It sounds cynical, but a political campaign can be viewed as a bidding competition. Candidates need votes to get elected, and the one who buys the most votes wins (unless Diebold is counting the ballots.) They don’t usually pay cash but promising a tax cut comes pretty damn close.
They promise to pass new laws, or to repeal old ones. They assure you that they will end waste, fraud and abuse, while making government more efficient. The put out a laundry list of promises hoping that your favorite issues will be covered. And just to see if you’re paying attention, they promise to pay for increased spending with tax cuts.
Our two-party system results in interest groups forming coalitions to support one party and its candidates. Although all of us have diverse issues we care about, some people have a pet issue or cause that they care about much more than the others. These people are often misnamed as “single issue voters.” In Parliamentary systems with multiple parties the elected representatives themselves tend to be more narrowly focused, so the coalition building happens after the election rather than before.
Conventional wisdom says that the GOP is supported by greedy businessmen, holy rollers and warmongers, while the Democratic party’s core constituency is a coalition of anti-American dope-smoking hippies, whiny minorities and man-hating, hairy-legged feminists. It is an article of faith among some progressives that blue-collar workers belong in the Democratic party but vote for GOP candidates because they are “low-information” racists.
The basic premise of a coalition is working together for mutual benefit. It isn’t limited to issues everyone agrees on, it also includes helping other groups achieve their goals with the implied or express covenant that they will help you achieve yours. Sometimes those various goals are in conflict with each other, and unless a compromise is reached the coalition may splinter.
In theory, the candidates and parties adopt platforms that reflect the combined agendas of the coalition members. But those platforms are meaningless if they only receive lip service after the election. Even worse is when the politicians secretly pursue agendas of their own that conflict with their stated platforms.
The old Democratic coalition is in disarray and may not survive. There are a number of different causes of this conflict, but one of the primary problems is that the Democratic leadership (including many of the current Representatives and Senators) have their own agenda, and they are aggressively pursuing it at the expense of their constituents. The FISA bill vote is a perfect example of this. There is no “Democratic” constituency that supported the FISA bill, and most Democrats were actively opposed to it, yet it was pushed forward by Pelosi, Hoyer, Reid and Obama,
Although the situation did not develop overnight, it became glaringly obvious during this year’s primaries primaries that some coalition members were very unhappy. Women comprise the single largest group of disaffected Democrats, but they are not alone. LGBT and Hispanic voters did not support the presumptuous nominee, nor did many old-school DFHs. It’s easy to understand their anger, because the Democratic leadership has breached the implied covenant that brought the coalition together.
There are several coalition factions whose goals I support but with less enthusiasm than they themselves have because I am not personally affected. I am opposed to racial discrimination but I am white. I support full and equal rights for LGBTs, but I’m a flaming heterosexual. I am pro-choice but will never have to choose because I am male. But even though those are other people’s issues they are is not in conflict with my own. I believe in protecting civil liberties and limiting the abuse of government power, particularly in regards to criminal law. I also believe in using the power of government to improve the quality of life of everyone, and to protect the weak against the strong.
For many years now I have faithfully cast my vote for whatever Democrat was on the ballot, often without making any inquiry other than party affiliation. But the reality is that for most of those years I simply gave my vote away, because I got nothing in return, for myself or for other coalition members. (The exception was the eight years of the Clinton administration.)
All those years I took pride in my party loyalty and now I realize I was just a fool, because I was telling the Democratic party and candidates they could take me for granted and ignore my wants and needs. The could pursue their own agendas without interference from me, because no matter what they did (or failed to do) they could count on my vote.
If I had been more disloyal they might have offered to pay me for my vote instead paying me no attention. Who knows what I could have got in return for my vote? I might have universal health care right now instead of my current plan which is called “don’t get sick.” We might even have “Congressional oversight” of the Bush Mob.
It wasn’t just me that screwed up though, it was the entire Democratic coalition. Our parents and grandparents allied their factions with others to form the coalition, which gravitated to the Democratic party because it had a liberal/progressive ideology. Some coalition members, like blue-collar workers, joined during the New Deal, but others became members during the Civil Rights era when minorites took the place of Southern conservatives. The conservatives and reactionaries who were unwilling or uninterested in staying in the coalition migrated to the GOP.
But beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s, the Democratic party started to become less responsive to the coalition’s agenda. They still said they supported the agenda, but they quit fighting for it. They made excuses, and blamed the Republicans for obstructionism, even when the Democratic party controlled Congress and the White House. They let Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich turn “liberal” into a dirty word. The Village idiots joined in, propagating the idea that liberalism is a bad thing, and constantly preaching that if Democrats want to win elections they have to become Republicans.
And the coalition fell for it, booing and hissing at the GOP while loyally voting for Democrats. Eventually it got to the point where the Democratic leadership did nothing, or even worked against the coalition goals. They couldn’t get legislation we supported passed, nor could they stop the GOP from passing legislation we opposed. But we kept voting for them anyway.
Now they even have the chutzpah to demand our support after they ignored the will of a majority of Democrats and gamed the system in order to force upon us an unqualified nominee for President.
Imagine if the PUMA movement had been around for a couple decades instead of a couple months. Imagine if PUMAs were adamant that they would not vote for bad candidates, even if it meant letting a Republican hold the office temporarily. More importantly, imagine if they demanded something concrete in exchange for their votes.
Eventually the Do-Nothing Democrats would be replaced with candidates who cared about our concerns, and were willing to fight for us. Or perhaps those new candidates would appear in the GOP or in a viable third party. (Once upon a time there were liberal Republicans, perhaps one day soon they will return)
So how do we fix this mess? First of all, we must stand firm and refuse to give our votes away any longer. If the Democratic party wants our votes, they must pay us for them, and not with promises. Their credit is maxed out. Since there is no promise we can trust, they must give us a nominee we can trust. Obama ain’t it, and if he is the nominee we will not support him, and will actively oppose him.
And either way, if they want our votes 2 or 4 years from now they will have to pay for them again. They will have to pay for our votes every election, and can never rest on their laurels. “What have you done for me lately?” is a question every incumbent Democrat better be able to answer satisfactorily.
There is a tacit admission in every appeal for “party loyalty” that the party has failed us. If we were satisfied with the performance of the Democratic party and the presumptuous nominee, PUMA would not exist. “Party loyalty” is merely a promise to pay later, a request for credit.
Never again should we profess loyalty to any political party or candidate. Our only loyalty should be to ourselves, to each other, and to our principles. But we should demand loyalty from politicians and parties, and we should expect them to prove it, over and over. We should not give politicians or parties the benefit of the doubt on the votes they make or the people they associate with and accept money and gifts from.
Our nomination and election process is completely FUBAR’d, including both the party rules as well as the law. We should have one uniform set of laws, regulations and rules, and both party nominations and the general election should be determined by popular vote. We also need comprehensive campaign finance reform including the requirement that television networks and stations set aside a certain amount of time for candidates to use free or at minimal cost.
Barack Obama must be defeated. Preferably at the convention with the assistance of the super delegates, but if necessary in November with the assistance of John McCain. And we must root out the cancer that infects our party leadership. Barack Obama is the visible manifestation of the illness, but it’s roots run much deeper.
That’s why we should think of John McCain as chemotherapy for our party. When a cancer patient undergoes chemo, his or her doctor prescribes a drug cocktail that will make the patient very ill, but will hopefully kill the cancer. Allowing the GOP to control the White House is bitter medicine, but necessary to restore the moral health of the Democratic party.
Obama trolls like to falsely accuse PUMAs of being “McCain supporters.” That accusation is false because PUMA’s don’t look forward to a McCain administration, but they consider Obama the evil of two lessers. If Obama wins in November it will take years for the Democratic party to recover.
Our country is currently in a situation that historians refer to in technical terms as “deep shit.” The economy, the environment, and the war in Iraq are each a major crisis, and yet they are only part of problem the next President will face. The solutions won’t be easy or quick.
But before we can deal with the problems facing this country we need to put our own house in order. That means we need to either clean-out the corruption in the Democratic party or we need to build a viable third party. Reforming the Democratic party would be easier and quicker, because rank-and-file Democrats are not corrupt, but in order to do that we must first discredit and disempower Obama and his supporters in the party leadership. Losing the election would be a repudiation of his campaign tactics as well as his supporters behavior, but would not harm the party nearly as much as a failed presidency would.
So let us put our votes up for sale. The minimum bid is a qualified nominee for President. Bidding will remain open until November 4, 2008.