Why Don’t We Get the Politicians We Need?

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Yves here. Richard Murphy provides a not-bad list of why the current crop of politicians in the US and UK is so piss poor. Any additions?

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

I think Arwa Mahdawi asks a wholly relevant question of the US and is more than able to answer it, so let me use this as the start point for a tangential thought.

The real question to ask is, I think, not about the US. Nor is it about the Democrats. It is about the electoral systems of the US and UK that appear unable to produce anything much approaching a competent politician these days. If they could we would not have Biden, whose only advantage is that he comes from a different era, and Sunak, whose only advantage is the insensitivity to opinion that extreme wealth provides.

In truth, what these supposed democracies have in common are three things.

First is first-past-the-post electoral systems, which very largely reduces electoral democracy to a choice between those able to progress through the murky, back-room shenanigans of two-party candidate selection processes. Most who do so know that once elected they are either almost guaranteed a seat or are completely wasting their time until a better opportunity comes along. But the skills required for selection are a long way removed from what we need in our elected politicians. So we are always given sub-optimal choices.

Second, we have a media that promotes stupidity. I am not sure much more explanation is required. The whole idea of the fourth estate holding much of democracy to account disappeared, long ago.

Third, candidates have to live in a wholly artificial goldfish bowl of scrutiny that few sane people would wish to endure. So, we get those with unusually thick skinned, or whose flaws destroy them, upon which fate they are willing to gamble when taking office. Neither greatly advantage us.

This is why we get the dire politicians that we do. To be blunt, no one with any sense would want the job. And if you want it, you’re probably not fit to have it.

Can we do better than that? I think so. But to do that we have to break the power of the two party system, and that means the end of first-past-the-post. That’s where the corruption of the UK’s democracy and politics begins. Everything else flows from there.

I am not saying any alternative will be a panacea. I am saying it will be better than what we have got. And that would be a start.

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  1. Ignacio

    This is not a bug exclusive for the US/UK.

    I think that an important factor that limits the openness of candidatures are the continuously produced and delivered polls which IMO introduce a strong bias on electability.

    1. digi_owl

      As an retired Norwegian politician put it, when he started out he could do a full day factory job and still participate in local politics in the evening.

      But by the time he retired from politics, people had to chose between politics and a job even at the local level.

      End result is that pretty much the only people that are in politics these days, enter pretty much straight out of school.

      And that ignores the issue of dynasties, where someones parent or grandparent was a big name at one point and now the surname has “weight”.

  2. Another Scott

    I think the main reason that the US system is rotten is that campaign contributions, aka legalized bribes, stand at the center of the political system. Committee assignments are given to congresscritters based upon how much money they can donate; candidates email people not asking for their votes, but rather their money; and corporations and the wealthy can donate essentially unlimited amounts to their preferred individuals. And those are simply the ones that I can think of off the top of my head.

    1. LAS

      It was a pretty weak essay b/c of what it left out, possibly self-serving to the author to leave it out, how money networks and political economy factor in. The author missed an old observation (I forget by who) about how persons who know how the countries should be run are simply too busy driving taxis (or being chartered accountants).

      Is it really the fault of the media? As citizens we have a choice of informational sources which many other countries do not have. People could utilize this opportunity better than they do; they could switch channels, websites and/or visit a library periodical section to see an array of sources. Some in the media are doing an excellent job, invesigative reporting.

      1. Carmen

        George Burns said that.

        Witness Kamaleon Harris who shapeshifts her cultural background/accent/loyalties to whatever audience she appears before.

    2. jsn


      Decisions in a straight line from Buckley vs Valeo to Citizens United are the Supreme Court setting up an extra legislative free market for policy. The circumlocutions of “fund raising” (bribe solicitation) and “campaign contribution” (bribery) opened the way for a structured market built to favor corporate interests through bundling, “independent committees” unlimited “dark money”.

      The result, in addition to the superficial effects mentioned in this brief post, is a policy environment where anything a voter might look at as a problem, say medicine for profit or shackling students with non-dischargeable debt, to cite two morally egregious and obvious examples, is in fact a profit center for some array of interests who will deploy that full profit plus whatever it takes to purchase the preservation of the horrid policy rent stream: to fix medical care will require bigger bribes from those afflicted by “health care” than those providing it.

      1. SufferinSuccotash

        All of those court decisions starting with Buckley rest upon a huge category error, namely that money equals speech. As Justice Byron
        White pointed out in his dissent in the 1976 case, money is money and speech is speech. As things stand now, the more money you have to throw at politics, the greater the “validity” of your speech regardless of its content.

        1. Ep3

          The neoliberal view of democracy is that u r free to make as much money as possible. Then, money is the great equaliser. How can u say I am a better person than u? How do u value that? U can’t. So we use money. If u make lots of money u must be smarter than the rest of us. U must have better genetics that should survive over poor ppl.
          Once u have more money than another person, then shouldn’t your voice be louder?
          With all that wealth your vote should now count more than someone else’s. Bcuz aren’t u smarter? A harder worker? Isn’t it fair to say “anyone can become rich, it’s just how hard u work, etc?”

          1. digi_owl

            Something that is a complete reversal of the enlightenment concept of republic that is the basis for USA as a nation.

        2. Glen

          Yes, the influence of big money in politics at all levels is a huge problem. I don’t think average Americans can even begin to understand how bad it has gotten compared to what America outlawed in the past:

          U.S. Supreme Court strikes 1912 Montana ban on corporate donations

          That’s right, Montana had a state law from 1912 which completely blocked corporate donations, and SCOTUS rolled it back 100 years later. Many other states had similar laws becasue the influence of money on politics was well understood even 100 years ago.

          But now-a-days big money owns it all, the MSM, the NGOs writing our laws, and the government itself.

          In many ways American voting for the last couple of election cycles has been to elect someone that isn’t a complete corporate tool, and to watch the various gyrations by the uniparty to prevent any such occurrence.

        3. some guy

          The “error” is cynical and deliberate. The pro-Ruling Class Soopreem Kort has been doing everything it can to engineer the one dollar one vote political system its Class Clubmembers want for this country.

          The Soopreem Kort is just another political battlefield. Someone or someones could try running on the concept that the Soopreem Kort is illegitimate, everyone knows it, everyone should just accept it and stop crying about it, and lets pack it to make the illegitamacy work for ” Us” against “Them”. Instead of for “Them” against “Us” as it now does.

        4. Grayce

          A corporation is a limited “person” but someone reading the constitution backed into the practicality of a corporation being able to enter business transactions and thought that was all there was to having first amendment rights–in the form of money!! So, instead of a long debate about the constitution, raise this question: Who goes to jail if a corporation is charged with a felony? Should there be a “designated felon” in the charter before a corporation enjoys every right of a live person? Is there a single live person who could choose fine-over-jail arbitrarily? (OK, the bribesters could.) Every one of the ten amendments making up the Bill of Rights has inherent responsibilities that balance the rights, but so overlooked by those who can only handle three-word slogans.

    3. JonnyJames

      Exactly. The Citizens United case decision from SCOTUS (2014) formalized unlimited political bribery. It is perfectly legal. Money is legally defined as “free speech” and corporations are legal persons with all the rights and privileges. The US has no functioning democracy, but it is too emotionally and psychologically disturbing to admit, so even most informed people are in denial.

      Plus, we have the abuse of power and blatant corruption in the legal system. Powerful banks, corporations, govt. officials, and even police are effectively above the law.

      As the article mentioned, we have a giant Media Monopoly (oligopoly with incestuous “cross sectoral” ownership). The public is misinformed and dumbed-down with the most idiotic distractions. When it comes to war, almost everything in the MediaMonopoly is BS propaganda. Ukraine is a case in point

      1. Robert Hahl

        Re Citizen’s United, we always knew money talks. We just didn’t know that it is in the Constitution.

        Our government works for the corporations, including the courts; that is the whole story. We need to limit corporate power, probably through high taxes and strict economic criteria for borrowing. If the firm could not pay its taxes and debts, the shareholders would have to pay, up to the value of their shares. I suppose that this would lead to a civil war.

        1. some guy

          A civil class war. The Lower Class Majority would have to be sure it had enough guns and ammo as a class to prevail in a “civilian civil class war” against its Upper Class enemies and their hired private killers and private armies.

          Beyond that, it sure would be helpful if the Official Armed Forces decided to support the Lower Class Majority against the Upper Class Minority, because if they don’t, a Lower Class victory is unlikely.

        2. Grayce

          The right to a trial by the corporation’s peers and then the issuance of a just penalty for breaking the law would expose the nonlogical decision of Citizens United. The SEC fines corporations (money) the guilty parties if named may get fined, but indemnity clauses take the money out of the corporate fund, and no one goes to jail. That is not equal treatment under the law.

    1. Old Ghost

      Smithers is on to something here. The media (and it’s owners) deserve scrutiny.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        Plus a degenerate media as per https://novaramedia.com/2023/06/01/britains-journalists-protect-no-one-but-themselves/. John A and I have exchanged comments about this scandal on NC Links passim.

        The scandal at the Guardian overlaps with the one that engulfed the Confederation of British Industry, as the CBI’s former director-general worked at the Guardian in the teens, and one covered up by New Labour / the Labour right, again involving the former CBI D-G and Guardian executive.

        Sexual harassment at the Guardian goes beyond Cohen and the ex CBI D-G and goes back three decades. Sexual harassment at the Labour Party goes back as much, sparked largely by the arrival of New Labour and its lad and drinks culture, one that attracted careerist civil servants on the make and helped facilitate the dodgy / sexed up dossier to justify the invasion of Iraq.

        Sexual harassment in the Labour Party continues to this day. There are complaints against two senior shadow cabinet spokesmen and some of their aides. It was put to Corbyn that he investigate, especially as the accused were sabotaging his leadership and campaign, but Corbyn felt the MSM would accuse him of witch hunting, not unfounded, and he does not do this sort of thing.

        With regard to the FT’s Roula Khalaf, she’s an outsider and desperate to join the British establishment.

        Further to scrutiny of the ownership of the media, that should also extend to how the Murdoch group was involved with the Farage faction’s take over of UKIP and Murdoch’s use of Guido Fawkes. Leveson II, cancelled by Cameron and May, could have shed light on these scandals.

    2. redleg

      As stated above, there’s no such thing as corruption in an open free market capitalism system that includes a market for politicians. This is a feature, not a bug. The entire system needs to be upended for this reality to change.

  3. Daniil Adamov

    Are politicians in non-first-past-the-post systems that much better these days? I seem to recall some dissatisfaction with the quality of leadership in France…

    1. JonnyJames

      France has a highly un-democratic double ballot system. It might be even worse than winner-takes-all (first past the post)

  4. DJ's Locker

    I think Thomas Sowell nailed it when he said:

    “The fact that so many successful politicians are such shameless liars is not only a reflection on them, it is also a reflection on us. When the people want the impossible, only liars can satisfy.”

    Our politicians are a reflection of our cultural malaise.

    And the question is not why are we left with Robert F. Kennedy Jr, it is how did we ever go with Joe (and Kamala) and how in any sane world could we permit a repeat performance?

    1. Carla

      “We” didn’t go with Joe and Kamala. “We” went with Bernie. “We” are not the deciders.

      Would open primaries help? Possibly, for a little while. Nah gon happen, as Yves says.

      Approval voting? Well, it sure looks better than Ranked Choice Voting, which wonky lefties may love for its complexity, but not me. (See the link I posted above.)

    2. hunkerdown

      No, market totalitarian Sowell is trying to sell us submission to others like any other priest. Everything is possible, except for the cognitive error called values.

    3. Grayce

      Joe and Kamala did not win on the merits. For many people, it was the least harmful alternative of the only two available, the best available alternative. The insane tradition of knocking off the moderates just removes the candidates who could (*gasp*) think on their feet in real life, and make a decision that would resemble the left some of the time and resemble the right some of the time, but would really be simple steering that they learned while learning to ride a bike across new terrain.

  5. Lexx

    ‘Second, we have a media that promotes stupidity. I am not sure much more explanation is required. The whole idea of the fourth estate holding much of democracy to account disappeared, long ago.’

    Um, I think maybe ‘the image’ of stupidity, not an actual lack of intelligence. ‘Stupidity’ sells, it’s an attention grabber… ‘(s)he said/did what? Is (s)he stupid?!’ The reader gets an automatic hit of superiority. It’s a constant distraction from what the politician gets up to when the media isn’t looking and reporting.

    I wish Lauren Boebert was stupid and stupider still the voters on the Western Slope who voted for her twice. I don’t see her winning any prizes for her intellectual gifts to humanity, very few people on the planet do, but stupid she is not. The breadth of human intelligence presents in many forms… one of them is calculating and cunning. Oh yeah, she’s all that and more and those ‘skills’ are much more highly valued in politics than we’d like to think. Their college degrees are incidental.

    1. Mike Mc

      Yes. Fled redneck Nebraska after 40 plus years in the blue bubbles of Lincoln (mostly) and Omaha (sorta) for The People’s Republic of Colorado in 2021… only to find ourselves in Boebert’s Congressional district (we live in Trinidad, a fun and funky old mining town becoming art colony/retiree-ville). Apparently Colorado Democratic Party gained a safe seat in a newly created voting district (8th?) in Denver metro, while leaving the Western Slope and southern tier to conservative farmers, miners and ranchers – thus Boebert.

      What too many Progressives and Dems continually fail to understand is that people like Boebert, Trump and Greene are driven by demons – greed, lust for power, whatever – not by altruistic motives like helping people or society. We can only outwork and outvote them – shame, decency, etc. are all considered weak by the GOP/GQP of today. Get to work!

      1. pjay

        – “What too many Progressives and Dems continually fail to understand is that people like Boebert, Trump and Greene are driven by demons – greed, lust for power, whatever – not by altruistic motives like helping people or society.,,:”

        Are you kidding?? Which “progressives and Democrats” *fail* to understand this? Good Lord, it’s been our mantra since I was a kid in the 1960s. The people who *vote* for the Boeberts, Trumps, and Greenes may not understand this, or understand it sufficiently – or care, in some cases. That is *half* the problem.

        The other half is that what “progressives and Dems” actually “fail to understand” are the same demons driving their own sorry candidates for office, and the massive corruption that has completely gutted their own party. The near complete obliviousness of the “art colonies,” college towns, and liberal urban enclaves you describe are a huge part of the problem, because unlike most of the “rednecks,” many of the “blue bubble” people have some degree of power, influence, and status – by serving the real powers that be and contributing to the reproduction of the system.

        Which group is stronger in support of the surveillance/censorship state, imperialist intervention abroad, running “former” CIA agents for elective office, etc., etc.? The disintegration of democratic representation is bipartisan.

      2. Rip Van Winkle

        To borrow a 60+ year old quote from someone I didn’t particularly like -.

        I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the (Oshkosh, Peoria, Muncie, Council Bluffs, Grand Rapids, Zanesville) telephone directories than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.

        1. Lexx

          The food would be good and you’ll get the jokes. One of the pillars of ‘home’ wherever you are.

        2. JCC

          George Bernard Shaw also had two relatively famous that all too often apply.

          Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

          Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

          The first is a little to cynical for my taste, and the second is too often true.

  6. Mark Gisleson

    Give the voters veto power with the mandatory listing of NONE OF THE ABOVE as a legal voting option for all elections. Require office holders to receive 50%+1 of the vote. Increase the number of polling places and make elections half-holidays (you get half your shift off so you can vote, but must work the rest of the day to keep voters from fleeing on vacation and not voting at all.

    It would take a lot of runoffs but the quality of governance would absolutely skyrocket. Some districts would never elect anyone (and those districts should be reapportioned into more natural boundaries).

    But the most important reform would be to ban all current officials from ever serving again in any capacity. We know what doesn’t work, and the current crop of officials aren’t doing any of the people’s work. #$%! them!

    1. hunkerdown

      The problem with that is that it destroys the entire cosmology of the state by showing that the the permanent existence of the state is an option, not a fact.

      The better idea is to change the nature of representation itself, discarding the current elective oligarchy that serve the landed, in favor of a strict delegate model of representation, in which delegates who act outside their constituents’ instructions instantly cease to be representatives simply by so doing. These kinds of policies are good enough for the Electoral College; they’re good enough for regular order.

  7. Alice X

    Those who own the country ought to govern it.

    John Jay (In his day, the owners had recently stolen the country, and it never went out of style.)

    And then:

    He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  8. Tom Doak

    The combination of full spectrum government surveillance and a captured news media has rendered it impossible for anyone to ascend through our political system if they are a threat to The Powers That Be. You’d have to be a saint not to have some skeleton in your closet the media couldn’t magnify, and now with deepfake videos, they could even put a saint on Epstein Island if push came to shove.

    1. some guy

      What if the electorate of a jurisdiction decided they were very tolerant of many kinds of “skeletons” and would not hold a “skeleton” or three against an effective and beneficial representative? The media would lose its veto power over officeseekers or officeholders if the electorate resolutely refused to care about those skeletons.

      If an officeseeker had such a strategically intelligent electorate he/she could pre-out his/her own skeletons and then say . . . ” I want to be an agenda politician, not a role model politician. Do you want the agenda?
      Well , I come along with it.”

  9. The Rev Kev

    There is the horrible thought that perhaps we have the politicians that we deserve but I won’t go there. Look, in any sane timeline there is not a possibility in the world that people Joe Biden or Kamala Harris would be anywhere near the White House. Apart from the fact that both are horrible human beings, old Joe is just that. He’s too damn old and was running with early signs of dementia. Even when younger he was rejected as a political choice. And Kamala Harris is, well, Kamala Harris. But what helps this be possible is the main stream media who think it their duty to help choose who should run. They literally think that. Look at that image of that newspaper article at the top of this post for example. She asks ‘Why are we left with Robert F Kennedy jr?’ Who are you lady to tell people who and who should not be considered? And yet people like her think that they have that right.

    1. DJ's Locker

      I don’t always agree with you Kev, but you nailed that!

      It certainly doesn’t help when the fourth estate turns out to be the fifth column!

    2. jefemt

      I agree. RFK Jr. displays a rigor and willingness to roll up his shirt sleeves and read, study, work, think, and go against the tide and big money/ business. He also has an affinity for the natural world and understands biology and ecology. That is a BIG deal in the 2020’s!

      There may be other candidates that do as well.

      The media is triangulating, already, for Trump v Biden 2. Trump is already calling 2024 rigged.

      Limited campaign season.
      Publicly funded debate forums for all candidates- no more private money, period. Money is NOT speech.
      Term limits.

      Might be time to force service… get out the driver’s license rolls and throw a dart, subject to recall.

      We have the worst government money can buy. Those that bought it might disagree.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        I am glad that you have highlighted this.

        Arwa Madhawi is an id pol obsessed centrist and narcissist who thinks the rest of the world cares what she sleeps with. She’s also a rare bird, an Israel firster of Palestinian origin. It may explain why the Grauniad employs her as an attack dog and gatekeeper and her wish to fit into the NYC society that Yves fled from.

    3. hk

      I think you are on to something. We keep thinking that we want something special, someone who is like “us” on a lot of dimensions, someone who will do everything “we” want, etc. Well, who the heck is “we”? In the end, there aren’t that many people who are that similar: list enough desirederata, “we” soon become “I” and we are soon reduced to petulantly complaining about not being a dictator of the universe, all by “myself.”.

      I think this mindset is even more prone than people willing to accept less than perfect to wind up with mediocrities: everyone is flawed, badly flawed in most cases, in fact. Everyone and anyone can be attacked for not being a unicorn, and, if we ever do get unicorns, they too can be attacked for not having long enough horn or whatever. People willing to accept less than perfect can do cost benefit analysis: are we willing to accept problem X if the candidate has quality A?

      The problem is exacerbated by the widespread social isolation: if we actually accept that “we,” rather than “I,” are doing the choosing, we should be cognizant that other members of society have priorities other than mine. We are increasingly ignorant of others and what they might prioritize, or worse, consider the differences a reason to antagonize. This mindset makes it even easier to attack even unicorns for being the wrong kind of unicorn, who prioritizes the “wrong things.”

      The process is not limited to just one office or one country (ie one electoral rule). The process starts from the lowest elected offices in many if not most countries. Would-be politicians gravitate towards same general shtick that has a large enough following where they “need” support–“progressive,” “conservative,” or whatever–but once they do, they do nothing to stand iut, least of all try to actually “do” something that they have to take responsibility for–that could involve incurring unpleasantry from the tribe members who might not like that. So every politician, at least of the same biggish, “active-ish,” tribe is basically the same and every election is the roll of dice where all faces have the same number of dots.

      I don’t think this can be changed at the top: no one can be elected to the top job anywhere unless they have made peace with the bunch of people already in the political business, who have credibly made themselves acceptable to them–ie those who plainly made it clear that they won’t do anything to disrupt it. So we either need to change everything from bottom up–not essy, because dumping a system to knowingly bring in other “flawed” people–just flawed in a “different,” more “productive” way–and to build a large enough coalition around this goal will be hard, especially in a society where communication has to be catchy and brief. Or, we might pray that, by some miracle, a “strong-person” might magically appear and suddenly “do stuff” while still “representing,” and the latter (hope) is how we got Obama and Trump….

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      I feel that the way the DNC selected and installed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as candidates goes well beyond the cheer-leading support of the main stream media. It seemed like Bernie was sandbagged and received some kind of offer he could not refuse. I have no idea what really went on but I came away from the 2020 election completely disabused of the idea that the u.s. was any kind of democracy.

      1. Rip Van Winkle

        2016 Team D primaries – Superdelegates and 2-headed coins.

        2020 Team D primaries – Stalking horses dropping out or staying in at the timing of the most strategic state primaries.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I’m not fond of Bernie bashing and there is zero evidence of a payoff.

          We’ve explained God only know how many times that half his staff were opposed to him continuing after the Night of Long Knives. That means they’d quit or be dialing it in while looking fo a new gig.

          Oh, and Jayapal told him to quit too, which means the professional progressives would turn on him too for “dividing the party” and other blather.

          You can’t run a campaign hemorrhaging staff. He had no choice but to throw in towel. His campaign was destined to bleed out fast if not. And how can you ethically keep raising money under those circumstances.

    5. some guy

      Perhaps she is afraid of people like RFK Jr achieving power and disturbing her beautiful little world. So she tries to pre-dismiss RFK Jr with veiled ridicule to try tricking her American readership into dismissing RFK Jr too.

      Perhaps she would prefer we elevate Mayobama Pete. Maybe he is more to her taste as a “brilliant intellectual in politics.”

  10. Charger01

    Its the process within the two awful parties that generates these substandard politicians.
    As Chris Hedges discovered, lawyers for the DNC actually argued that the parties can pick the candidates, in smoke filled rooms, without any input from the plebes.
    Kamala is a great representation, an empty suit that occasionally fumbles her words, but a striver all the way. She was hand picked by the DNC when she failed to succeed in Iowa and didn’t even carry her home state in the primaries. I’m very tired of the representation gov’t structure, I think that direct democracy (i.e. direct voting on legislation) would be a better solution then our current process.

    1. Oh

      Direct Democracy is worth trying especially with the proliferation of the internet. However, I suspect that the PTB will find a way to subvert that as weill.

  11. John

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Re: media promotes stupidity. You cannot promote stupidity to people who desire otherwise. No amount of tweaking electoral processes is going to fix this, especially now that candidates who want books banned, and who think studying advanced math makes you weak.

  12. gnatt

    over the past decade i’ve been wondering where is the 60, the 50, the 40 year old bernie sanders? not that bernie ran a great campaign but he sees the issues clearly and speaks out. i was hopeful about AOC but the newer “leftists,” seem to get a) absorbed in the culture wars more than the economic ones, and b) seem to quickly knowtow to the other weak “progressives,” and the centrists. the recent alignment of the three democratic appointees on the supreme court with the others to protest against an obviously needed ethics system for the court is further proof that, to be honest, they are chicken.
    we need a brave trump of the left, a person with charisma and guts and knowledge of the system wo speaks out with confidence. roosevelt, though not perfect, had confidence, was willing to stand up to his enemies, and upended the system. lyndon johnson, outside of his feeling that he had to go to war in vietnam, was a great domestic president. clinton/obama/biden are center right and selling us out.
    given the possibility of a superstar media figure like joe rogan op tucker carlson, but with better politics, we could get a leader without party backing.
    everyone wants better honest healthcare, the end of student loan slavery, raises in social security and having the rich pay for a lot of it as they did from the forties to to seventies, where even eisenhower , nixon and ford didn’t mess with the tax system.
    we used to be living in a roosevelt world and the republ;icans bent to it, now it’s a reagan world and the deomocrats yield. we need a trump of the left to wake people up give courage to people.
    if this goes on, we’re sunk.

    1. jefemt

      Why is RFK Jr. not this? I am really missing something….
      I read his anti-Fauci, questioning-Bill Gates-book, and I did not walk away with any sort of anti-vax black label that the power structure is pasting on him.

      I just got mad.

      Anyway, Why RFK Jr. should never receive a single vote or dispassionate consideration might be a great subject for someone with a lot more brains and insights than me…

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I could not get past the first chapter. Not only were some of the studies he cited dodgy (and I am hardly a big vax fan, but I am not anti-vax) but I went and read some and found he had misrepresented them. I can’t trust him, presenting himself as having well backed his argument when he actually didn’t.

        I do get Fauci is horrible and presenting his bad record on AIDS is important. But what RFK Jr said on masks and to a fair bit on lockdowns is a crock. China, Australia, SKorea, New Zealand all showed lockdowns work but they need to be stringent. Government support in China was regional and very uneven, and very Western Shanghai not on board. Business communities everywhere fought them.

        RFK Jr. also touts the idea that getting Covid is no biggie, when the evidence is clear that more infections = more health damage particularly cognitively.

        1. Dida

          On the issue of lockdowns, RFK Jr is simply courting the middle classes, in particular the small business owners and self-employed professionals who were indeed wiped out during the pandemic. Truth about the effectiveness of public health measures be damned when you are counting future votes.

          China’s success in keeping fatalities absurdly low for 2 years shows not only that lockdowns work, but also what type of lockdowns work. They have to be fast and stringent, but they also needed to be short and localized in nature to reduce impact on the population and their economic well-being. Crucially, lockdown protocols in China included public health interventions to identify the sources of the pandemic.

          China’s lockdowns were preventative in nature, and designed to preempt the virus taking hold in the population at all; they were drastic, but bearable because they were limited to a small geographical area and to a maximum of three months. In Shanghai, where the sheer size of the metropolis did not allow for the regular public health procedures to root out the virus, the Chinese model reached its limits. The lockdown lasted for 5-6 months, and it turned out that the population could not tolerate such severe restrictions for too long.

          In the West, however, the authorities started taking measures only after the virus was already entrenched. But the speed of reaction is of essence and dictates the type of interventions that are possible afterwards. Attempts to identify and isolate the sources were missing and would have been useless anyway at that point. Entire countries were put in lockdown (such as the 2020 nationwide lockdowns in Australia or Italy), or restrictions lasted for the better part of the year (360 days in Toronto), with disastrous effects on small businesses and families. Hundreds of thousands died anyway.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Small business owners could and did get those very generous Payroll Protection loans, which were really grants. Having said that, I did read a long post that the program requirements were badly set up as far as restaurants were concerned.

            My understanding re Shanghai was not “sheer size” (7 million Shengen did just fine) but poor local organization. I believe the city delegated a lot responsibility to what sounded like neighborhood councils. Some executed very well. Others were fuckups. Some stole.

            And most important, the Shanghai government, which is very much Western leaning, was opposed to the lockdowns and can be presumed to have wanted them to fail.

          2. Lexx

            ‘Truth about the effectiveness of public health measures be damned when you are counting future votes.’

            Truth about anything of public interest coming out of the mouth of a politician. Politicians are social constructs, truthiness is a tool. I expect to die having never heard a single completely honest statement from any of them, as in ‘this is what I really think/feel’. I suspect that they know what that is but offer nothing publicly unless they can turn it to political advantage.

      2. DJ's Locker

        RFK Jr. was interviewed very recently by Jordan Peterson. It’s a good interview and you can find it easily on YouTube. I think he would take a more pragmatic approach to the energy transition. If he can beat the machine and win the nomination then maybe there is hope for the Democrats and maybe we can move beyond the nadir of the current political malaise. If the next election is Joe v. The Don then chances are the nadir lies further ahead, not behind.

      3. B24S

        My wife spent thirty-five years as a NICU RN in a teaching hospital (where nurses are listened to, and even consulted), during which time the anti-vax forces started their campaign to convince people to not get their children vaccinated for things like pertussis (whooping cough). She spent countless hours trying to keep alive babies gasping and grasping for breath. Not all survived. And let me tell you, it doesn’t stay at the “office”, it comes home after shift.

        While I can’t blame him for being CT adjacent, RFK Jr. actively pushed that nonsense. For that reason alone I cannot consider him.

          1. B24S

            Not sure I understand your response. It sounds like minimization. I can assure you each of those seven deaths were of great impact to those families involved.

            My wifes’ career spanned 1982 to 2017. Her hospital also did a lot of research; lung surfactants, ECMO (one of her specialties), and more were developed during that time. As she worked in a neonatal ICU, most of her patients were preemies, though not all. All of her pertussis patients were under 6 months, unvaccinated (mostly due to age), and infected by a family member (DTaP vax effectiveness wanes, one reason revaccination is recommended, note the 2019 spike in over 20 yrs hospitalizations).

            She says they lost six or seven to pertussis alone over that span. It doesn’t seem like a lot over 35 years, but each one was an individual tragedy for a family, and for her as well.

  13. .Tom

    Proportional representation doesn’t fix the 101 ways elected representatives are made, groomed, bought, co-opted, neutered…

    Sortition. And every citizen needs to be given the time and responsibility to participate in their community councils, daily.

  14. Anonymous 2

    “One simple message: you MUST have SPECIFIC from Boris OTHERWISE you cannot guarantee your support. The details can be worked out later on, but without that you have no leverage.

    “Crucially, the membership will not have the necessary reassurance to back Boris, neither will Dacre/Murdoch, who instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris Gove ticket.

    “Do not concede any ground. Be your stubborn best.

    “GOOD LUCK.”

    The above was sent by Michael Gove’s wife to him following the Brexit Referendum and the resignation of David Cameron. She was then working for the Mail newspaper in the UK. How come she knew that specific commitments were required for Dacre (Mail editor and major political player) and Murdoch to support a Johnson Gove ticket? Had she been talking to her editor and through him to Murdoch?

    I cannot speak about the situation in the US but in the UK it is pretty clear that the country gets the politicians the newspaper bosses want for it. The last PM to try to stand up to Murdoch was John Major and he was monstered by the newspapers. As for Labour leaders, ask Miliband, Kinnock and Corbyn what happens to politicians if the press gets its teeth into them.

    Maybe with social media this will change in time but I do not see it happening in a hurry at present, though it is very badly needed.

    Following the above message, Gove then supported Johnson for the leadership and then knifed him in the front as being unfit for the office before subsequently serving in his Cabinet post-May. Such fine upstanding people

    I have read it suggested that in the US donors will only give to politicians on whom they have dirt so that they can control them. Any insights from others whether that is true?

    1. JBird4049

      >>>I have read it suggested that in the US donors will only give to politicians on whom they have dirt so that they can control them. Any insights from others whether that is true?

      In the United States, there has been a culture of blackmail being used to control politicians. J. Edgar Hoover is a good example. As is Jeffrey Epstein. Also, Dennis Hastert is an example of just what kind of person gets power if they have the weaknesses or vices that enabled others to control him.

      1. some guy

        The masses of US citizens need to make a broad cultural decision about what sorts of moral lapses or behavioral ugliness they are prepared to pre-accept from any office seeker. Such pre-acceptance would make that officeseeker immune to blackmail on those particular grounds.

        Whatever the US masses wish to be upset and offended by, and decide is a “scandal”, will be the very things that an officeseeker can be blackmailed with if that officeseeker has them or does them.

  15. Alice X

    Well, Cornel West is running for president under the People’s Party banner. But, that party has ballot access in only a handful of states, and there is the toxic rub built into the system.

    I would vote for him.

  16. SomeGuyinAZ

    Hmm, when we get candidates that we like and think would actually try to help normal folks – the existing power structures are much more effective at fighting them off. Just look at Bernie in IA during the run up to the last democratic primary or Nina Turner’s treatment. Not sure how you fight that if the media and law are in cahoots with the political side as well and won’t investigate/report on that. I dunno…

  17. carolina concerned

    These are great discussions of the problem, but there is only one real solution. We must have public funding supported political campaigns and political systems. This may not require 100% funding. This is the only way to break the system of corrupting fund raising. And this is the only way to break the power of the two political parties. This is not an observation that public funding would be a more admirable idea. Public funding is simply the only thing that is going to work. The two political parties have become for profit corporations. That cannot change when they are required to raise a billion dollars to stay in business. This means now that politicians are elected to raise money and represent parties, not to represent voters and citizens.

  18. Susan the other

    Having the sausage exposed would be interesting. It might eliminate both the confusion and disappointment that is our current discipline chair. No no no, we can’t have any of that. So why not have a virtual food fight? It would be very interesting if we could bypass the MSM and sort of have a weekly checkup. Take our collective pulse with a computerized referendum across the entire country. This has been possible for several decades now but avoided like the plague. Gotta wonder why. Our representatives are elected to prioritize our goals. The goals themselves would be scrutinized with a referendum process. I’m sure a lot of them won’t hold water.

  19. Daniel Raphael

    This is neither new nor news: the two 1% parties have long (and successfully) labored to reduce all effective chances for the Presidency to themselves–the one possible exception being an occasional run by an extremely wealthy “maverick” (think Perot). In all cases, boatloads of cash are necessary to beat the house in the electoral casino. The last thing the Toxic Twins want is democracy–effective self-rule by the rabble (us, the 99%). Many books have been authored and articles written, describing the multidimensional ways that challenges to the bipartisan status quo have been structurally defeated. This is not the place to list all that, but it serves to keep in mind that this is the central reality of a society in the process of dissolution. The “contradictions of capitalism” isn’t just a slogan. We are living the dream.

  20. Gregorio

    Pretty simple really. The electoral system has been consistently tweaked to be monopolized by corrupt narcissists, so we end up with mostly corrupt narcissists.

  21. Rip Van Winkle

    It all goes back to The Best Government Money Can Buy.

    For starters, repeal the 17th Amendment. Many bad moves around ~ 105 – 120 years ago. The illusion of Top Hat Populism.

  22. Kouros

    Not enough people are suffering from deprivation – food, joblessness, medical care. When that time will come, expect change. Was the same during the Depression.

  23. BP

    The incentive structure with the attention, the campaign money, the promise of pecuniary benefit after the office term, the potential for power over others, etc etc, is a powerful magnet for psychopaths and narcissists. And so they came. Hardly a surprise.

  24. elissa3

    A good debate could be had as to why the 4-5% of any population who are sociopaths/psychopaths aspire to positions of power, and also why the other 95% of humans, often willingly, put these misfits in government. In any other cooperative species the misfits would be either ignored or cast out of the group–even left to die alone.

    As far as the USA is concerned, devolution of an impossibly large central government is the only sane path to some kind of equitable society. It is a structural problem. Leaving aside the oligarchy/democracy issue for a moment, how can a federal entity be responsive to the needs and desires of the populace, when a US Representative represents 7-800,000 constituents? How can a state with 38 million inhabitants have, as one of their two Senators, a person who doesn’t know up from down?

    1. John R Moffett

      I think a lot of it boils down to the effects of money on the human brain and behavior. Money acts like a drug on some people, and they become addicted to it. If you had a billion dollars, would you wake up every morning scheming how you could make another billion? No rational person would try to accumulate money like that. The overall effects are like a drug, where addictive behaviors overshadow normal behaviors, where empathy levels drop to zero for anyone who also isn’t wealthy. People are just tools and objects to you. I think that money tends to do this, especially to people who become addicted to accumulating huge sums of it. They also then tend to become paranoid control freaks, and that dramatically affects how they manipulate the world through the media outlets they own and the politicians that they bribe. So those are some of the reasons why the small percentage of sociopaths rise to the top of business and government. It really boils down, at least in part, to money and what it does to some people in creating paranoid, controlling, calloused people who desperately want to be in charge.

    2. juno mas

      …when that Senator is the deciding vote on getting the President’s selected federal judge nominees installed to the federal bench. Senate politics. (Written into the US Constitution.)

  25. Altandmain

    Western democracies are plutocracies pretending to be democracies.

    The pool of candidates are either rich themselves or selected by the rich to advance their needs at the expense of the general public.

    If a candidate that they don’t like represents a challenge, they either get corrupted or as the 2016 Wikileaks revelations on the Democratic Primary revealed, they rig the system.

    Before his imprisonment at the hands of the Ukrainian government, Gonzola Lira noted that the skills needed to get into power are completely different from the skills needed to run a nation effectively.

    There are other problems. Democracy tends to reward people who are charismatic, physically attractive, and who debate well. Those tend to have no relationship with who has the best policies for what society needs and who is the most competent.

  26. JonnyJames

    I highly recommend reading the new book from Michael Hudson. It has historical, long-term explanations of why the US Empire and US society in general, is collapsing. Folks can learn how to avoid mistakes of the past, but silly humans don’t want to read, they are lazy, irrational, and susceptible to pleonexia. So we silly humans will repeat the same mistakes over and over.

    If we don’t perish from nuclear war or environmental collapse, we are headed for more debt peonage, neo-feudalism, and techno-totalitarianism. It all sounds so doom and gloom, but humans collectively do have the power to bring about meaningful change. The question is: will we?

  27. Aaron

    I’m pretty disappointed, but not surprised about many of the responses here. Modifying our electoral system, enacting campaign finance laws, and other measures of similar value are liberal bandaids, trying to patch up surface level issues without understanding the disease deep within.
    Representative democracies are the preferred system of government by the ruling class. There is no dictator who can be overthrown, no consistent Boogeyman in place to be blamed. Instead, the plebians have the illusion of choice every four years, as if there is truly more than a 5% difference between a Republican and a Democrat. We don’t get what we deserve, we get what is placed in front of us and told that our voice matters.

    1. JBird4049

      >>> We don’t get what we deserve, we get what is placed in front of us and told that our voice matters.

      Meaning that the selection process is rigged as can be shown when Bernie Sanders got the shiv from the Democratic establishment.

  28. Piotr Berman

    Getting something “we need” may be difficult. Someone has to make it, and someone has to distribute it. Recently I had a chat with a person who got used to drink black tea with caramel flavor, but the company distributing it discontinued it, and there is an outfit in Canada that also carries it, but at an exorbitant prince. After much thought, the person decided to get unflavored black tea and caramel flavor, and experiment if the desired combined flavored can be reproduced.

    Alas, not only results are still uncertain, but, worse than that, the method is not applicable to most products we may need. So good old “supply and demand” works with distinct limits. So how does supply and demand work with politicians?

    1. It is hard to find the combination of features we desire, and making combinations on our own has very limited applicability (in USA, there exist “split ticket voting”).

    2. Once you get a politician in an office, the person stays there for quite a while. In terms of my introduction, imagine you get convinced by me to drink caramel tea, and then you have to drink it for 4 years, every day, however nauseating it turns to be. Perhaps it is safer to stick with candidates with “proven track record”. Lament in the title suggests that it is not always a solution, and surely, not these days. So, adventure ahoy! we search for a new “fresh” person, or, if you are living with a multi-party system, a new party.

    3. In countries like Italy or France, this lead to new parties that rise meteorically, then fall. Once in office, politicians vary from disappointing to bitterly disappointing, the former being subsequently seriously considered, “by comparison, that person was not THAT bad.”

    From economy point of view, making a politician is cheap, marketing, not so much. And what about profit margins? Unfortunately, they exist, and they are not related positively to their quality. This phenomenon can be also observed with goods. For example, cars that are just big enough for one’s needs, and efficient, have some popularity, and as they are marketed to tightwads, profit margins are meager. Thus enormous advertising of cars and “light trucks” that are “fun to drive”, some combination of too big and overpowered, and the resulting big market share of the latter.

    1. Piotr Berman

      I was not clear what I mean by profit margins when you invest in a politician. I meant people and organizations that support a politician (political party) with money and sometimes with their work. As a “lean wallet” person, theoretically I can contribute to a campaign of a good politician and use internet tools to join a large crowd with similar attitude. I believed in that theory during the campaign of Howard Dean for Democratic nomination. He failed, but showed a model that allows to compete with “thick wallets”. In his first campaign, Barak Obama used that model too, successfully, but, tellingly, not for re-election, in retrospect, he “wisely” disappointed “thin wallet” donors but got much more from “thick wallets”.

      Needless to say, “thick wallets” got their money worth. MIC got their share, health care was reformed in a way that preserved excessive profits related to it, and so on. Obama himself got a good penny in the process, but this is a tiny fraction of profits that can be attributed to his Presidency. Just an example.

      1. Ivanka Groans

        in his first campaign, Barak Obama used that model too, successfully, but, tellingly, not for re-election

        Obama was largely funded by the Pritzkers and the Crowns, of Hyatt hotels and General Dynamics, respectively. He received the largest amount of banking industry funding of any president before or since. This was true of his initial run as well as his reelection run.

    1. Arizona Slim

      The hit pieces, they keep on coming! Meanwhile, RFK’s campaign just keeps rolling right along.

    2. DJ's Locker

      I think so and I hope we get to a point where every such attempt to denigrate him is taken as confirmation that he offers a viable and better alternative. Similar to the Streisand Effect.

  29. BillS

    Could it be that the voting system should be dispensed with entirely? It seems to be the case that someone wanting to be a politician disqualifies them for such office. Would not a system of sortition be a way to salvage democracy from the moneyed interests?

    1. Piotr Berman

      There existed quite a variety of system. One-sabre-one-vote in Polish Lithuanian government, gentry assembles in an out-door venue, different candidates are advocated, vote is by acclamation, consensus required, so the minority joins or moves away (note, everyone has a sabre, but the use of firearms is seriously frowned upon).

      Or whichever male child of the deceased Sultan prevails, kills the others and becomes the new Sultan. In both cases, some political and tactical skills are needed.

      The cases of a ruler who does not want to rule were at occasion disastrous. Advisers make decisions instead, and advisers collected by an indifferent ruler can be mediocre. Mediocre advisors…. can it happen here?

    2. Daniil Adamov

      Hereditary monarchy seems like the single most reliable way to produce reluctant rulers, if that is what you are after. Many monarchs were reportedly quite miserable from start to finish, and that is easy to believe when you consider all the ways in which the position screwed up their lives. Whether it has a good track record compared to other proven viable forms of government in other respects is an open question (especially as I suspect we may get more examples of how badly a representative democracy can work in the next few decades).

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