Independents Want Structural Political Reform

By Nancy Hanks | Related entries in News

If you haven’t yet read Jackie Salit’s “Independents See Through Washington’s Magic Show”, here’s a link to Chicago online SWNewsHerald

Keeping up with CNN’s Broken Government series, here’s a transcript on TMV of Don Lemon’s panel last Sunday featuring Dr. Omar Ali, Joe Gandelman and Nicole Kurokawa

Attorney Harry Kresky advocates for nonpartisan elections in a guest post for The Hankster called “Bloomberg Charter Revision Commission Should Address Nonpartisan Elections

Discussion of California’s Prop 14 continues. [Speaking of Prop 14, third party ballot access expert Richard Winger will write a guest post for The Hankster later this week delineating his position on Prop 14 (no) and open primaries (yes).]


This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

31 Responses to “Independents Want Structural Political Reform”

  1. Simon Says:

    Nancy, rather than another round of Donklephant-as-feed-aggregator, I think we’d all be more interesting in hearing you answer the question posed by KK that you’ve been ducking for a month. What did you mean by “radical democracy” when you described yourself as a proponent of such? It was surprising and a little troubling that having so boldly nailed your colors to the mast, you wriggled and squirmed so much to avoid describing what they stand for.

  2. kranky kritter Says:

    I think Salit’s editorial is spot on. Independents are feeling anti-establishment right now, and fairly disgusted with partisan politics and the folks playing them, no matter which party team they are playing for. I think independents will look for anti-establishment candidates, independent thinkers, folks willing to pledge not to accept big special interest donations, and so on.

    And I agree with Simon. I would also like you to explain what you meant when you said that you were a proponent of radical democracy. If you really are part of the independent movement, then surely you understand that folks want responsiveness, not evasiveness.

    To be sure, Simon is quite possibly seeking an opportunity to eviscerate you based on what you say, but I’m not. I just want to know, and am willing to talk about it in good faith.

    So I’m asking again, in good faith. Please explain what you mean by radical democracy, in laymen’s terms.If you are unwilling to explain your beliefs, this reflects poorly upon you, It makes you seem unwilling to practice what you preach.

  3. David P. Summers Says:

    Its all about the strangle hold liberals and conservatives have on the nominating process. Until on breaks this, partisans will rule the roost.

    Prop. 14 is a start, however my preference is for Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting). Then you can write in anyone (regardless of who gets nominated) and still be sure you vote will go, if necessary, for the “lesser of two evils”.

  4. Simon Says:

    Honestly, KK, I have absolutely no idea what “radical democracy” means—given her evasiveness, I’m starting to suspect that Nancy doesn’t, either—so I’m hardly waiting in the wings to pounce.

  5. Nancy Hanks Says:

    Simon and KK, sorry for the long delay. I’ll give this some more thought and post a response about radical democracy this weekend. Truly not looking to “wiggle” out of the debate — other priorities imposed themselves lately…

    David P. Summers — thanks for your comment and link!

  6. WHQ Says:

    More thought? After all this time, shouldn’t there at least be an executive summary to start with?

  7. Simon Says:

    Nancy, what do you mean you have to “give it some thought”? You told us that you are “a proponent of radical democracy.” Hadn’t you given the meaning of the term some thought before you described yourself as such?

    We’re not asking for an essay on the precursors, intellectual genesis, and likely practical upshot of applying of the concept. We’re just asking what you think the term connotes. What’s the thumbnail sketch, the dictionary definition, the executive summary?

    Let me give you an example. I can happily describe myself as a proponent of originalism. Myriad barrels of ink could and have been spilled in explaining about the hows, whys, goods, bads, intricacies, idiosyncrasies, limits, and proper domain of originalism. Endless law review articles have debated how, when, and if it should be used. But if you ask me what originalism means, all that debate can be boiled down to a simple thumbnail sketch, readily comprehensible by the uninitiated lay reader: originalism is a clutch of related theories that argue some authority contemporary to the enactment of a law should be controlling in its interpretation. And the principal originalist theory—the one that I and most others who would call themselves originalists have in mind—is the view that laws should be interpreted in conformance with the original semantic meaning: “The meaning of the Constitution is the original public meaning that the text’s words and phrases would have had, in context, to an objective, informed reader and speaker of the English language within the relevant political community, at the time the Constitution was written and adopted.” Paulsen, The War Power, 33 Harv. J. of L. & P.P. 114, 116 n.5 (2010).

    Now, this definition oversimplifies the subject matter. It says little about the context or history of the debate. It tells you little about why I believe it or why you should, too. But you didn’t ask me to justify it, you asked me what it meant. And I have told you. It did not require “thinking about”—if you are going to say you believe something, most people would take it as a given that you have thought about it already.

    That’s all we’re asking. A definition. A thumbnail sketch. You can augment that with an essay if you like, but it shouldn’t be necessary unless the concept is in fact entirely idiosyncratic to yourself. When you refuse to define a label you’ve applied to yourself (indeed, when you berate KK for having the temerity to look it up!), it indeed looks like trying to “wiggle out” from under that label.

  8. kranky kritter Says:

    Right. Precisely want I don’t want for a starter is a lengthy essay loaded with a bunch of references to other complicated ideas that I would also need to understand in order to “get it.” That’s what I experienced when I tried wiki. That entry had a lot of words but didn’t say anything useful or especially intelligible to me.

    By all means oversimplify it, give us the big picture gist. Give us a concrete “fer instance” or two.

    Prop. 14 is a start, however my preference is for Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting). Then you can write in anyone (regardless of who gets nominated) and still be sure you vote will go, if necessary, for the “lesser of two evils”.

    I doubt changing to such a system is even remotely viable politically. In other words, there’s no way such a substantial change could be put in place, for a host of reasons.

    Maybe at the end of a concerted 20 year effort. Maybe not even then. Consider how the electoral college has endured without anything resembling a serious challenge,

    Perhaps such a method has an elegance underlying the initial impression of something needlessly complicated, which many folks will distrust and thus lack the patience to consider seriously. Since I am skeptical that most folks would come to appreciate this underlying elegance (presuming for argument’s sake that it exists), I don’t waste much time wishing for fundamentally different voting methods.

    If I were to wish for a few changes that both have a chance of happening and would do some good, here are three:

    • re-districting reform to curb gerrymandering as much as possible

    • district apportionment of electoral votes for president, like Maine does

    •open primaries, or else a serious fight about them leading to more and more folks favoring independent candidates and making closed primaries irrelevant

  9. Gwen Says:

    Here’s my take on radical democracy (which I also see myself closely aligned to) and agree, is very important to talk about: Radical democracy (to me, anyway) is the practice of building the the very movement (with others -hence, “democracy”) which makes it possible to engage the very structural barriers which keep us from being able to participate in the first place (e.g. independents engaging in a campaign to have a voice or building an open primaries campaign in order to be able to vote at all levels). It’s “radical” democracy because in order for independents and ordinary folks to be included, we have to change the political process and challenge the current politcal culture. If you go to http://www.independentvoting.org, you will see countless examples of what this looks like, because it is what we do in the independent movement every day to engage the partisan control of the political process. On the other hand, it’s one thing to have a vote in an election, but if everybody cannot vote at all levels, and the choices that you have are between two corrupt hacks, hard to call that democratic. Anyway, that’s my take. Hope this is useful or at least a start of further discussion.

    Gwen
    http://www.independentvoting.org

    P.S. I have a feeling I’m stepping into a conversation that has gone on for awhile and Nancy has probably gotten tired of trying to respond to a person who doesn’t want to hear her answer because he disagrees (which is fine to just say – It’s one thing to ask something to understand more about where someone else is coming from (which I support) – quite another, to ask to use as ammunition to get into an intellectual sparring match. Not sure I would want to participate in that.)

  10. Simon Says:

    I agree with KK about redistricting. I implacably disagree with him about open primaries; we’ve discussed this before. District-based distribution for electoral votes is very, very hard for me. On the one hand, while it will not mollify critics of the electoral college, giving that much ground it is likely to reduce public sympathy for their proposals.

    Yet this reminds of Churchill’s quip that an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping to be eaten last. In the nature of giving ground, it is a step down the road toward direct per capita election of a President, a result I strongly oppose. It will reinforce the idea latent in the modern uncatechized public that they have a right to vote for the President, and that the results of the Presidential election should be on all fours with the results of the Presidential elector elections. Concomitantly, it will dilute identification of the process with the state as a unit—in a manner of speaking, the state of Maine does not vote in the Electoral College any more, but rather, two districts of Maine cast distinct and separable votes.

    It is far too late to call back the shift from legislature-appointed to elected Presidential electors, and in my own opinion, that change was for the better, on balance, notwithstanding that it might be seen as the thin end of the wedge. Now we are left to ponder how best to conserve the rest of the federal system in the face of a long-term multi-front assault by our friends on the left. (Multi-front insofar as had the left not diluted civics education, its concept of an omnicompetent national authority would have fallen on a stony electorate.) Deciding whether to give away even more of the original design to buy a chance to save the rest—at least for a while—is a heartbreaking choice, and it’s one I am not prepared to make today. If there is some way to keep us afloat long enough to fix civics education, and to get those folks voting, that should be done.)

    David P. Summers Says:

    Its all about the strangle hold liberals and conservatives have on the nominating process. Until on breaks this, partisans will rule the roost.

    This is one of those trite platitudes wheeled out by some centrists without having given them any real thought, a position that seems to tacitly assume that the speaker represents the “silent majority” found in the center (cf. this). You want to break the “strangle hold” that “liberals” and “conservatives” have over nominees? You’re talking about some 60% of Americans. Only 36% describe themselves as moderates. There are perhaps arguments for why a distinct minority should be particularly entitled to dictate policy to everyone else, and the fact is that the center will generally enjoy de facto control whether it merits or or not, but most often, these crags and pitfalls are submerged and unexamined beneath the placid surface of the worldview presented in comments such as David’s.

    If moderates want more power over nominees, they should pick the party closer to their views and get in. You are not a precious snowflake whose political views are too idiosyncratic to fit in either party—”I just have my own opinions, my own skewed may of looking at things.” That’s juvenile nonsense, an immature refusal to compromize and prioritize. But if you won’t do that, don’t stand around outside the gates of Uncle Sam’s garden party making snide comments about the guests and wonder why you never get invited.

  11. kranky kritter Says:

    I understand your slippery-slope fears about district apportionment. But I think that the electoral college is practically immune to change. Picking the president via electoral votes is a part of the fundamental compromise we founded the country upon…that big states get extra say in one house of congress, but each state gets equal say in the other house of congress.

    Given that, it is IMO a very defensible position for any small state to threaten secession should large states gang up (by any means including all end arounds) to diminish the already small amount of say that small states have in choosing the President. Further, I think all the efforts at end-arounds are unlikely to succeed, due to basic voter suspicion about any complicated scheme that might lead to unintended voting consequences.

    What i like about district apportionment is the simple possibility that voters would feel motivated to participate because the outcome in their district was in question, even if it was well known who would carry the state. I am in favor of a reinvigoration of the vertical arteries and capillaries connecting the local to the district to the state to the federal.

    I worded my support of open primaries as I did because of my previous discussions with Simon. He makes good points about the forming of organizations, and the right to associate. In theory, any private group has some right to associate with the folks they like and not to associate with those who are not like-minded. That’s why I always connect open primaries to the fact that the government subsidizes and runs the primaries. In my mind, this creates an obligation for the dominant parties to conduct their primaries according to the people’s wishes.

    Simon has yet to convincingly account for this, aside from hearty claims that amount to saying that the people benefit from this government entitlement which preserves 2-party dominance, and that this 2-party dominance is a mechanism that protects us all from pluralistic chaos.

    I don’t dismiss that last bit about pluralistic chaos, by the way. But at the same time, I feel that under current circumstances, the failure of the dominant parties to do the people’s business is manifest. We have seen such partisanship that filibuster is tried to stop anything that 40 senators don’t like. That’s a plainly obvious sign of bad faith between the 2 groups that have been entrusted with doing the people’s work. It’s an abject failure, and it calls into serious question whether the two parties still deserve their entitlement to dominate American politics.

    Right now, I don’t think it’s even remotely questionable whether Americans think that the two parties deserve to keep this entitlement. They harbor serious doubt. Democrats and Republicans need to do better right now, or be stripped of their virtually exclusive right to govern, A right BTW, which is currently supported by the governments that pay for and run their primaries.

  12. kranky kritter Says:

    Gwen, thanks for stepping into it. It’s always good to hear from another good-faith voice. FWIW, to my knowledge this debate has not seen a serious ongoing back and forth here. although I bet from what you say tat you’ve seen it go on in other places.

    What I here you saying is that radical democracy focuses its efforts on fighting the kind of political inertia that is the by-product of two-party dominance. I think that it probably follows then that you would like to see a more pluralistic system, where other parties might have legitimate impact, and where groups that form for a short time based on single issues could have more effective impact.This is not, to me, a wholly unattractive notion.

    Now, my experience is that conservatives invariably oppose this. They object that the current system is working as it should, because big changes shouldn’t happen without overwhelming support. And they also worry that a more pluralistic system would bring unpredictability and chaos. This is not, IMO, a wholly untenable hypothesis either.

    So I see a good faith disagreement. What concerns me personally is my understanding of inertia as something that always grows. Something at rest tends to stay at rest. As our governing system fails to ever make any substantive changes aside from ones which benefit the system itself, it grows ever more likely that nothing ever changes for the good of the people. It is on this basis that I support changes which could light a fire under the @ssholes of, well, the assholes in congress.

    On this issue of inertia, it’s hard to come up with any sort of a data-based analysis. One thing I am drawn to is noticing how long it has been since we have amended the constitution. Perhaps the current tally is not worrisome. But should we go 150 or 200 years without changes, what does this indicate? Perfection? Insufficent consensus? Or simply a state of exhausted stasis?

    When I posed this to Simon, he was unwilling to give me some number of years without change after which he’d be willing to become worried himself. But I do believe that he felt that he “would not necessarily” be concerned by any number, no matter how big. Leaving aside any stories about frogs and warming bathwater, I am ok with that answer. So long as folks are willing to at least seriously entertain the possibility that growing inertia in a system can lead to circumstances where the system needs shock or reformation.

    Liberals always want to reform and shock, and are unlikely to think that things are working ok as is. Conversely, conservatives are loath to support big changes, and prone to assuming that things are fine. This conflict is a problem, and it’s a problem which the two parties create via their constant partisan dance. What we need is a tiebreaker.

    By the way,. I still want Nancy to speak to the def’n of radical democracy.

  13. PatHMV Says:

    Having lived most of my life in a state which actually has open primaries, I have to caution that they are by no means a guarantee of greater moderation or centrism. In fact, they can often result in run-offs between the two most extreme candidates, as each extreme coalesces around one committed ideologue, while two or three relative moderates split the vote in the middle.

    The most notorious example remains the gubernatorial race between Edwin Edwards and David Duke, back in 1991. The incumbent governor, a quite moderate Democrat who switched to the GOP just before his reelection campaign, came in 3rd in the open primary, losing a spot in the run-off to former governor Edwin Edwards, a long-time staunch populist Democrat who received nearly universal support from the black community and a few other traditional Democratic strongholds, and the notorious racist David Duke, who ran on a hard-core pseudo-conservative platform, and captured much of the right-wing base (in part by falsely claiming that he was not a racist). A moderate Republican, Clyde Holloway, played spoiler, pulling about 5% of the vote (which was the margin by which Duke outpolled Roemer), with 2 other candidates getting about 1% each, and a smattering of perennial candidates getting much less than 1%. This is not an uncommon result with open primaries.

    People overlook the fact that historically, the 2-party system has had a quite moderating effect on our politics. Each party, in the past, needed to be a “big tent,” in order to attract as many voters as possible. This generally kept any one issue from dominating. There were people of power within the party, and they had personal incentives to keep the tents big. More power for the party, more power for them.

    But campaign finance reforms over the years have reduced the amount of influence and control the party structure itself can have over the candidates. Money flow to and through the parties is restricted, pushing campaign spending out through other organizations, which generally have greater incentives to be ideologically pure rather than more moderate. If the party is the big dog for financing, then there’s incentive to promote the party’s interests, and in the past the party’s interests have been to remain relatively moderate (while still, of course, distinguishing itself from the other party). But without the party to act as a funding funnel, individuals tend to contribute more through other organizations, in smaller groups. And smaller groups get more money by being purer, by rallying the base harder. That’s the real reason we’re seeing somewhat greater political divisions these days. Thank the campaign finance reformers.

  14. kranky kritter Says:

    No system guarantees to preclude peculiar results when 3, 4, or 5 candidates enjoys some support. I support ope primaries because they allow independent voters more input into who the final candidates are. Since the primaries are run on the dime of ALL voters, all voters deserve tio participate i them, period.

    I for one sure don’t mourn the incremental neutering of the parties. Perhaps we ought to extend that neutering to the special interest groups you say have caused polarization, rather than restore more power back to the parties.

    Perhaps we need to limit campaign contributions solely to individuals. Interest groups could still exercise their free speech rights by saying whatever they wanted and by airing commercials expressing their views. But they couldn’t buy access or directly coordinate their “free” speech with favored candidates.

  15. Gwen Says:

    Thanks for your response, KK. I see radical democracy as an activity, not so much as a position. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to describe. It’s the activity of building a movement (which by the way is not an ideological one, which is why at Independentvoting.org we’ve been able to work with folks of all political persuasions) and in building that movement, independents learn who we are and how to transform it. Open primaries is a good example of how if you don’t have radical democracy – e.g. a movement that’s engaged in transforming political culture and transforming the way we do politics, then even political reform is limited. I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to find the center (or “moderate solutions” or “centrism”) – Actually, that’s pretty much where things are at the moment – and we’re in gridlock – I think it’s a matter of building something new. If we’re going to use same old political labels and model to describe a failing system, I could see how that would lead us to failure and the same old conversation.

  16. kranky kritter Says:

    With language like “transformational” and”radical” I tend to intuit pie-in-the-sky idealism. Normally of the sort associated with college liberalism. Not insulting. Just saying. I have rabbit ears for the kind of flourishes that some of my more verbose grad student colleagues favored back in the day. Hope that doesn’t bother you too much. It’s just that as a guy from a modest suburban blue collar background commuting to an urban college, I made a daily trip from being the most liberal to being the token conservative. So I knew that many of my most passionate fellow graduate students really needed to get out of the cantabridgian echo chamber. But this point was utterly lost on them.

    The ideas themselves seem to me like they could easily be sold as sensible course corrections which are neither radical nor transformational in any epic sense. And I think transformation really implies a sort of epic astonishing revolutionary change, like from a pupa to a butterfly.

    Perhaps my personal taste just runs away from such hyperbole, but I don’t think I’m alone. Transformation maybe sounds nice, but it also gives off the whiff of foolish over-reaching. My sense is that regular american folks will probably respond better to something like “let’s try and get our government to work better, smarter and harder for regular folks, and less for special interests.”

    Or even, in regards to democrats and republicans “screw youse all.” :-)

  17. David P. Summers Says:

    >> Prop. 14 is a start, however my preference is for Ranked Choice >>Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting). Then you can write in anyone (regardless >>of who gets nominated) and still be sure you vote will go, if necessary, >>for the “lesser of two evils”.

    >I doubt changing to such a system is even remotely viable politically. In >other words, there’s no way such a substantial change could be put in >place, for a host of reasons.

    >Maybe at the end of a concerted 20 year effort. Maybe not even then. >Consider how the electoral college has endured without anything >resembling a serious challenge,

    >Perhaps such a method has an elegance underlying the initial >impression of something needlessly complicated, which many folks will >distrust and thus lack the patience to consider seriously. Since I am >skeptical that most folks would come to appreciate this underlying >elegance (presuming for argument’s sake that it exists), I don’t waste >much time wishing for fundamentally different voting methods.

    Well, I have found the only problem is getting people to learn what it is. After that, they tend to find it lines up well with what they already want.

    >If I were to wish for a few changes that both have a chance of >happening and would do some good, here are three:

    >• re-districting reform to curb gerrymandering as much as possible

    >• district apportionment of electoral votes for president, like Maine does

    >•open primaries, or else a serious fight about them leading to more and >more folks favoring independent candidates and making closed >primaries irrelevant

    I support all those. But they are limited measures and I don’t see any reason to not at least _try_ for something better.

  18. David P. Summers Says:

    >David P. Summers Says:

    > > Its all about the strangle hold liberals and conservatives have on the > >nominating process. Until on breaks this, partisans will rule the roost.

    >This is one of those trite platitudes wheeled out by some centrists >without having given them any real thought, a position that seems to >tacitly assume that the speaker represents the “silent majority” found in >the center (cf. this).

    So nice of you to assume that something you don’t agree with has been given “no real thought”. I also can’t help notice how convenient it is for you. I have to say, that is the sort of partisan approach which one reason that we need change.

    The fact is that I have never invoked the silent majority and I’m guessing moderates and centrists represent maybe a plurality. However, I think enough people (even some liberals and conservatives) are sick of this partisan “total warfare” that one can get support for action.

    >If moderates want more power over nominees, they should pick the >party closer to their views and get in.

    Even if I thought that wouldn’t take decades of putting up with more partisanship or that the other party won’t decided the one thing they are willing to cooperate on is stopping reform, the bottom line is that I’m not interested in centrists simply displacing either liberals or conservatives from a “you only get two choices” game. Liberals and conservatives also have their role to play. What we need is for people to be able to choose what they want, rather than have to pick “the lesser of two evils”

  19. Simon Says:

    # kranky kritter Says:

    I understand your slippery-slope fears about district apportionment. But I think that the electoral college is practically immune to change. Picking the president via electoral votes is a part of the fundamental compromise we founded the country upon…that big states get extra say in one house of congress, but each state gets equal say in the other house of congress.

    Well, you’d hope so, but underestimating their myopic ambition would be dangerous. Some Democrats have already been talking about doing away not only with the filibuster but the Senate itself. Others have proposed reforms that functionally abolish the Senate, retaining nothing but its name. See, e.g., Misha Tseytlin, The United States Senate and the Problem of Equal State Suffrage, 94 Geo. L.J. 859 (2006). They don’t seem to believe in “the fundamental compromise we founded the country upon,” so they aren’t likely to respect it vis-à-vis the electoral college.

    By the way, I thought it might be interesting to crunch the numbers. Maine and Nebraska assign two electoral votes to the winner of the statewide contest, and their remaining votes to the winner of each congressional district. Presumably, other states would adopt the same model. What if they all did? Let’s take the 2008 election as a rough proxy (rough because this analytical approach has an obvious flaw). If you add up all the states that voted for Obama, he gets 28 states and D.C.—56 votes. But then you have to go state-by-state, and let’s assume that Obama lost districts that voted for a GOP representative and vice versa (that’s the methodological flaw). By my count, he gets 200 votes from the districts in states he won, and 51 votes in states he otherwise lost. (There’s a slight adjustment in the figures, if anyone wants to re-run the analysis: the Dakotas each voted for McCain and each have a single Democratic representative. Because those states have a statewide at-large district, however, we must assign the vote based on the Presidential result not the Congressional result.) The result ends up being an Obama victory with 307 votes, versus the 365 he actually won. So one has to wonder whether the whole business could be a wash, although the study would have to be run on other elections to even tentatively say so.

    I worded my support of open primaries as I did because of my previous discussions with Simon. He makes good points about the forming of organizations, and the right to associate. In theory, any private group has some right to associate with the folks they like and not to associate with those who are not like-minded. That’s why I always connect open primaries to the fact that the government subsidizes and runs the primaries. In my mind, this creates an obligation for the dominant parties to conduct their primaries according to the people’s wishes.

    I know you remember, KK, but for the sake of others reading this, you’re talking about the conversation here. My position remains that while a state isn’t obligated to help parties conduct closed primaries, it should do so anyway, because the benefits to the commonweal—even if conceptualized as postive externalities—outweigh the relatively minor cost of running an election.

    I feel that under current circumstances, the failure of the dominant parties to do the people’s business is manifest. We have seen such partisanship that filibuster is tried to stop anything that 40 senators don’t like. That’s a plainly obvious sign of bad faith between the 2 groups that have been entrusted with doing the people’s work. It’s an abject failure, and it calls into serious question whether the two parties still deserve their entitlement to dominate American politics.

    I dispute all of this. I dispute the notion that there is a platonic “people’s business” that the parties can either obstruct or get on with. The country is deeply split on what constitute problems, what action may solve those problems, and which of those actions comes at an acceptable cost. Given the polarization in the country, we should expect the parties to be polarized. Of course, one can cite polling that seems to show significant majorities united on one point or another, but on closer examination, that agreement is often at too abstract a level. The healthcare bill is an example: polls have shown majorities opposed to Obamacare, so that should be it, right? Why are these divisive parties ignoring the people? But look closer and you find that half of that majority is opposed becase it goes too far, and the other half is opposed because it doesn’t go far enough. So in fact, the polarization of the parties doesn’t represent any kind of failure “between the 2 groups that have been entrusted with doing the people’s work”—it demonstrates quite the opposite, that the politicians faithfully reproduce the nation in miniature.

    I also dispute the notion that doing nothing is “abject failure.” Doing nothing is often precisely the right thing to do, and even stipulating for sake of argument that this isn’t one of those situations, it is by no means clear that doing something—over the strenuous objection of significant numbers of Americans who will be injured by doing the wrong thing—just for sake of doing something is better than doing nothing.

  20. Simon Says:

    # kranky kritter Says:

    As our governing system fails to ever make any substantive changes aside from ones which benefit the system itself, it grows ever more likely that nothing ever changes for the good of the people.

    What do you mean by changes that “benefit the system itself”? Do you mean changes that benefit the elites who occupy high offices in the system rather than the people at large—changes that encourage rent-seeking and the like? That is rather different, and I should think such changes redound to the detriment of the system, not to its benefit.

    One thing I am drawn to is noticing how long it has been since we have amended the constitution. Perhaps the current tally is not worrisome. But should we go 150 or 200 years without changes, what does this indicate? Perfection? Insufficent consensus? Or simply a state of exhausted stasis?

    When I posed this to Simon, he was unwilling to give me some number of years without change after which he’d be willing to become worried himself. But I do believe that he felt that he “would not necessarily” be concerned by any number, no matter how big.

    This thread. I stand by my remarks there.

    Liberals always want to reform and shock, and are unlikely to think that things are working ok as is. Conversely, conservatives are loath to support big changes, and prone to assuming that things are fine. This conflict is a problem, and it’s a problem which the two parties create via their constant partisan dance. What we need is a tiebreaker.

    Wait, how is that problem “create[d]” by the parties? You just said it was caused by the caution of conservatives and the feckless rationalist iconoclasm of liberals.

  21. Simon Says:

    Gwen Says:

    Radical democracy … is the practice of building the the very movement … which makes it possible to engage the very structural barriers which keep us from being able to participate in the first place ….

    I don’t know what this means. What do you mean the “structural barriers which keep [you] from being able to participate”? Participate in what? Democracy is a system of government, so presumably you’re talking about participation in government. But you can participate, to the same extent that any other individual person in the system does, and presumably you do.

    Perhaps you mean participation in choosing the candidates of political parties. That isn’t really a “democracy” issue, but either way, you can participate in that process, to the appropriate extent—you choose not to. That isn’t a structural problem, it’s a you problem. To the extent that you mean that you can’t mix-and-match, you want something to which you have no entitlement. If you want a say in how the boy scouts are run, you have to be a boy scout. If you don’t like your parish’s hymn selection, join the liturgy committee or whatever the parish calls it. You can’t ask to stay on the outside and still have a say in how an organization to which you don’t belong does things. You don’t have any right to that.

    Either way, your position seems to rest on blurring lines and doing business in the resulting fog. At least rhetorically, and perhaps substantively, you confuse participate with prevail, equate independent with pluralist, and rely on a hazily-defined idea of what you want to participate in as a way to artificially apply your request for access to party primaries.

    It’s “radical” democracy because in order for independents and ordinary folks to be included, we have to change the political process and challenge the current politcal culture. It isn’t radical “for independents and ordinary folks to be included,” it’s the status quo. I will certainly agree that the changes you envision in support of this faulty analysis are radical. Shouldn’t a radical solution require a strong showing that it responds to a real problem for which there is no reasonable solution?

    If you go to http://www.independentvoting.org, you will see countless examples of what this looks like,

    Wow. Um… Wow. That site is horrifying.

  22. Gwen Says:

    KK – Quite frankly, I sympathize with your sentiment about the overuse of words to describe activity. I think often when we try to use words to convey to others what it is we’re talking about that there’s a big communication gap. For me, understanding tends to come from being engaged in an activity with others, which I guess is why I became an activist. :) I talk to independents frequently, some who describe themselves as conservative, but it turns out that we have alot to talk about and a lot more in common than one would imagine if you get stuck on the political labels.

  23. Nancy Hanks Says:

    To me radical democracy means that everyone participates in the political decision-making process. (Everyone meaning people, NOT special interests.) In addition to what Gwen was saying, which I agree with, unfortunately our democracy has surely been imperfect from the beginning — slavery and the lack of the franchise for women and men who owned no property. I consider the fight for political reform (things like open primaries that include independent voters, nonpartisan elections, nonpartisan redistricting) to be a continuation of the American revolution and key element in breaking out of the political, scientific and cultural paralysis that we’re experiencing nationally and throughout the world.

  24. Simon Says:

    Nancy Hanks Says:

    To me radical democracy means that everyone participates in the political decision-making process.

    This is vague to the point of being meaningless. What does “participation” mean? What is “the decision-making process”? In one sense, “everyone” already “participates” in the “political decision-making” process—or at least, has the opportunity to do so. That is what elections are for. You evidently have something else in mind (the status quo, ex vi termini, is not radical); what?

    (Everyone meaning people, NOT special interests.)

    This is hilarious. What do you think comprise special interests other than people? A special interest is a group of people with interests distinct from the population at large. Nothing more.

    unfortunately our democracy has surely been imperfect from the beginning

    What do you mean “our democracy”? Our country has not been a democracy from the beginning, and is not today. See, e.g., Richard Posner, Justice Breyer Throws Down the Gauntlet, 115 Yale L.J. 1699, 1702 (2006), and this comment. I for one am very grateful for that, but that’s really beside the point: the point is that if your analysis rests on the assumption that we are a democracy in need of perfecting rather than a republic desperately fighting the democratists at the gate, your history is seriously flawed.

    I consider the fight for political reform (things like open primaries that include independent voters, nonpartisan elections, nonpartisan redistricting) to be a continuation of the American revolution….

    Interesting: you identify yourself as being for “reform” first, and for any particular reforms a distant second. That is at least honest.

  25. kranky kritter Says:

    Simon, I’ve been busy. I would like to take up some of these ideas further, but maybe the expired timeliness of this thread makes here a bad choice? So I’ll try to be brief. But I will also try to respond to your various points, so this post will as a wholo ebe somewhat lengthy. I hope folks out there will find some of it useful.

    First as to your objections to what Nancy has said, I think it’s pretty easy to see that details aside, Nancy favorsmore democracy than we have now. While she has perhaps been vague about all that might entail, I think that open primaries, in her view, would be a manifestation of that, You could probably split the hair of whether or not such a change really represents more, but I think thats no more than argumentative.

    What do you mean by changes that “benefit the system itself”?

    Here I am referring to the propensity for any bureaucratic system (a union, a political party, a government, a corporation, an organized special interest group, anything like that) to come to devote more resources and adapt its ideas to the growth and perpetuation of the organizational entity, to the point where priorities may get cloudy and possibly even to the point where original intents may get perverted. As it relates to politics and partisanship, we both know that sometimes politicians do and say things more because of their importance to their party than because of their importance to the people.

    Wait, how is that problem “create[d]” by the parties? You just said it was caused by the caution of conservatives and the feckless rationalist iconoclasm of liberals.

    My point is that the problem is the partisan dance itself, because of how the parties dominate the process. Perhaps a better analogy is an audio feedback loop, where the mike input is overamplified to the point where the speaker output starts to feed into the mike, making the input louder and the output louder and so on and so on. The only way to stop the unproductive and unpleasant loop is first to do something to break the cycle. And then to adjust the components of the system so that it functions as intended.

    I dispute all of this. I dispute the notion that there is a platonic “people’s business” that the parties can either obstruct or get on with. The country is deeply split on what constitute problems, what action may solve those problems, and which of those actions comes at an acceptable cost. Given the polarization in the country, we should expect the parties to be polarized. Of course, one can cite polling that seems to show significant majorities united on one point or another, but on closer examination, that agreement is often at too abstract a level. The healthcare bill is an example: polls have shown majorities opposed to Obamacare, so that should be it, right? Why are these divisive parties ignoring the people? But look closer and you find that half of that majority is opposed becase it goes too far, and the other half is opposed because it doesn’t go far enough. So in fact, the polarization of the parties doesn’t represent any kind of failure “between the 2 groups that have been entrusted with doing the people’s work”—it demonstrates quite the opposite, that the politicians faithfully reproduce the nation in miniature.

    I agree with much this to a very substantial extent. There is no platonic “people’s business” that already exists in abstract, and we only need to reveal it. But I think of “the people’s business” in terms of some problem that at least merits timely attention. The more manifest the urgency, the more I think it’s defensible to say that action should be taken. I think most folks are familiar with situations in their daily lives where it’s important for a decision to be made, for a course to be chosen. It is sometimes more important that some decision be made than that the decision itself be ideal. When you have a fire, a blanket, and hose, your time for debate over the method for extinguishing the fire should be limited.

    As it relates to healthcare, I think a very defensible case can be made based on budget data, coverage data, and demographic trends that a failure to make choices now will constrain our options for the worse down the road. We both know that annual cost growth rates in the 8 to 10% range are unsustainable. From the Clinton era to now, there are surely many more Americans who find their healthcare costs burdens becoming unmanageable and who have serious concerns about access.

    If we wait for 60% agreement, we may not take any action at all. That could be quite bad.

    I also dispute the notion that doing nothing is “abject failure.” Doing nothing is often precisely the right thing to do, and even stipulating for sake of argument that this isn’t one of those situations, it is by no means clear that doing something—over the strenuous objection of significant numbers of Americans who will be injured by doing the wrong thing—just for sake of doing something is better than doing nothing.

    You are correct that doing nothing is not necessarily abject failure. And obviously if you think that the wrong choice is on the verge of being approved, then it necessarily follows that where others see abject failure, you see the averting of disaster.

    More than once, I’ve made the same argument as you cite here. Since I am agreeing with you here, perhaps you’ll do me the honor of agreeing with me about the following: Doing nothing because the level of consensus is not high enough to meet an artificial threshold could also be disastrous.

    I think there is one thing about healthcare that I think we can and should agree on. 8%-10% annual cost growth rates, if not diminished, WILL lead to another doubling of healthcare costs in well under a decade. So we do all need to agree that the clock is ticking, even if we disagree about how much time we have. I’d like to see Americans agree that we need to do something substantive within the next 1-3 years about healthcare.

    Right now, many folks who have decent healthcare believe that reform will make their care worse and their costs higher. That this trend has been ongoing over the long-term seems to escape notice. Come on now,who out there doesn’t worry that their healthcare will get worse(more confusing and rstrictive and tenuous) and cost more regardless of reform? You know you do, folks.

    If we don’t undertake reform with deliberate speed, I am confident that the next iteration of reform attempts will see more support from Americans for the approach that some folks are currently calling a socialist agenda. Because costs will have risen, and more people will be having access problems because of that. Cost and access are really the same problem, the two faces of the one coin.

  26. kranky kritter Says:

    Simon, I’ve been busy. I would like to take up some of these ideas further, but maybe the expired timeliness of this thread makes here a bad choice? So I’ll try to be brief. But I will also try to respond to your various points, so this post will as a whole be s lengthy. I hope folks out there will find some of it useful. Or, Ignoring it isn’t hard.

    First as to your objections to what Nancy has said, I think it’s pretty easy to see that details aside, Nancy favorsmore democracy than we have now. While she has perhaps been vague about all that might entail, Open primaries are a clear manifestation of that. You could probably split the hair of whether or not such a change really represents more, but I think thats no more than argumentative.

    What do you mean by changes that “benefit the system itself”?

    Here I am referring to the propensity for any bureaucratic system (a union, a political party, a government, a corporation, an organized special interest group, anything like that) to come to devote more resources and adapt its ideas to the growth and perpetuation of the organizational entity, to the point where priorities may get cloudy and possibly even to the point where original intents may get perverted. As it relates to politics and partisanship, we both know that sometimes politicians do and say things more because of their importance to their party than because of their importance to the people.

    Wait, how is that problem “create[d]” by the parties? You just said it was caused by the caution of conservatives and the feckless rationalist iconoclasm of liberals.

    My point is that the problem is the partisan dance itself, because of how the parties dominate the process. Perhaps a better analogy is an audio feedback loop, where the mike input is overamplified, to the point where the speaker output starts to feed into the mike, making the input louder and the output louder and so on an so on. The only way to stop the unproductive and unpleasant loop is first to do something to break the cycle. And then to adjust the components of the system so that it functions as intended.

    I dispute all of this. I dispute the notion that there is a platonic “people’s business” that the parties can either obstruct or get on with. The country is deeply split on what constitute problems, what action may solve those problems, and which of those actions comes at an acceptable cost. Given the polarization in the country, we should expect the parties to be polarized. Of course, one can cite polling that seems to show significant majorities united on one point or another, but on closer examination, that agreement is often at too abstract a level. The healthcare bill is an example: polls have shown majorities opposed to Obamacare, so that should be it, right? Why are these divisive parties ignoring the people? But look closer and you find that half of that majority is opposed becase it goes too far, and the other half is opposed because it doesn’t go far enough. So in fact, the polarization of the parties doesn’t represent any kind of failure “between the 2 groups that have been entrusted with doing the people’s work”—it demonstrates quite the opposite, that the politicians faithfully reproduce the nation in miniature.

    I agree with much this to a very substantial extent. There is no platonic “people’s business” that already exists in abstract, and we only need to uncover. But I think of “the people’s business” in terms of some problem that at least merits timely attention. The more manifest the urgency, the more I think it’s defensible to say that action should be taken. I think most folks are familiar with situations in their daily lives where it’s important for a decision to be made, for a course to be chosen. It is sometimes more important that some decision be made than that the decision itself be ideal.

    As it relates to healthcare, I think a very defensible case can be made based on budget data, coverage data, and demographic trends that a failure to make choices now will constrain our options for the worse down the road. We both know that annual cost growth rates in the 8 to 10% range are unsustainable. From the Clinton era to now, there are surely many more Americans who find their healthcare costs burdens becoming unmanageable and who have serious concerns about access.

    If we wait for 60% agreement, we may not take any action at all. That could be quite bad.

    I also dispute the notion that doing nothing is “abject failure.” Doing nothing is often precisely the right thing to do, and even stipulating for sake of argument that this isn’t one of those situations, it is by no means clear that doing something—over the strenuous objection of significant numbers of Americans who will be injured by doing the wrong thing—just for sake of doing something is better than doing nothing.

    You are correct that doing nothing is not necessarily abject failure. And obviously if you think that the wrong choice is on the verge of being approved, then it necessarily follows that where others see abject failure, you see the averting of disaster.

    More than once, I’ve made the same argument as you cite here. Since I am agreeing with you here, perhaps you’ll do me the honor of agreeing with me about the following: Doing nothing because the level of consensus is not high enough to meet an artificial threshold could also be disastrous.

    I think there is one thing about healthcare that I think we can and should agree on. 8%-10% annual cost growth rates, if not diminished, WILL lead to another doubling of healthcare costs in well under a decade. So we do all need to agree that the clock is ticking. I’d like to see Americans agree that we need to do something substantive within the next couple years about healthcare.

    Right now, many folks who have decent healthcare believe that reform will make their care worse and their costs higher. That this trend has been ongoing over the long-term seems to escape notice. Come on now,who out there doesn’t think that their healthcare will get worse and cost more regardless of reform.You know you do, folks.

    If we don’t undertake reform now, I am confident that the next iteration of reform attempts will see more support from Americans for the approach that folks are currently calling a socialist agenda. Because costs will have risen, and more people will be having access problems because of that. Cost and access are really the same problem, the two faces of the one coin.

  27. kranky kritter Says:

    My answer won’t post.

  28. kranky kritter Says:

    I think it’s pretty easy to see that details aside, Nancy favorsmore democracy than we have now. While she has perhaps been vague about all that might entail, I think that open primaries, in her view, would be a manifestation of that, You could probably split the hair of whether or not such a change really represents more, but I think thats no more than argumentative.

  29. kranky kritter Says:

    What do you mean by changes that “benefit the system itself”?

    Here I am referring to the propensity for any bureaucratic system (a union, a political party, a government, a corporation, an organized special interest group, anything like that) to come to devote more resources and adapt its ideas to the growth and perpetuation of the organizational entity, to the point where priorities may get cloudy and possibly even to the point where original intents may get perverted. As it relates to politics and partisanship, we both know that sometimes politicians do and say things more because of their importance to their party than because of their importance to the people.

    Wait, how is that problem “create[d]” by the parties? You just said it was caused by the caution of conservatives and the feckless rationalist iconoclasm of liberals.

    My point is that the problem is the partisan dance itself, because of how the parties dominate the process. Perhaps a better analogy is an audio feedback loop, where the mike input is overamplified, to the point where the speaker output starts to feed into the mike, making the input louder and the output louder and so on an so on. The only way to stop the unproductive and unpleasant loop is first to do something to break the cycle. And then to adjust the components of the system so that it functions as intended.

  30. kranky kritter Says:

    I dispute all of this. I dispute the notion that there is a platonic “people’s business” that the parties can either obstruct or get on with. The country is deeply split on what constitute problems, what action may solve those problems, and which of those actions comes at an acceptable cost. Given the polarization in the country, we should expect the parties to be polarized. Of course, one can cite polling that seems to show significant majorities united on one point or another, but on closer examination, that agreement is often at too abstract a level. The healthcare bill is an example: polls have shown majorities opposed to Obamacare, so that should be it, right? Why are these divisive parties ignoring the people? But look closer and you find that half of that majority is opposed becase it goes too far, and the other half is opposed because it doesn’t go far enough. So in fact, the polarization of the parties doesn’t represent any kind of failure “between the 2 groups that have been entrusted with doing the people’s work”—it demonstrates quite the opposite, that the politicians faithfully reproduce the nation in miniature.

    I agree with much of this to a very substantial extent. There is no platonic “people’s business” that already exists in abstract, and we only need to uncover. But I think of “the people’s business” in terms of some problem that at least merits timely attention. The more manifest the urgency, the more I think it’s defensible to say that action should be taken. I think most folks are familiar with situations in their daily lives where it’s important for a decision to be made, for a course to be chosen. It is sometimes more important that some decision be made than that the decision itself be ideal.

    As it relates to healthcare, I think a very defensible case can be made based on budget data, coverage data, and demographic trends that a failure to make choices now will constrain our options for the worse down the road. We both know that annual cost growth rates in the 8 to 10% range are unsustainable. From the Clinton era to now, there are surely many more Americans who find their healthcare costs burdens becoming unmanageable and who have serious concerns about access.

    If we wait for 60% agreement, we may not take any action at all. That could be quite bad.

  31. kranky kritter Says:

    I also dispute the notion that doing nothing is “abject failure.” Doing nothing is often precisely the right thing to do, and even stipulating for sake of argument that this isn’t one of those situations, it is by no means clear that doing something—over the strenuous objection of significant numbers of Americans who will be injured by doing the wrong thing—just for sake of doing something is better than doing nothing.

    You are correct that doing nothing is not necessarily abject failure. And obviously if you think that the wrong choice is on the verge of being approved, then it necessarily follows that where others see abject failure, you see the averting of disaster.

    More than once, I’ve made the same argument as you cite here. Since I am agreeing with you here, perhaps you’ll do me the honor of agreeing with me about the following: Doing nothing because the level of consensus is not high enough to meet an artificial threshold could also be disastrous.

    I think there is one thing about healthcare that I think we can and should agree on. 8%-10% annual cost growth rates, if not diminished, WILL lead to another doubling of healthcare costs in well under a decade. So we do all need to agree that the clock is ticking, even if we disagree on the amount of time left. I’d like to see Americans agree that we need to do something substantive within the next couple years about healthcare. Sure, we can wait longer. If we do, we are choosing the consequences that delay will bring.

    Right now, many folks who have decent healthcare believe that reform will make their care worse and their costs higher. That this trend has been ongoing over the long-term seems to escape notice. Come on now,who out there doesn’t think that their healthcare will get worse and cost more regardless of reform? You know you do, folks.

    If we don’t undertake reform now, I am confident that the next iteration of reform attempts will see more support from Americans for the approach that folks are currently calling a socialist agenda. Because costs will have risen, and more people will be having access problems because of that. Cost and access are really the same problem, the two faces of the one coin.

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