Divide and Conquer

I have Libertarian friends who think Ron Paul has a chance at the GOP nomination… My intuition is that they are engaging in wishful thinking. My best guess is Romney will take it, but I’m hoping for Cain, for 2 reasons:

  1. It would be kind of awesome to have 2 black candidates for President of the United States; and
  2. I like the idea of Obama going up against McCain and then Cain… it would confuse future schoolchildren.

But should my guess prove correct, and Paul lose the Republican nomination, where would that leave him? He’s garnered quite a lot of support in some polls, and that might encourage him enough to consider splitting off again to run as an independent. After all, he is 76 years old, and may not have that many more chances to run (though he’s pretty spry), so he may as well throw it all in the ring for 2012. (Why independent and not Libertarian? He’s already got the Libertarian vote, and independent status might get him a few people who wouldn’t vote strict Libertarian… it’s a safer label.)

I would love this.

It would split the conservative vote between the Republican nominee (let’s say Romney) and Paul, and hand another term to Obama. It’s not that I think Obama is perfect, far from it; he’s too conservative or moderate for my taste, and I don’t like his persisting in these ridiculous wars, failing to revoke the expansion of Presidential powers, re-signing the PATRIOT act, failing to hold banks accountable, and many other weak moves. But I still support him in general, and I think he’s doing a pretty good job under very trying circumstances not of his making. I support Obama’s jobs bill, and raising taxes on millionaires; I even support him raising taxes on me, and I’m solidly middle class. And I think we need another Obama term to see his efforts really bear fruit, and to give the economy a chance to recover.

But that’s not what excites me about the idea of a Ron Paul schism from the GOP. With his seeming popularity among an increasing number of people, and the coming ugly break-up of the Tea Party and Republicans, and similar disillusionment on the left, it might increase the dissatisfaction with our two-party duopoly, and pave the way for voting reform where it is easier for multiple parties to credibly run for President.

The current system is a crock, where no matter if a Republican or a Democrat wins, the Republicans and Democrats win, and both parties have too much incentive to keep this convenient arrangement that neither will work to reform it, and neither will stray too far from the policies of the other. This race to the bottom is driving us away from real issues and further and further to the right (which is not right).

The simple fact of the matter is that a country of over 300,000,000 people must by necessity have more than 2 opinions on any given subject, so 2 parties can’t really represent their views with any degree of accuracy or subtlety. So, as a result, the “national dialog” consists of hand-picked non-topics that are blown out of proportion by the media, because that’s the only thing that the established parties will discuss. We need more diversity of voices in Washington; for that, I appreciate Ron Paul actually having the nerve to say things that push the boundaries of what Republican voters might want to hear (even if I think his particular stances are nonsensical sophistry or cynical manipulations).

And worse yet, this false black-or-white, uncompromising, your-team-vs-my-team bullshit isn’t just wasting our time and money, it’s actively driving a wedge between Americans, radically polarizing us into knee-jerk offense and defense, resulting in a fruitless stalemate. When I talk one-on-one to self-identifying Republicans, and get past the rhetoric to the real issues and real values, I usually find we think fairly similarly… we mostly disagree on execution of those ideas, and on personalities of the politicians; but I know that once we leave that personal, human conversation, the media machine will hammer at us relentlessly until we forget that point of similarity and solidarity. We too easily devolve into slogans and talking points, reaction against the banality of the opposing politicians’ public statements and stances.

We need more than two political parties, to baffle that echo chamber. We need new voices diverging and disagreeing, then coming to compromise, then pushing new ideas into the political arena, and that won’t happen when it’s just two talking heads shouting each other down. But right now, it takes a tremendous effort and a fortune to try to get on the ballot in each state; state-controlled ballot access means that even if a third party could get enough momentum and campaign donations to have a real shot, they blow that money and energy just trying to get on the ballot, while the Democrat and Republican candidates use their money to influence voters directly. This is only one of many reasons why “States’ Rights” advocates are dangerously naive; issues like this, which affect national elections, should be decided at the federal level.

Of course, lowering the bar for additional parties to be on the ballot, as difficult as it might be, is only one step. Even when they are there, the best they can do is deflect votes from one of the other candidates, as Nader did from Gore in 2000, and as I hope Paul does from Romney in 2012 (though honestly, I think could just barely live with Romney as President… just not Paul, Cain, Sanctimonious, Perry, or that one lady with the creepy crazy eyes… no, no, the other one).

What we would also need is the ability for people to make real and direct choices in who they want as President (and for Congress)… not simply pick the lesser of two evils, but rank them according to how well that candidate matches their own preferences, how well each candidate represents that voter’s views. This is nothing new… we’re one of the last first-world nations that still uses the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all ballot system, when what we need is a more sophisticated ranked voting system, where if your first choice of candidate doesn’t have enough votes to win, your vote is counted instead for your next choice, then on down the line, until one candidate is the candidate that the most people can live with. Then, an alternative party candidate might actually stand a chance of winning… and even if they didn’t, it would disrupt the carefully-controlled unequilibrium that the duopoly enjoys, so we could at least hear those new voices.

But could this happen? Could a national referendum on voting reform actually bloom? Well, I can imagine a scenario where it might. Obama is limited to one more term, and I have a feeling that he’s going to be more aggressive during his last term… he has less to lose. So, he could well support such an effort, on the basis that if a Republican wins in 2016, they will try to dismantle his reforms… so he’s better off trying to widen the field, on the chance that a it would yield a less clear “mandate” for destroying what he had built just to score one more point in political pong.

Right now, the duopoly strategy against us is winning: they divide and conquer. It’s a proven principle that we need to apply the in reverse: we need to divide ourselves into many parties, so we can conquer them.

6 thoughts on “Divide and Conquer

  1. We’re one of the other countries stuck with first past the post. True, we have a third party of which I was a member for many years before they got into a rightwing coalition and have gone along with unforgivable right wing policies.

    We had a referendum earlier this year on changing the voting system to a more proportional one. It was part of the coalition agreement to get the 3rd party onboard. The proposed alternative system was deliberately chosen by the senior party, our GOP, as one that actually wasn’t very proportional & that would maintain the status quo even if it were adopted. In the end the referendum was lost and we’re stuck with the old system for at least another generation. Like most people in Britain I live in a safe seat. The same party has held this seat in every election except 1945. I have no vote. I always vote for the person with the least vanishingly small chance of beating the incumbent – and it never works.

    Cameron is likely to be there beyond the next election (due in 2015). He’s busy privatising the health service, his ghastly finance bloke is ensuring that our economy continues to flatline and all the environmental promises are being broken daily. Oh, and they’re changing the electoral boundaries to suit themselves. Forgive me for being depressed.

    The bitterly vitriolic divide between Republican and Democratic Congressional Representatives is at an all time high. Perhaps, this is partly due to perception, but I have been following national politics since Watergate, and I cannot remember a more polarizing atmosphere than the one enveloping contemporary politics. Whether we are at a maximum or not can be debated, but the fact that we have dysfunctional gridlock is apparent.
    I believe there are specific institutionalized ingredients that contribute to disruptive politics. These divisive institutions have not suddenly appeared, but they have matured towards greater conflict and have conspired in synergistic discordance. Continue reading →   http://outlierideas.com/2011/10/09/steroid-partisanship-understanding-divisiveness/

  3. The Quote of the Decade:
    “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Government cannot pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that, the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
    ~ Senator Barack H. Obama, March 2006!

    Obama is doubling down on installing government programs and idiotic short term spending [cash for clunkers / $8,000 housing credits / subsidizing completely uneconomically sustainable alternative energies, and endlessly extending unemployment benefits].  He is intentionally bankrupting the country to install his own style of government after the current one collapses.  This was all outlined years ago in the Radical Communist Cloward / Piven Strategy to destroy the capitalist system by promising people benefits that will eventually be unsustainable, and result in a meltdown reminicent of the current state of affairs in Greece.  

    By the way, kudos for the most racist statement ever written,  “It would be kind of awesome to have 2 black candidates for President of the United States”.  Nothing like judging candidates by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.  You are the anti-Martin Luther King! 

    1. Hi, “Claymore”-

      I’m afraid I had to remove your insightful follow-on comment, because it wasn’t salient to the topic; for the benefit of other readers of my blog, all 13 of you, I’ll summarize: “Claymore” lobbed some insults at me and my wife, indicated that my high-school friends still living back in my hometown of Jefferson City, MO, all hate me, and that I should never come back to “Flyover Country”… this last bit is kind of ironic, since when I visit every year at Christmas, I don’t fly, I drive there in my smug, self-righteous, pinko Prius (maybe they should have said “Drive-Thru Country”).

      So, “Claymore”, why did I bother approving any of your comments, you may ask yourself?

      Is it that I feel a need to let all voices, no matter how dissenting, be heard, as some sort of liberal ideal? Nope, I really only value the opinions of those who have actually bothered to think about what they’re saying (pro-tip: parrotting Glen Beck or other pundits, Right or Left, isn’t thinking).

      Is it that I find the mystery of your identity so compelling, that I hope you’ll drop a hint as to your true identity? No, I actually have a pretty strong suspicion, based on a conversation about your earlier blog comments with some old friends who paradoxically claim not to hate me, that it’s a conservative colleague and friend of my estranged friend A.C., who I had a falling-out with over that most pathetic of topics, politics. It genuinely makes me sad to reflect on that, because I really liked A.C.’s wit, cleverness, insight, and passion, and it frustrated me to see us growing apart because of the vituperative, venomous rhetoric that national politics injects even into personal lives; I miss playing board games and RPGs with him, and even debating him. And I know this is going to sound one-sided, but… I blame the conservative right-wing press; I feel somewhat justified in this, because aside from my release valve of the Daily Show and Colbert Report (and Nate Silver during election season), I don’t watch or read other liberal media outlets… I try to find news items as close to their source as possible, and discuss topics with strangers who have different backgrounds, and form my own mental models and opinions (I know, everyone thinks that), and I dislike most liberal pundits almost as much as conservative ones; not so, it seems, too many right-wingers, who glory in repeating worn-out, well-oiled, pre-fabricated, misleading fact-opinions readily supplied to them by the dominant right-wing press (like that crap about the “Cloward-Piven Strategy” being applied by Obama, or the choose-your-own pet issue like “cash-for-clunkers”, which they are trying to sell as a failure)… repeat it enough times, and you can make yourself believe it’s true, or true enough. It’s the go-for-points style of debate, where you aren’t trying to arrive at some truth through mutual sharing of information and opinions, but just trying to “win”.

      No, the reason that I approved your post is because I like the elegant way in which it draws a distinction between someone who is willing to stand up and share his opinion (right or wrong or silly or off-base or whatever) with the world, and learn from any reasoned dialog that follows, and own up to it with his own name, with pseudonymous, pusillanimous (that’s a liberal-elite word roughly meaning “cowardly”) pot-shotters who fire off insincere drive-by comments that produce nothing of value. Trying to trip up your “opponent” with distractions and non-sequiturs and logical fallacies and accusations is a naive style of debate, avoiding any of the substance of a stated position. If I recall correctly, my friend A.C. was fond of this Emerson quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Recent studies in neurology and cognitive science seem to indicate that the brains of liberals are better able to deal with complex and even conflicting ideas, and the brains of conservatives are more emotionally responsive… which would explain why you’re trying to counterpoint my blog post not with facts, but with emotional arguments… to you, that may seem like the more relevant tack, while to me, it just seems silly… I’m not troubled by seeming inconsistencies. (Which is not to say I fit well in that simple model… I tend to be both adaptive and emotional.)

      In short, “Claymore” (and you too, “Buck”), you played yourself for a fool. To anyone whose opinion I care about, you look like the idiot for posting what you did, not me; you’re exhibiting only your most petty, humorless, and superficial side, and I’d bet it makes me look rational and fair-minded, if only by comparison ^_^. And it makes me chuckle when I read your childish attempts to state a rationale opinion. So, thanks for that. If you ever want to man up and put your real name next to what you’ve said, maybe I’ll treat you a bit more seriously.

      As an ending note, I’m a bit surprised anyone I don’t know, and who doesn’t seem to have much in common with me (e.g. not a Web geek) would even be able to find my blog, or bother reading it, or bother coming back, or bother commenting. Since I’m not a notable figure, I have to assume that you found my blog through an acquaintance (as I mentioned above), and I’m flattered that you think it’s worth your time to insult me… or maybe you should just get a hobby; may I suggest Arduino, or learning a musical instrument? That’s what I would pick up if I had the time.

  4. I think I have seen it all now. There is a person out there that is more of a socialist than the one that was elected to this bannah republic. You stated that obama is too consevative? You stupid mother fucker! You want to raise taxes on your self? How about you just write them a check. I cant believe anyone would be that fucking STUPID!! Were did come from? You are dstrying our country. We have enough pabling puking liberals like your self. Go live in the streets w/ your capitalist suppressing buddies that want to follow Greeces footsteps. Your a stupid son of bitch!!!

  5. You are correct – small, petty, stupid personal attack on my part.  I apologize for the gutless chickenshit way I behaved.  My first comments were honest belief that running the country into debt is going to ruin the country for future generations. But the last comment – inexcusable.  I guess I was just jealous to see someone doing so much better than me in both their personal and professional life.  Cheap shot, no excuses, won’t happen again.

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