What If Arlen Specter Loses Tomorrow?

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Democrats, Pennsylvania

It happened to Bob Bennett in Utah and it could certainly happen to the multi-term, just turned Dem Senator from Pennsylvania.

Because, apparently, the White House is backing away from Arlen…

If this is true, it’s significant: CBS chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer is now saying that he has it on good authority that the White House is privately bracing for Arlen Specter to lose tomorrow.

Schieffer, to my knowledge, has not said this on national TV yet. But he made the claim in an interview with the local CBS affiliate in Philadelphia. “I have been told on background that the White House is preparing for a Specter loss here, and that the president doesn’t want to be associated with that,” Schieffer said.

I’ve also learned that Veep Joe Biden will not be doing any campaign events for Specter in the final stretch, though it’s not immediately clear how significant this is. Last week, Biden said he’d be doing events for Specter “as needed.”

But a Biden aide confirms for me that no campaign events are scheduled, even though Biden will be in Pennsylvania tonight speaking at his daughter’s graduation. Biden has done radio interviews on Specter’s behalf.

And here’s the Quinnipiac poll…which has Joe Sestak leading…

The Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary goes down to the wire with U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak taking 42 percent of likely primary voters to Sen. Arlen Specter’s 41 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted through Sunday night and released today.

With 16 percent undecided and 25 percent of those who do back a candidate saying they might change their mind, the race is too close to call.

So, are Dem primary voters shooting themselves in the foot if they nominate Sestak? After all, Arlen has toed the Dem line pretty consistently ever since he switched parties and he has always been known as a moderate. Will Pennsylvania go for somebody that could be painted as left wing?

Or, are we seeing a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment with these primaries? After all, Congressional Dems and Repus alike share very low approval ratings across the board. “Throw the bums out” seems to be a rallying cry nationwide.

We shall see…


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17 Responses to “What If Arlen Specter Loses Tomorrow?”

  1. shaun Says:

    I don’t think it particularly matters to the Democratic Party no matter who wins. Either Specter or Sestak will defeat the Republican nominee in November, especially with its Toomey.

  2. gerryf Says:

    I am not sure that Bob Bennett and Arlen Specter are equivalent cases; his position as a recent party jumper makes him unique and his loss or victory doesn’t really mean anything.

    A moderate Republican switches parties to become a moderate Democrat makes him a political opportunist more than a confirmed Democrat.

    However, there are plenty of sitting Democrats facing primary challenges.

    If Blance Lincoln loses to Bill Halter, that is more indicative of a real shift to left or polarization (as opposed to the continued lame assertions by the GOP windbag machine that the Democrats are already a far left party).

    Given Blanche Lincoln’s positions lately, even she may not be an indication of a similar wingnuts taking over the party on the left like what we have seen on the right and the tea party crazies.

    A Patrick Leahy loss to Daniel Freilich in Vermont, a serious dent in Barbara Boxer’s numbers by Micky Kaus; or Jonathan Tasini knocking off Kirsten Gillibrand would be a better equivalent of a far left rebellion against the party establishment.

    As it is, whenever the talking heads talk about a “shift left” in the Democratic Party they are just trying to balance the coverage of the shift right in the GOP–an actual shift, much to the chagrin of the far left, is mostly just musing.

  3. Nick Benjamin Says:

    Blanche Lincoln’s not in trouble because she’s moderate. She’s in trouble because she’s not a great politician, and to walk the line between Conservative Democrat and Worthless to the Party you have be a very good politician. The best example of this is her position on the public option during the HCR debate.

    In policy terms opposing the inclusion of a weak public option implies opposition to the whole bill because a weak public option would have no effect on the market. If you dislike the idea you throw the left a bone with a weak public option, and move on to more substantive ideas.

    In political terms the case against the public option was always tenuous. There was no massive increase in popular support for HCR when the public option finally died. Lincoln’s vote for HCR annoyed the right, her stand against the public option annoyed the left, and the middle didn’t care. If she’d quietly supported reform like Mark Pryor (D-AK) did she’d be much better off. She’s a longshot in the general election.

    When your approval ratings are in Blanche Lincoln territory you get primary challenges. And when you have actively annoyed two of your parties biggest components (leftist activists and unions) the primary challenges are not easy to weather.

    Bennett’s a bit different because he lost the primary for purely ideological reasons. He didn’t flub a major issue, and challenge a major part of the GOP. He was only 24th most conservative in the Senate, and the activists in Utah’s GOP thought that was not enough.

  4. kranky kritter Says:

    Of course it’s a broad anti-incumbent sentiment, as I’ve been saying for months and months. Welcome aboard.

    So, are Dem primary voters shooting themselves in the foot if they nominate Sestak? After all, Arlen has toed the Dem line pretty consistently ever since he switched parties and he has always been known as a moderate. Will Pennsylvania go for somebody that could be painted as left wing?

    That strikes me as quite silly. They should pick who they prefer, and if that happens to mean Sestak, mission accomplished. (Or if Specter, same thing.) Democratic voters should pick whoever they think best represents them, unless maybe there’s overwhelming evidence the other choice stands a far better chance.

    Which doesn’t seem to be the case here. PA as a whole is a moderate swing state, no conservative hotbed that will reject a candidate just because he or she’s too librul.

    Now, I don’t like the “shot in the foot” idea much, as I said. But if any choice would count as a shot in the foot, I think a MUCH stronger case could be made for a Specter vote. Because in the current environment, he can be spun as soulless career hack without strong principles, a part-of-the-problem politician who positions himself primarily as a matter of convenience. You look at his career and you can paint a picture of a guy whose primary guiding principle has been to get re-elected.

    BTW, I don’t know a ton about the guy and am not personally making those claims. I am merely pointing out that should he win the primary, this is precisely how he will be targeted by the Republicans to win independent votes.

    So if you think independent votes will decide who gets the seat… .

  5. Nick Benjamin Says:

    I agree with kk.

    Picking Sestak would not be “Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.” Specter’s in the high 30s-low 40s. That’s well below the 50% level which is safe for an incumbent. Below that an incumbent is a 50-50 shot even if he’s at 49.9%, and Specter ain’t close. Moreover it’s virtually impossible to see where Specter picks up the 10 points he needs to win. Everybody already knows the man. If they liked him they’d be supporting him already. His only shot is to portray Toomey as a ridiculous extremist (which is probably true), and hope voters prefer an incumbent they dislike to a right-wing nut.

    On the other hand Sestak is within a few points of Toomey. His numbers will rise as his name recognition goes up. Former three-star Admirals are not bad candidates. And if the Toomey-as-nut trick would work for Specter it’s gonna work even better for Toomey.

  6. JimS Says:

    From what I’ve read it’s not like Sestak is some kind of radical leftist, but just about as moderate as Specter. If that’s true and he doesn’t have what in this year can be seen as the baggage of incumbency or the party switch then I doubt the Democrats will be shooting themselves in the foot by nominating Sestak.

  7. Simon Says:

    Is it a forelorn hope that after yesterday, we might see an end to complaints about congressional polarization? To the extent Congress is polarized, it got that way because the people CHOSE a polarized Congress. That’s what happens when you remove moderates like Specter and Lincoln. Politico puts it well: “But the cumulative results of the primaries will likely make a hard-to-govern capital even more treacherous. Politicians now on notice about the power of activists on their flanks will be less inclined to find compromises in the center, and they barely did even before Tuesday.” Congressional polarization—and the resulting partisan gridlock—are a result of the system’s inability to prevent Congress from being the nation in miniature, not, as is sometimes charged, the system’s divorce of Congress from the people at large.

  8. kranky kritter Says:

    Congressional polarization—and the resulting partisan gridlock—are a result of the system’s inability to prevent Congress from being the nation in miniature, not, as is sometimes charged, the system’s divorce of Congress from the people at large.

    Well, if you’re an ardent defender of two-party politics, you simply MUST keep shopping that canard, mustn’t you? Then later, as convenient, when no one’s paying attention, you can re-brand gridlock as stability.

    When I vote, I am presented with only 2 viable choices in most instances. This could not be less like what Americans experience in the rest of their lives. I can choose from 10 movies, 40 kinds of cereal, 50 kinds of cars, 5 insurance plans, and so on.

    Obviously, it is to some substantial extent true that congress is a representative microcosm of America. It’s also true that the representativeness is substantially diluted by the superimposition of the two-party system.

    Congress is, as you imply, SUPER in touch with Americans, but on electoral issues. The schisms on these issues? All framed by 2-party politics. From a non-electoral PoV, congress seems out of touch with Americans because they are. It’s manifest. They’re driving an ice cream truck that only has vanilla and chocolate. The people want more flavors.

  9. Simon Says:

    When I vote, I am presented with only 2 viable choices in most instances.

    Indeed, and so it should be. The alternative is plurality government (as Britain’s recent experience demonstrates) or chaos (as postwar Italy demonstrates). Constitutionally, that’s acceptable, but sociologically, government without a majority suffers legitimacy problems (as critical responses to Clinton and Bush demonstrate). The two parties adequately reflect the political choices of the electorate, forcing voters to behave as adults in prioritizing their concerns (I don’t agree with the GOP on the death penalty, for instance, but other issues are more important), and producing a clean win-lose election result. It is not ideal, but since ideal is impossible, it is optimal.

    This could not be less like what Americans experience in the rest of their lives. I can choose from 10 movies, 40 kinds of cereal, 50 kinds of cars, 5 insurance plans, and so on.

    The comparison eludes me. You can’t simply say “well, on some things I get lots of choices, so I should have lots of choices on everything.” You’d be a riot as a juror—”The choice between guilty or not guilty could not be less like what I experience in the rest of my life, so we find the defendant ‘strawberry with sprinkles’!”

  10. kranky kritter Says:

    My comparison was in direct response to your comparison claiming congress to be a mirror image or microcosm or whatever of the public and its viewpoints. It hard to believe that it eludes you. I am tempted to presume instead that you simply choose not to address my direct point because you lack a good answer to the fact that Americans want more and better political choices than they’re getting.

    Since the people have the power to use democratic processes to revise the system to foster more choice, they can do so. Do the parties have a compelling story to convince Americans they are incorrect in their judgement? I haven’t heard it. To the contrary, the rote explanation seems to be getting less compelling all the time.

    When I vote, I am presented with only 2 viable choices in most instances.

    Indeed, and so it should be. The alternative is plurality government (as Britain’s recent experience demonstrates) or chaos (as postwar Italy demonstrates).

    Well done. And thanks. This is precisely the point where your usual argument pirouettes undesirable gridlock into desirable stability. So thanks for cooperating. :-)

    Seriously though, I think you generally make a pretty cogent argument in defense of 2-party dominance. You might be right that folks will be even less pleased and even less well-served should we revise the system to diminish this dominance. But if more and more folks express a sentiment to revise the system and try other things, that’s the right of the people. And maybe the people will like it, and maybe we’ll see some desirable changes.

    Or not. How long can folks be scared off by boogeymen like postwar Italy, etc.? Do Britain’s political processes really seem so scary to us that we’re cowed again? Seems to me they resolved things in a fairly timely fashion. It’s unfamiliar and confusing to us, but it seems like it functions,

    What you always seem to me too willing to dismiss is the deep and growing dissatisfaction of the populace with partisan politics here in America within the existing 2-party system. Now, as you know, I am always willing to credit the Pogo hypothesis that “we have seen the enemy and he is us.” Are Americans as a group eager to demand to have their cake and eat it too, and very averse to supporting politicians who express unpleasant and inconvenient truths? I think we know the answer is yes.

    But that leaves the question of how long, in a republic governed by the democratic vote, the people should continue to swallow their growing dissatisfaction with the governmental status quo for the sake of the presumedly desirable stability it delivers.

    In the current partisan environment, our putative leaders don’t seem to lead, are loathe to challenge us and our better natures, and in the public’s opinion don’t address festering problems in a responsible and timely fashion.

    As my dissatisfaction grows along with so many others, I become ever less willing to presume the overriding value of the “stable” 2-party system. I want to quicken the step and sharpen the focus of the people who seek to be our leaders.

    Bottom line: more and more Americans are less convinced than ever that the pluses outweigh the minuses in granting privilege and dominance to the democratic and republican parties. Unless the existing parties provide better answers over the next few election cycles, they’ll very much deserve to have their dominance eroded further.

  11. Nick Benjamin Says:

    When I vote, I am presented with only 2 viable choices in most instances. This could not be less like what Americans experience in the rest of their lives. I can choose from 10 movies, 40 kinds of cereal, 50 kinds of cars, 5 insurance plans, and so on.

    The core difference is there’s only one government. You can’t have your flavor of President unless a hundred million of your fellow citizens want the exact same guy.

    That’s why in most countries there are only two viable candidates for the top job in the general election. Technically a German can vote for dozens of parties. But his Chancellor is going to be either the Christian Democrat or the Social Democrat. He could pick a Free Democrat, but doing so is de facto identical to voting for the Christian Dems.

    Sometimes protest parties exist, or parties aligned with neither major faction. Canada’s NDP is a classic example of both. But the NDP is never gonna form the Government.

    Re partisan polarization: the US has less of it then most countries. Much less. This is because we still have some moderate-to-conservative Democrats who routinely vote with the GOP.

  12. Simon Says:

    kranky kritter Says:

    My comparison was in direct response to your comparison claiming congress to be a mirror image or microcosm or whatever of the public and its viewpoints.

    I said that the system is not able “to prevent Congress from being the nation in miniature.” A expanded way of stating the point is that while Congress’ natural state is not to mirror the public at large, the system cannot prevent a sustained campaign to make it more reflective of the public at large. The natural tendancies of the House is to protect the interests of its members, to “yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.” The Federalist, no. 62. Thus the Senate: “an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. … [T]here are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind[.]” Federalist 63. But the Senate acts as a brake, not a prophylactic, as language omitted from my quote above emphasized: “the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers….” If the people are determined to do something momentously good, the Senate can’t stop them, and when they are determined to do something monumentally foolish, the Senate can’t save us. If the people want a more partisan Congress, they will get it. If they want a Senate without a minority veto, they will get it.

    It hard to believe that it eludes you. I am tempted to presume instead that you simply choose not to address my direct point because you lack a good answer to the fact that Americans want more and better political choices than they’re getting.

    It does. Your comparison doesn’t make sense, as my analogy illustrated. That some contexts support multiple choices does not support a claim that all contexts can. Nor is the claim that “Americans want more and better political choices than they’re getting” persuasive: Americans also want more and better services with fewer and smaller taxes. Americans want less partisan gridlock, but they don’t want their representatives to betray them or compromise. They hate pork barrel spending, yet concur with Frank Easterbrook’s definition of pork as money spent elsewhere on projects that someone else thinks are important. Mencken said that the common man knows what is good for him, but he was being sarcastic.

    Seriously though, I think you generally make a pretty cogent argument in defense of 2-party dominance. You might be right that folks will be even less pleased and even less well-served should we revise the system to diminish this dominance.

    The problem with things like this is that it’s quite like breaking an egg. You can clean it up, but you can’t ever really go back to the way things were. Some ideas are so bad that they should be rejected before they are enacted and can do damage and become entrenched. That’s particularly true of measures that (at least on the surface) appear to be democracy-expanding. The 17th Amendment is a poster child for this point. It is beyond peradventure that it fundamentally changed the structure of the country and has led to an unfathomable ocean of bad results, but you suggest repealing it today and people look at you like you’re a kook. Likewise, no matter how bad the post-partisan landscape looks, the people who insisted on leading us there will express surprise and outrage at how we don’t all have ponies yet, will and demand—you guessed it—yet more reform.

    Thanks, BTW.

    Do Britain’s political processes really seem so scary to us that we’re cowed again? Seems to me they resolved things in a fairly timely fashion.

    They haven’t resolved things. They’ve decided who will be in power. But in doing so, they have created an unwieldy coalition between parties with antithetical views, and a government that is likely to produce nothing but dismay for those who voted for any of the three parties. The Tories (not conservatives, thankyou Dave) can’t implement their program because the libdems won’t support it, the libdems can’t implement their program because the tories won’t support it, so their supporters won’t be happy, and both of the people who voted Labour hate both parties. It isn’t a stable situation, and it’s likely to produce a bad, ineffectual, caretaker government.

    What you always seem to me too willing to dismiss is the deep and growing dissatisfaction of the populace with partisan politics here in America within the existing 2-party system. … [H]ow long, in a republic governed by the democratic vote, [should] the people … continue to swallow their growing dissatisfaction with the governmental status quo for the sake of the presumedly desirable stability it delivers.

    It seems to me that the people are already mounting a campaign to do something more productive than open primaries and runoffs. If the parties have drifted from the interests of their supporters, their supporters are engaging in correcting that drift. That was what we saw yesterday, and it didn’t need structural change. To be sure, there are people who feel represented by neither party, but I think those people generally shake out into two groups: extremists and people who don’t want to prioritize. I could easily say that I don’t feel represented by the GOP; I disagree with them on several issues. But it’s more productive to prioritize those issues and say that the other party is much, much worse, so I’ll call myself a Republican and argue my corner therein.

    In the current partisan environment, our putative leaders don’t seem to lead, are loathe to challenge us and our better natures, and in the public’s opinion don’t address festering problems in a responsible and timely fashion.

    What would you have them do? The public wants compromise. They just want it to be the other side that compromises. If our leaders compromise their own positions—which may, for better or worse, be a prerequisite to “address[ing] festering problems” in so divided a country—the people remove them and replace them with more partisan leaders who will be less apt to compromise. Then the people have the nerve to complain that nothing ever gets done and Congress is too rancorous. Go figure! The problem is that this country is divided into two camps with antithetical views, neither of which have the votes to fix our problems by themselves, and both of which (not without some truth) observe that compromise is mixing a dose of poison into the medicine. That problem isn’t going to be fixed by creating a poison party. Nor is it fixed by pining for leaders of quicker step and sharper focus when the candidate pool of such leaders breaks conveniently down partisan lines. None of us want leaders who are quick and sharp in vacuo: we want them alright, but what we mean is that we want leaders who will quickly and effectively enact what we believe is good policy. Yet we disagree on what is good policy. Hence partisan rancor, division, polarization.

  13. kranky kritter Says:

    That’s what I get for trying to be conciliatory Simon. You simply trying to ram home your points with extra zeal. Your requote conveniently left out your bit denying that congress was in any way divorced from the people and from public sentiment.

    The problem with things like this is that it’s quite like breaking an egg. You can clean it up, but you can’t ever really go back to the way things were. Some ideas are so bad that they should be rejected before they are enacted and can do damage and become entrenched.

    Pure boogeyman. I guess you’ll have to accept that even if some ideas are deeply unfortunate, the people nevertheless have a right to try them if they vote for and approve them. Unlike you, some people understand that some things, no matter how long established, are so dissatisfactory that they are willing to take a bit of risk to see if something else works better. They aren’t scared by tired aphorisms that you can’t unbreak an egg. They know that there’s always another egg.

    If the parties have drifted from the interests of their supporters, their supporters are engaging in correcting that drift. That was what we saw yesterday, and it didn’t need structural change.

    Zzzzzzzz. the system already provides all necessary mechanisms for remedy. No change is needed. Blah, blah, blah. Perhaps you find such small slow changes satisfactory. Many othere seem them as no more than the static accompanying our ongoing crappy system dominated by 2 parties.

    What would you have them do? The public wants compromise. They just want it to be the other side that compromises. …Then the people have the nerve to complain that nothing ever gets done and Congress is too rancorous. Go figure! The problem is that this country is divided into two camps with antithetical views, neither of which have the votes to fix our problems by themselves….nor is it fixed by pining for leaders of quicker step and sharper focus when the candidate pool of such leaders breaks conveniently down partisan lines.

    Bottom line, you claim that the current 2-party system is the best possible one available and deny that it can in any way be transcended by incorporating other parties of input more sophisticated that the black and white simplifications the two parties always arrive at. As a loyal partisan for one of the two dominant parties, that’s sensible and convenient. As you demonstrate when complaining that the reforms will fail and then reformers will call for more reform, you fear and loathe such change, like every good conservative. Even though change is the only constant.

    Some folks are governed less by fear of any risk, and willing to be a bit hopeful.

    They haven’t resolved things. They’ve decided who will be in power. But in doing so, they have created an unwieldy coalition between parties with antithetical views, and a government that is likely to produce nothing but dismay for those who voted for any of the three parties. The Tories (not conservatives, thankyou Dave) can’t implement their program because the libdems won’t support it, the libdems can’t implement their program because the tories won’t support it, so their supporters won’t be happy, and both of the people who voted Labour hate both parties. It isn’t a stable situation, and it’s likely to produce a bad, ineffectual, caretaker government.

    So, given insufficient consensus, nothing will happen? And then eventually the instability in the system will revise itself using existing mechanisms for self-correction? Wow, that sounds REALLY different from the system you defended. Oh wait, it sounds quite similar. The only difference is that there are more than 2 groups with substantial input, which can in some instances provide tiebreaker power when there’s a serious impasse. It’s almost as though there’s instability instead of stasis when everyone is disasisfied. How awful?

  14. Simon Says:

    Your requote conveniently left out your bit denying that congress was in any way divorced from the people and from public sentiment.

    I didn’t leave it out in repeating my comment–I didn’t say it in the first place. What I said was that “Congressional polarization … [is] a result of the system’s inability to prevent Congress from being the nation in miniature, not … the system’s divorce of Congress from the people at large.”

    Unlike you, some people understand that some things, no matter how long established, are so dissatisfactory that they are willing to take a bit of risk to see if something else works better.

    No one disputes this. Slavery was very long-established, and the 17th Amendment is long in the tooth, too. I’m glad the one is gone, and I hope to be rid of the other. Several of the legal rules that I have advocated over the years in areas where existing rules are wrong, unworkable, or perverse would portend an uncertain future. (Just what will post-Roe America look like?) So the question isn’t whether something long-established can be overturned. The question is: what is the threshold? How bad does something have to be–and how widespread the view that it is such–before we can say that anything else is better? To my mind, when the case against the status quo is scant–here, it’s positively diaphanous–and the costs/risks involved in getting it wrong are so high, reformers would have to present an absolutely compelling case for the merits of any alternative.

    Bottom line, you claim that the current 2-party system is the best possible one available and deny that it can in any way be transcended by incorporating other parties

    I claim that a two party system where those parties represent the two competing worldviews — today, freedom (GOP) vs. government ( Dems)– will be superior to a multiparty system. Obviously the principle has limits. If the only two parties were the Socialists and the Communists, both parties would be on one side (government), and that would not present the public with the clean choice by which I maintain their interests are best served.

    [Other parties provide input which is] more sophisticated tha[n] the black and white simplifications the two parties always arrive at

    If it was true that the parties only see things in black and white, my comment above linking the GOP with freedom and the Dems with government control would be more convincing as an argument rather than rhetorical oversimplification, no? Moreover, why do you assume that (1) greater sophistication is necessarily better, as you seem to, and (2) that 3d parties bring it? You don’t see any sophistication in the Green party, for example, although concededly there’s much self-righteously snide condescension therein and the latter often likes to think of itself as the former.

  15. kranky kritter Says:

    So, since the parties represent “THE 2 competing world views,” are you saying they see(or condense things down to) black and white, or not? You’re just being slithery here,

    Don’t place too much emphasis on my use of the world sophistication. It was quickly chosen as a “good enough” description for additional diversity of views, accounting for facts that existing major party views seem unwilling to address, and so on. (So in that sense the Green Party is somewhat more sophisticated than the existing ones on its pet issues. But that’s neither here nor there, no interest in defending the the merits of the green party, which isn’t the topic)

    I don’t “assume”sophistication or diversity or whatever is better. I’ve made it quite clear that I’m eager to find out whether it is, because of how dissatisfied I am with existing conditions. We can’t really know whether it will represent an improvement in overall conditions for America unless we make adjustments here,

    Now, it’s pretty safe to assume that diminishing 2-party dominance will not be good for either existing party. By definition in fact, if you presume that market share is priority #1, and that’s a sensible premise in politics. That’s why party loyalists will trot out predictable boogeyman arguments warning of the dangers of any change which dents 2-party dominance.

    The current system’s performance has gotten too crappy for us to be afraid. We’re not consoled by periodic dislocations that eject the current generation of hacks. Not when we can be so sure that the 2-party system has already guaranteed that our only option is to replace them with new components that perform in an identically crappy fashion.

  16. Simon Says:

    So, since the parties represent “THE 2 competing world views,” are you saying they see (or condense things down to) black and white, or not?

    That looks like a non-sequitur to me.

    additional diversity of views, accounting for facts that existing major party views seem unwilling to address, and so on.

    If neither major party will address an issue or take a “fact” into account, that may say more about the issue than the parties. Neither party is addressing “the Jewish problem”—and no party that believed there was such a thing could get any traction. I think that’s a positive.

    So in that sense the Green Party is somewhat more sophisticated than the existing ones on its pet issues.

    It isn’t more sophisticated, it’s just more monomaniacal and less tempered by realism. That’s acually another systemic advantage of the two party system. Individuals are apt to take an idea, abstraction, or ideology and place it before experience, tradition, and practicality, freeing themselves of the stabilizing effects of perspective and having to think through the practical implications.

    You see this in the people who argue for incredibly destructive policies because it services some idea that they believe is incredibly, overridingly important. AGW, for example: we must, they insist, adopt policies that will cause untold harm because My Idea Is Important ™. Fortunately, however, individuals can’t do much policy damage by themselves. A system with two big-tent parties requires those individuals to compromise, to cajole, to win over the support of a heterodox party corpus that may not share such specific commitments. A big tent party, by its very nature, is unlikely to be monomaniacal, and the divergent interests of its members tends to forestall disregard for wider consequences.

    By contrast, that kind of destructive hyperfocus is far more likely to happen in smaller parties, a fortiori those which are organized around a specific idea—as small parties generally are. (They are usually formed because of a sentiment that there is some specific issue or ” facts that existing major party views seem unwilling to address,” and grow by accumulation of like-minded souls.) Put another way, bigger parties encourage heterodox membership with common ground defined at a higher level of abstraction, while smaller parties tend to produce orthodoxy defined at a quite specific level. You can be a pro-choice Democrat (I am told), and you can be an AGW skeptic environmentalist, but you can’t be an AGW skeptic Green Party member. The polity as a whole is better-served with two larger parties that force enthusiasts to moderate and the electorate to make a clean choice than it is with a messy multitude of purist small parties.

    The group noun for our current pair of parties is a “system.” The group noun for the kind of atomized mutiplicity of parties that Nancy and her fellow travellers want to create should be a “carnage.” That is the fruit of the tree they are watering, and no good will come of it. We should uproot it before it buds.

    The current system’s performance has gotten too crappy for us to be afraid. We’re not consoled by periodic dislocations that eject the current generation of hacks. Not when we can be so sure that the 2-party system has already guaranteed that our only option is to replace them with new components that perform in an identically crappy fashion.

    Is it true that the current system performs badly? I am not convinced. It failed to prevent Obamacare, for example, but you can only ask so much of the system itself: the shortcomings of the people in the system generally account for the failings attributed to systems. (It is not true, for example, that abstinence as a system does not work; the system works perfectly, 100% of the time. The problem is that the people in the system don’t actually use the system!) We also have to be careful in abstracting to “the system”: which system? It strikes me that many of the problems we have arise not from the system for the exercise of power, nor from the system for the selection of the people who will operate the system for the exercise of power. Rather, it is the lack of a system for removal and churn in officeholders once the latter system has placed them in a position to operate the former. The logical next step is not to tinker with the party system, but to implement consecutive term limits.

  17. kranky kritter Says:

    Is it true that the current system performs badly? I am not convinced.

    Right. we got it the first several times. No need for us to keep repeating ourselves using new words. Sure I’m as guilty as you here.

    Like it or not, each of us are stuck with our own perceptions of whether “the system is performing poorly.” Because we have different notions of the system, different expectations of performance, and almost nothing in the way of objective scorekeeping.

    Right now, it’s manifest to me and many other that 2-party dominance isn’t delivering much to be proud of. And we’re disappointed enough to be pretty eager to try some tweaks, both small and bigger. And not especially troubled that we’ll make things worse, which is borderline inconceivable.

    Change will come (or not) based on public perception. And if loyalists for 2-party dominance want the public to perceive superior virtue for the existing system, they’ll need a much better act than the one you’re performing. Particularly, you need a positive affirmative case for democrats and republicans. NOT a negative boogeyman case against diminished 2-party dominance as risky, unneccessary, and not directed at perceived causes. It’s a weak and uncompelling argument to most folks who feel dissatisfied by what the parties have been offering and achieving.

    Your argument hasn’t dissuaded me, and I began by acknowledging that it was at least cogent. How do you suppose it’ll play among the less thoughtful?

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