Elections have consequences

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.

19 thoughts on “Elections have consequences

  1. Thanks for the alternate view Hardly.

    My only question is could something like MMP fix US politics?

    I believe that it could but to get that change the US needs to get rid of the two party system and discontent with the system is the only real force which will drive that. Sadly I don’t think the US political establishment is ready to take that step just yet.

  2. I’ll give you my view from the centre. The syndrome to beware in leftists is closet-stalinism. The syndrome to beware in rightists is closet-fascism. Having seen that Labour was really as much a part of the problem as National, in 1971 I decided the only sensible political stance is to reject both. In western countries, a third of the electorate has been likewise rejecting the left and right since the 1980s.

    So the outcome of the US election hinges on whether this third doesn’t bother to vote (as usual) or is motivated enough to vote for one or the other despite being non-aligned. E.A. has correctly identified the anti-establishment groundswell this year that also caused Brexit. Anyone who thinks the pro-establishment candidate chosen by the Democrats will win is just not paying attention to real-world developments.

    Your point re the Greens giving us Bush Jr is first-past-the-post thinking that the left here used to try & prevent us voting for MMP. Enough kiwis were smart enough to see that the establishment uses the good-cop, bad-cop routine against the people. The right glove-puppet whacks them around the ear firmly, the left glove-puppet whacks them around the ear a bit less firmly. It’s why Helen Clark put in such an exemplary demonstration of operating a National Party government, after she saw how well the deceit strategy worked for Bill Clinton & Tony Blair.

    The pretence that the left represents the people has worn so thin that only those naive enough still believe it.

  3. A significant portion of the electorate in the western democracies are so disenchanted with the established parties (Labour/National, Democrat/Republican, Labour Conservative) that they vote for third parties, or if that is not an option, for a maverick within an established party (for example Trump, Sanders, Corben or Johnson). Or they don’t vote at all. (New Zealand with the third party option has no need of a Trump, Sanders, Corben or Johnson).
    Sooner or later, however, people discover that they don’t empower themselves by giving power to others, and they don’t gain a voice by electing another to speak on their behalf.
    Life can go on just fine in the absence of a like-minded soul in Vogel House or the White House, Parliament or Congress. People can make their own lives, use their own voices and develop their own power. They do not need to wait on a system which has failed them, and will continue to fail them.

  4. E.A. I think something like MMP would definitely improve the House of Representatives. The problems with the electoral system go back to the desire to balance the popular vote with control by states. The first step for the USA is deciding they want every vote to count equally which is clearly not the case now. That then leads to scrapping the electoral college.

    I haven’t thought about it much but a popular STV for the presidency and the Senate would make sense with MMP for the House of Representatives. I think third parties are much more important for the house than the presidency to resolve the gridlock and encourage compromise.

  5. Yeah, I would agree. Getting third parties into the process in the House might help blow of some steam and allow compromise but, as I have noted, I dont think the US is ready for that discussion yet.

  6. I wonder if there has been any research on the impact of MMP on centrism in New Zealand. It certainly appears that it increased significantly following the introduction of MMP but of course correlation doesn’t equal causation.

  7. George W was (and is) a recovered alcoholic. No respectable person would want to have a beer with him.

    The US should scrap two of either the House, Senate or presidency. The Constitution itself is what needs to be broken.

  8. No, the Constitution isn’t broken, and MMP would not work in the US. There are long standing problems in the US and many of them trace back to plutocrats in the early 70s deciding they had enough of that wild and crazy Richard Nixon, who created the Environmental Protection Agency, amongst other things. (Google the Lewis Powell letter). So they founded think tanks and worked on bending the common discourse to their will.

    As I left the States in 1979, I am something of a time capsule of the American 70s. First off, back then there was not such a huge gap between the parties. George Wallace famously called them ” Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” As if this were a bad thing! I grew up in the Bible Belt, and although I was surrounded by evangelicals, they seemed to accept the separation of church and state. In fact, they saw it as a way of protecting their little, tiny faiths. People accepted there were difficult problems that need to be addressed.
    But with the ascension of a severely overrated president, Reagan, all the thought soldiers financed by the likes of Coors and Mellon Scaife managed to continually move the terms of reference to the right, not only for the GOP but also the ever-ready-to-compromise Democrats. And it was also from the beginning of Reagan era that the GOP confused “what I like” with “what is right”, encouraging people to think they have the right to judge others. Talk radio in the Eighties helped make low information voters angry all the time. I was stunned when I went back to the States in the early 90s and heard my grandmother act affronted about Gay Pride Parades. How did she even know they existed? Rush Limbaugh. Then with the ascension of Newt Gingrich and his politics of destruction we have the scene set for the bush 2 theocracy. Structurally there isn’t so much of a governmental/constitutional problem, it’s just the power of media and who can pay for it, especially since the ones who do adhere to such a nakedly self serving agenda.

  9. Those huge political rallies that we have just witnessed seem extremely dangerous. Why not start there? I am sure we can all think about past examples that didn’t end well. I’d say get rid of them and all the balloons, bunting and blather. it won’t happen of course but why not use the democratic secret ballot convention instead of winding people up beyond rationality.

  10. I’ve come in a bit late here, so just a quick reaction, or two.

    MMP is not a goer in the US – they don’t like “group-think” there. Also, each (single-member) district, now with populations of more than 710,000 people, would increase to something like 1.5 million (certainly after the 2020 census)! And don’t forget, the size of the House is not going to increase anytime soon – another subject that is politically-fraught. STV in multimember districts is the way to go – see http://www.fairvote.org.

    For presidential elections, the only realistic reform in the forseeable future is the National Popular Vote [Interstate Compact] – check it out at Wikipedia.

  11. Barbara suggests we “get rid of” mass rallies ” .. and all the balloons, bunting and blather”.
    The best way to do that would be to dispense with elections altogether.
    They are no longer necessary, they serve no good purpose, they do a great deal of harm to the democratic process, and there are much better options available to a modern society.
    The state maintains a computer register of citizens eligible to vote. Through that register, a citizen should be able to nominate a representative, or to revoke that nomination at any time. A process of continuous election would take the place of periodic general elections.
    Representatives would have no security of tenure, which would put them on an equal footing with the vast majority of their constituents in deregulated market economies.
    The electors would have the effective power of recall at all times, with no need to petition.
    Continuous election would effectively negate the influence of money, chance, circumstance and Gallup polls, allow for informed and reliable tactical voting, discourage governments from straying too far from their popular mandate, and facilitate continuity in government policy.
    There could be no suspicions of electoral fraud, no problems with incorrectly or mistakenly completed voting papers and no fears of a “wasted vote”.
    So why persist with shambolic general elections every three, four or five years? Because of the entertainment value? How many people still find the electoral circus worth the price of a ticket?
    Modern technology would allow us restore an authentically democratic system of government of the people, for the people and by the people. So why would we not take up the opportunity?

  12. Wow Geoff, you took it way past where I was at! Viva la revolution. Yes the tech is here and maybe the will is growing.

  13. People have been working on this idea for some time, as a way of establishing an alternative to the Westminster system which would be more compatible with traditional iwi structures.
    Constituencies would be of variable size (allowing for the varying size of hapu and iwi) and would be self-defined. Any group, however small or large, could constitute itself into a political unit. Being self-defined, constituent groups could be based on whakapapa (whanau/hapu/iwi), hahi (parish/denomination/broad religious group), political persuasion (doctrinal tendency/”left or right wing”), union affiliation or any other factor which was central to the lives of the people concerned. In other words constituencies would not necessarily be geographical although they might have an associated rohe (non-defining territorial association).
    The system could thus provide representation for all groups currently represented in the Westminster system, but in a manner that devolves power to the people and facilitates active grass roots participation in the political process.
    Power would accrue in the traditional iwi or pan-tribal fashion by delegation of mana from smaller to larger groupings. In other words a hapu group could delegate its mana to an iwi group or leader. (A point of difference with tradition is that the mana delegated would be restricted to the mana of numbers. In other words a hapu leader with, say, 200 followers could transfer his or her mana to an iwi leader with, say 5000 direct or indirect followers).
    This may sound a bit complicated, on account of its extraordinary flexibility, but it is well within the capacity of modern data systems to deliver such a method of political organisation.
    The system would also enable the hapu and iwi to directly engage with their rangatira/kaiwhakahaere/kaumatua, not as supplicants, as in the Westminster system, but as individuals with rights, powers and mana of their own.
    I don’t believe it could function to its full effectiveness in the context of the secret ballot, so we would need to go over the arguments for and against that particular sacred cow of the Westminster system.
    Another suggestion, not at all radical in terms of traditional tribal organisation, but strange to those accustomed to the Westminster system, is that rangatira should be responsible for the conduct of their followers. That might be a step too far for some, but it would have undoubted social benefits.

  14. All that seems worth developing, Geoff. Clever strategising will always help Aotearoa: too bad it is normally conspicuous by its absence!

    I sent a response to your earlier suggestion last night, but the Kiwipolitico tech interface failed to place it onsite. I’ll send it again…

    Media commentary on electronic voting has been negative, due to the prevalence of hacking. Correct design of the voting system is necessary to prevent covert manipulation of the results.

    Last year, in a discussion of the feasibility of electronic voting, I made the point that public confidence in it would depend on system design. The essential design feature that would secure public confidence would be if people could go online to check how the system had stored their voter – to verify it.

    Presuming voters can thereby check the accuracy of the system for themselves, the next potential design flaw to eliminate is the counting of votes. Which gets us back to the old question: who minds the minders? If political parties are able to independently check the vote count, the system would be self-validating by design.

  15. I have always been partial to the idea of electronic democracy (whatever from that is) but after watching the issues with such electronic voting in the US where there turned out to be some “bugs” in the system I have cooled on such implementation until we could have a much higher degree of scrutiny/certainty/fail safe.

    On the flip side the idea of having a much more responsive democracy is something I like but again it less an issue of the technology and more the issue of the actual government system.

    For example in NZ I like the idea of citizens initiated referendums but don’t like the idea that they are not considered binding on the government of the day.

    The problem as I see it, and you may call me an arch-cynic/naive idealist is that the system as it currently is favors vested interests, is captured by said interests and institutions like political parties while functioning in NZ (barely at times) has ground to a standstill in many other countries.

    And while a certain amount of stability is necessary for any functioning system so is the ability to change as the situation changes and western democracies are essentially still stuck in a voting system which is 200 years old which is why I like the idea of a more responsive electronic democracy.

    I consider MMP one of the best things that happened to NZ despite what its detractors say as I belive that it helped NZ avoid situations like the US and UK, or OZ or places like Italy with unstable governments and political uncertainty.

    If we could move towards something which was even more responsive we might even be able to get people interested again in voting but I think I went pie in the sky about two paragraphs back.

  16. The security and system integrity problems would pretty well solve themselves if we were willing to abandon the secret ballot. Every voter could check that their vote was as they had recorded it, no one could record more than on vote, and any kind of electoral fraud would become difficult if not impossible to implement.
    I personally believe that the secret ballot should be done away with regardless. Democracy needs people who have the courage of their convictions. It also needs people who are accountable for their own decisions – whether that be to vote for Clinton or Bush, or Key or Little, Hitler or Pol Pot. In a mature society we should be able to allow for such openness without any form of personal retribution, and if we aren’t at that point already we soon would be under an open ballot system, because we would quickly discover that retribution is both unhelpful and unworkable. An open ballot might, indeed, help make us into a more tolerant and more thoughtful people.

  17. I should have credited Simon Kaiwai for developing an alternative model to the Westminster system, but I don’t know who else may be thinking and working along similar lines – quite a few I would expect.

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