Tag Archives: elections

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.)

 

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.)

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.

Anger is Greek to Them

After EU-imposed austerity pushed Greek unemployment to 26% and reduced educated people to abject poverty, Greece elects a leftist government. To hear the elites describe it, you’d think it was a communist revolution, which, if they keep it up, is exactly what could happen.

Five Wrongs Make a Right

Voter ID laws passed by dozens of states prevent Americans from choosing from two parties, neither of whom care about their concerns. At a certain point, you have to wonder: do multiple wrongs make a right?

I’ll Take That for Five Dollars

Enterprising Afghans are selling their voter cards for five bucks. Which is more than many Americans get for their votes. Democracy works – in Afghanistan!

Now Let’s Turn to Politics

After decades of Republican aggression and Democratic passivity, the 50-yard line of American politics has shifted so far to the right that what passes for the debate takes place only between the far right and the even further right.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: If You Vote, You Can’t Complain

Why It’s OK for Disgusted Liberals Not to Vote for Obama

Here we go again. Like Charlie Brown considering Lucy’s offer to hold the football so he can kick it–and Lucy’s promises not to pull it away at the last second, as she’s done every time in the past–lefties are being urged to set aside their disgust over the last four years and vote Democratic.

At least Lucy respected Charlie Brown enough to lie to him. President Obama isn’t even bothering to tell disappointed progressive voters that things will be different this time. At last night’s second presidential debate, for example, he promised to create jobs years in the future–not now, when we need them.

Despite my well-documented doubts, I voted for Obama in 2008. Not this time.

“If you don’t vote for Obama, you’re letting Romney win.” (So many friends, colleagues, family members, correspondents, bloggers and random whoevers have told me that that it hardly seems fair to single one out for attribution.)

Nonsense!

No election in the U.S. has ever been decided by one vote. None.

Thus, by definition, my vote is purely symbolic. (Don’t give me that “if everyone thinks the same way…” garbage. If everyone bought my book, it would be a #1 bestseller. If everyone used trashcans, there wouldn’t be litter. If everyone…if if if. The only vote you control, the only action you can take, is your own.)

My vote has no value other than as a symbolic endorsement. And I refuse to endorse what this president has done and failed to do.

I won’t symbolically endorse his drone war, which has killed thousands of Pakistanis–98% of them innocent civilians, the other 2% political dissidents with no designs against the U.S.

I will not endorse Obama’s 2009 decision to hand $7.77 trillion–$24,000 for every man, woman and child in the country–to bankers, no strings attached, who ought to be in prison while consciously standing by and allowing millions of homeowners to fall victim to illegal foreclosures and failing to abolish the time limit for unemployment benefits, as is standard in other countries.

Obama can go golfing more than 100 times while prisoners the Pentagon has declared innocent continue to rot in Gitmo dog cages. I can’t stop his war crimes. But he can commit them without my tacit silence-equals-death consent, much less my voluntary endorsement.

I could write a book.

The comedian George Carlin said: “People say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote and you elect dishonest, incompetent people into office who screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem; you voted them in; you have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote, who in fact did not even leave the house on election day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done and have every right to complain about the mess you created that I had nothing to do with.”

If you’re like me, you think Mitt Romney would be even worse than Obama. What should you do? Whatever you want.

I don’t care if you vote for Obama, or for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein of the Greens, or if you don’t vote at all. Do whatever you want, but don’t think about it. Electoral politics is a distraction.

You should be spending your time and energy thinking about revolution.

Between now and the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, we have to fend off a lot of stupid pro-Democrat entreaties to forget the dead Pakistanis and the desperate poor and your own bank balance and endorse the man and the administration who made them possible. To help you refute your pseudo-liberal, Obama-loving, Democratic apologist friends, here are some powerful counterarguments to their lesser-evilism.

Argument 1: If you don’t vote for Obama, Romney will win.

Your response: Bull. That might be true if you live in a swing state. (If you’re one of the three out of four Americans who don’t live in a swing state, stop reading here.) A 2010 study found that zero out of 20,000 elections–including for Congress and Senate–has ever come down to one vote. The closest margin, for one race in 1910, was six votes. Feel free to stay home. Hell, vote for Romney. Won’t make any difference.

Argument 2: Obama will be more liberal in a second term.

Your response: How do you know? Not having learned anything from the last four years, Obama still says he’ll be “more than happy to work with Republicans” after the election (to help them dismantle Medicare). Let’s take the man at his lack of word: he hasn’t promised much. Even if we stipulate Obama’s secret, silent liberal intentions, how will he push them through House that will likely remain Republican? Not to mention, lame duck presidencies aren’t renowned for their record of legislative achievement. Obama will have as much chance of signing big new programs into law sitting in his kitchen in Chicago as in the Oval Office.

Argument 3: Romney will push the country even further to the Right.

Your response: The U.S. has moved to the right since the early 1970s. But it wasn’t just because of Reagan and Bush Jr. Presidents Carter, Clinton and yes, Obama also moved the needle to the right. Their most important actions were pro-Republican: Carter’s pre-Reagan defense build-up and arming the Afghan Islamists, Clinton’s gutting of welfare and hollowing out of American manufacturing with “free trade” deals, Obama’s expansive drone wars and bank bailouts, which increased the chasm between the rich and the poor. They ridiculed, marginalized and silenced liberals and progressives within the Democratic Party. Most of all, they didn’t hold the line against GOP ideas, rarely resorting to filibusters and frequently going along with conservative initiatives.

Whether Romney or Obama wins, the Right will continue to get their way. That’s how the system works.

Don’t forget the ironic only-Nixon-could-go-to-China phenomenon: Democratic presidents sometimes go further right than Republicans can. If George W. Bush were still president, he would have taken a lot more heat from the left than Obama has. It’s easy to imagine him being forced to, for example, extend unemployment benefits indefinitely–something Obama hasn’t even tried–to avoid a revolutionary uprising.

In the short run, it makes sense for liberals to vote Democratic. In the long run, voting for conservative Democrats costs libs their leverage. During times of crisis, like now, short-term and long-term considerations intersect. This is not a time to vote same-old, same-old–or to think that voting matters.

(Ted Rall‘s latest book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

Los Angeles Times Cartoon: Two Democrats, Both Running as Republicans

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Under new primary rules in California, the top two winners in a race go on to the general election, regardless of their party. Now the perverse result is that candidates of party A, which is overwhelmingly popular in their districts, must appeal to party B voters in order to win.