Tag Archives: democracy

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Blended Primaries Are an Assault on Democracy

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California’s “jungle primary” system, in which the two candidates who win the most votes advance to the general election in November regardless of their party affiliation, might have resulted in several bizarre outcomes. Look out: given the state’s role as a political trendsetter, this weirdness could go national someday.

Two Democrats could have wound up facing off against one another for governor, leaving the state’s Republicans with no candidate to support. Democrats narrowly avoided getting shut out of four Congressional races in majority Democratic districts, which would have led to a twisted form of antimajoritarianism. Most citizens of a district would not have had a chance to vote for a candidate representing their preferred party.

Democracy dodged a bullet — this time.

Voters weren’t as lucky in 2012, two years after Californians approved a ballot referendum instituting the top-two scheme. Six candidates ran for the U.S. House seat representing the 31st district, which had a clear plurality of Democrats. Because there were four candidates on the Democratic side to split the vote, however, only the two Republicans made it to the general election.

In 2016 Democrat Kamala Harris won California’s U.S. Senate seat, against a fellow Democrat. Republican candidates had been eliminated in the top-two primary. Sixteen percent of voters, no doubt including many annoyed Republicans, left their senate ballots blank, the highest rate in seven decades.

Proponents argued in 2010 that jungle primaries would lead to the election of more moderates. “We want to change the dysfunctional political system and we want to get rid of the paralysis and the partisan bickering,” said then-outgoing California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, after voters approved Proposition 14. But there is no evidence the jungle primary system has led to more moderate candidates, much less to more victorious moderate candidates.

“The leading [2018] Democratic contenders [for governor]…have pledged new spending on social programs,” Reid Wilson reports in The Hill. “The leading Republicans…are pitching themselves as Tea Party allies of President Trump.” These candidates reflect an electorate with whom polarization is popular. “Republicans are in a Republican silo. Democrats are in a Democratic silo. And independents don’t show up in the numbers that one might hope,” notes John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College and a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

A bland cabal of militant moderates controls the media, which they use to endlessly promote the same anti-party line: American politics are too polarized, causing demagoguery, Congressional gridlock and incivility at family gatherings. Centrism must be the solution.

It is a solution without a problem.

In the real world where actual American voters live, partisanship prompts political engagement. Hardcore liberals and conservatives vote and contribute to campaigns in greater numbers than swing voters. Rather than turn people off, partisanship makes for exciting, engaging elections — which gets people off their couches and into the polls, as seen in 2016.

As seen in 2012, moderation is boring.

It’s also becoming irrelevant. A 2014 Pew poll found that the most politically active members of both major parties are increasingly comprised of ideological purists: 38% of Democrats were consistent liberals, up from a mere 8% in 1994. Among Republicans 33% were consistent conservatives, up from 23%. It’s a safe bet those numbers will continue to rise.

Media trends and vote counts are clear. People prefer sharply defined political parties. Reaching across the aisle feels like treason. Compromise is for sellouts. A strident Donald Trump and a shouting Bernie Sanders own the souls of their respective parties.

Yet, defying the will of the people, shadowy organizations like No Labels and the Independent Voter Project and people like the late Pete Peterson continue to promote party-busting electoral structures like California’s “jungle primary” and so-called “open primaries” in which registered Democrats and independents can vote in Republican primaries and vice versa. And it’s working. Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana have versions of jungle primaries; 23 states have open presidential primaries.

These blended primaries purport to promote democracy. They’re really antidemocratic wolves in reasonable-sounding clothing.

Far more voters turn out for general elections (42% in California’s previous gubernatorial election in 2014), not primaries (25%). Blended primaries disenfranchise voters while placing a disproportionate amount of power in the hands of the few who turn out for primaries.

Despite the possibility of organized mischief-making, the threat posed by an army of Democrats cross-voting for the least-feasible Republican in a primary race (and vice versa) remains purely theoretical. However, there is a real-world concern: when a jungle primary shuts out one party from a major race like for governor or senate, it tends to depress turnout among the excluded party’s supporters in the general election, which can have a ripple effect down-ballot, even on races in which both parties have a standardbearer.

Like it or not — and I don’t — we still have a two-party system. Representative democracy would be better served by a more inclusive regime that broadens the ideological spectrum, whether it’s rank-choice voting or moving to a European-style parliamentary system or something else entirely. Until we think things through and have a new system to replace it, the current two-party system ought not to be insipidly sabotaged as though nibbled to death by feckless ducks.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

What’s So Bad About Illegal Voters?

President Trump’s voter-fraud commission made news when states refused to share personal voter data with it. But considering the fact that the U.S. has one of the lowest voter turnout rate among the democracies, maybe we should be more grateful to the few people who sneak into the polls to vote illegally.

Smooth Transition of Power

We keep hearing that Democratic officials are being polite and deferent to president-elect Donald Trump because they respect America’s tradition of smooth transitions of power. Given what Trump has said during the campaign, and the people he has appointed so far, however, that may not be appropriate.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: It Happened Here

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-NAOVCoxpJs8/UyYHJ_VHtwI/AAAAAAAAIzU/D66LKEzY3aU/s1600/Berlin+in+1945+4.jpgIt began with the global economic crisis.

All around the world, millions of people who had nothing to do with the stock market crash — who didn’t earn enough money to save, much less invest, that much less speculate — lost everything nevertheless. They lost their jobs, then, in short order, their homes. They were scared.

The failure of democratic governance transformed their completely understandable fear into savage, uncontrolled anger.

Presidents and parliaments dithered. Part of the blame lie with the Constitution. It provided for a strong executive branch. Rather than grease the skids of government, it prompted members of the congress to dig in their heels, blocking every initiative they could because it was the only way to stay relevant.

The politicians knew they had a terminal systemic crisis on their hands, but they couldn’t agree how to respond. So they didn’t. The misery deepened.

Gridlock reigned.

The economy recovered. A little. Not much. But almost all the gains fell into the pockets of the wealthy and well-connected. Almost everyone else felt left out. They seethed.

Seeing opportunity amid the armies of the alienated and dispossessed, the perennial almost-candidate of the nationalist, nativist far-right began campaigning in earnest. Breaking all the rules of conventional campaigning, he drew huge crowds with a simple message:

Believe me.

Trust me, he assured his audiences, and I will make the country great again.

He was short on specifics and liberal with insults. Idiots, he called the incumbent politicians. They were losers — losers whose stupidity had betrayed a once-great country.

“People from this country can’t find a job. They can’t earn a decent living,” he ranted. “Foreigners must be expelled so our people can work!”

Forward-looking leaders within the establishment parties worried about the growing popularity of this strongman in the making. His intentions, after all, were dangerously radical — and they’d been published years before in a bestselling book. He was, he said himself, a “militarist.” Wars, fragmentation, scapegoating were all in the cards if he were allowed to come to power. But the parties weren’t motivated to respond. The system couldn’t save itself.

Some establishment analysts thought he was a flash in the pan, a buffoon whose appeal would fade in good time of its own accord. “The ranting clown who bangs the drum outside the…circus,” The Guardian called him.

The future tyrant’s natural ideological opposition couldn’t get it together. During key elections, they split their votes between the socialist Left and moderate liberals. Ultimately, however, historians blamed the Right most of all, for failing to rein in one of their own.

Traditional conservatives had played a dangerous game for years, using political “dog whistles” to appeal to citizens’ bigoted views of foreigners and ethnic minorities. As the economy worsened, this approach became more effective. Conservatives doubled down, setting the stage for what came next.

What the old guard didn’t understand was, that given a choice between half-hearted racism and the genuine article, the electorate would choose the authentic candidate. “He tells it like it is, and we need that now in a president,” 44% of voters told a major newspaper.

The conservative establishment faced a choice too: support a candidate of the left, or forsake true conservatism in favor of a fascist. To a man, they went with the fascist.

A tone of increasing violence accompanied the demagogue’s rise in the polls. Not only did he personally condone violence against his movement’s political opponents, his party offered its lawyers to defend partisans arrested for beatings in its name. Even his close associates were implicated in violent assaults; when they were, the Leader stood by them. “I think it’s a very very sad day in this country when a man could be destroyed over something like that,” he said.

The aging president was reluctant to issue an outright condemnation. “Troubling,” he called the gathering storm clouds.

The Leader’s authoritarian movement attracted a plurality of the vote — yet he wasn’t popular enough to consolidate a simple majority. Had his opponents set aside their personal ambitions and ideological biases, and united in favor of the national good, he could have been denied the chancellorship.

Alas, twelve years later, all would be ruins.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: It’ll Probably Be President Trump

http://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/vhoAAOSwZd1VZs28/s-l300.jpgMy secret is contrarianism. Since the conventional wise men of the corporate mainstream media are almost always wrong, you’ll almost always be right if you bet against them.

The MSM take on Donald Trump is a rare exception to the rule. They’re scared and so am I. They’re right to be frightened. He’s an unconscious fascist, less like Hitler the careful schemer, more like Adolf’s mentor Mussolini, who cobbled together a little bit from the socialist left and a lot from the nationalist right, winged it as he noted which lines got the most applause, and repeated those.

The trouble with Trump isn’t his policies. He hardly has any. Those he has are so vague as to be laughable (see: the Mexican-financed border wall, mass deportations, etc.)

His temperament is the threat. Hillary Clinton hasn’t met a war she didn’t like, but it’s easy to imagine Trump starting one — maybe a big one — accidentally. Trump has so much contempt for the system, the job he’s running for, and the American people, that he hasn’t bothered to study up on the issues. If he took real estate this seriously, he would have gone bankrupt even more often.

Here’s some irony: America finally elects the magic businessman as president — which we’ve been told for years would be awesome — and securities markets tank in reaction to the uncertainty he creates.

Trump, used to getting his way all the time, is a bully. A president convinces. An authoritarian orders you. Do what he says, or else. This November, nothing less than the American political system is at stake.

So it’s time to get real.

The establishment types are still in denial. Wake up, idiots!

At this writing, Trump is my odds-on favorite to win in November. Things could change. But that’s where we’ve been for months and where we are now.

Because they didn’t think Trump could win the nomination, the party’s efforts to stop him have come way too little, way too late. Mitt Romney 2.0? Paul Ryan? Seriously?

Looking back, pressuring Trump and the other candidates promise to support the eventual nominee and forswear a third-party/independent candidacy rates as one of the stupidest political maneuvers of all time. Now the Republicans are stuck with the dude.

Not that the Democrats are blameless. Barring a miraculous EmailGate-related indictment or the eruption of some new scandal-in-waiting, Hillary Clinton will probably be the Democratic nominee. Thank you, DNC! And she’ll be a disaster. Head-to-head match-ups have consistently shown that she’s weaker against Trump than Bernie Sanders.

Trump is hardwired to find the weak spots in his opponents. He’ll have a field day demolishing Clinton’s candidacy, which is constructed on a pair of fantasies: that her long resume equals a list of impressive accomplishments, and that her record of supporting right-wing wars and trade agreements means she’s secretly a progressive longing to race out of the gate to keep “fighting for us.” Remember what he did to Little Marco Rubio.

Trump will blow up Hillary’s BS over and over and over. And there’s a lot of BS to blow up.

Hillary’s support is wide but shallow. Sure, some Bernie voters will dutifully Feel the Hill. But many Democrats, the ones who got into the Bern because they couldn’t abide Clinton, will not. DINO Hillary is to Trump’s right on war and trade and probably on Israel too. The #BernieorBust movement could leave enough progressives sitting home on election day or casting their votes for the Green Party’s Jill Stein to put Trump into the White House.

Should/can Trump be stopped? Yes, but not by the Republican Party. The GOP’s Stop Trump stampede — the anguished editorials, the cable-news rants, the pompous insider scolds, tens of millions of dollars in SuperPAC-funded attack ads that even smear his wife as a slut — is counterproductive, playing into the framing of a guy who sells himself as an establishment pissing-off outsider.

The Stop Trump movement within the GOP is undemocratic to the point of making me want to retch. Trump has a commanding lead against rival Ted Cruz (680 delegates to 424, 37% of the popular vote to 27%). Considering that Trump began the race against 18 other candidates, the establishmentarian talking point that he can’t get 50% of the vote is absurd. 37% is a commanding lead, and talk of pulling out some nothing guy who didn’t even run (Ryan, Romney) in second-round voting at the Republican convention is an insult to those who voted for Trump and to democracy itself.

The raison d’être for GOP anti-Trumpism is insane: he’s not a “real conservative” — this proto-fascist, they say, is too far left for their party.

If Republicans are serious about stopping Trump, they should pledge to support the Democratic nominee for president — with their votes, their PR machines, their SuperPACs and campaigning in person.

If the Democrats are serious about stopping Trump, they should Stop Hillary.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

Inevitably

In the Democratic primaries, where Hillary Clinton’s victory is a foregone conclusion, Bernie Sanders is playing the role of the sacrificial lamb candidate familiar to citizens of dictatorships that hold phony elections in order to confer legitimacy upon their regimes.

Look At Their Evil Propaganda, Not Our Identical Evil Propaganda

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

America, they tell us, is exceptional.

Exceptionally wrong about how exceptional it is.

Here comes today’s New York Times to re-re-re-reconfirm that with an Opinion piece headlined “The New Dictators Rule by Velvet Fist.”

“In recent decades, a new brand of authoritarian government has evolved that is better adapted to an era of global media, economic interdependence and information technology. The ‘soft’ dictators concentrate power, stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances, while using hardly any violence,” write Professors Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treismanmay. “These illiberal leaders — Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — threaten to reshape the world order in their image, replacing principles of freedom and law — albeit imperfectly upheld by Western powers — with cynicism and corruption.”

“Imperfectly upheld,” indeed.

They Depose Democratically Elected Presidents, Don’t They?

Like, for example, how the democratically elected president of Venezuela – the above-mentioned Hugo Chávez was overthrown by a corporate junta backed by the CIA and the Bush administration, as well as the slobbering editorial page and front page of — ahem — the New York Times.

Or how the democratically elected president of Honduras was overthrown by military coup backed by the CIA and the Obama administration, and, oh yeah, the New York Times.

Or how Judith Miller used the Times to convince the American people who Saddam had WMDs, used to justify the disastrous Iraq War.

“The West needs to understand how these regimes work and how to confront them.”

We Do the Same Exact Stuff

Read on, and it doesn’t take long to see that the West, and in particular the United States, well understand how these regimes work – because the US deploys many of the same strategies and tactics to quash opposition.

“The new autocrats often get to power through reasonably fair elections. Mr. Chávez, for instance, won in 1998 in what international observers called one of the most transparent votes in Venezuela’s history,” Guriev and Treismanmay admit. This, I suppose I should concede, is different from the American model, which included two consecutive presidential elections widely viewed as having been stolen: the 2000 judicial coup d’état precipitated by the Florida recount, and the stealing of the pivotal state of Ohio in 2004 via poll manipulation, both to the benefit of George W. Bush.

“The new autocrats use propaganda, censorship and other information-based tricks to inflate their ratings and to convince citizens of their superiority over available alternatives,” say Guriev and Treismanmay.

Here, in the meat of the matter, it is difficult to see any difference between the United States and these so-called “soft dictatorships.” No American newspaper, for example, employs a socialist opinion columnist, much less a communist one – even though these leftist ideologies are very popular among American citizens. Instead, in the United States, the only acceptable “mainstream” ideological discourse takes place on what is, by global standards, the far right: militantly procapitalist, contemptuous of such liberal ideals as leniency in sentencing, opposition to the death penalty, anti-militarism, and basic social safety net policies, like paid parental leave.

“They dominate the Internet by blocking access to independent websites, hiring ‘trolls’ to flood comments pages with pro-regime spam, and paying hackers to vandalize opposition online media sites,” Guriev and Treismanmay point out. How awful! But the same thing happens here, as numerous reports of trolls hired by the Bush and now the Obama administrations attest.

A “Pocket of Democratic Opposition”…to Hillary

“The new dictatorships preserve a pocket of democratic opposition to simulate competition.”

Um…Bernie Sanders, anyone?

“The new autocrats are not squeamish — they can viciously repress separatists or club unarmed protesters. But violence reveals the regime’s true nature and turns supporters into opponent.”

See, for example, the Obama Administration-coordinated police crackdown on the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement.

“And violence is not just costly — it’s unnecessary. Instead, the new authoritarians immobilize political rivals with endless court proceedings, interrogations and other legal formalities.”

Yup. The US does that too. The IRS conducts audits of political rivals. They harass them at TSA checkpoints at the airport, and when they cross US borders. They even force them into exile.

My favorite part comes at the end: “Western democracies should provide objective native-language news broadcasts to counter the propaganda and censorship.”

Can we start with the US? That would be…exceptional.

Best System Over

Between vast reserves of cash, her own giant Super PAC and a ground operation in waiting, Hillary Clinton appears to have the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 all locked up. So it’s unlikely that anyone will attempt, much less succeed, in challenging her.