Why and How Do We Vote?

To reaffirm our personal belief in democracy?

To advance some personal interest, desire or need?

To prevent government from doing something we do not like?

To make our world a better, safer place for our descendants?

Obviously, that short list pretty well covers most of the basic reasons why people even bother to go to the polls on Election Day.

There are also many more specific reasons why people vote and how they vote. Sometimes those reasons are positive. Often negative.

What seem to be the main specific reasons this year of how most people see their opportunity to vote?

–There surely are numbers of women (and men) who hope to elect our first female President.

–There are surely a lot of people—in both Parties—who are so fed up with campaign finance problems that they will vote for the Democrat simply to get a new member of the Supreme Court certain to reverse Citizens United.

–There are people disgruntled with their economic lives and who are interested in change for its own sake and are willing to completely upset the apple cart with a non-politician, because it can’t be worse than what they’ve got now.

–There are a few people who yearn for more efforts to work across party and ideological lines to craft workable solutions to our country’s many stalled needs, but their numbers are shrinking rapidly.

–There are too many people who resent—and properly so—the casino type problems brought on by our entire financial system, not just Wall Street, which have benefitted a very few far too well and cost too many others far too much. They seem to want smaller, fewer and less profits for the few.

–The ladders of opportunity are getting steeper and higher making it harder than ever for enough talented people to ‘make it’ and continue to create ever more jobs.

As one considers these various reasons, it should be fairly apparent that the  important issues are really not about favoring one political party over another at all, but simply how people see their place affected in our democratic/economic society.

In this context, playing out leadership contests strictly along the lines of party platforms looks more and more ridiculous.

Democracy (whatever the correct definition is) truly boils down to finding a whole series of compromises which set in motion forces that over time  actually move the needles of  change in the directions of what a  majority of people need, want and deserve.

Sadly, too many citizens have been disappointed for so long by the failure of those changes to materialize that they have become polarized, focusing only on what is number one on their list of needs or fears. In that process, they swallow hard and blindly accept the baggage that comes with their priority. So, some Republican voters, primarily concerned about immigration, will back a candidate whose views on social issues may be far different from their own; Democratic voters, who might be concerned about economics, may support a candidate whose position on gun control is anathema to them.

There is no organizing rationale in how all those competing issues are packaged!

Looking past the nominating stage of our electoral process, one hopes that the planners of the general election campaigns will include large doses of basic democratic PROCESS as a main goal that we all need and want.

A recent piece I did suggested that we should be thinking hard about a Center Party, which would fit between the Democratic Party on the left and the Republican Party on the right. It would be an organization that would be devoted to pulling people from both extreme opposite political poles toward the center which is the logical and right ‘place’ from which to lead and govern in a working democracy.

When asked privately, most people like to think and say they are somewhere in the center.

Those are the folks we need to count on today more than ever before.

Advertisements

Ok! Ok! Let’s Get on With It!

Enough already! Let’s quit the quibbling and accept the fact that this year’s presidential election will be Trump vs Hillary.

To do otherwise will only provide unjust enrichment to the press, which played a large part in putting us in this pretty pickle.

All the talk of convention rules among Republicans is wasted air. Trump, despite his relatively narrow base of support, has trumped Cruz, an even worse choice. So let’s avoid the nonsense talk of a contested convention and a ruckus in the streets. If the alternative were Kasich, it might be worth discussing. But that is nowhere in the cards.

Hillary has awful negatives, but she does have a lot of experience. Having finally achieved her long-delayed ambition, she may finally be beyond her seemingly ingrained need to fiddle with the truth. Bernie is a good man, with great intentions (excluding guns) but being mayor of Burlington and a back-bench Senator does not equip him well to deliver on his promises, even if they are appealing to quite a lot of folks.

Why indulge the fantasies of those desperate for anyone but Trump, or anyone but Hillary? There’s a lot of work to be done this year, and the presidential campaign is, to put it mildly, a distraction.

If we could quiet it down a bit about presidential politics until Labor Day, perhaps Obama and the Congress could get a few long-delayed, much-needed things done before the election. The Republican leadership, if they are not totally blinded by partisanship, just might figure out that it would be smart to make the best deals they can before they get wiped out in the November election. And the Democrats would be smart to clear out the legislative logjam as much as possible, so Hillary can have more flexibility in her first hundred days.

There are folks out asking about her ‘possible indictment’.  And there are others who say they would vote for her even if she were in jail. But both possibilities are as remote as a new Roosevelt riding onto the scene to save us from ourselves and “fear itself”.

We have had enough embarrassment and handwringing in the last four months to last us a full year.

Let’s take a careful poll to determine the public’s wishes on saying clearly and strongly ENOUGH ALREADY!

The Football Field of Politics

In recent decades, it has become common to refer to the spectrum of political ideology as a football field.

For some arbitrary reason, the CENTER of the political spectrum has been said to start at the 40 yard lines, which means that there are 20 yards of Center to the forty allotted to each Left and Right. Of course, this means that the people at the 39th yard line of either party likely have more in common with each other than with those at their own party’s goal line. However, various social, economic, and legal forces push them to congregate around the people at the edge, instead of encouraging them to come together in the center.

It is difficult to say for sure what those people in the center have in most common, but I believe that a vital similarity is that they understand that compromise and discourse are the key pillars of democracy.

However, our political parties are increasingly dominated by the intransigent groups that reside at the far ends of the football field. The Republicans have embraced the obstructionism at the extreme end of their anti-government ideology while Bernie Sanders has given a voice to the socialist (some would say redistributionist) wing of the Democratic Party. Not only do the groups at the edges of each party fail to represent the views of most party members, they also seem to hold a set of irreconcilable values so strongly as to make compromise impossible.

What America desperately needs is a CENTER PARTY—a real political organization like the Democratic and Republican Parties—that America’s centrists can gravitate to and identify with instead of constantly being tugged towards the wings. Such a party should stake out the turf between the 35 yard lines by emphasizing competence, compromise and constant problem solving as their central goal. Rather than wedding themselves to a rigid set of policies, the party would take a pragmatic approach to accomplishing the things we mostly agree on, while taking a pluralistic approach to the things we don’t and making sure everyone’s voice is heard.

Mike Bloomberg, as something of a technocratic pragmatist, is a perfect example of someone who could provide leadership of such a party. His experience is exceptional, his wealth makes him incorruptible, and his recent selfless decision to stay out of this year’s race to avoid splitting the vote and producing an unintended, perverse result put the 74-year old “beyond fear or favor”.

This year’s struggles already foreshadow a significant realignment of the country’s political landscape. But at this moment, the center is merely a battleground for Left and Right. It is overdue for ‘the notional center’ to become The Center Party, capable of bringing Americans together again, rather than tugging them apart.

Achieving that goal will not be fast, simple, or easy, and if it does not begin soon, any opportunity that it will ever succeed may recede. Today’s chaos creates the perfect opportunity to make an important and lasting change.

The CENTER is where our political process belongs, and its return has been long overdue. The existing center at the moment is a mere abstraction with no structure or apparatus to organize people sympathetic to its essential purpose and goals.

Let’s go, folks! The time is right. The need is evident. Mike where are you?

Wisdom from 1814 to Today

Today’s political melee seems at times unbelievable and even unimaginable, but in America’s first few decades, the dangers to democracy were already there to be seen.

In 1814, John Quincy Adams wrote the following to Senator John Taylor of Virginia:

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. […] Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”

Let us break down what our sixth president wrote to try and figure out what this distinguished man might say about the situation we are in today. (His imagined “words” are indented below.)

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

At the time I wrote this letter, the democracies I had in mind were the Athenian Democracy and the Roman Republic. The former fell out of favor after thinkers like Plato and Aristotle heaped praise upon the political stability of Sparta and disdain on what they saw as the tyranny of the Athenian mob, and the latter became an empire.

Since 1814, I have been proved correct many times over. France has undergone numerous (often bloody) transitions in and out of democracy during its lifetime; Germany was a democracy before Hitler took power in the thirties; and even Russia was briefly a liberal democracy for a few months between the February and October Revolutions. And though democracy may be the dominant political form today (though even that is open for debate), today’s democracies are young by the standards of history’s empires, aristocracies, and monarchies.

“It is vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. […] When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation.”

Remember that a democratic government has the same potential for oppression, corruption, and exploitation as any other form of government. Because governments are merely a collection of human beings, any government can succumb to the same vices as any human. It is obvious from the constant ethics scandals that wrack our government today and the clear influence of money in politics that the United States is not immune from the flaws of other governments. As you can have a corrupt or benevolent monarch, so too can you have a corrupt or benevolent Congress, Court, or President. The vain, greedy, and cruel among us will take whatever paths society gives them to satisfy their worst impulses. Too often this path leads through government, as that is where power resides in almost every human society.

However, one might argue that democracy does provide a check on our worst impulses by forcing our representatives to vote. One person cannot become a tyrant in a democracy; rather, a corrupt democracy requires the majority to be corrupt.

However, our reliance on the majority does nothing to lessen human vice.

“Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never.”

While individuals can successfully conquer their worst impulses, large groups cannot. To see how this can be true, look no further than the psychology of the mob. Large groups of people often behave in a way that very few of the individual members would alone. People speak of being swept along, and while the phenomenon is not well understood, there is no question that it occurs. Just as we would fear a tyrant, so too should we fear a corrupt, vain, and selfish mob taking charge of a democracy.

So what is the solution for a democracy on the brink of suicide? How does society take a step back from the ledge?

Adams might say it takes an individual, someone who has mastered his or her worst qualities, who will not succumb to corruption or vanity or greed, whose voice can fly above the noise of the mass and inspire people to follow him or her back into the life of freedom, peace, and prosperity that democracy at its best can give us.

Where are our Roosevelts, Washingtons, and Lincolns? There must be someone in the US today who could emerge.

Therefore, let’s get together and hold the fort against evil forces until then AND try harder to find and elect a leader with ALL the right qualities to set us on a better path for the rest of the century.

Next?

Leave it to Wisconsin, with its Lafollette legacy of good governance, to save the country from its fanciful dance with the idea of putting a Pinocchio in the White House.

Wisconsin, where Trump trails Cruz, currently stands to send the Republican primary to a contested convention. Trump is unpopular among conservative news personalities in the state, and demographics (educated, religious, with a large number of traditional nuclear families) and culture (so-called ‘Midwest nice’) may hurt the bombastic billionaire. If Trump wins, he will most likely clinch the nomination in short order, but if he loses, the tricky math begins and another candidate may rise.

For the first time in quite a while, I am rooting for tricky math!

However, the Republican field does not offer much in the way of alternatives. Cruz at times makes Pinocchio look like Snow White; Kasich may seem better every day, but has very little chance of being nominated even in a brokered convention ; Paul Ryan has repeatedly indicated that he wants to wait for a more propitious time; and Mitt Romney is, well, still alive.

Somewhere along the way, our overall electoral process failed the people of the United States. It used to be that a Presidential race was between two people who both could make a good president, but at the moment is almost impossible to see an outcome where there could be such a choice.

Republican dogmas include elimination of gun control measures (measures that most Americans favor), severe restrictions on birth control (which would disproportionately hurt women), exclusion of immigrants (as demographic changes make ours a country without an ethnic majority), lower taxes for the rich (as income equality and class anger grows), and more vigorous use of the military to solve foreign problems (as Americans across the political spectrum tire of the wars our country has been mired in for what seems like an eternity). Just about any of these policy positions are out of step with what the country wants or the realities of what it needs, and no one who commits as fully as the G.O.P. demands could or should sit in the Oval Office.

The Democrats hardly seem like they’ve done a better job. Though Hillary Clinton will likely be the nominee, it isn’t hard to imagine a world in which Sanders might have successfully unseated her. Like their Republican counterparts, the Democratic primaries are the clear product of a flawed system—it is obvious from the disparities between candidates that both parties are without a center and there is little room to form a synthesis of the two wings of the parties. There is clearly some sort of realignment of the parties underway, but our system has been unable to adapt to that new reality.

In the end, though, it is far too late to do anything about this particular election.

However, it is NOT too soon to think about the systems and structures that have put us in this pickle and ask ourselves how we can avoid such a situation in the future.

For starters, we need to rethink the whole primary/caucus process, and the press needs to rethink how they cover emerging candidates.

Both parties might consider having groups of people beyond fear or favor to screen potential candidates, without whose approval outliers would likely have serious trouble raising money. Even self-funders, hopefully, would find that to be a hurdle.

This is surely not the right moment to put forward a full-blown plan of how to change our system, but it is NOT too soon to acknowledge the problem and the need to address it as soon as Wednesday, November 9, 2016.

A Psycoscope Report on Trump

What do we know about what goes on in Trump’s head?

Surely, not enough. Though there are a lot of clues, plenty just raise more questions. The whole country desperately needs to know a lot more before entrusting the leadership of this great country to this man.

A few days ago, Trump waltzed into a meeting with the editors of the Washington Post—a paper that had been openly critical of and even hostile to him—which raises the fascinating question of what he had hoped to gain from such a meeting.

Perhaps he hoped to win them over? If so, he presumably would have come prepared and even a quick read of the transcript reveals that he did not. He simply knows next to nothing about most of the serious issues facing the US at home and abroad, which raises grave doubts about his ability to meet the day-to-day demands of the Presidency.

We all know about his extreme narcissism and his relentless need to be the center of attention 24/7. Delusional blindness may be part of the general condition of narcissism so we really do need to understand more about how he thinks.

To that end, we turned to the ‘psycoscope’, only very recently invented. It has definitely not been authorized by the FDA, but the NSA is said to be using it to read your thoughts right NOW. Though its inventor is clear that its ability to forecast behavior is far from well established, it is the best available tool at this point in time to look into Trump’s head.

The final results of this preliminary report are still confidential but what follows has been cleared, but it is not to be repeated.

Trump is completely surprised at how popular he has become. He never imagined that he could go this far. He loves and hates it. And he worries about it because he never really expected or planned to become President.

He simply planned to be an outrageous outsider to gain attention and the press fell hard for his style and over covered him simply because he sold waves of their wares. The more outrageous he was, the more attention he got, so he had to keep overreaching for crazier things to do and say in order to sustain his notoriety.

He knows full well that, so far, only about 2 ½ % of all Americans [about 5,000,000 people] have officially voted for or supported him in caucuses. He recognizes that given all the surrounding circumstances , that level of support is most likely substantially insufficient to land him in the White House—which is something of a relief to him, because he knows that he has no clue of what he would do if he ever got there.

His overall analysis of his present situation is that he is in a pretty pickle. At this point, there are three scenarios that haunt his dreams (excluding the one in which his hair gains its freedom and runs away in the middle of a debate):

  • He faces a contested convention, in which he loses the nomination in an embarrassing way.
  • He faces being nominated and losing the election in an embarrassing way.
  • He faces winning the election and having to try to be president, which he finds to be a seriously daunting prospect.

All three possibilities are bad from his point of view. He ends up saddled with embarrassment, and/or being stuck with a job he really does not want and that pays very poorly.

In thinking it through he is at a loss about how to extricate himself from the corner he has painted himself into.

And then a light comes on!

If he “suffers a mild heart attack” [according to his doctors], he can graciously withdraw from the race “for the good of the country” and ask the convention to find a suitable candidate.

He goes out of politics in a blaze of grandeur and popularity. His brand has become even more valuable and he is free of the constraints of the White House and politics, and now adored by everybody everywhere for his selfless interest in the country!

Eureka!!– Problem solved.

—————————–

AND then my alarm went off.