Thomas Ferguson: U.S. Midterm Election Voter Turnout at Pre-Civil War Level

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

The Real News has an interview with Thomas Ferguson, where he expands on the ideas expressed in “Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson: Americans Are Sick to Death of Both Parties: Why Our Politics Is in Worse Shape Than We Thought” (NC, December 20) in an interview with Jessica Desvarieux.

Unfortunately for us, TRNN seems to have recently made a policy change whereby its own embeds are available only to donating members, and YouTube embeds are disabled. So all I can do is ask you to open TRNN in a separate tab and play the video, or do the same with YouTube.

Listen along, and you’ll come to this paragraph, which is the heart of the matter as far as the 2014 election goes:

[FERGUSON:] And so the first thing to be said, I think, is how come so few lower-income voters turned out. I think there the answer’s pretty clear. They’ve had a very difficult time, and they’ve been living under a Democratic presidents for six years now, since–or almost six, since they took over. And while we hear constantly about how wonderful the economy is doing, in fact the stock market is up, but the unemployment rate’s still pretty high and wages are dead flat. They’re almost pancake flat there. And as of last July, everybody else except the 1 percent’s income was down about one–I’m sorry–it was down about 6 percent from where it was in 2008. People haven’t recovered their income losses there. The labor markets aren’t back to where they were.

And after six years, I think it’s perfectly obvious what’s going on here, which is that people are just saying–this being a family program, I won’t–I’ll control myself here. They’re saying, who needs this? And they’re sort of nonvoting, if you like, for a new America. That, I think, is the essence of the story.

Ferguson’s solution?

FERGUSON: Well, I like public financing. …

Your fundamental problem here is very simple. The sort of classical views of everybody sort of just showing up in green wood or in front of the Church in Lexington, Massachusetts, or something to vote on the common is a nice story, but in fact it’s pretty costly to run campaigns and reach people. We know this. So you have a very simple problem: either we all pay a little, or they, meaning the 1 percent, pay just about everything. And the statistics that Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen and I put together, you know, in our paper in the International Journal of Political Economy, for example, where we actually correctly sum the real level of contributions–and both parties are heavily dependent on money from the 1 percent. I can’t help it if The New York Times’ Sunday magazine tells you a couple of weeks ago that something else–they’re just plain wrong. And everybody knows this number. It’s been out for quite some time. And you’ve got to get–basically, we pay a little or the 1 percent own the system. There’s just no alternatives here.

Somehow I don’t think a voluntary program to encourage small donors would do the trick, even if Andrew Cuomo likes that idea. And I’m not sure whether states that have public financing, in good laboratories of democracy mode, are all that different from states that don’t. Seems to me like 100% Federal funding, with no private contributions whatever, would be the way to go, along with some free use of the public’s airwaves for limited advertising, to encourage actual pressing of the flesh. But I don’t know the field, and I’m sure people smarter than I am have real proposals. Readers?

NOTE Here’s Wikipedia on Ferguson’s “Investment Theory of Party Competition.” It seems to me that it’s never going to be possibly to completely stop the wealthy from investing in politicians; money is speech, after all, at least until it turns out not to be. But we ought to be able to make it a lot harder.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Yoram Gat

    > It seems to me that it’s never going to be possibly to completely stop the wealthy from investing in politicians

    Yes – it is pretty deeply embedded into the electoral mechanism.

    But, more importantly, how does public financing help at all? Somebody still controls the money, even if it is a party apparatus rather than a donor. The party apparatus has its own interests that are still distinct from those of the population at large. Why should transferring power from the donors to the party bureaucracy be expected to serve the public? It seems more like a power shift within the elite.

    Also, empirically, public campaign finance exists in many countries in one way or another. Their results are not dramatically better than the situation in the US. They are still governed by the 1% for the 1%.

    1. Crazy Horse

      Stopping the wealthy from buying politicians is dead simple. Make said purchase a capital crime with mandatory public executions… I suspect after the guillotine fell on a few masters of the universe and congresswhore’s heads the incidence of political corruption would become as rare as pigs flying.

      For those who can’t stomach French solutions, here is my favorite. Political office should be highly paid commensurate with the responsibilities that go with the position. However reasonable term limits should be in place along with mandatory retirement with a lifetime pension at the level of the national average income. As a condition of holding public office, ex-politicians should be barred for life from engaging in any lobbying activities or working for any corporation or government agency with more than 100 employees.

      What is there not to like? Serve your country or community for a few years, pay off your house from the surplus of a very generous salary and send the kids to college, and then have the rest of your life free to contribute to society (or lay on the beach) without the temptation to become a prostitute using the black book developed in your political career. A win-win for politicians and society— well worth the small cost.

      In the end what matters is who has power– the oligarchs or the commoners. Laws only have meaning when they ae backed by political power, and the best of ideas merely blow in the wind.

  2. Clive

    Not just a U.S. problem — the recent Japanese election was a huge turn off to voters:

    Interestingly though, the trend to lower and lower turnouts has been reversed in the UK (although still low by post-war standards): although if you scroll down, you can see that we still can’t be arsed to bother about Europe

    My analysis is that to get voters to stay at home in droves, you need the following factors to be present:

    1) A Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee political landscape (two parties who substitute bickering with each other for engagement with the voters)

    2) These two parties hopelessly captured by vested interests (which includes, but isn’t limited to, big business) and their own pet peeves

    3) An electoral system which lacks proportionality (e.g. can be skewed by rural voters, or encourages voters to believe one or other party or another “can’t win here”)

    Germany, for example, has elements of 2) above but isn’t affected by either 1) or 3). Its turnouts are pretty good as a result. People there really do believe (and it is a fact) that their votes actually count in the make up of the resultant parliaments.

    I’m not convinced that oversized campaign funding, per se, has an especially great effect. It’s probably more a symptom of the above 1) to 3) factors being present than a cause of them.

    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      I live in Australia and voting is mandatory by law, it’s fantastic because it moves the political debate to the center. Instead of screeching ideologues on either side you get a debate more representative of the whole.

      (Come to think of it, I wish America HAD “screeching ideologues on either side”, the choice we have is two slightly different flavours of business-as-usual Permanent War corporo-fascism).

        1. optimader

          Australia, Carla, Hal lives in Australia,.. must be his accent?

          I took a fancy to Australia after reading about PM Harold Holt walking out to sea never to be seen or heard of again, and the Aussie’s Fed Gmnt response was “No official federal government inquiry was conducted, on the grounds that it would have been a waste of time and money.”
          I can only imagine the US domestic C.T. enthusiasts response to that scenario.

          1. Carla

            This confused me: “(Come to think of it, I wish America HAD “screeching ideologues on either side”, the choice we have is two slightly different flavours of business-as-usual Permanent War corporo-fascism).”

            I agree with it, but it seems to have been written by an American, who in his first paragraph said he is an Australian.

  3. Ulysses

    “It seems to me that it’s never going to be possibly to completely stop the wealthy from investing in politicians.”

    That’s a very good point, but it suggests to me an elegant solution: find a class traitor, like FDR, willing to make an issue of the fact that he or she doesn’t need the plutocrats’ money and wishes to push back against the plutocrats to help the people. The patrician blueblood, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, could pull this off, but sadly he is far too much of an establishment milkquetoast to ever dream of taking on the fat cats in a big way. He’s basically a decent person, mind you– just not enough fire in the belly to meet the challenge of our desperate times.

    1. James

      You’d need a coalition, not a just handful of personalities to effect meaningful change in DC, and I don’t see any signs of one on the horizon yet. Certainly Obama had what seemed to be a coalition, an actual strategic agenda, and exigent circumstances to enact transformational change, and yet, nearly 8 years later here we are. If that was a message to the electorate, as I believe it was, it couldn’t have been louder or clearer. We’ll give you all the cult of personality entertainment you desire, but when it comes to meaningful change that might benefit you and yours, we’ll let the adults in the room decide. In that respect, voting amounts to little more than a Christmas wish list and guess what? Santa works for the man and is on an austerity budget now too.

      1. norm de plume

        Nothing is foolproof but so long as we as citizens are voting for people rather than on issues we are doomed. The odd class traitor in the sea of spivs is not going to do any more than hold back the night momentarily. It’s like expecting morality rather than regulation and punishment to trump Gresham’s dynamic. If we are to survive the predations of the small elite and their servants who we pretend represent us, political decision-making must be crowd-sourced. We can’t hope for lasting change while being ‘represented’ by agents; the agency, via official web-based referenda, has to lie with us.

      2. two beers

        After the widespread discontent following the economic collapse, the .01% were panicked that a populist would come along who would take advantage of the discontent to actually implement the transformational change that would reign in the .01%. Hence the insertion of the unknown ostensible outsider who would appeal to libs and pwogs, cock-blocking any possible actual populist. Identity politics trump bread and butter politics.

        Hopey Changey would actually augment the power and wealth of the .01%, while the libs and pwogs were too captured by cognitive dissonance to admit that they’d been sold a lie. Anyone who paid attention had noticed that Hopey Changey voted to immunize ATT after he said he wouldn’t. He was clearly a liar, long before his inaugural speech, possibly the greatest load of bullshit ever uttered.

        There was never any intention for Obama to be transformational. The whole point of his presidency was to prevent the very change he campaigned on.

        It was a brilliant, perfectly-successful strategy.
        The upshot was the predictable evisceration of the remnants of the lesser-evil party.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Not just AT&T — all the telcos. And after promising to filibuster to prevent that very thing!!

          So, it’s worse even than you said, which was very bad. After Obama did that in July, I gave up on campaign 2008 and started looking around for other interesting topics. Like this finance blog….

        2. bruno marr

          Make that a six-pack! My sentiments exactly.

          Obama appeared at a local community college in the town where I live after meeting with Oprah and other big money types during the 2008 campaign. I turned to a friend after Obama’s speechifying and said, “This guy is a phoney. He’s not what you think.” Unfortunately for the nation I was beyond prescient.

  4. ek hornbeck

    Well, while we wait for that to arbitrate I have no idea if any of it worked at all, but the theory is quite sound and has been tested in practice.

    Good luck.

  5. Jim Haygood

    ‘ … which is that people are just saying — this being a family program, I won’t — I’ll control myself here.’

    We can read between the lines, Tom: EFAMOL!

    As for public financing — a program designed for the explicit purpose of entrenching the petrified Depublicrat duopoly — it makes us conscientious nonvoters puke in disgust.

    Money for dope, money for rope, as ol’ John Lennon used to say.

  6. Dino Reno

    The solution is to stop voting. It only encourages “them” and perpetuates the notions that elections are free and fair, neither being true. Election reform will never happen in any meaningful way under the current regime. The military dominance we impose on the world is predicated on the charade that we are a beacon of democracy. Dismantling the propaganda machine starts with delegitimizing the representatives of the people who are calling the shots.
    Turning our collective backs on the process is a powerfully silent and peaceful way to say this system doesn’t work for us. By removing the will of the people mandate, the violent and rapacious nature of their policies must stand (or fall) on their own.

    1. guest

      Better still: vote blank.

      Abstention means resignation, and non-existing votes are never counted anyway. On the other hand, seeing a mass of people motivated enough to go to vote and refuse to select one of the candidates is considerably more unsettling for the establishment.

      Now, the issue is: do all those machines with levers, touchscreens, or punched cards include an option for a blank vote?

      1. Vatch

        Exactly. People who don’t vote are playing into the hands of the plutocrats. If you don’t vote, you are effectively endorsing incumbent politicians and the current policies.

        Vote for good candidates in the primaries (there are usually a few, but not many). If any of them win (most won’t), vote for them in the general election. In all other races in the general election, vote for third party candidates. If there aren’t any third party candidates in the general election, perhaps that’s because insufficient people signed nominating petitions. So find out when third parties need signatures.

        Green Party

        Libertarian Party

        There are other parties, but these two should provide plenty of alternatives to the Demolicans and the Republicrats.

      2. hunkerdown

        The enemy’s pwecious feewings are of little importance here. They can see whatever they want as long as it’s from atop a lamp post.

          1. James

            As a categorical statement, that’s just baloney. Not voting doesn’t imply timidity or apathy, whereas voting implies acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the system and the pathetic “choices” it offers. But in the end it isn’t about “messages” anyway, since you can be sure no one’s listening regardless. It’s about rejection of not only the D, R, or whatever offerings themselves, but the illegitimate “choices” themselves, pure and simple.

            1. TedWa

              Not voting is seen by the powers that be as acquiescence to all their dastardly deeds. That’s not something you can change by not voting.

                1. Jeremy Grimm

                  Many counties in the United States count write-in votes. If so, write-in little ‘n’ little ‘o’ and suggest the same to your friends. If you live where write-in votes are not counted or where there is no provision for a write-in votes remember local change though difficult is not as difficult as changing a state or the nation.

                  I disagree with the idea voting only encourages them and just validates the system. Not voting is counted as not caring. As for validating the system, what system are you validating by not voting? — The apathy system?

                  Voting for a good 3rd party candidate makes sense, but only for an outstanding candidate who really could run the nation. And do not forget that Adolf was a 3rd party candidate who pulled a protest vote from disgruntled in the middle class.

                  1. Vatch

                    Some jurisdictions will not count write-in votes unless the written in candidate has registered with the election authorities in advance. I suppose the rationale is to prevent the embarrassment of recording votes for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, but those cartoon characters are really less embarrassing than some of the actual humans who are elected.

                2. Oregoncharles

                  Functional no-vote: write in yourself, or vote for a 3rd party if one is on the ballot.
                  In some states, it’s a good question whether those are even counted (the “undervote” – unvoted positions – usually is, at least in Oregon), but at least you tried. I’m guessing somebody at the legacy parties keeps track of this rather significant information.

              1. James

                Honestly, is there anyway for anyone to actually know what “TPTB” think about you or I actually voting or not? If not, why bring it up in the first place? Personally, I could care less what they think!

    2. James

      I agree. If nothing else it should signal the candidates to quit pouring money into media buys once they realize they have little or no effect anyway. The parties have done a wonderful job manufacturing consent for the current corrupt system, so now it’s time to start destroying that consent and delegitimizing that same system. Voting only encourages the bastards.

  7. Banger

    Most of our institutions are rooted in the ideas of the 19th century or earlier. There is no reason why we need to continue this silly archaic system. It’s not just the absurdity of the electoral college but also the idea of representative democracy at a time when direct democracy is possible. Yes, I know there are a number of problems with direct democracy so I suggest a gradual move towards it be taken. We can start with regular national referenda and move from there. As for money in politics I’m not sure we can do much other than create a new set of laws extending fraud prosecutions on deliberately misleading ads not just in political matters but in product advertising. Most political ads I saw this last election would have been banned. Establishing fraud would not be as hard as you think.

    1. James

      Establishing fraud would not be as hard as you think.

      From a purely logistical standpoint, no. From a practical standpoint, damn near impossible. Big money / big power calls the tune these days Banger, and we are all obligated to dance.

    2. Ed

      The classical world had elections, and everything was done by direct democracy. On occasion, magistrates that had to run things between elections were elected officials, but they were more often selected by lot, or an unelected mostly hereditary elite as was the Roman Senate (though the actual Roman magistrates were elected).

      The main reason this system was abandoned is that it proved unworkable for any state larger than one city or locality. The voting was done literally by whatever citizen showed up in the town center on voting day, so of course anyone not in the town that day and free could not participate. The medieval innovation of sending representatives to a representative parliament solved that problem.

      Banger is correct that reliable, two way electronic communications for the first time makes it unnecessary for localities to pick representatives to show up to a central location. Its technically feasible to have the public vote on everything the current legislatures vote on, and select ongoing supervisory bodies or officials by lot. I would favor a board of directors type body chosen by lottery, which then hires and fires the high ranking government executives. Just about everything else would have to be done by plebiscite. A separate group chose by lottery would have to be responsible for framing the questions and their wording, setting voting times, and so on.

      Not only is direct democracy now technically feasible, but technology has made representative democracy no longer feasible. Electronic surveillance techniques makes it possible to monitor and blackmail the representatives as needed. Money creation by central authorities means that the money to bribe the representatives will always be there, and witnesses can be intimidated by the surveillance techniques.

      The one unsolvable problem with direct democracy is the ability to bribe the voters. So far, the data has shown that voters will always undertax themselves and vote to spend too much money when they are allowed to do this. Maybe an electorate would learn to do otherwise if it was genuinely responsible for the budget for several years, and were not shielded by the consequences. But currently mass electorates don’t seem to be ready to make taxing and spending decisions.

      1. Banger

        Well put!

        Perhaps the most stunning thing about our historical moment is we have everything we need to create a much easier, more peaceful, fun and stree-free life for all of us but he, for some reason, hate the idea. Whether its education (schools refuse to use the findings of cognitive science and other human sciences) or politics we are obsessed with staying firmly rooted in the past.

        I think a series of intermediate steps maybe boards, scientific panels, and various representative bodies could exist in a strictly advisory manner to help the public meander through issues and try to select fact from fiction–certainly the contemporary media would not be that body–they are as deeply political as the political parties and have their own agendas which we need to begin to see through.

        I’m surprised there isn’t more support for this sort of thing and curious as to why the left has not embraced this idea–actually I kind of know why but I’d rather not go into a rant.

        1. James

          I’m surprised there isn’t more support for this sort of thing and curious as to why the left has not embraced this idea–actually I kind of know why but I’d rather not go into a rant.

          Your arguments always come around full circle Banger. I know you have the best of intentions, but it’s as if you can’t bring your heart to accept what your head knows to be true. Which is that we have never suffered for smart people and lack of good ideas about how to fix things; but rather, the will to stand up to the bullies who run things and/or to relinquish our naive ideas about how fucking “exceptional” we are long enough to tear things down that don’t work and build something genuinely better, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world.

          That’s what makes the “America, the shining city upon the hill,” turd that every now and then floats to the top of the cesspool so utterly offensive to all involved. To the rest of the world it ranks right up there with any of the Soviet era or Nazi propaganda that we revile so much, while to us it’s the lie we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night while our government commits unspeakable financial and military crimes and atrocities the world over in our names. All of which ensures that direct democracy over things that actually matter would never be seriously considered, never mind enacted, and that even if it was, it would be subverted by whatever means necessary to maintain the status quo.

          There! Ranted for ya!

          1. norm de plume

            Great discussion above.

            ‘The main reason this system was abandoned is that it proved unworkable for any state larger than one city or locality’

            That, and the relentless drumbeat of wealth and power, of ‘interests’. Early democracies came and went according to how strong and united were the ‘will to power’ forces ranged against them. Those forces never went away.

            The lottery idea is a good one, along with ostracism one of the real innovations of early Greek politics.

            ‘we are obsessed with staying firmly rooted in the past’

            Yes we are generally conservative but that is made from fear or ignorance or both. You can’t blame people for being ignorant, especially when much of that is carefully curated and there is so frigging much to stay on top of, and as for fear, there are often very good reasons for that. It isn’t the past per se, it is what is known balanced against what isn’t, in a time where the trust that could once be placed in institutions, and individuals, no longer can.

            ‘I think a series of intermediate steps maybe boards, scientific panels, and various representative bodies could exist in a strictly advisory manner to help the public’

            That sentence gives me the big-time willies. I can imagine 1%ers rubbing their hands with glee. It is almost precisely what we’d be trying to avoid. Care in the method of selection would be crucial.

            ‘we have never suffered for smart people and lack of good ideas about how to fix things; but rather, the will to stand up to the bullies’

            It’s the other way around. We don’t lack the will, or the animating anger to accomplish change, what we lack is an agreed road map, a mechanism, a way out.

            MLTPB’s idea below is a good one:

            ‘We assign a weight of 2/3 to the Senate and 1/3 to the people’

            And after a trial period of say two years, run another poll to see if the people would like that ratio reversed.

            My own preference is to retain representatives but ban parties. All who stand for office are by definition ‘independent’ of parties and movements and backers, shadowy or otherwise. Before this occurs we need, under the auspices of the government (not this GOP or Dem admin or that, but the GAO perhaps acting as facilitators of a panel chosen by lot, with any voir dire process to weed out halfwits recorded and searchable) to establish a mechanism for issues-based referenda, in such a way that majorities of attested, registered citizens could securely indicate preferences on issues that they themselves could generate.

            The representative hopefuls would have mandated access to public fora (TV, webpages, radio, press) via which they could enumerate the issues they would formally pursue and how they would vote on any issue citizens wanted clarity about. The citizen input (majority preferences) to how these people acted once inside Congress would not have formal veto power, but those who strayed from their stated aims or the will of their constituents would suffer a Darwinian fate at the next election, when another independent rep would enter promising to do better.

            Coalitions of these independents would form to promote one of their number to be President and that choice too would have to be run past their online constituents. Lobbyists could still lobby but as petitioning passengers, not drivers. If, imagining this system had been implemented in the mid-nineties, they let’s say wanted to remove Glass-Stegall and introduce Gramm Leach Bliley, they would have to petition not the politicians, but the rest of us. And we would have to agree with them in large enough majorities to respond in the affirmative. Or, if we couldn’t be arsed, we could agree to the GAO (or equivalent) running committees appointed by lot to steward the discussion and come up with a recommendation, which we would say yay or nay to en masse.

            I agree ‘it’s not gonna happen’ but we can dream, can’t we?

      2. bmeisen

        Direct democracy promises unmediated power to a majority of the electorate and a form of democratic validity to resolutions of political debate. As a political system is is fundamentally flawed.

        The first problem is that the citizenry is not always best served by the will of a majority. The majority can be and often is mistaken in the usefulness, relevance and/or appropriateness of its consensus, as has been demonstrated most vividly in incidents of vigilante justice, i.e. lynching, but also in more sophisticated contexts, for example California.

        Secondly the will of minorities is ignored when that of a majority prevails. You might think, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” You have also probably heard of “Getting to Yes” and the advantages of win/win outcomes. These are not always possible but advanced democracies are well-advised to do their best to achieve them.

        Some forms of direct democracy attempt to address the fate of minorities, to ultimately allow some power-sharing to minorities, but the efforts are frustrated by the mediation question: if there is no mediation in direct democracy then after a majority wins who is going to take care of the losers?

        Thirdly, promising individual voters intimacy with power is a notorious trick of tyrants and dictators. The people are never closer to power than in a dictatorship.

        The truly democratic solution is proportional representation under a constitution that establishes and finances parties and regulates their access to parliament via a threshold of at least 5%.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          My proposal for a hybrid democracy is like this. For example, a vote in the Senate

          For: 52 votes
          Against :48

          and the people voting via some sort of ‘secured’ technology:

          For: 49%
          Against: 51%

          We assign a weight of 2/3 to the Senate and 1/3 to the people


          For 2/3 x (52%) + 1/3 x (49%) = 34.67% + 16.33% = 51%
          Against 2/3 x (48%) + 1/3 x (51%) = 32% + 17.% = 49%

          It’s a hybrid of direct and indirect democracy.

          1. bmeisen

            interesting. the “secured” technology, as well as potential decreases in voter turnout – how many voters are interested in every Senate vote? – could cause headaches.

            The hybrid idea is in use in “1 man, 2 votes” systems of proportional representation. In these systems eligible voters have 2 votes: 1 for a party and 1 for a candidate for a direct mandate associated with the voter’s home district. When Americans hear about this about they tend to react with outrage: “one man, one vote!” An idea burned into the country’s poorly informed notion of democracy. Here comes the exceptionalism zombie climbing out of the grave again!

        2. Banger

          There are problems with “pure” direct democracy and you bring up a valid point but it can be worked out in my view. I did not go into detail on a system I would envision but I have thought it out and we could find a way to work this so we have a proper balance. Whatever the difficulties of direct democracy we can find a way to moderate it based on current conditions–rather than live with an utterly archaic and dysfunctional system.

        3. hunkerdown

          Nonsense. As long as the people can’t directly veto politicians’ plans, you’re merely building a more complex system for extruding crap. The idea that 50% + 1 of anything is a mandate of any sort is offensive to the thereby disposable 50%-1, which is exactly why we still have it. Without a people’s e-stop button, terms of office are for duplicity and looting.

          On the other hand, I could see that strong (say 3/4) supermajorities biased in favor of inaction would go a long way in fostering a political discourse favoring consensus and disfavoring pillaging.

      3. different clue

        Well, if such National Direct Democracy elections could be held by casting Legal Paper Ballots which would be counted by human hand by Canadian-style Scrutineers, without any opportunity whatsoever for digital fraud; then it might be interesting and worthwhile.
        If such elections allowed any digital electronic machinery anywhere into the trail of “chain-of-custody” footprints then such elections would be digitally fraudulizable, and therefore best assumed to be defrauded and fraudulent every single time.

  8. Frances

    Note: I’ll add additional information (as in facts) to this comment if I locate them in writing. (Yves is right that Google is no longer a good search vehicle or I’d provide them now.)

    At a recent event about Ferguson MO (post-Michael Brown) at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in NYC, a question was asked by a clergy person as to why voter turnout in the midterms was so low in Ferguson. Implication was not intended, but could be perceived as a veiled “blame the victim” statement. This is not to negate the discussion of issues by Michael Ferguson here, but to add another layer of nuance that we don’t read about. Certainly, hopelessness was acknowledged as a cause at this UTS forum, along with impediments to registration.

    This is one that I hadn’t heard until that night that is specific to Ferguson MO. While we’ve heard that the St. Louis area is divided into many municipalities, each with its own elected officials, there is an appointed official (described as a sort of city manager) who overlays those borders. Two of his aides were murdered. It was stated that either the official or his aides were Black. Further, the speaker went on to say that prior to the 2008 election, many Blacks didn’t support Barack Obama because they feared he would be assassinated if elected.

    1. James

      Further, the speaker went on to say that prior to the 2008 election, many Blacks didn’t support Barack Obama because they feared he would be assassinated if elected.

      LOL! I used to think that too. Until we found out that he wasn’t actually black that is. Cut him and he bleeds green like all the rest of the DC power brokers. Reminds me of a refined Clay Davis from HBO’s The Wire (in binge watch reruns of Seasons 4 and 5 today and tomorrow). Always looking for the next mark. Little did blacks and the working class poor of all races know at the time, they had already been sold out before the first ballot was cast.

  9. beene

    Since you are getting a neoliberal regardless of whom you vote, eliminate the pretender, that way your not disappointed.

  10. Jeremy Grimm

    I realize the FCC has been captured — but if it were taken back [impossible?] —
    Don’t the radio and television airways and the Internet still belong to the public? Aren’t elections important enough to be included among the public services broadcasters are required to provide? Why should every election cycle become a windfall for broadcasters? Why should we put up with the blitz of obnoxious and false advertising that clutters the airways and Internet every election?

    1. barrisj

      At one time, there was such a thing as the “Fairness Doctrine”, a regulation inserted into the FCC’s charter which required a “balanced, equitable, and honest” discussion of issues of public importance aired over publicly regulated airwaves. Coupled with the “Equal -time Rule”, there was at least a semblance of competing views available to the listening and viewing public on political and cultural POVs with substantive import on public policies. Reagan’s FCC appointees killed “Fairness”, and several court decisions eventually weakened “Equal-time” to the point that it is all but dead in a practical sense. Given the propensity currently to accord “1st Amendment Rights” as superceding any other doctrine or regulation that is even suggestive of “fairness”, little can be expected in controlling the overwhelming influence of money in election campaigns, and since those few who account for the great majority of funding have virtually unlimited wealth to pour into campaigns, they easily can afford more misses than hits in elected/electable candidates…throw enough money into enough elections and eventually the “right people” – so to speak – will get into office, with the desired results afterward.

    2. Banger

      The public airwaves were taken over by the corporate sector with the illusion that it was public and the notion that the licencees would act in the public interest became a joke very quickly. But we now have the internet which is truly public, more or less.

      As for elections–no powerful force wants elections to be fair or to work quite the contrary–they want to fix elections at every level and that’s what TPTB have done. It will take a demand by the public to be heard to change things and the public, to be brutally in my “blame the victim mode”, really doesn’t care that much. They’re ready for the neofeudal future which may not turn out to be so bad–at least it won’t be filled with the fraud of this system. BTW, vicitms do tend to identify with their oppressors or mimic them so it isn’t so strange to see the public go where it has gone.

      1. James

        The public airwaves were taken over by the corporate sector with the illusion that it was public and the notion that the licencees would act in the public interest became a joke very quickly. But we now have the internet which is truly public, more or less.

        That’s quite a leap you made there Banger! Won’t even ask you for any support, since I know you don’t have any. Not sure how that was intended to segue into your second paragraph either, other than the “victims identifying with their oppressors,” “Stockholm Syndrome” schtick.

        Hell, perhaps there’s even something to it, although it’s more than likely along the lines of victims aspiring to become their oppressors IMO. Fat chance, that!

  11. diptherio

    I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only chance we have of salvaging our political system is to radically re-think the ways we select and elect candidates, and what we permit them to do once they’ve been elected. I’m still struggling through part two of my proposal for a new style of political party, but essentially it goes like this: candidates would be selected by the party rank-and-file (not self-selected) and would be obligated to vote in line with constituent preferences, as determined by an on-line polling system.

    We can use the power of on-line connectivity to devolve a good deal of the decision-making power of politicians to their constituents. In this type of politics, a politician’s only campaign promise would be to faithfully execute the wishes of their constituents, which will be made transparent through on-line tools.

    The problem with our politics, imho, is that our political representatives simply have too much power. We need to devolve that power, as much as possible, back to the constituency–which modern tech actually makes feasible. Until we’ve neutered the crowd in Washington (so to speak) and forced the job to become one of actually serving the public, we’ll continue down the nasty, destructive path that we are now on.

    1. James Levy

      I’ve suggested this before: draw lots. Abolish the Senate and have a unicameral chamber, 1001 members, drawn at random from the population. The only restrictions–only one member from each zip code, and the perspective members would have to pass a basic test of literacy and numeracy. The Executive would be a committee of nine, also drawn at random. I would have all judges be civil servants who would have to pass competitive exams in order to get their jobs and move up the ladder.

      The big objection would be that the people are too stupid to govern themselves. My polite argument would be that Congressmen don’t read or write the legislation they vote on now anyway, so what does it matter. My snide counter-argument would be then let’s invite Queen Elizabeth to nominate a member of her House to come over here and become Absolute Monarch, because the whole Revolution was a terrible idea.

      From what I see, our “betters” are no wiser, more noble, more serious, or better informed than the average person. Their advantages seem to be energy, cleverness, ambition, and lust for money and power, and I don’t consider those among the most admirable of traits. Better a wider mix of traits and backgrounds among those who run this huge and complex nation.

      1. different clue

        Funny how “Bring back the British” is always the default expression of abject surrender. Why not “bring back the Indian Nations” and throw ourselves on their mercy? Are we afraid they would have no mercy on us?

      2. Ulysses

        Great post, JL!! This is a wonderful vision– that I would dearly love to see fulfilled. The only problem with this excellent suggestion, and some of the other bright ideas bandied about for a better system, is that it assumes a socio-political tabula rasa upon which we can write the rules for our new utopia. How are we going to make that tabula rasa? Aye, there’s the rub.
        There is less than a snowball’s chance in Hades that TPTB will peacefully allow themselves to become TPTW because they suddenly develop consciences. The powers that “be” have spent a considerable amount of time, energy, and taxpayers’ money– constructing a militarized police state at home, and a military empire abroad, for no other purpose than to make sure that they won’t become the powers that “were”.

        This forces us to think in terms of not merely exposing the fact that this regime lacks any sort of legitimacy, deriving from consent of the governed, but of stripping power from those who rule over us now.

        This transformation may have three stages:
        1) We have to mobilize people to openly question the legitimacy of the current kleptocratic regime under which they suffer. This process has already begun, even if few are ready to recognize it.

        2) We have to ratchet up the non-violent civil disobedience, monkey-wrenching, and non-collaboration to the point where we become literally ungovernable.

        3) When TPTB are sufficiently alarmed by the near-anarchic situation, and have finally realized that mere violent repression won’t end their agony– we negotiate terms for their peaceful surrender, and for the complete destruction of their capacity to cause any more mischief. At this stage it will be essential to have some allies– from within military ranks– urging this peaceful solution to the impasse.

        Needless to say, none of this will be easy. However, I must emphatically disagree with Banger as to the supposed complacent mood of the populace. I find the vast majority of people– from the desperately poor to the almost rich– are indignant, frustrated, and bitterly unhappy with the status quo. They have no desire to softly sink into a neo-feudal future!

      3. Unkle Smokey

        I have been tossing around this idea of a lottery to some of my friends and family lately, and when I mentioned it to my mom, she said, well just think of all the uneducated, low-life, thieving, backward, perverts that would get selected. I paused for a brief second and replied, you have just described our Congress.

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      When we formed Progressive Dane here 20 years ago as a nascent New Party affiliate, the deal was the party membership developed the program and vetted the candidates and all candidates who ran on our ballot had to agree with all aspects of the program, co-endorse all other PD candidates, and not endorse non-PD-endorsed candidates – in exchanges for lots of volunteer shoe leather that was supposed to help them run effective low-cost campaigns. (Mostly candidates for local office; local elections in Wisco are non-partisan so easier for 3rd party candidates to win.) Even for the first couple elections where we were able to keep candidates and electeds to the deal (not very long), they always pissed and moaned about it. Before long, left-ish candidates were either avoiding us or, worse, running the first time with our endorsement but once in office, giving up our endorsement so as to be able to play with conventional Dems.

      Also, unsurprisingly but still awful, once we became a small local force, the Dems went to war against us. Since almost all the local pols are centrist to pretty far left (all Dems prior to our emergence), the Dems had a tradition of not endorsing in local elections. Once we emerged, they began endorsing and spending real money to campaign against us, always from the right.

      Not sure what the moral of the story is, except that once someone gets in office, it is not easy to hold them to their campaign positions, even when they have explicitly agreed to be held to them.

      1. diptherio

        This is why I think it needs to be a joint left/right affair. The selling point of this type of party is that you can have a direct voice in policy in a transparent way–not that it’s going to be supporting any particular platform or policy. If you want the candidate to support a policy, you get involved in the party and convince enough other members to side with you. If you can draw enough people from both the left and right with the lure of transparency and accountability, you might stand a chance against the two legacy parties.

        As for the problem of pols not wanting to play along once in office, that’s why I think it’s important that candidates be selected by the members, not by themselves. Then you select people who believe in the party principles, and aren’t interested in playing the normal political log-rolling games.

    3. James

      The problem with our politics, imho, is that our political representatives simply have too much power. We need to devolve that power, as much as possible, back to the constituency–which modern tech actually makes feasible. Until we’ve neutered the crowd in Washington (so to speak) and forced the job to become one of actually serving the public, we’ll continue down the nasty, destructive path that we are now on

      Not necessarily disagreeing with you, but that’s funny, because most of the professional political commentariat holds just the opposite, that there is no power base that holds enough power to get anything done, and thus are current political deadlock. Secondly, your devolution of power sounds a lot like Banger’s direct democracy proposal up thread. Your third statement hits the nail on the head, but doesn’t really prescribe a solution. Indeed. how do we force elected pols, all of whom benefit from and require a LOT of money to get elected to actually “serve the public,” assuming we could all even agree on what that meant?

      My personal opinion is that we don’t lack for a broad range of sensible alternatives in the practical/logistical sense. We certainly have the organizational capability to fix things if we really wanted to. Our problem is MUCH more basic than that. We no longer have a coherent vision of who we are, what we stand for, or where it is we want to go from here, and to the degree that we do, it’s so blatantly kleptocratic that it betrays everything we supposedly stand for. And that’s a problem, especially since we’ve foolishly managed to assume the mantle as the world’s political, military, and economic hegemon after the demise of the USSR. Perhaps that explains Vladimir Putin’s wry grin in nearly all of his stock photos these days. Fools rush in indeed!

  12. PQS

    Don’t forget that the RW has engaged in a long campaign to disenfranchise huge sections of the electorate. Now they are aided and abetted by the Supreme Court, which has indicated that parts of the Votings Rights Act need no longer be enforced. The whole “voter fraud” nonsense, the insanity of eliminating early voting, and eliminating voting on days other than Tuesday, and numerous other obstacles to making voting easy, up to and including onerous “Voter ID” bullshit – no wonder many working class and poor people don’t vote. In many cases, either they can’t, or they can’t afford to miss a day of work. And why would they, as many have pointed out? In cases like these, I think a coordinated campaign of “not voting” that is advertised to the Powers that Be as such in a non-violent way, would be very scary for the Establishment. – “You Don’t Represent Us.”

    However, people DO vote where they feel like it makes sense, and where it is easy to do: in WA state, voter participation in the last election was at 54%, statewide – still not great, but not 20%: But we have all “vote by mail”, no polling places, and we send out a detailed pamphlet to every voter with unbiased information and arguments both for and against each position on the ballot. Candidates publish their positions and statements, so it is easy to understand and make a choice. (And no, you don’t have to actually mail in your ballot – you can drop it off for free at various drive up locations. And yes, these are paper ballots that are counted, results are typically in by the next day, except for absentee and military.) Yes, we still get tons of dumb advertising and tons of junk mail at election time.

    While we certainly have a LOT of BS in WA state (total giveaways to Boeing, no state income tax for all the richies we have, ridiculous Seattle government, etc., etc.,), I don’t sense that people think things are totally illegitimate, and I don’t get the sense that the ENTIRE legislature is bought off.

    1. hunkerdown

      However, people DO vote where they feel like it makes sense

      Yes — when there’s direct democracy on the ballot. Turnout is significantly higher in off-years in initiative states vs. dog-show-only states, with up to 10% increases in recent history.

  13. TedWa

    The best solution I can think of is to keep voting them out after 1 or 2 terms. Serving in Congress was never supposed to be a life-time career. But, as can be seen in the recent elections, the medias hypno-hold on the psyche of the masses in an “Ignorance is Strength” alignment/meme does not allow an enlightened people to vote in their own best interests. I had hope when Cantor was voted out, but it appears that was just a glitch. Wall Street puts the candidates up and the media tells us who to pick. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Irrational fear rules the hearts and minds of the masses and TPTB know how to use this fear very well against them by isolating them from facts that would dispel fear.

    Don’t vote for either party, vote 3rd or vote green. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or both would be my dream team. The recent election shows disgust with the Democrats and that, obviously, it’s going to have to get worse before it gets better. Eventually people will wake up but it appears that it’s going to take things getting much worse in everyone’s life for progressive heroes to arise and enlighten the masses to a better way. Too much fear, too much distraction, too much being hidden by the MSM – because they can. The solutions of the New Deal are being used to derail it and undermine society, ie… food stamps for one. If there were no food stamps there’d be bread and soup lines in the streets and no one could deny that this nation is in trouble. But as it is, the food stamp needs of the people are perversely perceived as indispensable to TPTB for their ability to hide the nations shame, out of sight – out of mind. Masterful slight of hand.

    1. PQS

      I don’t have a problem with people being in office for a long time because I think expertise is a valuable and overlooked commodity in government – but I think there should be a limit of say, 10 years. As complicated as life and legislation has become, I’m not sure we really want total newbies in there every two years. (Hello, Tea Party!) Unless we want a way bigger Congress (which also might not be a bad idea – the fact that the ratio of Congresscritter to population is so very high leads to a lot of the disconnection, I think…)

      I also think they should be REQUIRED to either introduce or cosponsor significant legislation while in office, be a contributing member of a committee, and otherwise actually perform their duties (like show up for a minimum number of votes – no excuses.) It’s too easy for them to just do nothing but get their picture taken and raise money and for us to use the excuse of “well, just vote them out”. No, we don’t have time to follow their every move….they should be required to do their job in some capacity in order to keep it, and this should be publicly reported to their constituents via direct mail or email on a half yearly basis.

      Oh, and appoint an independent committee to approve Congressional raises. No more giving themselves more money to do nothing.

      1. hunkerdown

        You don’t need term limits — just an at-will clause, same as everyone else. What sort of twit would grant a rogue employee the right to sign checks in their name, destroy or sell off the equipment with the profits into the rogue’s pocket, assault other employees, and guarantee the rogue those rights until the end of the employee’s scheduled shift for which you pay them in full?

        Sovereignty is a double-edged sword. The “right to rule” cannot be recognized among self-organized people.

      2. TedWa

        I would have to say that Congress people are more and more corrupted by being there longer and this is also how a job in Congress becomes a career. I do want newbies, people to go in, do their job and get out and face the people when they get back home to be rewarded or ostracized. Entrenchment for these people means to them they can get away with anything.

    2. different clue

      It wasn’t? The Constitution offers no barrier to serving for functional life. Henry Clay served a long time and has never been condemned for it . . . for example.

  14. Carla

    Change the rules. Make money not speech and corporations not people.

    Proposed 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

    “We The People Amendment: House Joint Resolution 29 introduced February 14, 2013

    Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]

    The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

    Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

    The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

    Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]

    Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

    Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

    The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.”

      1. PQS

        And no getting a job as a lobbyist or anything that even smells like a lobbyist job for 5 years out of office. Period.

        1. AGR

          …and after the five years, the “lobbying” would be limited to the public townhall forum, in their respective district. No exceptions.

  15. Wade Riddick

    We should start by pointing out to the public that campaigns are a public utility providing public goods – information about voting choices. Despite crude attempts to privatize the service, these campaigns are already essentially publically funded. We already pay for the 1%’s campaign donations. Whenever you do business with a corporation, they are overcharging you to pay for their “free speech.” The corporate profits used to fund campaigns, pay lobbyists and catapult the propaganda on TV comes directly from business done with customers. We pay for it all. This is what the Supreme Court, in other cases, would call compulsory speech – and when the government does it to corporations, the court is very much opposed to it. When customers, however, are forced to foot the oligarchy’s indoctrination bill then that’s okey-dokey.

    How about simply requiring the written consent of every customer before a business can spend those profits on a political purpose (or they lose their limited liability)? How about a law requiring direct spending on the stated purpose to prevent laundering and pooling of funds?

  16. Pablo

    The problem is the entire governmental system is deeply flawed-if the goal is to have a government that is responsive to the wishes of the majority of voters. But that’s not the REAL problem. The real problem is the people and special interests that control the government and bend it to their wishes, LIKE the system as it exists. It makes it easy for them to loot the taxpayer. Another problem: these guys will NOT quit until outsiders demand they stop. What will this take? Voters must become engaged in the system, not drop out. But that alone isn’t enough; systemic, fundamental change must be implemented. Such as: term limits, campaign finance reform, filibuster reform to name three. Also: reform of how bills, especially spending bills are passed need to change. All too often, a member of Congress can sneak a piece of spending pork to his/her favorite campaign donors. This by itself is bad enough, but this method of bill passage allows members of Congress to profess ignorance of this or that pork barrel spending–so don’t blame them for it. This gives members of Congress built-in deniability. That should stop. One final reform to mention here: creating an election system that makes it much easier to vote for third, fourth, fifth Party candidates. The two Parties, which usually operate as one Party, would be DIRECTLY threatened. That’s the whole point: threaten the power base of the duopoly by giving the voters a chance to throw BOTH Parties out of Congress. The Democrats and Republicans are FULLY aware of this threat; both Parties will fight this measure with every fiber of their being. This is EXACTLY why it needs to be done.

    1. Banger

      The problem with the “fairness doctrine” is that there are more than two positions on most issues. I think it artificially limits the conversation even more than it is limited today. What we need “truthiness” boards that evaluate statements of fact that are made by everyone in the political arena. Most statements made, incuding media stories, are demonstrably false and someone should evaluate them using rules of evidence. At the same time their are areas of ambiguity and those too must be noted.

  17. MichaelC

    Mandate None of the above on every ballot for every office.

    She’d increase voter turnout and disrupt the process enough to rattle a few cages.

  18. NOTaREALmerican

    Next election, the nice people with Political OCD will vote Blue Team because they believe – in their hearts – that the Blue Team is mostly nice. And, the not-so-nice people with Political OCD will vote Red Team because they believe – in their hearts – that the Blue Team is too nice and weakens America with its niceness, but the Red Team will – if elected – impose order and austerity again, just how it was in the olden-days when dad knew what was best for his family.

    And the Blue Team advertising sociopaths will manipulate the Blue Team true-believers and the Red Team advertising sociopaths will manipulate the Red Team true-believers and there will be a glorious battle (covered by WOLF BLITZER with real-time play-by-play) and when the elections are over we will again show the world why nothing beats democracy.

    GO TEAM!!!

  19. Benedict@Large

    Look, there’s a way to do this, and it’s really pretty simple (but it has to be done in large numbers). Vote a blank ballot. Yes, go to the polls, get your ballot, and then hand it in blank. (Or vote only for initiatives, if your state has them.) Why?

    (1) Lesser evilism conveys your approval of candidates you don’t approve of. This sends the wrong message.
    (2) Not voting at all gets you placed in the “don’t care” category, even if you do care. Protesting is fine, but not here. It sends the wrong message.
    (3) 3rd party voting doesn’t mean a damned thing unless it costs the person you otherwise favored (in the two main parties) the election. Sorry, kids, but politicians simply don’t care unless you hurt them bad enough. If you don’t hurt them bad enough to lose, you’re sending the wrong message. You’re saying the system is OK, when all you are doing is approving the syphoning off of your vote into nowhere land. You quite frankly look like a flake, and even your friends don’t like you. They might even start calling you “Ralph”.
    (4) There is no wrong message with voting a blank ballot. When the count of blank votes gets high enough (they actually do this in Iceland), it becomes very clear what message you are sending: None of the above. You are telling the system that you want to vote, but can’t. You are telling the system you believe in democracy, but are disgusted with the sham they’ve made of voting.

    And when enough of you vote blank, it’s a story the media will have to pick up. It’s a story that transcends two-party politics. How does a politician then answer the question, why don’t voters like either of you?

    1. Banger

      This is the George Carlin position. At the end of his life he saw the whole thing as utterly hopeless and said so in very plain speech. He was just watching and jeering from the sidelines watching the whole enterprise go down. I understand that and sympathize. But we I think we can do better. First we must see how the game is rigged and that it is rigged–in my view that’s the first step-don’t get fooled by the fake stuff in the media–that’s how the whole edifice is maintained by creating a theater of the lies that the oligarchs use to manipulate us. All that stuff they put on the news is fake and lies even when they are relatively accurate. From that position we all must rearrange our lives including our personal lives. I don’t have much hope but, for some reason, I sense it will all work out in the end–no particular reason–I just do. People are very good if they allow themselves to be. Right now the truth is the essential thing.

      1. James

        This is the George Carlin position. At the end of his life he saw the whole thing as utterly hopeless and said so in very plain speech.

        I think I’m in the same place.

        But we I think we can do better.

        So do I, but I don’t believe we will.

        People are very good if they allow themselves to be.


        Right now the truth is the essential thing.

        Which is?

        God love you Banger, but if you want to make a living as a preacher you’ve got some work to do.

      2. different clue

        I see nothing Carliny about voting blank. Carlin would have said don’t bother voting or even staying registered. Voting blank is presented as a way of forcing the issue. Nothing defeatistly Carliny about that.

      3. Jeff W

        This is the George Carlin position.

        No, it’s not.

        George Carlin said he didn’t vote. That’s different than the position above, which says it’s better to cast a blank ballot, which is functionally equivalent voting None of the above.

        The issue here is not between voting for a candidate and something else. It’s between simply not going to the polls and something else. Not going to the polls can be interpreted as apathy or not caring (as stated in (2) above). Going to the polls and casting a blank ballot at least raises the inference that you are voting None of the above.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          I agree. Spoiled or blank ballots have to be counted so they can’t be filed under the apathy narrative. It’s a way to say “[material inapppropriate for a family blog here]!!!!!” Much more aggressive than not voting.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      If blank votes are counted in all districts, what you propose is definitely the way to show discontent. Third party has proven a diversion on too many past occasions.

      I remain deeply impressed by the way the people of Chile rid themselves of Pinochet — a variant of what you propose.

  20. Oregoncharles

    Another take on turnout, from yesterday’s Links: It’s for Britain, which actually has much BETTER turnout than we do, but says, in essence, based on actual polls, that people are seriously pissed off, hate both parties and essentially all politicians, and not voting is the nearest they can get to None of the Above.

    Combine that with the recent proof that voting has little effect on policy (here, OR in Britain), and you can see that not voting makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, it’s maddeningly self-defeating. Why not at least make a protest vote? If all the people who are pissed off did that, they’d overturn the political system. (Would they also trigger a coup, or a cancellation of the election? Quite possibly, but if so, we need to know that.)

    In that context, public financing, desirable though it may be, is a half-measure that – as several commenters pointed out – is unlikely to have a big effect. Our real challenge is to penetrate the combination of complacency and fatalism that keeps people voting, or NOT voting, within the 2-Party. At this point, I shudder to think what it’ll take to do that.

    1. James

      Why not at least make a protest vote? If all the people who are pissed off did that, they’d overturn the political system. (Would they also trigger a coup, or a cancellation of the election? Quite possibly, but if so, we need to know that.)

      Ahh, how I love the smell of a naive fool optimist in the morning! Ask the people of Ferguson MO how they’re feeling about the possibility of political change after their genuine protest vote in the aftermath of what amounted to a blatantly illegitimate if not illegal political coup.

      I sense Muricans just ain’t desperate enough yet to recognize the truth.

      1. Vatch

        What “genuine protest vote”? 4 in 10 Ferguson, MO, residents voted in the most recent election.

        But comparing municipal to general and midterm election turnouts is apple and oranges, Knowles said in an email. Since 16.2% of voters first put Knowles in office in 2011, voter turnout for the annual city elections has never topped 12%. The 2012 general election, however, lured 76.4% of voters to the polls.

        I bet most of them voted for Democrats in 2012. They should have voted for third party candidates.

        1. James

          Talkin’ about the genuine protest vote, ‘homes’. The one that happened in the actual street where there were actual ‘consequences’. You do remember those, don’t you?

          Fool optimists indeed!

          1. Vatch

            That’s why people need to vote in elections. Street protests can make a difference, but that difference isn’t necessarily an improvement. Ukraine, for example. They got rid of Yanukovych, which was a good result, and now they have a war, which is very bad.

            If more Ferguson, MO, people would vote in their mayoral elections, they really could improve their situation.

            1. jrs

              Yes protest can degenerate into chaos, but you have the risk chaos on the one side and the risk of plutocracy on the other and without resistance plutocracy is what you will get. And to take the side of plutocracy at this point in time? With things more plutocratic by the day? No it’s not the time for it, if it ever is. Even the risk of chaos is to be preferred.

              But you can just vote and avoid both? Give me examples of this working? I think there are mini examples of this working in state level direct democracy (the initiative process). But with representative democracy? Has it ever worked? In this country? Resistance has. The civil rights movement. And plenty of resistance during the New Deal era.

              1. Vatch

                How about both? Nonviolent protest, such as Occupy Wall Street or the Ferguson demonstrations and voting? And when I recommend voting, I’m recommending that people vote for third party candidates.

          2. different clue

            A protest is not a vote. Neither is a demonstration. If the ballot-casting in Ferguson is done by Legal Paper Ballot, then it should be hard to fake or fraud the results. In which case, the black majority of Ferguson could well turn out at 100% to vote against the anti-black power structure officeholders in Ferguson. Maybe they might even consider all engineering together a pro-black batch of officeseekers to vote unanimously for with 100% of their potential majority turnout.
            Whether they decide to do that or not is entirely up to them. And if they are stuck with touch-screen voting or any other method lacking Legal Paper Ballots as the first vote-casting step, then they maybe should not even bother.

            1. James

              A protest is not a vote. Neither is a demonstration.

              Well I guess you’d better get your freaking clues in order then, ‘different’. A protest, nevermind a demonstration, is a HARD vote in opposition. As in a vote that doesn’t just say here I am in in my fat-assed Americaness, willing to pull a lever in support of this or that, which I may or may not actually give a fuck about, but am actually willing to get up off my fat American ass and go to the streets to do something about.

              1. jrs

                Well organizing a whole slate of representatives to run to (narrowly and I mean that as a compliment) represent a particular interest is not lazy at all (as opposed to just pulling the D lever which is lazy). If they could get an anti-fees and anti-warrants slate on the ballot it would be impressive and take a lot of organizing. But yea only if the elections are legit and not all electronic.

                Of course the same thing could be done with DIRECT DEMOCRACY. Run a local proposition not to fund the local government that way.

                That’s what I can see changing on a local level. But militarized policing and the like? That is not just the local level, it goes up to the Feds. Oh reforming the cops strikes me as somewhere in between on that continuum.

              2. different clue

                Well, James, thank you for the free advice. It was worth every cent in this particular context.

  21. Oregoncharles

    (sorry if this is a duplication – first attempt appeared to fail)
    Another take on turnout, from yesterday’s Links: It’s for Britain, which actually has much BETTER turnout than we do, but says, in essence, based on actual polls, that people are seriously pissed off, hate both parties and essentially all politicians, and not voting is the nearest they can get to None of the Above.

    Combine that with the recent proof that voting has little effect on policy (here, OR in Britain), and you can see that not voting makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, it’s maddeningly self-defeating. Why not at least make a protest vote? If all the people who are pissed off did that, they’d overturn the political system. (Would they also trigger a coup, or a cancelled election? Quite possibly, but if so, we need to know that.)

    In that context, public financing, desirable though it may be, is a half-measure that – as several commenters pointed out – is unlikely to have a big effect. Our real challenge is to penetrate the combination of complacency and fatalism that keeps people voting, or NOT voting, within the 2-Party. At this point, I shudder to think what it’ll take to do that.

  22. john gleason

    It seems to me that the ratio of 1 representative to 30,000 citizens would solve a great many problems outlined above. 1 representative to 500,000 citizens opens a door for great mischief. How many of you know your representative personally or have a friend, or a friend of a friend, who knows him/her personally?

    1. bmeisen

      good point. democracy in the US is weakly representative compared to other democracies:

      1 US Representative per 680000 citizens
      1 German Representative per 130000 citizens

      add gerrymandering and you have a dysfunctional situation

      1. James Levy

        Yes in Britain 565 MPs represent 57 million people whereas here it is 435 people representing 310 million. Yet ironically it would seem that with the way the Committees and the Speaker-system works very few of those Representatives have any real influence. So increasing the number of Representatives here would not necessarily make the system more responsive or representative. All these institutions were designed around members who were local notables with investments, material and psychological, in communities. They were never intended for modern professional politicians embedded in organized political parties. How to make any of this work is beyond me.

  23. TG

    Public financing of campaigns is a very dangerous trap.

    Political campaigns don’t run on donations per se – they run on favorable coverage in the corporate-dominated press.

    I mean, suppose you are a politician and you raise a million dollars. You run a few TV ads and send out some fliers. But the press doesn’t cover you, except to maybe run a series on your divorce ten years ago, or show you picking your nose, or talk about how ‘quixotic’ your egotistical campaign is. Your opponent raises a half-million dollars – and every day they are shown on the front page looking official and poised, and articles are breathless about their gravitas and experience and compassion… It would have cost a billion dollars to buy that kind of publicity. Guess who’s going to win? Yes, campaign money still has its place in American politics, but the center of gravity has shifted to the corporate controlled press. That is now the arm of decision in politics, not nominal campaign fundraising.

    I propose that far more important than public financing of political campaigns, would be breaking up the big corporate media monopolies. Sorry, but as great as this and other sites are, random internet blogs are too fractured and fractious to dent the mass psychological power of the 24/7 scripted uniform in-sync corporate press.

    The other issue is the bribing of politicians by the rich. If a politician can leave office and then get millions of dollars (hundreds of millions in the case of the Clintons! Probably even more for Obama) in speaking fees and book fees and positions on board of directors etc., well, we should not be surprised when a politician campaigns one way and governs another. I think it would also be more important to ban politicians from cashing in – if this has a chilling effect on the willingness of people to run for high office so that they can sell out, well, so what? Perhaps we could attract more public-minded individuals with such rules.

    1. PQS

      But if every candidate was afforded equal time on air, free of charge, to put forth their positions, and all candidates were allowed to participate in aired debates (during prime time), wouldn’t that hobble the press coverage bias?

      Not to say that the press isn’t a complete pile of shite when it comes to politics, but really, do most people pick local Congressional races based on TV ads? Or based on other factors? I would agree that the Presidential race is all about being telegenic, but I think most other races have more to do with either bringing home the bacon to the district, or being the incumbent. I mean, the average age of our Congress is what, 75? A bunch of doddering old dudes isn’t particularly photogenic, so they can’t be getting elected just on their TV coverage.

  24. callmeahab

    I cast my vote with those arguing for direct funding of advertising-free elections as the single most beneficial thing we might try.

    About the responsiveness issue, it’s obvious that as the nation continually grows, our old governmental baby clothes–the ones they sent us home with in 1789–no longer fit, and that it’s time we consider devolving into smaller political units. (Oh, wait–you were looking for practical ideas?) The viability of digital direct democracy seems awfully pipe-dreamish: if sizable numbers of NCers think their countrymen are just waiting to abandon their televisions in favor of tracking budget proposals and judicial nominations, you really need to get out more.

    Ferguson points to our dismal voting rates and says, “They’re sort of non-voting,if you like, for a new America!” To all those in this discussion who are saying “Yeah! That’s sending ’em a message!” I say, this sort of semiotics can be tricky. Advocating such complete abdication of all citizenship seems both very sad, on the one hand, and wildly optimistic on the other. Withdrawing from political participation in hopes TPTB will duly decipher your point in some optimal fashion won’t necessarily eventuate in anything positive, after all–the only avenue towards reform
    remains unremitting effort, continual setbacks be damned. Stand together, stand alone, stand still if you like, but for god’s sake please don’t stand aside.

  25. Greenguy

    Public financing is not going to solve the problem, but it – like many other reforms – is required as minimum condition, a starting point for democratic elections. We should throw in term limits, frequent elections, initiative and referendum, local grassroots democratic councils, as well as caps on the amount of money that can be spent in elections, free air time and free mail for all candidates on the ballot. Proportional representation is probably as important as public financing in all this as well.

    There are good studies that show very low limits on donations plus spending caps are effective in creating more electoral competition, too.

  26. Joe

    Representative government should not be populated based on results of popularity contests. Assigning public offices similar to how jury duty is assigned would deflate the influence of wealthy individuals, remove motivation for corruption, and result in a more representative government.

  27. callmeahab

    I vote with those advocating advertising-free, directly funded elections as the single most effective step we could take.

    About the responsiveness issue, it seems obvious we’ve outgrown our governmental swaddling clothes–the ones they sent us home in, in 1789. Time to repartition politically, perhaps, or to devolve into smaller federal units (what–you were looking for practical ideas?) Those NCers who envision a smoothly functioning direct digital democracy need to get out more, and be introduced to the huge numbers of your countrymen who would as soon clean their aquariums as give up television for budget negotiations and judicial nominations.

    “They’re sort of non-voting, if you like, for a new America,” Ferguson says of the scandalously high percentage of the population that’s opted out of the electoral process. To all who affirm this behavior (“Yeah! That’ll show ’em!”), I have to say, your advocacy of basically abdicating the fundamentals of citizenship is both very sad and at the same time wildly optimistic. The semiotics of “dropping out” remain tricky. Wishing never made anything so: withdrawing from participation in hopes TPTB decipher your message in some optimal fashion won’t necessarily eventuate in anything positive.

    The only avenue towards reform is typically unrewarding, unremitting effort, constant setbacks be damned. Stand together, stand alone, stand still if you like, but please don’t think you’ll accomplish anything by standing aside.

  28. PQS

    The problem with money in elections isn’t exactly the amount involved….and the rich have always bought their government, so I don’t see that tumbling down, ever.

    The issue, it seems to me, is both the “permanent campaign” and the corresponding length of campaigns. We’re already talking about 2016, and 2015 isn’t even here yet. And in 2015 we’ll start talking about 2018. It never ends.

    If we started by limiting the actual campaign season to, say, six months, tops, for ALL races, and eliminated all these stupid early primaries, (looking at you, Iowa and New Hampshire) it almost wouldn’t matter how much money was spent during that time. Limits on fundraising prior to actual campaign season would also have to be strictly enforced.

    The other issue is “dark money”. I don’t care how the Kochs spend their money – what bothers me is how they hide it and lie about what they want. You might laugh, but I wouldn’t be opposed to members of Congress being forced to wear contributor’s monograms, not unlike how athletes show their sponsors on their uniforms. Congress likes to think they’re the Olympics – free from commercialization. We all know they’re way more like Nascar – fifty different hats a day.

  29. Linus Huber

    I thought about the problem of elections a lot. It is not simply the fact that getting elected requires a lot of money but it attracts those people that actually are least suited to fill the job (mostly power hungry …).

    In addition, it is human nature to secure one’s own future first and foremost, a fact that is used to corrupt even well intentioned people.

    Maybe we should not elect e.g. the Congress but simply use a random generator that considers demographics and other segments of society to simply recruit the members of Congress for a single one year term after which they will return to their constitutionally guaranteed previous job in the private sector with the option to decline. Those that do not feel up to the job of a Congressman, will be replace by a second or third alternative.

    Politics as a career should not exist.

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