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Elections have consequences

datePosted on 23:00, July 28th, 2016 by E.A.

The post below is a rebuttal of sorts to my latest post. its written by my friend and poker buddy Hardly. Hardly is a Wellington professional who made the jump from government service to the private sector and who is now expecting, along with his wife, their first child (I grin gleefully when imagining the face he will make the first time he has to change a nappy). Hardly and I rarely agree on anything except that we both have strong convictions and are willing to debate, discuss and defend them. I am happy to guest post his thoughts here.

It’s beyond cliche to say democracy is a deeply flawed system but better than the alternatives…. The American system is one of the more flawed versions of this system.

Perhaps less commonly repeated is that people always elect the government they deserve but often not the one they need (I know, Batman – guilty as charged).

We live in a time of extraordinary discontent. Not unprecedented – there has been no civil war nor mass outbreak of violence in western society – but it’s clear, the peasants are restless.

Why is this so? Too many wars, not enough jobs and those that exist pay to little, not enough money to go around. Promises were made and not met. The perceived evils that created this – trade, immigration and Muslims.

Vote for Bernie or vote for Trump, your beef is different but your solution is the same – political revolution. For the people to win the system needs to burn.

But did the system let the people down or did the people let the system down. We can debate when the rot set in but perhaps one of the greatest hits democracy ever took was the victory of GW over Al Gore.

Gore’s loss was Bush’s gain. And from this came the Iraq war, tax cuts for the rich, and perhaps the GFC itself. Opponents of the system might argue this was the establishments fault. After all Gore and Bush were both patricians of the establishment and, once in office Bush entrusted power to the his fathers loyal followers, who were establishment through and through.

I don’t see it this way. In 2000 the narrative was “who do you want to have a beer with”. Al Gore the elite politician, was measured against GW the part time politician, part time golfer, part time oil man and part time baseball team manager. A false equivalency was created whereby the major differentiating factor was their personal appeal as the major differentiating factor. Not policy, not judgement, not experience.

When it came to the question of who to have that beer with, enough people wanted to have a beer with GW that he won. Not the popular vote but that wasn’t the game. Experience and intelligence was rejected for likeability because …. well …. because voters are shallow creatures. In hindsight, we know there was so much more at stake but you wouldn’t know it to have watched that election unfold.

That is not the end of the story. Who remembers what other factor swung that election – Ralph Nader. Third parties in the US have always wanted their place in the two party system and the first step on the journey is the funding that comes to a party that achieves 5%. So Ralph Nader and the Green Party set out to reach that 5% and shake the two party machine that controlled American politics. How was this justified – Gore and Bush are two sides of the same coin (I’m making this up but I’m sure something along these lines was said), each is as bad as the other, to have real change we need to change the system – the two party system whose tyranny has led us to where we are now.

Ralph Nader did not get 5%, but he got enough. While Al Gore lost the election by 537 votes in Florida, Ralph gained 97,421 in the same state. Those 97,421 people elected George Bush and defeated the most environmentally committed nominee of a major party. And because Al Gore and George Bush were so very different, GW went on to do so many things which likely outraged those 97,421 people and many more.

So whose fault was George W? The republicans of whom many now denounce him? Ralph Nader voters? For my money, the responsible party is anyone who ever entertained the false equivalency in their mind that GW and Al Gore were the same, somewhat indistinguishable, merely a matter of style. I have more respect for a voter who loved Bush than someone who claimed they were essentially the same. Those people are to blame. They were wrong and their mistake shook the nation and the world.

This year Americans face a choice between Hillary, Trump and an abstention/protest vote. Some people will say Trump and Hillary are each as bad as each other. Some will say that they want to shake the system, to send a message. Some will say they wanted Bernie and won’t support anyone else.

When the vote is in and Trump or Hillary is in the Whitehouse, the consequences will be apparent. Trump’s policy is unknowable, his temperament uncertain and his experience unrelated. Many people will vote for Trump for reasons of anger or agnst, some will vote for him for party loyalty and loathing of Hillary. More will vote for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson out of protest or abstention or a desire to rock the system. One thing is for sure, either Trump or Hillary will win and whatever the outcome, the American people will get the government they deserve but not necessarily the one they need. What is in doubt is whether or not they appreciate how different those two futures really are.