Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Election: What Does It All Mean?

What does it all mean?

Short answer: nothing much.


Show of hands.

How many of you are genuinely surprised by the mid-term election results?

Be honest.

If you are surprised, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.

I saw this coming the day after Obama took the White House.

Frankly, if anything I’m surprised that it’s not a far more dramatic shift.

Today the Left is depressed in defeat and the Right is jubilant in victory. Both sides are busy blathering on about what the “American People” want, and neither side is actually listening to anything but their own agenda. The pundits are all waxing philosophical about the will of the “American People,” while telling those same Americans what to think.


They’re all wrong.

They’re all correct.

You pays your money and you takes your pick. 

Those who choose to see the results of this vote as some universal rejection of the current administration and a harbinger of things to come in 2012 have forgotten history. Recent history.  Both the House and Senate shifted from Democrat to Republican majorities at the midterms under Clinton, and then shifted back to Democrat majorities at the midterms under Bush The Lesser. These were huge dramatic shifts – yesterday’s vote is far less dramatic than those previous ones and hardly an overwhelming landslide condemnation of the current administration. Remember, in the previous power shifts, the country wasn’t in the throes of an economic slump and large scale unemployment. The previous shifts demonstrated a far greater degree of dissatisfaction with the White House than yesterday’s election results. Now certainly, the power shift does demonstrate a significant degree of voter dissatisfaction – but the truth of the matter is that the voters are always dissatisfied.  If it wasn’t government spending, it would be something else. If it wasn’t the deficit, it would be something else (hell, most people can’t actually tell you the difference between The Debt and The Deficit other than to make vague hand waving gestures).  If it wasn’t jobs, it would be something else. If it wasn’t illegal aliens, terrorism, or defense of marriage, it would be something else. It’s always something else. Always.  People are always pissed at the guy in charge, especially if he’s from the other party.  People are always disappointed with the guy in charge, especially if he’s from the their party. Barack Obama was swept into office with a level of expectation that no president could have lived up to. Conservatives hated him right from the start and had no intention whatsoever of giving Obama a chance – a sentiment perfectly summed up by Rush Limbaugh who said he hoped more than anything Obama would fail and fail catastrophically. And Liberals put Obama up on a pedestal and demanded that he wave a magic wand and make all their utopian wet dreams a reality. Neither set of expectations came true, and that pissed off Republicans who just can’t stand Obama’s successes, and it disappointed  Democrats who believe that he hasn’t done enough. 

This is pretty normal. Maybe it’s a bit more extreme this time around for a number of factors, but it is pretty normal. And as a mid-term condemnation of the administration, this one is fairly mild as such things go. Conservatives took the House, they didn’t take the Senate. A number of far right Tea Party types won, but a whole bunch of the crazier ones didn’t.  Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are sharpening their knives today in anticipation of their coming power. But Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, and (probably) Joe Miller all went down in flames.  Sarah Palin’s ability to alter elections in the Tea Party’s favor appears to be no better than random chance. And on her home turf where she turned the election into a personal vendetta, she appears to have been handed her ass by a very powerful Republican Senator who is now her unequivocal enemy.  Not a particularly savvy political move.  Even if, when all the votes are tallied here in Alaska, Murkowski is ultimately not triumphant (unlikely at this point), the write-in rebellion itself speaks volumes about Palin’s future as a political powerhouse. I strongly suspect Karl Rove is right, Palin is unelectable and a determent to the GOP’s ambitions in 2012.  I detest Karl Rove to a degree I probably can’t express, but he knows his politics and his politicians.  Time will certainly tell.

No, I found nothing surprising about this election.

This, my friends, is how America works.

All political systems are, by definition, human inventions. All systems have strengths and weaknesses. As such, they are all, each and every one flawed.

Even ours.

Hereditary Monarchies have a kind of a romantic ring to them. Everybody loves those fairytales of kings and princesses and knights errant. Of course, in reality, unless you’re the King, feudalism sucks donkey balls. And the fatal flaw of all monarchies is that after a couple generations of inbreeding you end up with a government composed of self-centered weak-chinned morons. I’m simplifying, of course, but we’ve probably outgrown monarchies as a form of actual government.

Communism looks good on paper. Sure it does. That’s why it’s popular in academia, or used to be anyway. Each according to his ability, each according to his need. Sounds democratic. Sounds fair. Of course in the end you always end up with a committee of ruthless but utterly ineffective bastards controlling everything.  Each according to his ability and need never leads to universal equality and middle class. Never. It always leads to universal poverty and decay.  Always. Eventually there’s a revolution, collapse, chaos, reform, and (unless you’re really lucky) back to some form of authoritarianism. Rinse, repeat.

Dictatorships are fast and effective and responsive to outside threat, and always and inevitably end up with one ruthless son of a bitch oppressing the hell out of everybody else.  Eventually there’s a revolution, collapse, chaos, and (unless you’re really lucky) back to authoritarianism. Rinse, shake, repeat.

Democratic Socialism on the European model is relatively benign.  I strongly suspect that as population densities rise and resources become scarce, socialism is one of the inevitable end states for democratic societies (the other being some form of rigid authoritarianism). The problem, of course, is that socialism tends towards stagnation, increasing loss of individualism (needs of the many increasingly outweigh the needs of the few) and eventual decay, which leads directly to authoritarianism or revolution and social chaos followed by collapse.

I am, of course, generalizing here, try not get too spun up.

Then there’s democracy. For the first time in human history, true democracy is possible on a large scale. Up until very recently, communications lag prevented true democracy on any scale with a population above about three. That’s why all democracies to date, including ours, are representative democracies, i.e. republics.  But, now, for the first time, communications technology allows for each citizen to cast a vote simultaneously with every other citizen. For the first time in history, it is possible to dispense with a formal government and place control of society directly into the hands of the population. There is no, technological, reason why every single issue facing a county today, couldn’t be voted on by the population in real time referendum – via internet or interactive TV or cell phone or any of a dozen forms of instantaneous communications (leaving aside the question of validation of votes, assume for the sake of argument the system can be made foolproof).

It would be a disaster. 

An utter disaster.  There is no way a population could be educated and informed in real time of every issue facing the nation, and then be available to vote continuously. It would be rule by mob. It would be rule by trend. It would be oppression the likes of which would make a dictatorship look good in comparison.  There would have to be systems for dealing with issues, for gathering and disseminating information, for research, for discussion, for compromise, for breaking issues down into national and local concerns. You’d have to have penalties for not participating. You’d have to have safety systems to prevent the mob from reacting to popular hysteria or suppressing the minority or ending up susceptible to manipulation and controlled by a hidden power block. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  You’d either get uncontrolled anarchy or, well, you’re back to formal government – just on a larger and far, far, far less effective and inefficient scale.  I suppose a system like this, given sufficient safeguards and no outside threat, might lumber along reasonably well – but I strongly suspect that you’d eventually end up with a hidden dictatorship, benign or otherwise, simply because no human system that large and complex could possibly react to a small, effective, dedicated, internal bid for control. Certainly not without some form of rigid incorruptible third party force to prevent it. Good luck with that.

True democracy for any population over about two simply isn’t possible – not without a fundamental change in human nature or the emergence of some heretofore unseen technology.

The people who founded America were well aware of this. They agonized for nearly a decade after Independence over what the new nation’s government should look like. And eventually, after years of heated debate and compromise they hacked out the best solution they could find, the Constitution, which formed the basis for a representative form of democracy, i.e. a republic.

Idealists that they were, the Framers were nonetheless aware of the single fundamental flaw with democracy, which is this: people are, in large part, lazy, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, uneducated, easily manipulated idiots who will vote with their emotions ninety-nine times out of a hundred instead of with their brains.

Oh, save your righteous indignation. 

Despite the chest pounding of dimwitted “patriots” our system isn’t perfect and never was – and we are the fundamental flaw in the system.

For every well educated, informed, conscientious voter who puts the needs of the nation above their own petty concerns (and really, let me know if you find this person), there is one ignorant uninformed moron, one party hack, one perpetually angry asshole whose only goal is to gum up the works, one guy who votes at random, one guy who forgot to vote, one guy who didn’t vote in protest, one guy who didn’t vote because he was stoned, one guy who didn’t vote because he figures it doesn’t matter, one guy who didn’t vote because he was in prison, and one guy who didn’t vote because the space alien Jesus in his head told him voting booths are really experiments by government scientists to steal our precious bodily fluids.

Democracy isn’t perfect.

It’s just the best system we’ve got at the moment.

Here’s the one fundamental truth when it comes to democracy: you win some, you lose some.

If you’re winning all of the time, if you always get your way, you’re not living in a democracy. 

Same if you’re losing all of the time.

There is no reason for Republicans to be jubilant today. They took the House. They didn’t take the Senate. Their victory is hardly an overwhelming mandate. If they don’t compromise, if they spend the next two years working to spite the White House instead of making good on those campaign promises – if they don’t reduce the debt, work together, and restore jobs – then they will have cut their own throat. This morning the number one Republican talking point is “repeal of Obamacare.” That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s not going to happen. They don’t have the Senate. They don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto. It’s not going to happen, not in the next two years. Attempting to repeal Obamacare now is simply tilting at windmills. If they make that their priority for the next two years, they will hand Barack Obama a second term and more over they will have done absolutely nothing to fix the very problems that led to their election. Their position is precarious and what happens in the long run will depend entirely on if they put the good of the nation above their own political ambition. 

They won’t, of course.

There is no reason for the Tea Party to be jubilant today.  They won some significant victories, but they’ve lost some even more significant ones. Harry Reid comes to mind here. And then there is this: Their candidates are about to learn a very hard lesson. They are going to learn the same lesson those leftwing radicals learned the last time a grassroots movement sent reformers to Washington in the 60’s and 70’s: if you want to get things done, you have to become part of the establishment, man.   As outsiders, they will accomplish absolutely nothing.  They will not privatize Social Security or Medicare. They will not repeal Obamacare. They not will significantly decrease government spending or size. Unless they become insiders, unless they become mainstream.  Unless they compromise.

They will, of course.

There is no reason for Democrats to be depressed today.  None. They hold the White House. They hold the Senate.  They have a solid victory over the more extreme elements of the Right.  Yes, they will have to compromise. They will have to work harder. They will have to make a concerted effort to reach across the aisle. They will have to do more than pay lip service to the concerns of many Americans – whether or not they think those concerns are justified. They will have to do a better job of educating the public. For example: despite the fact that federal tax rates are lower now than any time since 1954, and despite the fact that the hated Stimulus actually cut taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars – a number of conservatives’ victory speeches last night made direct reference to cutting the huge taxes supposedly raised by the Obama administration.  Politics is the art of managing perception, Democrats haven’t done a very good job of that for a number of reasons. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and again, and again: the Democrats’ worst enemy are not Republicans, it’s Democrats.  They’ve got nobody to blame but themselves. It’s the economy, Stupid. The results of this election should emphasize more than anything else that Democrats need to stop bickering among themselves and start working together. 

They won’t, of course.

Founding Father, General of the Revolution, and first President of the United States, George Washington, was adamantly opposed to political parties. He said that political parties only serve to turn citizen against citizen. 

He was absolutely right.


  1. This reminds me in the worst way possible of our recent election here in Australia. Of course, while the campaign by both major parties (Labour and Liberals, guess which is left wing and which is right wing!) was absolutely dismal, the end result was that we now have a female Prime Minister, who is going to be working with the Green Party and the independants, and you know, be reasonable, which doesn't seem likely to happen in the US.
    Of course Tony Abbot is still bat-shit insane, and should be dropped into the Tasman Sea as soon as possible.

    But it seems from all the way over here that the Democrats had (and still have) the problem that Ms Gillard did; telling people what they did right and what the Opposition did wrong, and actually managing to differentiate between the two main parties (in the end, their campaign ads sounded exactely the same, it was kind of depressing really)

    But yeah, republics seem like the best kind of government to go with, until we somehow end up with a system like The Culture, which I don't think is going to happen soon.

  2. One other thing that was a major factor in this campaign season-- the absolutely insane amounts of money being pumped into some of the races. Fortunately, those huge dollars didn't translate into automatic wins across the board (see California) but it sure as hell had an impact. And the need to raise huge amounts of cash just to run a campaign is part of why just about everyone in DC is beholding to some corporate interest.

    bipsin- If you have problems with excessive burping & hiccups, ask your doctor is Bipsin is right for you. Side effects may include nausea, headache, excessive flatulence & an uncontrollable need to wander aimlessly in the woods in search of a bathtub by a waterfall...

  3. If we can't have no parties. Let's have many. The two party system is broken in America.

  4. Amen.

    (What's the choir good for if you can't get an amen out of them?"

  5. Yes. Working on an open letter to the Democratic leadership basically saying, "People don't get it. You have to tell them. Then tell them again. And then tell them one more time. And, oh, because some people were watching American Idol instead of CSPAN, you have to tell them again."

    Stimulus? Largest tax cut in history. They said it twice, and then figured everybody 1) heard and 2) remembered.

    First thing, say "A vote to end the stimulus (that money that hasn't been 'spent' yet) is a vote to raise taxes on small businesses." Because it's true. And then say it again. Say it one more time. Tell your kids. Say it again. Say it before the vote. Say it during the debate on the floor. Say it as you're about to vote. And then say it into the cameras on the way out after the vote.

    Also tell people that while 65% of the population doesn't like the HCR Act and only 35% think it's okay. That 65% is also counting on the 40% of Americans who don't like it because it didn't go far enough. Say it. Say it again. Tell the talking heads. Remind your cousins. Say it at your meal prayers.

  6. Exactly right, Steve. Exactly right.

  7. Personally, I'm loving the irony that the GOP would likely have taken the Senate if it hadn't been for the Tea Party -- they all but handed Reid his seat back on a silver platter when they made sure Sharron Angle won the Republican primary.

  8. n California, we continued our march to a different drummer and went Democrat. (Sorry, Meg. Just consider that your $140 million stimulated the economy!)

  9. Heh, that's exactly what I was thinking, Pamela. Thanks for the stimulus, Meg.

  10. Dear 'Rich Candidate,'

    Please note that spending your personal millions on elections in California has not been shown to be successful. Let me recommend the following alternate procedure:

    1) Buy everyone in the state a couple of pizzas or a six-pack of good beer. (California craft beer gets you brownie points)

    2) Hold a press conference to announce that you are doing this as you feel that this is a better use of your millions than crafting annoying political advertisements.

    3) Sit back, relax, and see if it works.


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