lost the Democratic primary, though, the people of that state would have been denied the right to elect the candidate of their choice. Lieberman played by the rules and ran against Lamont and lost in the primary. Then, those who support party (I call them partycrats) told Joe to sit out the general election because it was the "honorable" thing to do.
But what about the people of Connecticut? They, not JUST the Democrats in that state, should determine who their senator is to be, right?
The party primary system is the most UN-democratic feature of our current government function.
There are many other examples ... in other states that don't provide the flexibility Joe had. For instance, Dick Riordan should have been elected governor of California four years ago. In all polling, he was by far the favored candidate among ALL Californians. But he was too moderate for the far-right conservatives who typically vote in Republican primaries, and he lost to Bill Simon. Simon, who of course was way too right-wing for the California electorate, lost easily to the "pay-to-play" corrupt Gray Davis ... and in less than a year, the people of the state recalled him and put in Schwarzenegger. Why couldn't the people have the moderate Republican they wanted in the first place?
2. Much of what passes as legislative effort in Congress is positioning for the next election ... either for discrediting members of the opposite party or improving the chances of members of one's own party. This is true on every issue, including war and peace. This is an abomination, not to mention a huge waste of time and loads of YOUR tax money.
More to come ...
As this blog goes forward, I will post the kind of incontrovertible evidence that proves this premise. There may be those who suggest, "So what? What's the big deal? So we've invented something the Founders didn't think of; so what's the harm?" I'll address that as we go forward.
Stick with me. Like one local talk show host says, "We have a country to save."