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October 20th, 2008

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02:36 am - Factio Republicana Delenda Est
This will likely be my last political post for a few weeks, since I'm both more hopeful than I have been and also getting rather tired of the overly long election process. This post is in two parts, the first is a rather lengthy analysis of US politics, and particularly of the Republican party, the 2nd half is a strong recommendation for what to do about this rather horrid situation. Even if you aren't interested in the first part, look at the second and please at least consider acting on my recommendation.

1) The biggest problem in US politics today is that the Republican party is utterly monstrous. I remember an article in the local free paper shortly before the 200 election, one of the points it made was that we shouldn't worry too much about that election, because Shrub couldn't really be as bad as we expected and also if you were at a point where one of the candidates truly was that vile, then the problems were a lot deeper and more serious than just that candidate. Well, he was and they are.

The Republican party has been primarily the party of bigots, hate-filled religious zealots, and the dangerously paranoid for more than 30 years and they've largely been in charge of the federal government for most of this time. The reasons for both of these facts are not complex or secret. It involves a well organized conspiracy, but it was one that not remotely hidden. It all started with Richard Nixon. Although he was a far better President than Shrub, he did a vast amount of harm. One of the worst things he did was his so-called Southern Strategy. Republican strategist Kevil Phillips said in 1970:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that . . . but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangements with the local Democrats.
Obviously, the Republicans couldn't openly call themselves the bigot or segregation party, but they had a useful code word, already used by both Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, in their campaigns as openly segregationist candidates - states rights. Any candidate who used that phrase was openly appealing to racists in a way that was both obvious, but more difficult to attack.

That was election gold in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the US was first adjusting to desegregation. Unfortunately, by making one of the two political parties the segregationist party, that particular bit of vileness has been fed and nurtured rather than allows to fade away. The fact that this stuff is still going strong and is an integral part of the Republican base is especially obvious in this election Here's a particularly vile example. Here's a particularly vile video of the behavior of some McCain supporters at a rally, and a perfect example of precisely the behavior and attitudes that the Republican part has encouraged for the last 35 or so years.

Of course, that's not a solid path to victory, since there are only so many hard core bigots. Unfortunately, Ronald Reagan (or more accurately, his staff) came up with a winning strategy. In addition to open appeals to "states rights", they also found another sort of vile intolerance to appeal to – fundamentalist Christianity. The current fundy revival and the rise of the mega-churches. For the prior 15 years, religion was at all all-time low in the US, but the fundy revival was big, powerful, and well-organized, and by embracing Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, the Republicans had a large ready made base with lots of money and a huge grass-roots organization. This match served the Republican Party frighteningly well, with the US having a Democrat as president for only 8 of the last 28 years, combined with Republican control of either the House or the Senate (or for a while both) for the vast majority of that time.

So, by 1980 you had a party that had as its base bigots and intolerant religious fanatics. Fortunately, many of the fundamentalists were also bigots, so the two groups largely got along well together. Obviously, not everyone who voted Republican was either a bigot or a fundy, but those people formed the party's core supporters and so no federal level candidate could last long who didn't appeal to them. There were exceptions, mostly among Republican Senators and Representatives who had gotten into power before this transformation of the party, but they started retiring in the 1990s and were almost exclusively replaced by candidates who appealed to the party's core supporters. As one example, look at what happened to John McCain in the 2000 presidential primary. He made one attack on the fundys and suddenly he was effectively out of the race. Around four years ago, he clearly rethought his opinions and has done his best to win himself back into their good graces, a process he cemented by appointing a fundy wackjob as his vice presidential candidate.

So, that's where we're at – a political party who has gained control of much of the nation's mass media, who made the term "liberal" into an insult and who has as its core supporters – the people it made certain to appeal to and who effectively vetted all candidates, bigots and intolerant religious fanatics. The Republican party of the late 1960s was very different from the current Republican party, and I'm hoping that a sufficiently bad defeat will reshape it into some new and less horrible form.

2) My basic recommendation is very simple. I urge everyone considering voting for independent candidates for any federal level office [[1]] to vote a straight Democratic ticket this November. I'm suggesting this not because the Democrats are especially marvelous or wonderful - mostly they're overly timid centrists. The point is that the Republican party has been sufficiently bad for sufficiently long that we need to do whatever we can to cause it to change. I urge you all to help be a part of this change, even if you normally vote for the Green Party or some other third party. If we can clean up the Republicans even somewhat, then there will be vastly more room for non-ultraconservative ideas to flourish and spread.

Currently, both individual and corporate donations to the Republican party are down significantly compared to previous elections. What voting for the Democrats in November does is help insure not just large-scale Republican losses, but exceedingly severe large-scale Republican losses. This is badly needed because it will cause the Republican party to reshape itself into something at least somewhat less monstrous, if for no other reason than that bad losses mean even less money, and every political party rises and falls on its ability to obtain money from its supporters and few people and corporations support hopeless losers. While I'd never have voted for the Republicans from the first 2/3s of the 20th century, mostly they were not particularly more monstrous than the Democrats of that era. That's no longer remotely true.

More importantly, voting for a 3rd party does nothing to stop or change the Republican party. It also means that the Republicans don't have to worry about the political power of people who aren't either ultra-conservatives or centrists.

My wise friend bruceb posted the following a while ago:
When it's the final election, you can either help the worst candidate win or the next-worst one, pretty much. That's how first-past-the-post balloting works, and it will continue to work that way until people promote alternative systems for actual use at lower levels - get folks used to proportional representation, ranked preferences, and the like for their towns, counties, and states, and then it'll be ripe for change nationally. Voting for someone who cannot win does not change the system, it only increases the chances that the worst candidate will win.

Changing a national party happens between elections. It takes people making challenges in primary races, and pressuring candidates and officials all the time. Accountability Now, for instance, is supporting media campaigns in key districts, and also funding the challenges mounted by people who are better on issues like war and human rights than the Democratic Party leadership cares to be. Sometimes they win, sometimes not, but the fact that there is a sustained effort by this visible group gets the leadership's attention in a way that literally nothing else does. Ditto with, say, Blue America.

It's not fun, a lot of the time. It's certainly not as much fun as hoisting the jolly roger and helping the ship go down that much faster. But over time, it pays off. Remember that it took nearly half a century for the folks committed to undoing the New Deal to get real working control of the Republican Party. It will take time to change the Democratic Party significantly. It's just that it can be done, and there are useful things to do right now to help make it happen, and it is the avenue of change that works within American politics as we have it. The Democratic Party got commandeered as a wing of the conservative machine, in the last twenty years; it can be commandeered again. Get started on the siege engines and sapping tunnels.
As an addendum to Bruce's comments, it's worth noting that the only way the Democratic party is going to head left is if it starts seeing the ultra-conservatives losing badly. For most of the past 25 years, the accepted wisdom for the Democratic Party has been that the only way to beat the Republicans is to be centrists conservatives – Bill Clinton won handily, twice, more liberal candidates like Walter Mondale lost very badly indeed. The only way to change either political party is to end the Republican dominance and the only way to do that is to vote in Democrats. This year more than ever, a vote for a third party in a federal election is an utterly wasted vote. Also, Be wary of trusting any alleged progressive who tells you that there's no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. While many simply have a destructively powerful desire for ideological purity, some of them (sadly, now including Ralph Nader) are getting at least some of their backing and their funds from the Republican Party, because the Republican Party finds such people and such ideas to be exceptionally useful.

[[1]] I trust that no one reading this is foolish enough to consider voting for any federal-level Republicans, and if any of you are, I don't want to hear about it & I also urge you invest in either sense or morals.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

(31 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 20th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
You also had the introduction of voter ID to depress turnout.

Canadians do seem to vote strategically less than they 'should', though a friend agreed that it was more a vote against the Liberals than anything else. (Ironically, for a moderate Liberal supporter wanting to punish them, a Conservative vote might well have been the best strategic choice.)

Glad to see your FairVote is openly backing PR; I think ours is for IRV. Possibly as a stealth horse for STV/PR, but I find that dishonest, and in the US risks getting stuck with IRV and single-member districts. I note fairvote.ca suggests a hybrid of STV and traditional single-member voting, when they could just as easily throw in a better scheme for the single-member election.
[User Picture]
Date:October 20th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, I had for gotten the damnable ID thing. And that did prevent quite a few from being able to vote.

I wouldn't say it was a vote against the Liberals, but there was one site I did look at last week - I can't verify the accuracy of the information on it, however, nor can I find it - that did indicate there was a lack in total numbers of votes in all parties, with the exception of the Green Party, who gained. The party who had the most significant voter drop was Liberal party. This tells me that rather than switching party loyalties, though I'm sure that happened quite a bit, people just didn't vote.
[User Picture]
Date:October 21st, 2008 08:05 am (UTC)
God does Canada need PR.

Greens gained huge numbers of votes, and NOT A SINGLE SEAT. Maddening. And the NDP fared better, but still way under their vote percentage.

NDP can't help but strip away votes from the left wing of the Liberals, the Nader-Gore-Bush triangulation that was so awful for the US.

(I live in Port Townsend, a part of Washington state that is as close to an NDP enclave as is possible without being unelectable. Green- and Socially Progressive-agenda elected officials, one of whom is the House Majority leader for the state! It's like Heaven!)

Hopefully, Harper's minority will fail when Obama wins, and re-energizes the Left up there!
[User Picture]
Date:October 21st, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
That's what I'm hoping as well. In fact, I think the reason Harper was so keen on holding this vote when he did was to circumvent what could have been... very different results. I just hope Dion doesn't step down as leader of the Liberal party, because it will, once again, throw the party into chaos and lead to further destabilization.

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