Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taxation Without Representation

When (not if) the Democrats get crushed in November’s elections (that’s what happens when you fail to address the other side’s BS for a generation), there is going to be a lot of hand wringing, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and talk about the American people “voting against their interests.”

(There will probably be some number of folks talking about moving to Canada, too, but I’m not worried about that.  After the reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision on health care, right wingers don’t get to make fun of that sort of thing, again, ever.)

But what’s really going to drive Democrats to distraction is going to be the numbers of the popular vote, and this will be true for elections affecting both the House of Representatives and the White House. They should also worry about losing all the State Legislatures, but they won’t, and that’s part of the problem.

What they will focus on is how they were able to win a majority of the popular vote, and get more congressional votes, than the other side, but that it didn’t matter. They’re still going to get hammered in the House and Electoral College. Their response will likely be to blame Citizen’s United, the Super Pacs, and try to figure out ways to match the right-wing’s fundraising and spending apparatus in certain “key” districts nationwide. That’s another part of the problem.

Instead of addressing these problems directly, Democrats, along with their Progressive and Liberal supporters, will continue to play by the other side’s rules and try to beat them at their own game. They’ll continue to dabble in talk radio – and fail. They’ll continue to try and raise more money – and fail. They’ll continue to turn MSNBC into Fox News Left – and fail. And they’ll continue to complain about unequal treatment in the press – and fail. They’ll keep trying to change the political views of suburban America – and fail.

This is like trying to make money against the house in a Vegas casino – the house always wins in the end. What they need to do is flip the script and begin addressing the rules themselves. To do this, they’re going to need to make sure every vote counts, work on changing the way elections are run in this country, and they’re going to need to start at the local and state levels to build support for this sort of thing naturally.

And after November, that’s really all they’re going to be able to do, since they’re about to lose the Senate, the most demonstrably effective President in my lifetime is facing a coin flip against a demonstrably pathological liar, and the next time Democrats have a shot at the majority in the House of Representatives will be 2023 at the earliest (and more likely 2033). And this is going to happen despite the fact that the last time the GOP controlled every aspect of every branch of government, they nearly sank the American ship of state and built a house of cards economy out of make-believe money that eradicated $14 trillion of American household wealth between 2007 and 2009.

So, how have Republicans been able to do all this without being called to account for it? It really is simple and elegant – outside city elections in New Orleans, my vote does not count.  All you right wingers who are still reading don’t have to worry about how much or eloquently I support President Barack Obama – when the rubber hits the road on election day, my vote is simply discarded under the current system. It simply doesn’t matter if I use absentee voting or early voting, my vote for President doesn’t count, and my vote for Congress doesn't count much.  

Now, that’s something difficult to say, but is also something that is difficult to accept. Not only that, but it isn’t just my vote we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about it millions upon millions of Americans who are systematically disenfranchised as a matter of policy. It isn’t even a cut and dry Republicans vs. Democrats situation, either. Democrats helped build, maintain, and took advantage of this system for generations too – and there are millions of Republicans disenfranchised in New York state and California to prove it.

We’re not going to go too far down the road to false equivalence, however. Democrats weren’t intimately involved in the Florida Secretary of State’s office back in 2000, and they aren’t intimately involved in that same office today. Democrats aren’t the architects of an entire fantasy-land of paranoid delusion involving the looming specter of widespread voting fraud; they aren’t purging the voting rolls in 38 states; they aren’t attempting to roll back additional opportunities to vote; and they aren’t the ones selling the BS about how easy it is to get a photo ID in America. As a matter of fact, the only involvement Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives have with any of that right now is getting their asses kicked by it.

You’ve got to hand it to the right-wing – they sure know how to maximize advantage from the existing rules, and exploit that advantage to entrench their position. They did their homework and put in the time to organize and this has landed us where we are today. Think tanks helped coordinate ideas and develop leaders. Investments in radio – not just talk radio but companies who mix their right-wingery with classic rock – gave them a rock solid hold over the commute-from-the-suburbs-in-your-car crowd. Alliances with religious organizations and the NRA helped them turn out the most dedicated voters to any local elections – and that’s where they started to gain ground.

Because as the Democratic Party nationally focused more and more on Washington, the Republican Party nationally focused more on the state capitols. For any of you who missed civics class, the state capitols are where congressional districts are drawn, voting rules are established, and Electoral College assignments are determined. Democrats responded by further entrenching these rules in states where they were the strongest (abandoning states where they were competitive), or – like Cynthia McKinney of Georgia – jumping into the redistricting process whole hog to organize their own personal fiefdoms (coordinating with Republicans to concentrate Democratic voters and making other districts less competitive).

Wash, rinse, repeat, and we’re poised to have Karl Rove’s “permanent Republican majority” sworn in for January 2013, ready to nominate right wingers of pure ideology to the Federal Bench and a 7 – 2 split on the Supreme Court. You think it was fun when SCOTUS upheld the ACA? Just wait until that gets repealed and SCOTUS then strikes down the Voting Rights Act and we’re going to miss the day you only needed a photo ID to vote in this country!

So what should Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives do in their upcoming and ample spare time? The first thing they’re going to need to develop is a local focus, and one of those local focuses is going to need to be on voting and elections. If the right-wing can make a big deal out of a fake problem (voting fraud), then Democrats should be able to make a big deal out of a real problem (actual voter disenfranchisement). It will need to come along with more than a few very big ideas. Those ideas may not benefit any national Democrats left standing after November, but that has to be OK.

- Every vote counts. What will have to happen first and foremost should be the largest voter registration drive in the history of voter registration drives. An unchecked right-wing national government, Justice Department, and gutting of the VRA means very simply that it is going to be on us to make sure every new and onerous hoop can be jumped through. Legislation will have to be introduced by any Democrat left standing that expands the number of places someone can register to vote or acquire a voter ID. Litigation will have to be filed stopping every additional rollback of voting rights and every voter removed from the rolls. Every person able to be a poll worker or watcher is going to need to sign up. Every person with a working vehicle will be needed to drive people to the out of the way voting booths that will be set up.

- Demands must be made that every electronic voting booth produce two hard copies of the ballot once submitted. One goes in a lock box at the voting precinct in case of a hard copy recount, “glitch,” or “power failure.” The other the voter keeps as a receipt for voting.

- Focus must shift away from Washington All The Time to the local governments and states that have far more impact on the lives of the average voter than anything you’ll hear about on the Sunday talk-show circuit. I flipped news channels the other day and came across seven shows with people giving opinions about the opinions of other people in Washington. Meanwhile, you could fill seven 24 hour-days full of reporting real news on either the infrastructure behind the New Orleans levees, the Baltimore police department, or why Michigan’s state house is taking control of municipalities against the wishes of their elected officials. Or any host of other issues from around the country. There is a wealth of real information with real life impact out there that no one will find on cable news. It needs to get put there.

- New ways of voting need to be examined and instituted. New Orleans style of endless primaries and runoffs is ridiculous, and often ends up with elections being won by candidates with small percentages of support among the votes of the registered voting population. Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) or other mechanisms need to be tried. Urban centers and municipalities would benefit the most from such modernization, and finding more effective, cost-efficient, and responsive ways of selecting leadership will save money, increase participation, and may just help break the backs of the corrupt interests that keep holding cities back.

- Gerrymandering is the most corruptible aspect of modern American voting. There has to be a better way of determining who our representatives are in our representative republic, and we need to start exploring options. That goes for city councils, that goes for state legislatures, and that goes for Congress.

- Electoral College reform. We have computers now. Every vote can count. If we chose to keep the archaic system, the states need to start dividing their Electoral College votes based on state returns. I don’t care if that means Republicans get some of California’s 55 or Pennsylvania's 20, because that means Democrats get some from Texas. What it does do is put every state in play for a national Presidential election. Doing that will make the office of the President more directly responsive to the People, it will remove some of the importance of these ridiculous swing state “battles,” and may reduce the incentives for voter intimidation shenanigans of the kind we are currently seeing.

- Start a serious national discussion regarding the term of the Presidency. Even talking about that sacred cow will open up ideas about voting within our republic and holding our elected officials more accountable to the people. Let nothing be taken for granted.


Dana F said...

A thousand times yes. The only thing I would add is to look at the problems in a two party system. But, many of the changes you point out that need to be made would inherently allow the possibility of expanding that anyway.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

One way to start breaking down the two-party monopoly would be a move to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting. That gives third parties a legitimate shot to participate in governing and voters to chose within a politically diverse system.