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On Electoral Reform in the U.S.: Instant Runoff Yay, PR Nay

[ 98 ] March 10, 2014 |

There’s an interesting discussion going on in comments here about electoral reform measures. I certainly support instant runoff voting or a similar procedure that would prevent irrational results in multy-party races. This isn’t usually a major problem in American politics because of Duverger’s law (which is actually merely a strong tendency), but it’s a potential problem it’s worth correcting for. Remember that there’s no reason to believe that instant runoff would produce better results from a normative standpoint — a popular vote with instant runoff almost certainly gives us President Al Gore, but it also almost certainly gives us President Stephen Douglas — but there’s no reason to have an electoral system open to producing such irrational results.

Of course, instant runoff is unlikely to lead to robust third parties, since you still need to have a majority coalition to win. Which means some people favor PR precisely because it will lead to a multi-party system rather than a two-party system. On this, I’m much more skeptical for a few reasons, some theoretical and some practical:

  • Imagine the Democratic Party is broken into a Progressive Party and a Connecticut for Lieberman Party.  As someone who thinks the idea of voters as atomized consumers is puerile narcissism, I don’t see any added value in voters pretending they aren’t sullying their precious hands with their less savory necessary coalition partners.  On the other hand, I think the downside is clear — it would add yet another de facto veto point to a system that already has far too many. Putting together party coalitions in advance attenuates one of the many barriers to legislative action.  Consider, for example the ACA.  PR wouldn’t change the fact that the median votes in a Senate titled towards conservative interests would have an effective veto over the legislation.  But on the other hand, Bayh, Nelson, Baucus, Landrieu et al were at least part of the Democratic coalition with some small stake in not having the bill crash entirely, which is one reason they voted for a bill almost certainly to the left of their optimal policy preferences.  But if a Progressive Party president had proposed the health care reform, the 15-25 senators from Connecticut for Lieberman Party would have no stake at all in anything passing, so the single payer or robust public option bill proposed by the president would either be negotiated down to some trivial tinkering around the edges by CFL committee chairs or killed entirely.   Both sides would be freer to propose amendments that could blow up the bill. And if the Connecticut for Lieberman Party controlled the White House, there’s zero chance that they would invest their agenda-setting authority in comprehensive health care reform in the first place.   PR is democratically defensible and the filibuster isn’t, but I still think that he burden of proof is on anyone who wants to make the legislative process even more cumbersome and less accountable that it already is.
  • A PR system could in theory be created by an act of Congress (and at the state level, but there would be a serious collective action problem inherent in doing it state-by-state, as the strong party in the first major states that went in that direction would be put in a serious disadvantage.)   But assuming that multiple parties would also run at the presidential level, this would mean that virtually every election would be thrown into the House of Representatives with each state delegation getting one vote, a democratic disaster on multiple levels.  So, really, there’s no way to do PR properly without a constitutional amendment, rendering potential reform DOA.
  • I also don’t agree that more parties would benefit politics by “getting more ideas” injected into the political system.  The decentralized American system generates a surfeit of political ideas for great to awful.  The problem isn’t the production of ideas.  The problem is getting them implemented by sclerotic American political institutions, particularly if they’re unfavorable to powerful interests.  PR would, if anything, exacerbate this problem rather addressing it.

I have no problem with PR in principle or within a parliamentary system, but in the American context I think it’s a very dubious solution to a misdiagnosed problem.

National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers

[ 14 ] March 10, 2014 |

Today, the 21st anniversary of the assassination of Dr. David Gunn by anti-choice terrorists, is National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. Remember these heroes for women’s rights on this day.

The Cowardice of Chris Coons

[ 71 ] March 10, 2014 |

With respect to the Senate’s disgraceful rejection of Debo Adegbile, brother Pierce raises a good point:

Among the seven cowards, Pryor, Coons and Walsh are up for election this fall, and Coons’s seat is as safe as it can possibly be, The other four don’t have to run again for another two years, and they still hit the silk. I’m sure the bookers on Morning Joe already have them all on speed dial. Bipartisanship!

Coons was particularly weaselish. He thought Debo Adegbile was qualified, and he loves him some Sixth Amendment protections, but Chris Coons was annoyed by fundraisers and that’s the way that goes

I know Delaware is part of the Philly media market, and Coons would have faced a little pushback from idiots who can’t tell the difference between Mumia and Mumia’s appellate lawyers. But can anyone think that a vote for a non-cabinet level official is going to swing the 2014 Senate election? The Republicans don’t have even a clear candidate, although there’s always Christine O’Donnell, tanned, rested and ready to run 30 points behind a generic Republican in a deep blue state. I understand that politicians are generally going to be more risk-averse than they need to be, but I don’t see any plausible case for political necessity here.

Because I’m a Jew and my G-d enjoys a good spiting

[ 171 ] March 10, 2014 |

Who is the bigger asshole? The person I wrote about

  • in this story (about which I’m providing no information)

Or the person I wrote about

  • in this story (about which I’m also providing no information)

I’m The Management here, and I aim to make sure no one forgets it.

(Also, feel free to comment on the quality of the accompanying images in those stories, because I’m the visual rhetoric guy and all.)

Christ, Farley, Please Start Work on a Different Book…

[ 32 ] March 10, 2014 |

This Saturday, Firedoglake will hold one of its Book Salons for Grounded. I hope that a significant percentage of the LGM commentariat will show up for an enjoyable evening with the commenters from FDL.

As part of the promo for the event, I have some thoughts on the political implications of independent air forces up at War is Boring:

Foreign policy comes from the collection of organizations that make up the national security state. If you change the constellation of organizations, you change the foreign policy output. Creating the U.S. Air Force amplified a voice within government for fighting short, cheap, decisive wars from the air.

As independent but related bureaucracies, the three military services naturally compete with each other for funding, roles and influence. In a crisis, the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff contribute advice regarding military options. However, through formal, informal and sometimes public channels, the services also make their preferences known.

Air Force officers not only tend to believe in the decisiveness of air power, they have very good professional and institutional reasons for arguing in favor of air power as a strategic catalyst. Service-oriented viewpoints produce parochialism, the idea that the good of the service and the good of the country are the same.

Demonstrating that air power can, on its own, decisively defeat an adversary and create a favorable political outcome flatters not only the preconceptions of air power advocates, but also promises to generate greater resources, autonomy and influence.

 

[Erik] To make the joining of our two commentariats even more enjoyable, I am hosting Sunday’s FDL book salon, on When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level. Rumors of the two sites merging may not be correct.

The Party of Me

[ 167 ] March 9, 2014 |

Seeing Ralph Nader’s unrequited letters of self–love, one might be tempted to think that he’s merely a bitter old man. Sadly, this kind of thing goes back a long way:

The Jimmy Carter presidency only saw a heightening of Nader’s schismatic tendencies. “I want access. I want to be able to see [Carter] and talk to him. I expected to be consulted,” he told The New York Times. That Carter filled his administration with former Naderites didn’t help. Less than a year after Carter put former Nader deputy Joan Claybrook in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Nader denounced her, demanding she resign for implementing an air-bag regulation with “an unheard of lead time provision.” In 1980, Nader told Rolling Stone, “In the last year we’ve seen the ‘corporatization’ of Jimmy Carter. Whereas he was impotent and kind of pathetic the first year and a half, he’s now surrendered. … The two-party system, by all criteria, is bankrupt–they have nothing of any significance to offer the voters, so a lot of voters say why should they go and vote for Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” (Liberals today who anguish over Nader’s insistence that no important differences exist between the two parties should note that this belief dates back more than two decades.) In the summer of 1980, Jonathan Alter (now a Newsweek columnist) worked on Nader’s voting guide for the presidential election. Alter came away amazed by Nader’s fury at Carter. “He didn’t seem overly distressed at the idea of Ronald Reagan becoming president,” Alter later told Martin. As Nader addressed a gathering of supporters in 1981, according to The Washington Post, “Reagan isgoing to breed the biggest resurgence in nonpartisan citizen activism in history.”

Not only is Nader’s belief that there’s no meaningful distinction between progressive politics and massaging Ralph Nader’s insatiable ego longstanding, so is his conviction that someone like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush in the White House wouldn’t be so bad, and anyway surely a speculated rise in ineffectual opposition will more than make up for it. (What Iraq war widow or widower wouldn’t be comforted by the news that Uncle Sams on stilts are up 20%?)

A reader sarcastically invited me to denounce Bernie Sanders for announcing that he might run for president. Why on earth would I? If he runs in the Democratic primaries, great! As for the possibility of a 2000-like spoiler campaign, I see no evidence whatsoever that Sanders is an obscenely self-centered crank with a remarkably callous indifference to the effects of his actions on the most vulnerable members of society, and I don’t denounce things that have a 0% chance of happening.

So What?

[ 35 ] March 9, 2014 |

A couple of weeks ago my father-in-law told me a story about an old art teacher of his. One day in class said teacher was quickly critiquing pieces, one by one. He said something nice about one piece, he said something nice about the next piece. He got to my father’s-in-law piece and said “So what?” In other words, “What about this is special? What about the color/composition/subject matter makes you want to look at this?”While the critique stung, my father-in-law knew there was just nothing about the piece that jumped out, that was special, that demanded you look at it. Many times I have completed a piece and thought “So what?” Sometimes I’ve reevaluated that “so what” and answered myself with “Oh yeah, here’s what.” Happily, I would not say this is a “so what?”  about my latest work, though it remains to be seen if it will end up being a favorite of mine.

A Dream to Keep

Radio Bits

[ 0 ] March 9, 2014 |

Here’s the Midrats episode:

Check Out Military Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Midrats on BlogTalkRadio

And here’s the NPR: Weekend Edition bit.

I’ll have a Bloody Mary and an F2000 Assault Rifle

[ 193 ] March 9, 2014 |

I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this car on my way into this fine establishment to enjoy some brunch with the fam. (License cropped out to protect the idiotic.)

Now I’m wondering to whom among the friendly, well-dressed people surrounding me  that creatively-grammatical* sign belonged.

 

*Cue misguided pedant-wannabes telling me that the misuse of quotation marks and apostrophes is really fine because language is evolving and blah fucking blah utter fucking nonsense.

Primaries

[ 179 ] March 9, 2014 |

Jon Geeting speaks smartly about the pointlessness of registering as an independent:

You don’t have to be thrilled about it, but this is the only way your vote counts in these places because the real election is the primary. Unless your state has open primaries where registered independents can vote, you don’t get to vote in the only election that counts. Treat yourself to all the democracy. Pick the party that’s closest to your views and vote in every primary for the least bad person.

Indeed. Registering as an independent is another sign of how we have turned politics into a consumer choice that reflects upon you. By doing so, you might be asserting your very real position that neither party satisfies you, but you are also reducing your own political power for no good reason. In states with open primaries this might not apply, but generally, it makes no sense.

WHAT? YOU THINK I CAN’T BE FRIENDLY?

[ 73 ] March 9, 2014 |

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: (standing beneath a tree, yelling into SEK’s window) HEY, ARE THESE YOUR STICKS?

SEK: (under his breath) Don’t say “they’re probably the tree’s,” don’t say “they’re probably the tree’s,” don’t say “they’re probably the tree’s.”

SEK: (out his window) THEY’RE PROBABLY THE TREE’S!

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: SO THEY’RE NOT YOURS? I CAN THROW THEM AWAY?

SEK: YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU WANT WITH THEM!

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: SO I CAN THROW THEM AWAY?

SEK: SURE!

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: BECAUSE I’M GOING TO THROW THEM AWAY!

SEK: GO AHEAD!

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: IN THE TRASH!

SEK: GOOD JOB!

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: THANKS!

SEK: YOU’RE WELCOME!

SEK’S NEIGHBOR: GOOD TALK!

Darrell Issa and the Gag Rule

[ 75 ] March 9, 2014 |

As many of you no doubt are aware, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair and general idiot Darrell Issa shut of Elijah Cummings’ microphone last week during a session about the idiotic IRS “scandal” of supposedly investigating right-wing money groups. Jarret Ruminski compares Issa’s actions to the antebellum Gag Rule to shut off discussions of slavery in Congress:

Among the most vociferous opponents of the Gag Rule was former president John Quincy Adams, who undermined the rule at every turn by defending abolitionists’ constitutional rights to petition Congress. Adams – who also coined the term “Gag” in reference to the banning of anti-slavery discussion – read petitions at the beginning of congressional sessions before the rules could be adopted, then forced a vote on the right to implement the Gag. Adams also made congressional committees do their jobs and thoroughly examine anti-slavery petitions in order to determine if the language therein qualified as Gag-worthy, thereby forcing discussion on a topic the Gag was supposed to silence entirely.

The efforts of Adams – and thousands of anti-slavery petitioners – brought plenty of heat down on the congressional Slave Power, drawing boatloads of attention to the abolitionist cause. Much to southern Democrats’ dismay, the controversy over the Gag Rule brought extra attention to an issue that was supposed to be gagged, as more anti-slavery petitions bearing tens-of-thousands of signatures poured into Congress.* Indeed, the entire Gag Rule brouhaha reinforced a by-now old rule in American politics: when you try to suppress legitimate grievances in the name of political gain, you run the risk of empowering the very people you want to marginalize.

And thus we come back full-circle to Darrell Issa. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman not only tried to gag Elijah Cummings from speaking, he’s also tried to gag any and all information that might undermine his quest to tar the Obama Administration with scandal after scandal. Through his bone-headed actions, Issa is invoking an ugly authoritarian aspect of the Congressional past. By silencing Cummings, who is, of course, African-American, Issa provided the uncomfortable image of a white speaker silencing a black colleague in a manner that evoked a rule once used by white supremacists to silence discussion about ending black slavery in America. Having endured far-worse attempts to block black political participation, Cummings called out Issa’s shenanigans until the Republican chairman finally apologized.

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