Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Take Back Your Government: Part 1

A practical guide to fixing what’s wrong with America


Never underestimate the power of human stupidity
- Robert Anson Heinlein

Government of the People.

That’s what Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg one hundred and fifty years ago this week.

Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.

Lincoln was, of course, referring to the Preamble of the United States’ Constitution, the bit that goes “We the People of the United States…”

More, Lincoln’s speech reached directly back to the fundamental principles outlined by the grievances in the Declaration of Independence, i.e. the Founders’ demand for a government that does the business of its people first and foremost, one that operates with the consent of the governed, and a government that is directly answerable to its citizens.

That’s the idea, right?

That’s how America is supposed to work.

We can all of us, left and right, republican and democrat, moderate and progressive, whatever side of America we’ve chosen to plant our flag on, surely we can all at least agree to that basic principle. Right?


Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And sure, that sounds good.

In theory.

As a sound bite.

There’s just one problem.

The people.

That’s the fundamental flaw in almost any political philosophy, people.  From Marx to Madison, from the federal government right on down to the local school board, people will eventually screw up any social structure given half a chance and a lack of adequate safeguards on the process.

That’s what the designers of political systems and ideologies tend to ignore: sooner or later, the perversity of human nature tends towards the maximum. Plus ten percent. Every single time.

That’s the problem with systems like communism. They’re based on wishful thinking. For communism to work, really work, it requires a radical change in fundamental human nature. Which is why it doesn’t work and almost immediately devolves into sullenly stagnant absolutism.

And the problem with any form of absolutism is that it attempts to force human nature into a rigid mold at the point of a sword. Humans, given human nature, tend to get irritated about that sooner or later and push back.

The men who founded America, the ones who threw off absolutism and came up with that idea of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, they understood human nature and tried to compensate for it by designing a republic. 

Their blind spot, however, was the opposite of the absolutists.

Where the tyrants typically regard their subjects with a certain degree of contempt, America’s founders had, perhaps, an overly inflated opinion of those self same people.

They expected the people to put aside their selfish interests long enough to rise to the challenge of running a republican democracy.  They expected that those elected to government would regard it a duty, a trust, a privilege as they themselves did. And more than anything, they fully expected the people to hold their government accountable.

This is evident in the very fabric of the representative democracy they designed.

It is particularly evident in the lack of certain specific and, in retrospect, obviously absent safeguards.

The founders didn’t include those safeguards, because they didn’t think they’d need them – they expected the people to be their government’s check on power.

In retrospect, they should have known better.

And they obviously realized at least some of their mistake in fairly short order – the Bill of Rights is proof of that.

As I said, you forget the perversity of human nature at your peril.

A government of the people, by the people, for the people, if it is to be anything other than anarchy, if it is to be anything other than embroiled in a continuous deadlock of unending partisan infighting like a screeching crap-fight on Monkey Island,  well, then that takes work. It takes vigilance. It takes an active, informed, educated, rational, reasonable, and diligent population willing to hold their elected representatives – and themselves – accountable.

For a government of the people, by the people, for the people, to function with any degree of efficiency and reliability, the people responsible for its operation must be educated and aware and informed, even if they don’t like what they hear.

A government of the people means that the people must agree they are all in it together, even if they agree on nothing else.  They must agree that they are all in it together, this is the fundamental premise upon which such a nation is based.

For good or bad, for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people to work as we expect, the people must understand that they are part of a greater whole, that they are better off together than they are apart. They must truly believe this and do what it takes to make it a reality even if it goes against their own, personal, interests in some ways.

If such a nation is to endure, the people must know the lessons of the past in detail and they must be able to see beyond the present into a future they themselves are creating together.

And that means the people must be able to compromise.

They must be willing to act for the good of all and not just in their own selfish interests.

However, that said, if there is to be freedom, if that government of the people is to protect the lofty supposedly inalienable ideals of the Declaration, those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it also means individual self-interest must be acknowledged and safeguarded to the maximum extent possible. Individual liberty is paramount, but for the government defined in our Constitution to work, we, all of us, must understand and acknowledge that our inalienable right to life, liberty, and happiness has limits and doesn’t come at the expense of another’s life, liberty, and happiness or our implicit responsibilities to civilization.

There’s a profound difference between liberty and anarchy, between self-interest and selfishness.

More than anything, a government of the people means that the people are responsible for their government, it’s implicit in the design.

But the problem, as I said, is the people.

Or more correctly, human nature.

We demand the inalienable rights of liberty, but we too often forget the very specific responsibilities of our freedom.

People are far too often cheerfully ignorant and/or deliberately stupid, they are egotistical and self-involved and xenophobic and easily led. They think the rules apply to others, but not themselves. They are too often limited in vision and concerned with the present instead of the future. They are perfectly willing to place their own selfish wants above any larger good, even if it leads to destruction, and they are commonly unable to compromise in any useful fashion unless there is instant gratification or a real threat of immediate and unpleasant consequences.

Because that’s just how we humans often are. Even the best of us.

We can wish it otherwise, but wishful thinking doesn’t actually change anything.

And there are more than three hundred million of us, we Americans. All with our own fears and illusions and and delusions and beliefs and uncompromising selfish interests and agendas. So, when we say, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” which people exactly are we talking about? All of us? Some of us? Or just a selected few? Ask any three hundred million Americans that question and you’ll likely get three hundred million different answers. All right. All wrong.

We are a fractious people, we Americans.

We don’t agree that we are all in it together – or we do very rarely anyway, especially in recent years.

Far too many Americans fall far short in their duty as the people to be informed, educated, willing to compromise, to function as part of a greater whole, and to take responsibility for their own beliefs – let alone the actions of their own government.

Far too many Americans selfishly demand the rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and blithely ignore the responsibilities that implicitly come with them.

It’s little wonder then, that our government has become a self-licking ice cream cone in business for itself. 

That is the natural inevitable result of ignoring human nature. This is provable and repeatable with unfailing accuracy and history is chock-a-block with examples big and small.

And so here we are.

Americans are angry with their government, or more angry than usual. 

That anger, that frustration is what gave birth to the Tea Party. That’s where the Occupy Movement came from.  That’s what fuels the gibbering paranoid mental illness of talk radio and the rabid snarling ideology of the sovereign citizen’s movement.That’s why government’s popularity, never particularly high among Americans in the first place, is at an all time low today. That’s why it’s suddenly fashionable in America to refer to oneself a “Libertarian” while brandishing assault weapons and calling openly for sedition and armed revolution (note that calling oneself a “Libertarian” [big L] and actually being a libertarian [small L] are two entirely different things. One is mindless raging spittle-flecked bluster driven by a self-serving dimwitted rabblerousing punditry, the other is a social and political philosophy that in broad strokes resembles a barn full of feral cats). 

Americans may have a legitimate point in their discontent, but too many of these angry unhappy people ignore how we got here.

Wishful thinking won’t fix what’s wrong with our government. We can wish that the people were informed, educated, sane, reasonable, willing to compromise and willing to put the good of the whole over their own selfish interests. We can wish that the people would dispassionately hold their government to account.

But they won’t. They never have and they never will.

And if we are to have liberty, then we cannot mandate that they do, because when government tries to make responsibility compulsory, no matter how good the initial intention, tyranny and absolutism follow shortly thereafter.

We Americans do government the same way we drive, hell bent for leather and every man for himself.

We can wish it wasn’t so, but pragmatically we have rules and laws, safeguards, that take foolish human nature into account when behind the wheel. Those rules keep us all moving in the same direction and force us to acknowledge the needs and interests of others on the road as part of a greater whole in order that we can each reach our own individual destinations without killing ourselves or others (usually). And that’s the key, right there. Those kinds of pragmatic safeguards.

Idealism created our government but it won’t fix it.

Instead, just like on the highway, to fix what’s wrong with government we need pragmatic acknowledgement of human nature.

Yes, yes, I see you there in the back. The guy with the Ben Franklin hat and the shoulder holster, turning red and apoplectic. Take a deep breath, relax. I’m not talking about any radical restructuring of America. I’m not talking about changing the Constitution or abolishing capitalism or taking your goddamned gun away or forcing everybody to stop shaving and live on a collective farm raising cabbages. 

Exactly the opposite in fact.

I’m talking about some simple changes that would return the American government to the basic ideals of its founding.

Starting with four things that would do more to return our nation to a government of the people than anything else:


End Closed Primaries

The increasing political polarization of America and the noxious consequences of that divide begin at the state primaries.

Specifically with closed primaries.

Closed primaries are a relatively recent invention and you can trace a marked increase in the hostility of American politics directly to this change. 

Like the road to hell, the move towards closed primaries began with the best of intentions. By the early 1970’s, state caucuses had become a mess, largely due to human nature – specifically that greedy selfish streak in any human organization from sports to politics that encourages people to game the system if they can even remotely get away with it in order to win at all costs. 

Closed primaries were intended as a positive reform in the Democratic Party nomination system, as a way to prevent politically driven strategic voting, or what is benignly referred to as “crossover voting.”  There’s nothing benign about it, it’s a way to game the system, bypass democratic choice, and bias the election process through electoral manipulation by having large numbers of voters file malicious ballots in the opposing party’s nomination process.  For example, in 1972 at Michigan’s Democratic primary, republicans showed up in large numbers and cast ballots in an attempt to make the Democrat presidential candidate Alabama’s detested governor, George Wallace.  The idea being, of course, that if they managed to nominate Wallace, then in the general election voters would be faced with a choice between the oily smooth Republican incumbent, Richard Nixon, and an openly racist and unelectable southern democrat. The tactic failed and George McGovern (amnesty, abortion, and acid) was the Democratic Party’s nominee that year (who then went on to clinch the election … for Nixon, and we all lived happily ever after).

In order to stave off this tactic during future elections, Democrats began moving towards closed primaries by excluding from the process anybody not specifically registered in their party. States changed their voting laws to mandate closed primaries, mostly driven by democrats but often closing republican primaries too.  By closing their primaries, states deliberately excluded independent voters from the candidate nomination process. Independents, as a general rule, tend to be ideological moderates who are actively opposed to party-centric politics. Again, generally speaking, Independents tend to vote for people, not parties.

As a result of this change, states effectively disenfranchised moderate voters and unintentionally begin actively selecting for extremism.

Closed primaries initiated an evolutionary change in American politics, a slow but certain shift towards radicalization and you can see the results clearly and unambiguously by graphing the hardening of ideology towards extremist positions over the last 40 years. 

Closed primaries as they currently exist are anathema to liberty and free choice.

Closed primaries, whatever their original intent, have nowadays produced a largely non-functional polarized government of political parties, by political parties, and for political parties.

In the general election this situation often leaves moderate voters, already disenfranchised in the primaries, with a choice that many of them regard as between the devil and the deep blue sea and they are forced to vote for political parties anyway or they might as well not vote at all.

Closed primaries de facto prevent any serious attempt at a viable third party.

So what do we do about it?

New Hampshire’s hybrid primary system allows registered independents, who often determine general election outcomes, to participate in either the Democratic or Republican primary and at the same time effectively protects political parties from crossover by others. If adopted by all states this model would return moderate independents to active participation in the candidate selection process and over time temper American politics away from its current extremist trend and back towards the middle. Candidates would have to actively court moderate independents in the primaries - instead of just paying lip service to them in the endgame of the general election as they do now. 

A change to hybrid, or semi-open, primaries, would stop penalizing moderate Americans for being centrists, those who find it distasteful having their allegiance permanently usurped by the petty tyranny of a political party, and it would allow voters to divest themselves of formal political affiliation without giving up full participation in our republic.

This model would encourage political parties to moderate their positions, to actively seek the middle, in order to attract and keep independent voters.

Note that I said change would be forced upon political parties, not individual citizens.  People have inalienable rights, political parties don’t.

This simple change will eventually give you, the citizen, a range of actual choices and make it much more difficult for any faceless party apparatchik to dictate your franchise. 

In the end, the New Hampshire primary model would very likely produce a selection of reasonable candidates acceptable to a majority of voters, whatever their party, instead of the current choice between someone you don’t much like and someone you actively hate (as was the case for many Republicans this last time around).

If enough voters become free agents it would effectively break the established political parties’ stranglehold on American politics.



Nothing is more ruinous of liberty than a “safe” political seat.

If there is currently any more noxious form of legalized disenfranchisement than a gerrymandered safe politician, I don’t know what it is. 

Gerrymandering for those of you not familiar with the term, is a method of nullifying the democratic process by redrawing voting districts specifically in order to provide a clear and significant advantage for one particular group, typically a political party and usually the one currently in control of that state’s government. There’s an entire malignant science to this, with its own jargon and tactics and specialists, people who make a living by actively working to disenfranchise their fellow citizens in the name of freedom and liberty and justice.

Gerrymandering, especially when combined with closed primaries, without fail results in the de facto abrogation of even the illusion of democracy and a blatant abuse of power at its very worst. 

For the folks who live in heavily manipulated districts, their choices aren’t all that different from the “democratic” republics of communist countries like North Korea.

Sure it’s a democracy … just so long as you vote for the one party in power and the candidate they select for you.

Gerrymandering has been a facet of American politics since the election of 1812, when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry directed the redrawing of state senate election districts specifically and unabashedly in order to bias the outcome in favor of his own Democratic-Republican Party.  One of the resulting tortured Boston districts sort of resembled a salamander which caused the Boston Gazette, under the editorship of Founding Father Nathan Hale, to run an editorial cartoon in outraged response.

Naturally, the Gazette called the resulting image a Gerrymander.

And naturally, human nature being what it is, both the term and the practice caught on immediately in other states and has been with us ever since.

And once again, just like closed primaries, Gerrymandering results in a government of, by, and for political parties, not people.

It’s long past time that this loathsome practice, like every other type of disenfranchisement we’ve tried over the years, goes the way of Jim Crow and institutionalized denial of women’s suffrage. 

Author and scientist David Brin writing for Salon suggested disenfranchised voters in gerrymandered districts switch their political registration, democrats become republicans in republican controlled districts and republicans become democrats in democrat controlled districts, and then elect their own candidates in order to unseat those “safe” politicians in a sort of reverse version of crossover voting – but one designed to overcome deliberate bias in the process instead of introducing it. Read Brin’s essay, Brin is always worth your time.

While I agree with Brin’s basic proposal, it’s a stopgap and as he says the real solution is a complete non-partisan reform of the electoral districting process.

Folks, there should be no “safe” districts. Ever.

The political party in charge should never, ever, be given a free hand to redraw voting districts – again human nature being what it is, a political party will always, always, game the system to protect itself. Political parties exist to perpetuate themselves, their only goal is a government of themselves, by themselves, and specifically for themselves.

Safe districts are counter to everything this country is supposed to stand for.

Safe districts are tyranny of exactly the kind outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Safe districts are unfair, undemocratic, and unAmerican.

No elected official, be they a senator or a member of the local school board, should ever be comfortable in their seat. Period.

No election should ever be a sure thing – otherwise it’s no more an election than those of the long defunct Soviet Union.

A politician should have to sweat every election, every time, no exceptions.


Campaign finance reform

We’re capitalists, we Americans.

There are individual exceptions of course, but overall as a people and as a nation money is what makes the star spangled wheels go ‘round.

Again, you can wish that is was otherwise, or not – or you can deal with reality as it exists.

And the reality is this: People are very often greedy selfish bastard flavored bastards with bastard filling and little bastard sprinkles on top – even if you’re not, somebody is. And in a society like ours, if you depend on the altruism of your fellow citizens, and unless you install some very very specific safeguards, those ruthless bastards are going to end up owning everything, including your government, and you’re going to end up paying them for the privilege of eating out of their garbage can.

Unless you are very careful, and very vigilant, in a society that places a monetary value on everything and where everything is for sale, any election can be bought.

It’s the old joke, The Golden Rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules.

It’s always been this way in the US, but lately it’s gotten much worse.

We put up with it in the past because every American, no matter how poor, figured that one day they would cash in on the American Dream and become a rich bastard flavored bastard in their own right.

And so we let it go on, we let the money pour into our politics until one day we looked up and realized that we were on the far side of decisions like Citizen’s United, outside the wall looking in, and that once again human nature being what it is our vote no longer mattered.

We pride ourselves on individualism, we Americans. We mouth the sacred words, government of the people, by the people, for the people … but in reality, in our political system as it stands right now, the individual is last and least. Money and ideology come first.

Understand something here, I’m not talking about getting rid of the free market, or capitalism, or even the greedy ruthless bastards. I detest communism, it’s a miserable ridiculous philosophy that doesn’t work for actual human beings. We’re capitalists, and that’s okay.  It’s okay to get rich in America. It’s okay to make money by the truckload if that’s how you pursue happiness. I wish you the best of luck.

But, as I said in the introduction, your right to life, liberty, and happiness doesn’t come at the expense of another’s life, liberty, and happiness. We’ve established this beyond any argument. We fought a civil war over it. We’ve gone to court a thousand times over and more on this, and we’re still fighting to beat it into the heads of those who just don’t get it:  In America, we’re all equal. Period. We didn’t start out that way, back in 1776, but that’s where we’re going. That’s the whole damned point in every battle we’ve fought, from slavery to suffrage to the right to marry whomever you goddamned well please.

That, right there, is the single fundamental principle that defines America: A rich white man’s vote counts no more and no less than a poor black woman’s.

Or it shouldn’t anyway.

But, of course, it does.

Because we lack certain specific safeguards, the votes backed by big money count far, far, far more than those of the average citizen.

And if there’s a worse form of democracy than a government of political parties, it’s government of, by, and for Wall Street. 

Campaign finance reform is far too complex a subject to cover as a section here. There is no one solution. There are many good ideas for revising how we finance elections and one size doesn’t have to fit all.  But at a minimum, safeguards on campaign financing should include:

* strictly regulated limits on and full disclosure of “hard money,” i.e. that money donated to and raised by the candidates themselves, including a candidate’s own personal money.

* speaking of personal money, there also needs to be strict limits on how much a person can spend of their own money on their own campaign. Yes, I’m seriously suggesting that candidates be limited on how much of their own money they can spend on getting themselves elected. Again, government of the people, by the people, for the people with the implicit assumption that we’re all equal in this democracy – there’s no electoral equality between say a millionaire businessman running for the local assembly and somebody from the middle income bracket. And yet, and yet, who do you think would better represent your interests (assuming you’re part of the average), the millionaire or Joe Middleclass? Sure, maybe it’s the millionaire, but how do you know if Joe Middleclass never gets a shot? Do you really think the election should be decided by personal wealth? Really?

* strict regulation of “soft money.” SCOTUS’s Citizens United decision likely did more damage to the basic principles of this country than all the gerrymandering and closed primaries in the last 40 years. The declaration that corporations are people is exactly the same as saying money is people, and the more money the more rights it has.  Citizens United and the resulting creation of SuperPACs and their massive influx of anonymous soft money into the electoral process makes a mockery of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Again, again, and again, in accordance with the Constitution, the rights of any one “person” (be it human or corporate) may not trump the rights of another – and yet that’s exactly what SCOTUS’s decision does, it makes the rights of corporations and SuperPACs and billionaires orders of magnitude more important than any individual American. Corporations are not people, people are people. And money is not speech, nor does it have rights under the first amendment, but that’s exactly what Citizen’s United did, made money into a person and give its rights priority over yours.

* elimination of anonymous money. Period. There is absolutely no reason for any campaign money to be anonymous. And I mean any campaign money. We have safeguards protecting whistleblowers from retaliation, similar laws can protect those who may donate to unpopular candidates. Your ballot may be secret, and rightly so, but you money isn’t. You have the right to freedom of speech, not anonymous speech. Americans have a right, in fact a duty, to know who’s funding the politicians and buying the elections whether it be Karl Rove or the Pope. And quite frankly if you’re sending campaign money to the American Nazi Party, or the Tea Party for that matter (and no, I am not comparing the two so don’t go there), then you should have to own it, publicly – because we, all of us, have to live with the consequences.

Here’s the bottom line on campaign financing, a government of the people is answerable to the people, even if they fail to exercise their responsibilities in this matter, but a government of corporations and anonymous billionaire backed SuperPACs most certainly is not. Q.E.D.


Term limitations

I never believed in term limitations.

I firmly believed that a politician was term limited by the voters.

Democracy could throw out the bad politicians, but why shouldn’t voters also be able to keep the good ones? Right?

Over the years I’ve come to realize two things: 1) no politician is that good, and 2) in general, as a group, the people are self-centered idiots who are more than willing to screw over everybody else in the country just so long as they think they’ll come out ahead.

Take Democrat Strom Thurmond. The guy served 48 years in the Senate. Forty-eight years. That’s almost five decades. He was 100 years old by the time he left office. One hundred years old. One hundred. Look, that’s great. I hope I live that long, but for crying out loud, by the time Thurmond left office he was little more than a pickled head in a jar and there is no damned way he was competent to run the country. Worse, look back over those five decades and Thurmond was on the wrong side of history at almost every turn. And yet, South Carolinians just kept right on reelecting him – and hell if he actually did end up as a pickled head in a jar animated by clockwork and electricity, they’d still be reelecting him if they could.  It was a goof, a joke, bragging rights. Ha ha, we’ve got the oldest senator!  Har dee har har!  Our guy is senior! We win! We win! 

That’s the perversity of human nature, right there.

It’s the same here in Alaska with Representative Don Young. Hell, he didn’t even show up for one of the most important votes in recent history, instead he went on safari to Africa. Because he could. He’s safe. The whole damned state is his gerrymandered district. He’s been in office for more than 40 years, 40 years, think about that, really think about it.  He’s the most senior republican in the House, he cannot lose and there’s no point whatsoever in running against him.  Alaskans will just keep right on reelecting Don Young even if he ends up as a head in a jar full of onions and formaldehyde. The guy hasn’t had an honest job in 40 years, there’s absolutely nothing that he and I have in common other than we live in the same state (when he’s not down in D.C. or off shooting elephants in Kenya, I mean). As my representative, he represents none of my interests and we don’t even operate in the same decade let alone the same century – but until he dies, and maybe even after that, I have no hope whatsoever of getting anything different. He might as well be George The Third, hereditary King of England. My vote means nothing.  And yet, Alaskans here in Tea Party Central, more than any other American, will bitch endlessly about how nothing ever changes and they’ll moan and gnash their teeth on and on about Washington cronyism – and then they go to the polls and fill out the same little box on their ballots as they have for the last four decades. Because they’re idiots. Because we’ve got the oldest congressman! Our guy is senior! We Win! We Win!

And that too, is the perversity of human nature.

Look, Don Young’s not a terrible guy (for somebody who doesn’t understand why “wetback” might be offensive to certain ethnicities, I mean. See? The world has changed, he hasn’t). He’s done good things for Alaska, there’s no disputing that.  But nobody, my shiny electronic friends, nobody is 40 years good. Nobody, no politician, should be guaranteed a seat at the table for four damned decades. It’s long past time for this guy to go.

The founders intended government to be a duty, not a lifestyle.

When you’ve been in office 40 years, you’ve got a compelling inclination to protect the status quo and there’s no reason whatsoever for you to adapt to the future.  

It’s all part of a set piece, closed primaries, gerrymandered voting districts, bought and sold elections. It’s not about government of the people, by the people, for the people. When you’ve been around that long it’s about holding onto power and you start believing that you deserve to govern America.

Any politician who believes themselves safe will eventually come to think that power is their inalienable right – just as King George did.

No politician should be safe in their seat. No politician, no matter how good.

What limits am I talking about? Two terms in the House? Two in the Senate? Two in the White House? If it was up to me alone, I’d say that no politician be allowed to serve long enough to collect a pension, ten years total in any combination and out, find a real job and rollover your 401K same as the rest of us. Should service in state government count towards the total?  We’ll need to talk about it, as a nation. We need to examine it from all angles for unintended consequences.  And while we’re at it, maybe we should set an upper limit on the length of a Supreme Court Judge’s term, or not.

Term limits look easy, but they’re the hardest safeguard to impose, because it’ll take a Constitutional Amendment.

Edit: As has been pointed out in the comments, both the comments here and in the associated conversation on my Facebook page, there are very real problems with term limits – if those limits are applied without regard for the consequences.  A loss of institutional experience and a government of inexperienced lawmakers in thrall to lobbyists is one of those pitfalls. Which is why I said “We’ll need to talk about it, as a nation. We need to examine it from all angles for unintended consequences.” I most certainly agree with the commenters who pointed out that there’s little point in trading one form of disenfranchisement for another.  But I firmly believe that there have to be limits of some kind and that there’s a reasonable middle ground between a legislature of pickled heads and the tyranny of unelected lobbyists.

Mark Twain had it right when he said,

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often … and for the same reason.”


The politicians backed by big money and political parties will fight the idea of term limits – along with limits on election financing, redistricting, and primary reform. They’ll resist any limits on their power, that’s how power is. 

They’ll fight it every step of the way, and why shouldn’t they?

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the very last thing they want.

But, it’s a fight the American people can win, they can take back their government, if they put their minds to it.

We’re all in this together, and it’s about time we remembered that.



Part 2 of this essay will examine some additional, more minor tweaks to government that would put us back on the road to the government our founders envisioned.  Stay tuned.


  1. Yes. Please. and THANK YOU!!! Now. How are we going to organize this thing and get it off the ground?!?!?!?!

  2. You've stated what I've stated for a long time. Any, and I mean ANY, human enterprise is subject to abuse because it involves humans. When people bitch that the government is corrupt, ineffective, whatever, I call bullcrap, because ANY and EVERY human enterprise is subject to that, not just government. Good essay, I'm going to be sending it on to certain people. Hope they read it. Thank you.

  3. In California, nonpartisan or "decline to state" voters can vote for the candidates of one political party by requesting that party's ballot. IF, and this is a very big IF, the political party agrees to allow it.

    The Republicans have not allowed it in the nearly 30 years we've lived here.

    1. California's statewide and congressional elections are now (since 2010) held under "blanket primary" rules -- everyone goes into the same pot, and the top two (of whatever party) are on the ballot in November. This has led to two republicans or two Democrats on the ballot; the hope is that the more centrist could pick up votes from the other party.

      This was done about the same time that the power to define congressional and state districts was taken away from the legislature and given to a public committee. Made for quite a change!

  4. I've been struggling to write down very similar thoughts to this for weeks. We all complain about government. When government is less popular than goddamned Nickleback, you know we've just about hit bottom. Yet, we all fail to realize that it's a government we all voted for. We created this monster. The only people who can put it back into its sealed can are us.

    Thank you for being a genius, man. I wish we could get you to run for office somewhere.


  5. Well written and thought out essay. The only problem is what you mention at the end. The politicians themselves would have to agree to the changes and how the heck are we going to get them to do that?

    1. Maybe if those 2nd amendment loons actually meant the gasbagging they do....

  6. Unfortunately, as the Michigan legislature shows, term limits have two unintended consequences. (1) The rise of an incompetent government. The problem if throwing the bums out is one loses institutional memory. Sure there are plusses to that, but minuses as well. Yes, seniority has its problems, too, but while it's bad, so are all the alternatives. (2) The rise of promotion by annointment. True, your suggestion was to limit total service, but under current term limits, when a representative limits out, they move onto the smaller proof the Senate. Then the governor (state) or president (national). Term limits make the Jerry Fords of the world possible -- a representative with no aspirations for higher office, but interested in helping his/her home district. And those losses would be a shame. Now, allowing a court challenge regarding a politician's competence to hold office -- health, mental, criminal -- might be more effective. Dr. Phil

  7. If Don Young were term-limited out, wouldn't his replacement likely be a Tea Party Republican?

    With term limits, where is the motivation to become deeply expert on an issue? Conversely, where is the defense against entrenched interest groups and long-term civil service staff? A politician who has a reliable constituency at least has a little bit of ability to resist both.

    This has actually been studied by political scientists. I dipped into that literature about three years back. This was my conclusion: "Term limits are not the transformative reform that term limit advocates hope for. Term limits don't do what their proponents hope, and do do some of what their opponents fear. In my view, pursuing term limits distracts from more effective changes."—link

    I really don't think you've got a solution here.

    More, later.

  8. Where do I send my check to begin the process of forming the "Stonekettle Party?"

    1. Maybe the Skunk Party instead...


  9. Strangely enough, Jim, there is a state that has ALL of these things in one form or another. Arizona, believe it or not. Most of them were put into play by the citizens' initiative process, and are unfortunately subject to constant attempts to kill them by our predominately Republican state government. 1) Independents can vote in whichever state primary they wish to(Just not presidential ones). In the last session, our legislature voted in some of the most repressive voting laws in the country, including one that increases the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot for every party EXCEPT the Republicans. This is currently in court. 2) We have a five-person redistricting panel, 2 Dems, 2 GOP and one Independent. Last redistricting, it created at least three more competitive districts and although the Rs are still in the majority, they now longer have a supermajority. They, of course, are suing. 3) We have had a public fund that candidates can tap to run for office if they forgo private financing. Our legislature is trying to gut this as well. 4) AZ has had state term limits for a long time. Experienced pols move from one house to the other and then run for other offices. It should work, but that's problematic. We have so many crooked pols, and unless they do something really, really outrageous, they keep getting voted back in. Look at Arpaio for instance. What it comes down to, I think, is not just getting the money out or politics, but breaking up the media monopolies. This is essential for an informed electorate.


  10. In terms of electoral systems, wouldn't it be better to consider the instant runoff, range voting, or some similar system? Wouldn't proportional representation also be an improvement?

    Links, from another old post of mine on third parties:
    The Center for Voting and Democracy (http://www.fairvote.org/), which advocates the instant runoff, proportional representation, and several other voting reforms.
    The Center for Range Voting (http://rangevoting.org/).
    Common Cause (http://www.commoncause.org), which has been working on money and media issues since 1970s.
    Professor Douglas J. Amy's proportional representation archive (https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/prlib.htm).

  11. Interesting that you start an essay that shares a title with a Heinlein book by using a Heinlein quote and never mention Heinlein except to attribute the quote. I don't know if you have read the book, but it's a very interesting take on how to organize grassroots politics and overcome entrenched politicians. It was written sometime in the '50's as I recall (my copy is not at hand), and was reprinted during the Perot campaign of 92. The solutions you suggest are pretty good, although I lean more towards the Australian ballot solution to primaries and still have reservations about term limits, but they require active and effective political organization to accomplish. The politicians are certainly not going to alter the status quo to their detriment, and the political process does not favor innovative change. The question that interests me more than WHAT we should do is HOW can we do it.

    1. Interesting that you start an essay that shares a title with a Heinlein book by using a Heinlein quote and never mention Heinlein except to attribute the quote.

      So, you're saying I was too subtle then?

      I don't know if you have read the book, but it's a very interesting take on how to organize grassroots politics and overcome entrenched politicians.

      I have a copy right here on my desk. In point of fact, I own at least one copy of everything RAH ever wrote, usually more than one copy.

    2. Have you read Patterson's biography of Heinlein? The second volume is heading to production.

      (But look up Heinlein's politics from the 1930s. Quite different from his later views. Patterson is quite embarrassed by H's earlier politics.)

    3. Here in this wide, brown land on Oz, pre-selection (equivalent to your primaries) has it's problems. Usually who stands for an electorate is determined solely by the party caucus, sometimes by a vote within the party by party members. This is countered by the ease by which one can form a party or stand as an independent.

      Our elections suffer the same problem of money, media and corporate interference with the parliamentary and electoral process, the recent federal election being a case in point....

    4. Before there were primaries in the USA (and binding primaries are only 50 years old), there were smoke-filled rooms.

    5. I thought the opening quote was pretty much to the point Jim. I too have read every one of Heinlein's works several times. The thing Raven seems to ignore is that Heinlein progressed in his thinking and changed his attitudes and beliefs. So that should some how be held against him? We all do that through out our lives, at least if we are thinking rational beings. And why would I care about Patterson being embarrassed by Heinlein's political proclivities in the 1930's. That is Patterson's problem. Not mine. I happen to like RAH's writings and will continue to do so. Oh and to Raven those smoke filled rooms have be replaced by meetings where everyone has their smart phone and don't smoke as much. SOSDD.

    6. I assumed that you had probably read it, but it's not one of RAH's best read books, so, yes, to were a bit obscure. Kind of like a hipster talking about their favorite band that nobody else has heard of. My real critique, if you want to call it that, is that you are talking about structural solutions to the systemic problems but kind of skipping over the real world solution to the structural problem. In other words, how to we get the privileged elites to disenfranchise themselves for the common good? How to you get a legislature to vote to end gerrymandering? I think "Take Back Your Government" has some ideas on that problem that a lot of people haven't given much thought to. Of course solutions devised in the mid 20th century by a man who was nostalgic for the late 18th century may not be practical for the early 21st century (most people are probably not going to start going to political lectures again), but I do think there are pieces there that are useful. Every expansion of populist power, (the civil rights acts, the 15th and 19th amendments, etc.) came about because the entrenched elites were persuaded that it was better to give a little ground and essentially maintain the status quo otherwise than to face the consequences of not doing so. How we can implement changes on the scale of those you propose without having events on the scale of the civil rights movement, or even the Civil War, is hard to see.

  12. Okay, so we have experimented with some of what you mentioned, both here in California and in my home state of Louisiana and former home state of Arizona. So here's what happened:

    1) Term limits: California passed term limits. Most of the people who knew how government works got term-limited out of office, replaced by fresh faces who knew nothing about how government worked. The fresh faces were fodder for the lobbyists, who then started writing the bills that passed the Legislature because the fresh faces weren't competent to do so, having spent less than 8 years learning the profession of governing a state (it usually takes at *least* 5 years to get adequate at a profession, and 8 years is barely enough time to become good at it -- then you're term limited out!). The result is lobbyists ran wild, bloating the California budget with special-interest handouts and poking holes the size of battleships into the tax base on behalf of special interests. End result: Budgetary collapse, state becomes ungovernable.

    2) Edwin Edwards of Louisiana did most of the job of writing the 1970's Louisiana Constitution that replaced the 19th century Constitution that had become unwieldy and dysfunctional. "Honest" Eddie, being a sly one, wrote in a non-partisan "jungle primary" for selecting candidates for state offices, where everybody ran in a primary and then if nobody got a majority, the two top vote getters won. End result: the most liberal candidate got all the liberal votes, the most conservative candidate got all the conservative votes, and the moderates' votes were scattered across the three or four other candidates who were less extreme. The end result is that for the past 40 years, Louisiana has been running the most liberal and most conservative candidate against each other in the final election... sometimes to the benefit of the liberal (e.g. when Edwin Edwards won against David Duke), sometimes to the benefit of the conservative (e.g. when Mike Foster won against Cleo Fields -- the notion of Louisiana electing a liberal black man as governor simply was a non-starter), but never to the benefit of the state as a whole, which has collapsed into a giant cesspool of dysfunction.

    3) Open primaries -- California experimented with those, too. If you're not registered as a Democrat or Republican, you got to vote in whichever primary you felt like voting. The end result is that the majority of Californians have registered as "Independent" or "Decline to state" so that they can vote in whatever primary is most interesting. The actual outcome of the elections, on the other hand, haven't really changed that much.

    4) Re-districting: Now *THAT* is something I can get behind. But it really doesn't make that much difference. Arizona voted in a non-partisan redistricting committee 13 years ago. I haven't noticed that Arizona politics has become notably more functional, the collection of teabaggers, conspiracy theorists, and utter wackaloons who get elected out of that state tend to say that non-partisan redistricting is desirable for the sake of simple fairness to the voters of the state, but is not a panacea for fixing what ails American politics.

    And now Blogger is telling me I'm too verbose, let's just say that many of your suggestions are good ones, but we've tried them at the state level and those states *still* have screwed up politics. I think the problem is bigger than anything you've mentioned. Many of those suggestions are worthwhile in and of themselves, but until we figure out the real problem, we're just talking about bailing faster as water pours in the holes of the Titanic -- we're still gonna sink.

    1. Re: primaries in Alaska-
      We had "open" primaries here to begin with.
      Various court cases and responses to them gave us the closed primaries we have now.


      Note the Supreme Court case which determined the right of association stuff?

      Also, as regards the repeated stipulation that ONLY Rs, Us, and Ns can vote an R ballot, most Alaskans, over half, are registered as Undeclared or Non-partisan and can vote any which where. Registered Rs are almost twice the number of registered Ds in the state, but it is the Us and Ns which decide things here. I'll leave remarks about how "independent" the Us and Ns might be said to really be for a time I can think of way to say it without too many swear words.
      The repeated rehire of Don Young says some of it.
      Alaska Pi

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    4. I fondly remember the open primary where David Duke ended up paired against Edwin Edwards in the runoff. Then sitting Louisiana governor, Buddy Roemer, went down in flames in that primary; because, in my opinion, he had just converted from Democrat to Republican while in office. There were bumper stickers proclaiming 'Vote for the Crook, it's Important'. I did, because although I truly believed that Edwin Edwards was a crook, I knew David Duke was a flaming racist.

      The Republican Party at that time declared that David Duke was not their candidate, though he professed to be a Republican. However, every damned Republican that I spoke with then declared that he was THEIR candidate. Some of them still wish Duke had won.

  13. Great article. We as a people need to realize that being a citizen is an active thing. Far to many of us are exactly as you describe. We want our "Rights" but no "Responsibility" for making thins work. It's always someone else's fault.

  14. I disagree about term limits.

    My congressman is a physicist on leave of absence (Rush Holt, NJ-12); he's literate and principled; he would be very difficult to replace. On the other hand, if the dumbfucks in some nearby districts were tem-limited out, the people who nominated them would have no problem finding someone just as dumb to run in their place.

  15. Other thoughts that I think have some promise:
    1. The parties are currently picking their voters, and have been doing so since the 1970s. Many of the worst laws and candidates have been voted in during low-turnout elections. Therefore: (1) Make registration easy, perhaps even fine states for each unregistered citizens with the right to vote. (2) On the Australian model, make not voting a misdemeanor. Parties will be required to campaign to all the people, rather than the minority than can get to turn out.

    2. The mail ballot is not secret, and this will increasingly become a problem. In addition, the only major recent instances of voter fraud come from the mail ballot. So, except in places where it is a hardship, return to voting in person.

    3. Switch the voting dates to Saturday and Sunday. This makes it easier for people working during the week to vote. The reason the day is Tuesday seems to be mainly that farmers would have time to travel to the county seat.

    These electoral procedures, along with instant runoff or range voting, are, I think, the low hanging fruit of reform: these are things that are easy to implement and seem unlikely to have negative results.

    1. Make registration easy, but also make voting easy. Registration is already easy in many states, as long as one is not targeted by the current mania to disenfranchise voters. But to your point, consistent and full turnout to each election is what is needed.

      "The mail ballet is not secret..." Show your work, please. The ballot I mail in is just as secret, and processed similarly, as those cast in person in my county.

      Though I also have no data to show, the anecdotes I have seen center around voting machine malfunctions (or possible hacking), long lines at polling places, and voters having to cast "provisional ballots" because they could not be processed through the polls on time. So I see mail voting as a solution, not a problem. It also expands the time available to vote from hours to weeks.

    2. The problem is that, for instance, in a household with a tyrant for a husband, the wife isn't going to be voting independently. (This point courtesy Avedon Carol, feminist and political activist.) As if that isn't bad enough, we'll probably start seeing employers pressuring people to bring their ballot into the workplace and "helping" them vote, and similarly for churches. As far as I can tell, this is legal; it's not something that has been addressed in the law because universal mail ballots are relatively new. (But see Romney Encouraged Business Owners to Instruct Employees on How to Vote for the predecessor of such things.)

      See this NYT article on the problem of mail ballot fraud.

    3. One footnote to this: prior to the introduction of the modern US ballot (a process undertaken for ambiguous reasons) electoral fraud was routine. "Apparently, ballot fraud was so common it developed its own vocabulary. 'Colonizers' were groups of bought voters who moved en masse to turn the voting tide in doubtful wards. 'Floaters' flitted like honeybees wafting from party to party, casting ballots in response to the highest bidder. 'Repeaters' voted early and, sometimes in disguise, often."—The Vote That Failed, Smithsonian Magazine, 1998.

      Even more history in Annals of Democracy: Rock, Paper, Scissors, The New Yorker, 2008. Read 'em—they're fun and informative.

    4. Raven-
      The NYT article is focused on absentee vote-by-mail.
      Oregon and Washington have all vote-by-mail , as does at least one Home Rule Borough here in Alaska- Lake and Peninsula.
      The largest argument against them is not fraud or the like, but the gap between VEP and actual registered voters- a problem which needs to be addressed in and of itself . "Turnout" is consistently high, even in primaries, as relates to other jurisdictions.

      As for undue influence on voters possibly being more prevalent in vote-by-mail , having worked as a polling place judge through multiple elections, I have to say
      I think far too many folks show up clutching how-to-vote lists from their churches, local newspapers, and the like. I would venture that is likely more of a problem then single instances of pressure by a family member, etc. Also, from personal observation only, it is a type of voter- a whole other story in itself.
      Alaska Pi

  16. I agree with Dr. Brin's take on the Voter ID issue, only I would state it much more strongly: Any Voter ID law should be accompanied by the commitment of shitloads of money, and a dedicated staff of people, for the sole purpose of getting said IDs into the hands of all voters.

    And aggressively, not passively. Don't just hang out a "Voter IDs here" sign and wait for the poor, the elderly, and the uninformed to just show up - and then purge them from the voting rolls after they don't. No, start with the voting lists and send mailings, make telephone calls, bloody well do home visits if need be, in order to get that ID into the hands of every citizen who has registered to vote. And the IDs may not be required in any election before this has been accomplished.

    But, as I have stated before, I am a dreamer...

    Besides, it will all be moot when Jim becomes the UEU.


  17. "it would allow voters to divest themselves of formal political affiliation without giving up full participation in our republic"

    a hugely interesting idea. I consider myself pretty politically switched on. But i DON'T consider myself to be a Labor or Green voter (and it would take a pretty huge change in personnel and policy for me to vote LNP). On the other hand i'm HAPPY to think of myself as a scientist, mountain biker, son, brother and Stonekettle Station commenting a***hole.

    It would be interesting to know how many people really do define themselves in terms of a political party, as opposed to some (probably small) element of that party's policy stance (being in favour of unfettered assault rifle ownership could be the only thing that someone takes from the Republican platform, just as dealing with the world as though there is such a thing as objective reality could be the only thing you agree with the Democrats about ;-)

    1. See Miller and Shanks, 1996, The New American Voter. There is probably follow-up in the political science literature, but as a dilettante amateur political scientist, I don't follow the literature that closely.

      In US voting, identity trumps policy, with 45% of voters (as of Converse, back in the 1960s) voting on identity. The same work showed that only 15.5% of voters had even one policy idea. The rest are effectively voting at random.

      "This is your democracy, Americans. Cherish it."—Charles Pierce

  18. In addition to campaign finance reform, which I agree we need, we need media law and regulation reform. Under Reagan, post World War II laws which prevented media concentration, and regulations required that news channels to balance their presentations political were weakened. They have now been almost entirely abandoned.

    These laws and regulations were put into place exactly because postwar politicians saw clearly how much damage a controlled mass media did, leading to fascist states in Italy and Germany. We need to bring these laws back. As it is, we have a "news" channel that is entirely devoted to divisive right-wing propaganda, and very little variation in news reporting; the politics of the major media run from the true center* to the radical right.

    *The true center is actually fairly liberal. See The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth for documentation. In Alaska, a largely conservative state, it may not be clear how far to the right of the public the major media have slipped, but in the rest of country we find that fairly liberal policies are popular. (People don't vote those, but that's a whole other essay.)

  19. *standing applause*

    This essay should go viral, it's that profound. Thanks Jim, I appreciate the effort you put into your essays.

  20. Well-stated and thought-provoking, as usual. Only one quibble: "gave birth to the Tea Party". The Tea Party was not "born". It was created, like Frankenstein's monster, by the Koch brothers and their ilk, and funded by them for their own nefarious purposes. It is not a grass-roots movement and never has been.

  21. Right on and Amen, brother! I am sharing this gem of a posting.
    M from MD

  22. I agree with two of your points - gerrymandering and campaign finance - but strongly disagree with you on the primary issue.

    I honestly don't think there should be primaries at all. I actually think that the primary process has created an insidious - or should I say incestuous? - relationship between the parties and the government.

    As I've gotten older, and see how the monied interests really have both parties by the balls, I've become more and more convinced that our two-party system is little better than a one party system. Acting together, they have a stranglehold on the political process, making it impossible for any viable movement to develop into a legitimate third party. They basically make the rules for who appears on the ballot, and they use the election laws to keep themselves in power and exclude everyone else.

    It is not partisanship that is strangling our political system, it is the lack of it. Consider that large majorities of the population support: (i) a higher minimum wage, (ii) no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, (iii) higher taxes on the wealthy, (iv) background checks for gun purchases, (v) a real program to create jobs, and (vi) immigration reform. Yet our political leaders - of both parties - are keep telling us we can't have these things, in defiance of the rank and file "members" of both parties. This is a phenomenon that has developed as our primary system has become more open. In 1960 when Kennedy was elected, only 15 states even had primaries at all (in 2012 all 50 states had primaries).

    The fact is the current system has neutered the parties, made them unresponsive to their members and beholden to corporate interests.

    We should have totally nonpartisan elections. Anybody that can get a certain number of registered voters to sign a nominating petition - say 3 or 5% - is on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation. You should not have to be a member of a party to get on the ballot. There should be two rounds of for each election - the second being a runoff only if nobody gets a majority in the first round. And the party affiliation of the candidates should NOT be shown on the ballots.

    Campaigns should be totally publicly financed. For every election there should be a pot of money that is split equally among the candidates that get on the ballot. If you're on the ballot, you can spend the same amount as anyone else on the ballot - no more and no less.

    Political parties should be completely separate from the government. They should be private organizations that have their own rules for determining their membership and their candidates. People should not be able to become a member of a party simply by checking a box on voter registration form. The parties themselves should choose who their members are, how their members participate in party affairs, and who their candidates are. The government should have no role in the process whatsoever.

    Full time government employees other than elected officials should be prohibited from any political activities whatsoever (other than voting of course) - contributions, party membership, the works.

    Finally, private spending (by individuals or organizations other than the candidates' campaigns) for political advertising during the election period should be strictly limited and the limitations should apply to political parties on the same basis as any other organization. And no organization that spends any money on political advertising - including the parties themselves - should be exempt from taxation.

    If you ask me, doing these things will make the system much more responsive to the people than the system we have now.

    This covers three of your points. On the fourth - term limits - I would let this one go. I think a system like the above will make even incumbents more responsive to the electorate. If the electorate, operating under this system, re-elects someone to serve for 40 years, so be it.

    1. Both parties in their pockets? Just more evidence:


  23. I'm going with you on 3 for 4. I'm torn on term limits, but not for the obvious reason. When I was young and still prone to tilt at windmills, I found my way to a friends couch in DC, after having worked with juvenile delinquents and troubled kids for 4 years after college. My goal was to work with the agency that oversaw that kind of stuff(I believe it was HEW at the time), and make a difference on a National level. Now as I left the dock for the great land of DC, friends and family wished me fond farewell and warned me that DC was very political. Well of course it was political my rube self said, it was DC! I had no idea what they meant! I'd be the wallflower at the party of twenty somethings because when asked WHO I worked for or knew, I would honestly state I was looking for a job and knew noone. 30 seconds later, I was alone in the corner again. I did manage to wrangle a few interviews, which was actually a result of being shuffled off to someone else because I wasn't referred to them by a Washington NAME (ie. senator, congressman, WH lackey, etc.) I came to the end of the line by finally getting a referral to some woman who actually worked in HEW. She was probably the age I am now (many times past my 39th birthday), and was actually quite pleasant to me. After 5 minutes, I asked her if she was moving? She looked befuddled, followed my glance around her office that was literally moving boxes. She chuckled. No, she said, I've been in this office for 10 months now. But she had learned after 10 years with this department, they moved everyone every 3 years, whether it was necessary or not. So she stopped unpacking. She said what I was looking for was much like her moving. Program stability didn't exist. HEWs focus changed with every election. One term it would be teen-age pregnancy, the next term all money would be shifted to pre-school education, the next term would be drug education, the next juvenile delinquency, and so it went. If the program didn't fit in a term length, it died on the vine. What that means is you've got a merry go-round of programs, based on the term of the sponsor. The moral is, unless you build in a structure to keep the program running and funded, it dies with the next office holder who has his own ideas of what deserves the Republic's attention, ergo, no sense of consistency. And I guess that, kids, is why we have lobbyists . . .
    Duff in NoFla

  24. You know, I've been following David Brin's advice for most of my adult life. The epiphany came when my Mom stated that my neighbor was a fool for being a Democrat (in a largely Republican district). At the time, my neighbor's son (an adult with Downs Syndrome) was institutionalized in a hell hole named Pennhurst (look it up, I'm being kind by calling it a hell hole).

    Our district rep would refuse to lift a finger to help her, because she was a Democrat, and figured that she would never vote for him. What a Fucking Bastard.

    I live in AZ, in a red district (in a reasonably red state), and I'm a Republican. How I vote has no bearing on what party I belong to. They can go fuck themselves as far as I'm concerned.

    Needless to day, nobody I've ever voted for has won an election (or in the case of presidential ones, my electoral votes didn't go to the winner)

  25. And Obama, the antithesis of everything you just wrote, is your poster child in your exercise of absolute hypocrisy.

  26. Unfortunately, I think the rot is too great at this point to save the Constitution.

    I particularly think the points about closed primaries only scratch the surface of the problem. The proposed solution will just have GOP and Dems registering independent to go back to sabotaging the others' primaries.

    I also feel that term limits would be ultimately futile as one empty suit would be replaced by another.

    The two party system is de facto mandated by the Constitution itself, as outlined by Duverger's Law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law.

    Without the safeguards of a no confidence vote found in a parliamentary system, our two party dictatorship will march on until the US is no more. And they are hastening the end with each failed Congressional session.

    The Constitution is hopelessly broken. It has language that has been twisted beyond original intent and in no way accounts for the rise of the corporations. We need a new document with modern language that, at the very least, does not allow states to draw their own districts and dispenses with the horribly undemocratic Senate.

    The US is one of the oldest governments on the planet. We collectively think are immune to the need to turn over the government, but we are not. Even if this means that we end up with several republics in the end instead of just one. Maybe Texas and New York just shouldn't be under the same federal government.

  27. Love what you wrote. Let me add one small thing about term limits: Have no defined limits, just require that each successive term in the same office require an additional 5% of votes above the 50%+1 to return an incumbent. So, it gets harder to stay in office, as you have to please more and more people.
    Also, the "top two" as practiced here, results in the most mixed results I've seen in a two party system.

  28. One of the best damn essays I've read on these issues. Might be my Navy talking, but the fact that (unlike most) there are 4 distinct issues with solutions at the end is the cherry on top. Thanks!

  29. Closed primaries, partisan redistricting, campaign finance and term limits -- all have been proposed before and all ultimately fail because the two branches of the Business First party like things just the way they are. The question is, as Aesop asked, Who is to bell the cat?

  30. Absoufingloutely Mr Wright (Mr. Right) in my home town, here on Long Island, the town just had a vote and the incumbent won by less than 300 votes and is crowing "the people have spoken" So now its back to the same old friends network and screw the other 50% in this town. The gerrymandering is spot on as well as the finance reform and TERM LIMITS! The losers in this local debacle spent hundreds of thousand of their own $ as did the winners. for local government. no agenda just want to serve you great local folks. right. our land disappears and housing projects get parceled out. And I live in Halesite. as in Nathan Hale. (in Huntington NY) anyway I love your blog, your posts, and this one rings so true. How can we help effect these changes? I was told that it was better that the entrenched gov would be better than a new regime as to not rock the boat. lord help us.

  31. I must have more faith in people than you do. When I can sit down and have a real conversation with anyone, including Tea Party types, once I get past the rhetoric and the hate, I find they pretty much want the same things we all want - including all of those things you've mentioned like campaign reform, an end to gerrymandering, etc - but first you have to get past all the stuff they parrot from their favorite TV talking head. My biggest problem with people is that they are easily manipulated - it is easier to parrot the latest "news" than to actually think through the "news" yourself.

    Everything you've talked about has been talked about before - you aren't the first person to bring these subjects up and you won't be the last. The problem is these common sense solutions just aren't reaching people. We have a media that caters to the wealthy and it is only their views - on either side of the political spectrum- that we are hearing. With the exception of ED on MSNBC, every single one of the talking heads on every channel follows the dictum of "You do not bite the hand that feeds you" - so you are only hearing what the 1% in this country wants you to hear. We also need a drastic reform of our 5th estate if we are ever going to get this country back on track.

    1. I'd agree with you in most respects anonymous@ 7.22 am, except for one huge factor: Religion.

      There are many evangelicals, and some Catholics, Mormons, etc, of all stripes, who have been convinced that the USA is a Christian country, and that the bible is the "real" Constitution. John Hagee in his recent interview with Tom Delay actually prompts the shamed Congressman to come out with the "God gave us the Constitution" meme on video.


      Since the rise of the "moral majority" folks of the 80s, the Republican party and its splinter factions has become more and more infiltrated by folks who insist on making laws based on what some preacher or big time pastor has told them is the will of God.

      Take a guy like Ted Cruz for example. He is sly enough to not preach and bloviate about his militantly hard core Christian supremacist beliefs, but underneath, and in his church life, it's all about a movement towards theocracy in one form or another.

      The various factions in evangelical circles go by many names, and many of the movements have loose associations. The most extreme Christian militants like Bryan Fischer, David Barton, Charles Dobson, C Peter Wagner, and Mary Glazier are determined to transform every aspect of society, and government by force of law. They go so far as to openly declare that only Christians should serve in Government, and that the 1st amendment does not apply to Muslims.

      Politicians like Perry, Palin, Santorum, Romney, Cain, and Bachmann prove the point that as a Republican, you can't run for Congress, and certainly not President without proclaiming your Christian faith.

      Never mind that it violates Article 6, paragraph 3 of the Constitution, it proves my point that the Reconstructionists, the Dominionists, huge mega churches, and now even the Teaparty have conflated religion, faith and God into the ultimate litmus test for high office.

      This religion factor trumps will trump anything else in campaigns in 2014 and 2016, and it may ultimately cause a true secessionist movement to gain momentum

    2. The video on FreakoutNation about Tom Delay has been moved, try

    3. Ah, yes, religion - well I definitely do stay away from the evangelical types because you are right - it is near to impossible to get past the rhetoric with them - their churches train them well!

  32. Thank you , Mr Wright, for starting the much needed conversation here.
    I'm really iffy on term limits, 100% with you on redistricting and campaign finance reform, and have never liked closed primaries. Need to go back and read commenter above who wants to see us can primaries altogether and think about that some.
    Will be back to read what else folks think about all this.
    I think Baker v Carr, while touted as a win for individual voters ( and it was in some ways), had unintended consequences on other fronts which we need to deal with.
    Alaska Pi

  33. We need to do away with "partisan" party primaries and institute an "open system. Anyone can run, all appear on the ballot without labels, everyone votes the same ballot and the top two (if necessary) go to the General election.
    There should also be time limits put on the length of the campaign.
    Liked the idea of incumbents having to have a "super majority."

    1. The problem with the "jungle primary" is that we have experience with it for 30 years now in Louisiana and it doesn't work. The most extreme candidate on the left and the most extreme candidate on the right get all the liberal and conservative votes, while the three or four other candidates in the race split the centrist vote. The end result is that the most liberal and most conservative end up in the runoff -- which generally results in a candidate being elected who isn't really representative of what the majority of people want.

    2. BadTux, I'm still trying to get my head around the concept of liberal candidates in Louisiana. It probably looks different from here in CA!

  34. I like the idea of open primaries. I'd let anyone (and everyone) vote in a Republican or Democratic primary, that way the platforms would have to be more appealing to centrists. And if you really want to get money out of politics, the 2 primary winners who survived the primaries would then 'cut cards' to see who will be president.

  35. I'd move campaign finance to the top of the list and suggest a change that might fly even in the face of a supreme court majority that loves the rich. New York city (see link: http://www.nyccfb.info/candidates/candidates/publicmatchingfunds.aspx ) matches small donations times 6. So if I donate $25 to a campaign, the candidate gets $175. It makes it possible for a candidate to raise a lot of money from small donors.

  36. One thing people can do is join/contribute to groups like the League of Women Voters or state groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (full disclosure, I'm on the board of WDC) (if your state has one) that fight for good government reforms and try to make citizens aware of anti-reform proposals.

  37. I agree that registration is a huge problem. The same people who are trashing the country work hard to make registration difficult—it took a decade to pass "motor voter." One of the best registration programs, ACORN, was shut down because of a fraudulent video tape. These are the same people who are now working to create additional barriers to voting through ID requirements.

    Vote-by-mail is hard to secure against fraud, and all recent major frauds have involved vote-by-mail.

    "I have to say I think far too many folks show up clutching how-to-vote lists from their churches, local newspapers, and the like."

    Sure. But why make the problem worse by allowing churches to hold voting parties? And don't dismiss the "tyrannical husband" quite so quickly; in hard-fought women's issues he can make a big difference.

  38. Another proposal that poli sci geeks like—I'm not sure I agree—would be to vastly expand the House, so that there was, say, one representative for every 100,000 people. At that scale it would be possible for people to know their representative fairly well.

    Would this be an improvement? I'm not sure. It's an interesting idea, though. At least, it would promote more turnover in representatives, which might be a better solution than term limits. The constitution sets only a minimum of 30,000 people per rep, which was Washington's preferred number.

    1. Most people don't know that the when originally proposed the Bill of Rights consisted of twelve proposed amendments, one of which would have limited the size of Congressional districts to 50,000 people.


  39. My Congressman is Jared Polis; I don' know why anyone would want the job, but I'm sure happy as hell he keeps going back. Thom Hartmann says if we do term limits, the only experienced people in Washington will be the lobbyists.

  40. OK, I agree with your thoughts and I'm willing to go a step farther--no voting if you're incarcerated or collecting welfare. If you're not contributing to this country, you shouldn't get a say in how the money that the rest of us are putting in gets allocated. I could probably even be persuaded that high school drop-outs and/or anyone without W2s on file should be barred as well. Much of the problem today stems from stupid people casting ill-thought-out votes in large numbers, effectively canceling out the votes of many people who are contributing and paying attention.

    1. Sounds like you want to go quite a few steps backwards not forward.

      Why not just propose that only property owners can vote?

      Sound familiar?

    2. Hmmm.....another person "parroting" instead of thinking things through?
      Sure there are poor people who abuse the system, but there are rich people who do also - and they do much more damage to our economy than the poor could ever think of. So a person gets $11,000 a year that they don't deserve - does that even compare to what Wall Street did to all of us in 2007? Do think it is more important to jump on that poor person or all those greedy Wall Street types? Who actually did more damage to our economy? Do you go after those who are down because it is easier to bully the poor? Because that's who your special "talking head" bullies?

      Did you know that poverty is usually transitory in this country? That it usually doesn't last forever for most people? That when there is a large middle class, there is a small mobile poverty class? There may be a tiny amount that stay on welfare for most of their lives, but their children usually make it out. So by giving them a helping hand when they are down that you might actually be making them a contributor in the future? Isn't that what you want? Or do you just want to "punish" someone for getting something you don't - because you are so sure nobody ever helped you? So how does that make you a contributor? Because it sounds to me like you are trying to stop people who will someday be middle class contributors....

      Did you ever think through the fact that the more taxpayers there are, the better the country would be, and the less money would be paid out in welfare? Isn't that also what you want?

      I was on welfare as a child and on food stamps as an adult for a while, but by the time I retired, I was well within the top 10% of the wealthy in this country. I guarantee my family and I pay more in taxes than you do - yet, I am the very same person you would have denied the vote to - why? Because you have the erroneous belief that I got something for nothing? Because you had the erroneous belief that I would be poor forever?

      You know - I take the Constitution very seriously - can you point out to me where it says that it is the amount of money you make that determines whether or not you can vote? I also take the Preamble to the Constitution very seriously also - you know those words that say "provide for the general welfare"?

    3. Sorry it gets you guys upset, but I still say that if you're not kicking any money into the kitty, you shouldn't expect a say in how it gets doled out. And if welfare recipients weren't allowed to vote, we wouldn't have politicians who gain and keep office simply by pandering to that demographic. (Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson Lee, anyone?) If any "poor" person really wants to vote that badly, all they need do is get a job, for goodness sake. But our country does not benefit from more voters nearly as much as it does from informed, intelligent voters who actually take it seriously because they have a stake in the game. How about if I suggest that we go as for as Robert Heinlein did and advocate actual military service as a prerequisite for citizenship? People need to have skin in the game and voters with nothing to lose tend to screw the rest of us if given half a chance. Barack Obama is proof of that,

      Oh, and I support voters showing valid ID at the polls, too. How about that one?

    4. How about this, Murphy. If you haven't served in the military, you shouldn't expect any say in how your government is run. So only active duty military and veterans should be allowed to vote.

      Too bad about the 90% of the population that aren't veterans. They shoulda signed up, right?

      Oh, BTW, we have a name for a system of government where those who are governed have no say in how they're governed. It's called TYRANNY. Just sayin'. You seem to like the idea of tyranny, so I gave you a good example where 90% of Americans have no say in how they're governed. But it doesn't matter whether it's 90% or 9%, it's still tyranny if they're not allowed to vote and have a say in how they're governed.

    5. Wow, you sure had to work hard to chreate the strawman of a "tyranny" just so you could posture against one, didn't you? But this isn't about you or other internet warriors--it's about ensuring that our country is governed properly with decisions made by people who care enough to actually put themselves on the game board by getting a job, staying out of jail/off the dole, enlisting to serve, etc.,. These are all choices that each person is free to make or not according to their own self-interest. Just please don't cry to me if someone who chooses to go to prison by committing crimes or someone who decides not to get a job and instead seeks cash from the rest of us to subsidize a cushy life on the couch cannot also cast ballots in our elections. They freely made their choices and they're always free to choose to start working and stay out of trouble each and every morning of their lives. You seem to advocate that some people be able to have their cake and eat it, too.

      But you really didn't mean to argue that, did you? You just wanted to set this up so that you could "oppose tyranny" and then go sit smugly in your easy chair, having done your duty, right?.

    6. Again, we have a word for a system where those who are ruled have no voice or vote in how they are ruled. You can spew blather about "choices" and such, but what you are talking about is tyranny, and as a by-God American who believes in the Constitution and the values that it embodies, I will have no truck with it. Good day, sir.

      BTW, you need to read up on your Heinlein... I didn't pull my example out of my ***.

    7. Murph, Tux,

      I've got no problem with this particular sub-threat continuing. I think the subject is interesting and worth exploring in the context of the overall post (i.e. should the franchise be limited ala Heinlein's most famous work, or should it be open to all, why? and Etc).

      HOWEVER, do me a favor, both of you, let's step away from the ad hominem attacks. Don't make it personal. OK?

      Also, Tux, this is a Navy blog, you can say "Ass" here.

    8. sub THREAD. Not Threat. Fucking autocorrect is killing me.

    9. JIm Wright and Tux--my apologies. I do tend to get carried away sometimes and find the cheap shots irresistable. That said, our founding fathers set the inital bar where they did for a reason when they restricted the vote to actual property owners. They wanted the country's decisions to be made by people that actually had a stake in things and I'm sure that there was a general presumption that most people who managed to acquire enough wealth to own property were pretty smart. They could have given the vote to everyone but they chose not to, and they managed to ensure that we didn't get an uneducated underclass consistently electing candidates based solely upon them being "edgy" or "cool", with qualifications or experience disregarded. That's also likely why they wanted US Senators appointed by the representative state governments instead of just being elected by the same people who get to elect House members.

    10. One last post because I don't want to get into a flame war....

      1st. Murphy, it is interesting that you chose as your examples Waters and Lee, when you could have chosen other congressional districts that are equally as poor, say like Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District? Soo....what is it exactly that you mean by "poor"? Are your "overtones" getting in the way of your "music".

      Yes, there is a particular TV station that bashes Waters and Lee mercilessly for doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing - representing the needs of their districts - isn't that what you want Congressmen to do? I would certainly have been more impressed with your argument had you attacked Gregg Harper...

      2nd, have you noticed the unemployment rate in this country lately? Where are those jobs the poor could get? And then there's the working poor - those people who already have jobs but don't get paid a living wage. What about them? Should they lose their right to vote too? Is it your opinion that anyone who works at Walmart or McDonalds should lose their right to vote?

      3. Where do you stop "limiting" who has participation in a democracy? First it's the poor - and then maybe the old, because they are just living on Social Security? And then, maybe government employees, and then......

      And should my vote count more than what your vote counts because I probably have a lot more money than you? How much more? Isn't that the logical conclusion to your not wanting the poor to vote because they don't "contribute"? I know I contribute more than you do - maybe I should decide YOU shouldn't be voting either?

      4. And to all those others who have read Heinlein - doesn't anyone recognize satire anymore? Read something about Heinlein, how he went completely down the liberal rabbit-hole to true libertarianism - you know that libertarianism that states absolute freedom for all (as opposed to the "new" libertarians who's motto should be "Freedom for me, but not for thee"). Contrast that to what he says in Starship Troopers - maybe you will get the satire then. Heinlein knew what was good about the military - and he knew what was bad...

    11. Why you want to complicate things, Bro? Simple litmus test: Pay something into the system, get a vote; don't pay in, don't get a vote. It's that basic really. If someone works at McDonalds and gives up part of their wages in taxes, (or if they own real estate and pay property taxes) they're in. If someone else sits back on their couch and watches cable until the EBT card refills on the first of every month, they're out. It's not about black/white/old/young,etc., so why even go there? It's a bright-line test: "Do you pay taxes?" If the answer is yes, you get a ballot once you show photo ID at the polls to prove that you are who you claim to be.

    12. @Murphy's Law - And if someone owns shares in a corporation that pays staff such low wages that they need government benefits or food banks to get by, they lose their vote, right? Because when you pay subsistence wages that need government subsidies or charity to cover the gap you made, you are just sitting back on the couch and waiting for the government subsidised dividend cheque to roll in, and that's no different to sitting on the couch waiting for the EBT card to refill? Am I understanding you right?

    13. As I noted somewhere above, the title of this essay and the opening quote were perhaps too subtle on my part.

      I gave Robert Anson Heinlein a hat tip for his original work of the same name, for inspiring me this and many other times, and his thoughts on government and libertarianism which helped shape my own young worldview as a teen and young adult and helped drive me towards military service, intelligence work, and critical thought.

      BUT I deliberately went no further with my acknowledgement because I disagree with much of his later, personal, libertarian ideas of how government should run. Which Heinlein, I’m sure would have approved of, he hated people who couldn’t think for themselves.

      That said, his politics evolved over time, from liberal to conservative, and it's likely that had he lived into this century they would have continued to evolve, one way or the other. Tea Party or Occupy, though I suspect the former. Which is one of my underlying themes in this and many other posts, we evolve, our nation evolves, our politics evolve.

      Or not.

      Too often we ossify with age. Heinlein could have gone that way too, older and more bitter and selfish. Hence the examples I offered in the text.

      I enjoy Heinlein, a great deal, even his thinly disguised, sometimes overly tedious, libertarian screeds (Star Beast, for example. Yeeeesh, man, give it a rest). The man could tell a story. I also enjoy Star Wars, but I don't live my life by the Jedi Code.

      What I mean here is that Heinlein, as a writer of fiction, strove to do more than just tell a good tale (which he did exceptionally well, take Glory Road for example). Heinlein was an engineer, and it showed, he worked at understanding the universe and at making other people think, at not taking things at face value, or confusing intellect and reason for groupthink.

      That's the lesson of his work, not the often heavy handed voice of his characters.

      That’s the value of Heinlein's work in general and good science fiction in particular. Take Starship Troopers, the Heinlein work in question, which explores the same exact question Murphy does: What if the franchise had to be earned? By everybody, no exceptions. That's Heinlein the storyteller, Heinlein the man, the liberatian, never personally advocated any such thing - and in point of fact says quite clearly in the text of SST that the government in question wasn't the best or even the most desirable, it was just the one they had.

      Heinlein, as a libertarian, was also known for his unbridled generosity and his willingness to help even those he utterly disagreed with (Philip K. Dick, for example) and in his belief that civilization was worth preserving and worth working for.

      Again, as I said in the text, we need to talk about things, in detail.
      Me? I lean towards the idea that all men are created equal and that they have the same exact rights and therefore no one should be denied the franchise, but as Murphy points out and as is the theme of my essay, that kind of Liberty has consequences and it’s okay to explore them. And as Murphy also notes, the Founders obviously thought so too.

    14. So, again, Murphy posits a question: What if you had to earn the franchise? By work, by service, by whatever. What are the consequences? What are the downsides? You don't really know unless you ask the question.

      Folks, while I thoroughly detest the Ron Paul supporters who shouted "let them die!" underneath that hate and contempt and selfishness there is the germ of a legitimate question, to wit: At what point do social safety nets become slavery in perpetuity? And how do we get those self-enslaved people to throw off their chains? This being my point about human nature. Murphy suggests negative reinforcement. No work. No vote. No contribution to society, no say in how society runs. Don’t like it? Change your metal (points if you get that scifi quote). Would that work? Why? Or why not? What proof do you offer to support your position? What alternatives do you offer? And etc.

      Many folks, in conversation here and more specifically on social media linked to this post make the same observation: Great ideas, Wright, but how do we make it happen? The answer is we talk about it. But if we can’t even discuss those ideas civilly here with somebody like Murphy’s Law, well then how do you expect Republicans and Democrats et all to talk?

    15. First of all, Heinlein's first person narrators were notoriously unreliable. If you look behind the jingoistic first-person narrator of Starship Troopers or the approving way that the mouthpiece character of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress looks at what is a society comprised of murderous sociopaths, they could be read either way -- as a condemnation of the way society is organized in the novels, or as approval thereof. You're supposed to think, not assume. Because the first three letters of assume are, of course, ASS. Which is what you are if that's what you do.

      Now, back to the question of voting - thing is,I'm of an age where I experienced a society where only the "right" people were allowed to vote at a personal level. There is no argument that could change my opinion that imposing a government upon people at gunpoint -- what you're doing when people are not allowed to vote -- is wrong. Because I've seen it up close and personal, when half the population of the South was deprived of the vote in order that only the "right" people be allowed to vote, because "those" people are just ignorant savages, y'know! Asking me to debate "the right to vote -- should we only allow the 'right' people to vote or allow all people to vote?" is like asking for a debate on "The Holocaust: bad for Jews, or good for Jews?" in an Israeli kibbutz. My guess is that if you tried to conduct that debate in an Israeli kibbutz you would not like the results, because they have ancestors who were subjected to that horror and absolutely no desire or willingness to compromise regarding the fact that it was a morally reprehensible atrocity with no redeeming value. Accusing the members of that kibbutz of not being able to talk peaceably with people who say the Holocaust was a good thing is an accurate accusation -- but that does not mean the members of the kibbutz are wrong. It means that there are some things that are atrocity where compromise should never happen. When it comes to depriving people of the vote, you've crossed that bridge with me. Been there, done that, ain't going there again, just like the Israeli motto is Never Again.

    16. "At what point do social safety nets become slavery in perpetuity?"

      In every case I am aware of, long before that point, welfare for the rich has taken over. Isn't that where we are now?

    17. I am told that Hayes Twilight of the Elites covers this ground in some depth.

    18. [I wrote about the system Heinlein put forward in Starship Troopers some 10 (!) years ago. This is a slightly edited version of my remarks.]

      The central fact of the governmental form of Starship Troopers, which for some reason I've never seen stated in these terms, is that the vets (of many kinds of service, military and non-) are a literal ruling class. We know that leads to abuses; it does in even the more modest formal power relations of our society.

      Now, I will grant that Heinlein's system seems unusually fair; anyone willing to serve can join the ruling class, and the service doesn't even have to be military. So theoretically everyone would feel part of society and the people with the vote would have no reason to—literally—lord it over everyone else. But I've got real doubts it would work out that way in practice. (I am told that Chris Hayes, writing about our own society in Twilight of the Elites, addresses this in some depth.)

      Heinlein, if I remember correctly, argued that the fact of service would instill a sense of responsibility in his "citizens." I think power-hungry people would simply do their service, and turn into absolute jerks once released. Another problem I see is mixed marriages: can you imagine the stresses in a marriage between citizen and non-? A really nasty possibility are laws that give advantages to citizens over non- in child custody disputes. And I have little doubt that growing up in a family with access to power over non-citizens would better suit a person to success in their pre-citizenship service. On top of that, there would be a temptation to set up laws that made service hard.

      The more I think about his proposed system, laid against my current knowledge, the more it smells like rotten fish.

    19. I get it, Tux, I do. Probably more than you realize. But if you're not willing to debate that viewpoint with somebody like Murphy, if you're not willing to work at convincing him otherwise with unassailable logic instead of emotion, then where's that leave us? The Bush doctrine? You're either with us or against us? Yep. Welcome to America. And so it goes.

    20. Raven,

      As I said in the text, the designers of political systems tend to ignore basic human nature, I don't think Heinlein was any different. One thing I find myself always pointing out when it comes to the SST discussion, the "government" outlined in the novel is nothing but a sketch. And a bare sketch at that. It was a framework to hang a story on. Same as Herbert's Great Houses in Dune, or Pournelle's CoDominium in the John Christian Falkenberg series. Sure it worked great in Starship Troopers, because RAH wrote it that way. Just like Marx did. In reality though? Yeah, there's that human nature again...

    21. Murphy, any system that shuts the unemployed from the franchise will certainly end with the unemployed becoming a subject class. This is closer to realization than you appear to be aware. And, since hiring is still biased against blacks and women, what you are proposing is a racist, sexist system.

      BTW, almost everyone pays some taxes, at least sales taxes. Anyone employed typically pays roughly 20% of their income in taxes, though those may not be Federal income taxes. The 47% claim refers only to the Federal income tax.

    22. The problem is that moral atrocity is not something that is amenable to unassailable logic. Morality in the end is based on faith, not logic. If your religion holds that unborn children have souls and you are a devout follower of your religion, there is no amount of logic that will convince you that abortion is anything but a moral atrocity. I can make logical arguments about how depriving people of the right to vote is identical to imposing your government upon those people at gunpoint and thus is tyranny, but for someone who believes tyranny over "those" people (for whatever group of people) is good, that is a logical argument that holds no sway. In the end it boils down to a moral faith based argument: Democracy is good, tyranny is bad. Because there is no utilitarian argument that can be made, even. See: Singapore (a Confucian dictatorship which is a quite pleasant place to live, as long as you are a typical tidy industrious person who does not act like hooligan).

      So what does this leave us with, when you have a fundamental matter of faith like "tyranny bad" and "tyranny (over irresponsible people) is good"? In the end it is a question of morality, not of logic. And we have a bad track record, as a race, of handling questions of morality via means other than genocide :(.

    23. Oh come on. Religion and the Frowny face? Really? From you, Tux?

      Look, I try to abide by my own rules. The commenting rules state that you're welcome to disagree, but don't be a dick about it. Murphy disagreed. He was reasonably polite about it in his original comment. But arguing with you, he was verging on being a dick. I asked him, and you, to stop it. He did, immediately, and apologized. So he gets to stay.

      You? You'll argue with me all goddamned day, but him? No. On moral grounds no less.

      Jesus, Tux, I value your comments here on Stonekettle Station, but look at yourself, Murphy didn't bring irrational religion into it, you did. The guy is decent enough to apologize, so how about you of all people don't go calling him a Nazi and at least do him the courtesy of telling him why you think his position is wrong in logical terms. Then, if he goes all crazy religion on you, OK, fine. I've got your back, but damnit, if you can't do that, then just sit this one out, will you?

    24. Heinlein was after all writing fiction. Many people, however, treat his fiction as a reliable source of political and ethical philosophy, which I don't think he himself thought it was. His fiction seems to me a good starting point, but a poor place to end one's search. (I actually clipped a critique of Heinlein's understanding of human nature when I edited my remarks for reposting.)

      Marx never actually spelled out his vision of a Communist society, though he speculated in The Communist Manifesto, which he later regarded as inadequate. He felt that the only way to find out was to go through the process of creating that society and that this process would inevitably be undertaken. (If you want to find out more, I comment Fischer and Marek's How to Read Karl Marx to your attention.)

      I think, though, that if we are actually to undertake the making of law, it is incumbent on us to learn as much about the relevant political science, economics, sociology, and psychology as possible. We shouldn't mess with people's lives without knowledge and compassion.

    25. The thing that I see repeatedly see ignored by those who view folks on public assistance as non-tax payers is that they all do indeed pay taxes. Sales tax on anything and everything non-food related. Put gas in your car? You pay taxes. Have to buy clothes, pet food, tired for your car? You pay taxes. There's them earning the franchise.

    26. Fair enough, Jim. I was not trying to argue with you, I was trying to clarify my own thinking. The problem we arrive at, in the end, though, always seems to be one that is simple yet difficult to answer: What is moral, and how do we arrive at that conception of morality? And to what extent does logic enter into this? And when something conflicts with our morality, how do we resolve that conflict without tearing apart the nation? And with that I head to bed, unsatisfied that I have no easy answers to complex questions but at least satisfied that I have arrived at questions worth asking.

    27. Lucas, most of those taxes that you mention are state sales taxes. That differs from paying significantly into the federal process as anyone with a job or taxable investments does and it's a drop in the bucket compared to any land owner who is paying property taxes on their parcels of land. Now if I had my way, we wouldn't have those taxes but apparently we're surrounded by voters who like the idea of high taxes to pay for lots of government services. Many of those people don't pay into the system themselves yet they are currently allowed to vote to raise taxes on you and me to buy stuff for themselves. And if they are paying some local taxes--beer, cigarettes, rents, etc.,--that money is quite often just taken out of the tax dollars that they were handed free of charge because they or past generations of non-contributors decided that it was ok to vote to take other people's money. I think the question of how much tax money to give "the poor" should be limited to those who are actually paying that tax, or, better yet, it should be taken right out of the hands of the government altogether and returned to the realm of churches and non-profit charities that raise their money via voluntary (and tax deductable) donations from people who choose to give.

    28. "The thing that I see repeatedly see ignored by those who view folks on public assistance as non-tax payers is that they all do indeed pay taxes. Sales tax on anything and everything non-food related. Put gas in your car? You pay taxes. Have to buy clothes, pet food, tired for your car? You pay taxes. There's them earning the franchise. "

      This should be quoted over and over again as a bludgeon against anyone who wants to go the 'earn your franchise' route, because that system is already in place through taxation. We all pay in, whether we work or not, through sales-taxes, payrolltaxes, and various fees on pretty much every good and service that exists in modern society.

      We're already earning our franchises, all of us. It's already here. Stop trying to impose additional demands simply because the 'wrong' people vote.

    29. Sorry, but I think Murphy is a dick. He is willing to cut off a whole class of people from the rights and responsibilities of this government without even knowing who they are, based on what he percieves as their "contributions" in the terms of money only. Perhaps he should volunteer some time at a homeless shelter or a food bank and find out who it is he is willing to disenfranchise.
      For instance, I know a man who lost both of his legs and has brain damage from the Viet Nam war. He's on welfare now - are you saying he didn't contribute? Or how about that young mother who got cancer and lost her job? Are you saying she didn't contribute? Do we only contribute to government by paying taxes?

      Perhaps if Murphy actually got to know who the poor are, he wouldn't be so prejudiced against them...

      As for Heinlein - everyone should read his books when they are young and then again, when they are old - and they should read about his very interesting life. Heinlein liked to "poke" at some of our widely held beliefs but you miss that if you think he is "supporting" your point of view - and that is where the joy of reading Heinlein comes. But sorry, you are going to have to do better to convince me that SST isn't a satire....I'm listening - I can always consider something new....

      Would you not confuse libertarianism with conservatism? They come from two very different traditions. While I know political though is more of a circle than a straight line, true libertarianism comes from liberal, not conservative, thought and although it may look the same on the outside, it really has nothing to do with conservatism. Conservatism is more a belief in traditionalism and traditional institutions and that as long as you stay within the "rulebook", everything will be OK. Libertarianism, on the other hand, throws out the "rulebook" and asks for complete freedom for everyone, knowing that with complete freedom comes consequences that you must also be free to suffer...


    30. 1- Voter turnout is notoriously bad in the US and voter turnout is generally low/much lower amongst folks who are poor.
      so is there a red herring getting dangled on a string here?
      2-Lumping folks who work full time and yet qualify for the EITC in with ne'er-do-wells who don't work ? Another set of problems there.Assuming those ne'er-do-wells vote? Not supported by info really. Some studies of last federal election show folks with 15K or less income make up about 13% of the population but only about 6% of them voted- not a big turnout and did not change anything.
      3- Waving aside taxes folks pay to their state, county, or municpality as drops in the bucket? Here in Alaska, we pay property taxes to our borough or home rule unifed city-boroughs. (We are a constitutionally defined anti-Dillon's rule state) We pay our sales taxes to our local government. We vote about what, and how much, we will pay to run our local governments -which have broader powers than many elsewhere in the country. In a borough near mine renters pay sales taxes on their rented homes, apts, as well as whatever portion of their rent which goes to the landowner's property tax costs.
      While commercial properties are generally taxed at less than private property rates, it is well established that property owners of commercial properties can and do , by and large, recoup their tax costs from those who rent from them, the goods they produce from the property, and the like.
      In my area, the mill rate on single family homes, is quite modest and what we get , directly, from that is enormous.
      I do see, however, that the 5% sales taxes on all goods (including food) and services ( excepting medical) has a disproportionate cost to young folks getting started- they pay a heckuva a lot more of their total income in taxes than do others, even property owners. It is a real and abiding problem with keeping our young people here.
      Alaska Pi

    31. 3- These arguments for restricting voting to landowners which assume they will pay more attention because they have more skin-in-the-game, which here is also being extended to an assumption that they also get to pass judgment on who else is "worthy" is shaky.
      For folks who are serious about thinking on what property, the commons, fair rents and the like are, this addresses some of the underlying notions quite clearly- though perhaps in a policy area unfamiliar to many

      4-Baker v Carr changed the tension between rural and urban populations across the country big time. Since then urban populations have grown greatly. The issues faced by each are very different. I could go on for a week about what it is here in Alaska and how it affects us. This is a huge issue which we don't talk about directly.
      To get at a lot of this , we have to look very carefully at our underlying assumptions and I would argue that we do ourselves no favors haring off after the protestant-work-ethic redux dealie . We've beaten that one to death over and over in 200+years.
      Alaska Pi

    32. I don't cut anybody off from participating. Jobs are there for everyone. When people choose not to work, they cut themselves off.

      Now how about if we take a break from you assuming that you know so much about me and where I come from and let's do a theoretical here.

      Say you and some friends get together and you create a new town. There are maybe fifty of you and between you all, you can cover everyone's needs and wants through production, trade, employment and nominal taxation to cover basic government services. Everyone works and pitches in and everyone has an equal say. Great, eh?
      Now I come along with a few dozen bums. We decided that your town would be a nice place to live so we all move in one night. The next day, we demand a vote on allocation of the public moneys even though none of us are working and kicking in. We live here now though, so we're entitled to that vote. We vote en masse to impose a 30% tax on each of the rest of you, the money to be used to benefit us exclusively. Maybe all of you don't turn out to vote because you're busy working, but we all show up because I got this bus and brought the whole group to the polls and we won. If we lose, next election we'll just bring in more bums until we do win. But we've now created a system where in effect, you work for us and we reap the benefits while putting nothing on the table and doing nothing in return for you. This is a tyranny too--a tyranny of the minority, or of the majority once we reach 51% of the town's population. It's also how things work in many of not most urban cities, and I've lived and been politically active in several of them over the past few decades. Buses run from housing projects and homeless shelters to the polls and back. (And you get cookies! You just have to vote...and here's a slate that tells you who to vote for.) Political party operatives also canvass the jails and nursing homes with absentee ballots and many invalids who aren't even aware end up "voting", and usually against the interests of the wage-earners and investors out there. We currently live under a system that is rigged to run by garnering the votes of countless thousands of people who, if left to their own devices, would never show up at a polling place, and those votes are delivered in blocs to ensure that the people who collected them get their way at the end of the day no matter what the actual independent voters wanted. That's the sort of system that you like? That works for you? Well it doesn't work for me, thank you very much.

    33. "Jobs are there for everyone"

      Except, you know, we have these little "fact" thingies that you seem to be ignoring. Like three unemployed people for every job opening. Simple mathematics (the "Post Box Theorem", look it up) says that two of'em aren't gonna get jobs. I could go beyond that, but I'll stop with simple mathematics for now. This ain't the 19th century when you could get a job by simply walking ten miles in any direction with a hoe and a bag of seeds, claim forty acres of land, and presto, you're a farmer now.

    34. _________________________________________________
      Okay. Everybody hang on a minute, please.

      As the owner of Stonekettle Station, I try to refrain from taking over the comments section because I think that it throttles the conversation. HOWEVER, I think this subthread is starting to wander a bit. Before it goes completely off the rails, I'm going to impose some moderation.

      Bear with me, please hold your comments on this subthread for a few minutes while I organize my questions and arguments.


    35. Folks, first, perspective. They’re just words on a screen. Comments from somebody you don’t know on a blog written by a guy most of you have never met. Take a deep breath. Relax. Regard it as a puzzle to be solved.

      Murphy is not a troll, he (I assume he’s a he for various reasons, if not he’s welcome to correct me) he’s simply stated a position that a significant fraction of Americans hold in varying degrees. Murphy’s position may be ideologically opposed to what you usually find here on Stonekettle Station, but it’s one of the primary conservative themes in nearly every recent political and ideological argument we’ve had. And so it matters, you can’t just dismiss his position out of hand. It must be addressed.

      Couple of things:

      - “I think Murphy’s a dick, so therefore his argument is invalid” is a logical fallacy. You people are smart folks, I’m sure you can figure out which one, especially since it’s usually the first on any list of logical fallacies. So let’s stop that, please, and address the argument instead.

      - Up above Tux said that using logic on (for example) an anti-abortionist is a waste of time because they’re not operating from a logical position but rather from an emotional one (I’m summing up here). Good point. The observation also pertains to this conversation, Murphy has stated a coldly logical position, many of you are responding from an outraged emotional position. I get that, I do, but again, let’s address the argument.

      Fair enough?

      Now, this is a complex, emotional, topic. It’s wandered around a bit. So let’s start with the basic positions, break it down into easily managed pieces, and all get on the same sheet of music.

      Murphy, I’d like to clarify your position. Answer two questions for me, please:

      - You’ve done a pretty good job of staking out the Makers & Takers argument. You haven’t used any of the specific Objectivist key words, but you’re talking Ayn Rand. I don’t mean this as any kind of insult; I simply like to know who I’m dealing with. You’re a conservative Ron Paul Libertarian, yes?

      - Your basic argument, broken down, is thus:
      * Some people contribute to society, some don’t.
      * Contribute is defined as “pay federal income taxes based on level of employment.”
      * Contribution is voluntary.
      * Those that don’t contribute do so by choice.
      * Logically, therefore, only those who contribute should have a say in managing that society.

      Correct so far? Have I properly identified you and is my summation of your basic position correct? A simple yes or no to each of the two questions will do at this point.

    36. I must apologize to you Murphy for calling you a dick. Jim is right, it was an emotional response.

      And Jim, I get smarter by hanging around smart people, so I'll wait and see where you are going with this.....sorry for the interruption....

    37. While Murphy's assertion that one should have skin in the game before deciding how to divide it is tempting, he forgets that government does more than just divide up money. The decision to go to war disproportionately affects the underclass who make up the majority of the front line. It's determination of what constitutes a crime, and its consequences, affect the same group as evidenced by the proportion of the prison population incarcerated for small drug crimes.

    38. One thing at a time, let's let Murphy answer the questions I asked above before proceeding any further.

      Let's make sure that we fully understand the basic argument, first.

    39. Jim,

      You're correct...I'm not trolling. I'm just a guy who has been all over this great country, including your fair state (love it!) and seen quite a bit of the human factor at work. (Let me know when you want to talk about lobbyists...I was one of those once, too.)

      I do like Ayn Rand academically, but I'm not one of her kool-aid drinkers. Nor am I a big L Libertarian or any sort of Ron Paul fan. (You want to see people upset, you should see some of my past discussions with those folk.) I actually find the idea of an income tax repugnant--especially a federal one--but unfortunately, we're stuck with one at present.

      But that said, looking to your breakdown of my argument, it's mostly correct. Contribution in our society is mandatory so people who reside in our country cannot just arbitrarily opt out as we're seeing these so-called "soveriegn citizens" always trying to do. That said, some people do fall behind by not working and not contributing to the overall economy and the tax base. I'm not opposed to helping those who, through no fault of their own, are on hard times with some temporary assistance, but if I have to pay your way for a bit, I don't like the idea of you being able to vote yourself plusher benefits for longer periods of time. Everything has a cost, and seeking to become a ward of the state means that you forfiet control of that state. You can have one or the other, but not both.

      Sorry for being so wordy there. Let the fireworks recommence. And like Jim keeps saying--even if a few of us disagree on a few things, it's only academic and nothing personal.

    40. I'm a Ron Paul fan and small "l" libertarian, cautious about the big "L", and not fan of Ayn Rand's narcissistic cultish Objectivism. I think people from all along the spectrum would agree that we should help those down and out through no fault of their own and keep the moochers on a short leash. Today's economic climate is mired in structural unemployment, turning previously productive workers into demoralized by resigned wards of the state. "I used to give to charity. I never thought I would need it myself." is a common refrain.
      But the difference between temporarily-down-and-out and moocher in this economy is a question of intent, indistinguishable to any entitlement agency bureaucrat. At a national level, the only two solutions are to either pay them all or none of them. In my opinion, the most qualified to arbitrate intent is the local charity. If it is supported by tax dollars, they should be local tax dollars.

    41. You interest me strangely, Murphy. I would have bet money that you were a Ron Paul supporter. Which is why I asked, so that I didn’t make a wrong assumptions. Not that it particularly matters one way or the other, like I said, I just like to know who I’m talking to.

      That said, let’s walk through your position:

      * Some people contribute to society, some don’t.

      I think we can all agree to this as a general statement, Raven, Tux, Pi, and various and assorted anons, all of us - with the caveat of: define contribute.
      But, however you define it, some do, some don’t.

      So, let’s define it.

      * Contribute is defined as “pay federal income taxes based on level of employment.”

      Murphy, you’ve staked out a pretty black and white definition of contribute, at least it appears that way at first blush, though you widened the definition just a little in that last comment. But let’s clarify a few things:

      - You dismissed the sales tax argument, saying that payment of sales taxes only really contributes to state and local government, not federal. I can’t argue with that observation, however, it does suggest that logically you would agree that a citizen who doesn’t pay federal income tax but does pay state and local sales taxes should therefore have a say in state and local elections. Yes?

      - Back to the main argument: At the federal level, would you allow contribution to be anything other than just employment/payment of income tax? Would you allow that a citizen may contribute to society and the welfare of the nation via means other than monetary? I.e. some form of service, military or otherwise? Perhaps labor in the public interest such as the construction of roads or public facilities and so on. Ideas? Teamwork? Volunteerism? Perhaps social services such as delivering meals to shut-ins or emptying bedpans at the local hospital? Or must contribution, and thus the right to the franchise, be only monetary via payment of federal income taxes? If so, why?

    42. Okay, so let's look at some of Murphy's Law's assumptions:

      1) Things would be better if only the "right" people were allowed to choose who governed the nation.

      Fact: The most prosperous countries on the planet are those with a broad-based franchise, with the sole exception of the city-state of Singapore.
      Fact: We tried that in the American South between 1875 and 1965, when the majority of the population (both black and white) was disenfranchised by poll taxes and literacy tests. The American South was a cesspool of corruption and poverty until after the franchise was granted to the majority in 1965.

      Okay, let's look at another assumption:

      2) The majority of people are lazy, and will vote to subsist on the income of others if allowed to vote.

      Fact: This has not happened in any of the countries which have a broad-based franchise. None. Zero. Nada. Not even in countries like the Scandinavian countries that have generous social benefits for the unemployed. The assumption that the majority are lazy and would vote themselves benefits at the expense of the minority appears to be contradicted by, well, reality.

      And finally, let's look at another implicit assumption:

      3) Those unemployed people who are disenfranchised will be thus motivated to be hard working and productive in order to join the ruling class.

      Thing is, I worked the numbers and found that the vast majority of the poor are elderly, disabled, or looking for a job. 1.9% of the working age population is a) poor, b), able to work, and c) neither working nor looking for work. So it appears that the population is *already* highly motivated. Fact: Punishing highly motivated people (which removing their right to vote would do) does not increase their motivation. It decreases their motivation. Just sayin'.

    43. Jim,

      As to your first question, re: state and local taxes...that's an interesting question. I'd tend to lean in favor, but again, if it's welfare recipients, they're just handing us some of our own money back, so there's no real contribution of their own in play there.

      As to citizens contributing by service, I've always liked that idea. Military service for sure, and I'm certain that we could come up with all sorts of other examples, from the Peace Corps right on down to volunteer firefighters, hospital volunteers or other charity volunteers like you suggest. The bar doesn't have to be prohibitively high--and it shouldn't be, because the goal is to get people to participate, not block them out. But by that same token, there has to be some cost or sacrifice even if it's nominal financially so that everyone who plays knows and appreciates what they did in return for the concession. It's a given that most people don't appreciate things that they didn't have to pay for or otherwise work for, and when we don't appreciate something we place scant value on it and take it for granted.

    44. Murphy, what about low-income vets? Their pensions aren't taxable. Do they contribute?

      Anyone employed in the USA also pays Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment tax, even if they pay no income tax. Do you count these as contributions?

      Mitt Romney probably didn't pay income tax for 10 years. It appears an RNC press agent admitted it. (The rich aren't like us. They have better accountants.) Did he contribute? In your thinking would he therefore be ineligible for elected office?

    45. Bad Tux,

      Interesting assumptions, but they aren't necessarily mine. I haven't made those arguments as you've framed them. Your responses are pretty good, but they aren't applicable to my positions.

    46. Hang on, Tux, Raven Hold those questions.

      I want to clarify Murphy's position first, in detail. As he said, let's not make assumptions. Wait a minute please. Let me finish.


    47. Raven,

      A vet's a vet. They gave up at least two years in full-time service to this country so I'd argue that they've paid their dues. Granted, that's just me. As to Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment, I really don't consider those "contributing" inasmuch as the object of those is merely the government forcing you to provide for your own future care. (I don't like the way that they've been managed and abused by Congress, but that's another topic entirely.)

      As for that Romney guy, he certainly contributed and mightily so. Not really a Romney fan here, but it's undeniable that he has owned both real property and actual businesses and those businesses have paid plenty of their own taxes in addition to employing others and putting goods and services into the economy.

    48. Murphy,

      So, your position then allows for some flexibility in the definition of contribute. Good. I’m always leery of talking to absolutists who see only in black and white.

      Let’s leave aside alternate forms of contribution for the moment and return to the original definition:

      - What is the threshold for federal income tax contribution? Any contribution no matter how small? And are all contributions equal? In other words are all contributions to the maintenance of society to be taken equally in relationship to the franchise no matter their actual monetary value? I.e. as long as you pay something, you get a vote, and all votes are equal. Or not. If you pay more, shouldn't you have more voice?

      Given the basic premise of your argument, i.e. that if you don’t contribute via federal income taxes, you’re not entitled to a franchise, then it logically follows that the more you pay, the bigger your voice in government should be.

      Do you agree? If not, why not?

    49. Jim,
      Flexibility in most things is key if you want workable solutions instead of just dogma.
      Now as to threshold, I would argue that it's a black-line test: You either hit it and you're all in for one vote, or you don't. No degrees of in, and no more or less once in. What should that threshhold be? I wouldn't pretend to have an idea. That's a great topic for yet another discussion. Again though, it wouldn't be my goal to put it out of reach of anyone who wants to go after it. They idea is to have more people pulling the wagon, so the carrot has to be fairly easy to get and virtually assured once you start actually pulling.

    50. “It is indeed difficult to imagine how men who have entirely renounced the habit of managing their own affairs could be successful in choosing those who ought to lead them. It is impossible to believe that a liberal, energetic, and wise government can ever emerge from the ballots of a nation of servants.”
      ― Alexis de Tocqueville

      An Objectivist wouldn't be backtracking like Murphy is, so he can't be one of those. This whole argument is backward. If the concern is that people can vote for politicians who will give them stuff, instead of taking away the vote, we should take away politicians' ability to hand out goodies.

    51. This comment has been removed by the author.

    52. All,

      I hope it’s now somewhat more obvious, that Murphy’s position isn’t quite as extreme as it first appeared. Again, good, as I said, I’ve got issues with extremists.


      So, some threshold to be agreed upon later. But something, even if it’s a pittance, at least some effort towards the maintenance of society in order to be granted a full franchise.

      I don’t think this is a particularly unreasonable position as a general idea of society.

      I suspect, given my previous comments in the essay regarding human nature, that it like other egalitarian ideas of society and government is unworkable in actual practice however. As I'm about to argue.

      You, of course, can certainly see some of the immediate and likely pitfalls. I outlined one in the previous comments – i.e. I pay more, I should have more voice (you needn’t point out that this state of affairs already exists, that’s one of the points of my essay). This holds true for non-monetary compensation, e.g. I went to war and got shot defending this country, that should count for more than you picking up trash along the highway, therefore my vote should count for more than yours.

      As you pointed out, Murphy, this is to a certain extent the attitude of the Founders, i.e. White, Male, and I own land, I get a vote. You can work to buy land, and if you want a vote, do that – also don’t be black or female.

      I would argue that we’ve spend two hundred years and change coming to the realization that that kind of liberty is limited and doesn’t really work very well in the current century. Let me also say that obviously you are not suggesting denial of franchise based on race or sex or etc and I don’t want to even hint that you are. However, that said, we have the landowner requirement, updated to the 21st Century, by saying you’ve got to pay federal income taxes, and to do that you’ve got to own property (in the form of having a job or other assets that provide for income or you must provide an equivalent form of contribution).

      There are obvious problems, Tux and Raven have pointed out a few. Here’s another one, you brought up Romney: So, take a wealthy person, with access to tax shelters and loopholes and offshore accounts, and say that they don’t actually pay any realized income tax (this is not a common issue, but it happens more than we'd like). They’re not burden on society, per se, even if they don’t do anything particularly useful (like oh say, Paris Hilton). Should they be denied the franchise? After all, they could work, they could pay taxes, but they choose not to.

      What about those who paid taxes all their lives, but are now retired and on fixed incomes and over the age where we require payment of federal taxes. Should senior citizens lose their franchise when they retire?

      What if you pay taxes, but at the end of the year the government gives it all back? I.e. your income and deductions combine to give you a full tax refund. You didn’t contribute, but through no fault of your own.

      What if you’re like me? A combat asset in a war zone and therefore exempt from federal taxes? You say, hey, that’s a contribution. But it’s not one available to everybody. Not everybody can serve, even if they want to. And you can easily follow this line of reasoning to a variety of conclusions.

      And so on, we could find exceptions all day. Don't bother to address the examples above, I just listed them to demonstrate that it's not as easy as it appears. And to implement your idea, we’d have to address every single one, fairly and concisely. I suggest to you that that it becomes unworkable pretty quick.

    53. Which brings us the next two points:
      * Contribution is voluntary.
      * Those that don’t contribute do so by choice.

      What guarantees do you offer to make those statements true? That there are actual choices?

      If you base the franchise on employment, what’s to keep those in power from reducing the opportunity for employment? Would you like to take bets on unemployment numbers in an election year vs a non-election year? I suggest to you that the law of unintended consequences would result in the wealthy and the powerful abusing the system far worse than any welfare queen.

      Again, what how do you see securing such a system so that everybody does indeed have free choice?

    54. This comment has been removed by the author.

    55. Murphy,
      As an aside, given your argument that those who don't pay taxes shouldn't vote, and given that you eliminate seniors, military, etc, correct me if I am wrong, but is it the people you would deny the vote to are working age adults collecting welfare? I really am no longer clear on who you think should vote and who you think should not. But let's consider two scenarios:

      1. I just did some research and 12.8 million people of the US population is on welfare, and out of that 66% are children who don't vote anyway, so actually the percentage of people capable of voting who are on welfare is about 4,3 million adults. In the last election about 129 million people voted so the people on welfare who could vote is probably about 3% of the total votes cast.

      So, are you willing to spend your valuable tax dollars enforcing (because you will have to have some method of enforcing your plan - cause you know - voter fraud) that all voters pay taxes for the 3% that might not? How much larger of a government would you be willing to support to ensure that the 3% of the voting population is kept away from the polls? Is this really a good use of limited resources?

      2. Then I looked up where our entitlements go. Over 91% goes to the elderly, disabled or working households so only 9% goes to those who aren't working for some reason, such as those collecting unemployment insurance and those on welfare. Another interesting tidbit I found was that 58% of the entitlements actually go to the middle class, 10% of the entitlements go to the rich, and 32% go to the poor. So because all of these people receive entitlements, would you remove them all from the voter roles - or are they safe because they mostly do pay taxes even though they usually get most of their money back?

    56. Sorry, Jim. With great difficulty I am sitting on those comments. (They have horns, you know.)

    57. Raven, think of it like I'm Red Leader and we're roaring down the trench of the Death Star, "Stay on target, stay on target..."

    58. To Anonymous 11/25/ 1:01 -- and anyone else who reads the figures -- I would postulate that, of the adults that are "on welfare", the majority of them are women, since there is no such thing as general public assistance anymore. One must have a child in the household to qualify for the specific (lifetime limited) "welfare" that is now available.

      To no one in particular -- would the "requirement" to have earned income and pay federal taxes not also prevent stay-at-home mothers from voting?

      In other words, the "rules" that Murphy is proposing (even if you buy the falsehood that "there are jobs for everyone") would disproportionally affect women's right to vote. Of course that just moves us back to the "original intent" of a white male property-owning electorate.

    59. Again, I'd like Murphy to answer the last question I posted before we go any further.

      Since Murphy is logging in from a different time zone and a place that is likely sucking up some of his time in last minute pre-holiday meetings, I'll give him a couple more hours to reply (I've got a meeting to be at here shortly myself).

      All the things you guys have mentioned, Howdi, Raven, Tux, Pi, and various and assorted Anons, those things are all legitimate observations, BUT they are side effects. There is a major pitfall with Murphy's position, one ironically that results from the law named after Murphy's handle. That inevitable pitfall incorporates all of the dangers and drawbacks you've all mentioned. I would think it should be obvious by now.

      As I said, I'll give Murphy a few more hours. Be patient.

    60. Sorry Jim and others,

      Jim's right--bad weather and a job are getting in the way of a sustained discussion. That said, as to the questions...

      In my travels, I've met many people who consider welfare in it's various forms to be a legitimate lifestyle choice the frees them from any obligation to show up anywhere or punch a clock. Most are able-bodied and capable of working but they choose to go for the SSI "disabled" label or just pop out kids and run to the state for rent and food instead of holding the daddy responsible. (Often he's still very much in the picture but just doesn't want the burden of childcare expenses.) These are the sort of people that I don't want to see making decisions that affect the rest of us or electing politicians who will be beholden to them. I also realize that they are not the entire spectrum of those seeking welfare, but they do compose a significant chunk of the demographic and it's getting worse, not better, as eligibility for existing programs is being expanded and fraud is not being aggressively sought out and punished.

      As to how to set up and secure a system, that one I couldn't begin to articulate. I never said that I have all of the answers. I just know what I personally would like to see in our government, and how to implement it (or whether to implement it) is a great discussion topic

    61. I think tying voting to a "contribution" is a terrible idea.

      We have enough trouble with voter turnout and apathy as it is, and I'm willing to bet that the main reason for that is that many of us feel that the candidates we are offered do not represent us in any way, shape, or form.

      If we were to pass such a law, we would effectively silence the weakest and poorest among us, denying them the ability to effect change that would improve their lives.

      Oh, nevermind, that's already happened.

    62. Murphy,
      I can see that you are disgusted with lazy people - people who expect a handout for nothing - I get that. No one wants to see people who won't pull their own weight in this life.

      But are you really any different? You see there are different kinds of laziness. You may dislike people you think are getting something for nothing. I dislike people who are lazy thinkers - who just willing to accept and repeat what someone else tells them and don't do the hard work to find out for themselves what is real and true.

      What you are complaining about is a "strawman" built to keep your mind focused away from other things. Your description of the poor is a caricature - it isn't real, but you won't do the work to find out what is real. You focus on the strawman set up for you because you too are lazy. So how does that make you any different than those that you choose to punish?

      Don't accept anyone's word (not even mine) for who the poor and the disabled are - do the hard work of finding out for yourself. Earn your right to judge!!

    63. ______________________________
      Again, hold your comments and questions to Murphy.

      My response will be up shortly. Then I'll open it back up to the general audience.


    64. Okay, time to wrap this up:

      Murphy replied, “As to how to set up and secure a system, that one I couldn't begin to articulate. I never said that I have all of the answers. I just know what I personally would like to see in our government, and how to implement it (or whether to implement it)

      That’s the same answer I arrived at.

      Let’s walk it all the way through, shall we?
      Some people contribute to society, some don’t.
      * Contribute is defined as “pay federal income taxes based on level of employment.”
      * Contribution is voluntary.
      * Those that don’t contribute do so by choice.
      * Logically, therefore, only those who contribute should have a say in managing that society.

      You could point to my essay above for a supporting argument, i.e. that part where I said, “We are all in it together” and “Far too many Americans selfishly demand the rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and blithely ignore the responsibilities that implicitly come with them.”

      Murphy’s basic argument is that my statement cuts both ways.

      I think we can all agree in principle, and in point of fact if you agreed with the basic gist of my essay you’ve already done so.

      Murphy has posited what many Conservatives and most Libertarians consider a growing problem: The Ayn Rand Takers and Makers Argument, i.e. some people take from society and don’t give back. The argument is usually confined to a strictly monetary definition of “make.” Murphy framed it as “pay federal income taxes.” Again, you can point to my original essay for a supporting observation, the part about responsibility and more specifically that part about us being capitalists and money greasing the wheels of America. That said, note that Murphy agreed that the definition of “contribute” might allow for non-monetary contribution, to be defined later.

      I think we can all agree that this is a valid observation, so far as it goes, the Makers and Takers part. Some people do take from society without giving back, how many and to want degree is subject to debate. But, some people have made welfare a lifestyle and do not pay into society. This is a provable fact. We differ, sometimes vehemently, on how big of a problem this really is, on what caused it, on what perpetuates it, on how to fix it, and most especially on what exactly constitutes our moral obligation to the problem as a society. But we can all agree to the basic statement: some people take without giving back.

      So, we are all starting from approximately the same place.

    65. Murphy suggests that a way to encourage the Takers to become Makers is to tie the right to vote directly to the payment of federal income taxes, or in other words the franchise should be limited to those who support themselves: Basically “Get a job, Hippies!”

      Again, you could point to my essay – and as Murphy says, the words of many of the Founders – for justification of this position, i.e. Liberty directly implies that you take responsibility for yourself. And if you’re not responsible for yourself, how can you be responsible for government? Again, my essay cuts two ways. This, incidentally, is the basic argument we use to justify limiting the franchise to citizens above a certain age or of given mental competency and so on.

      Again, from a strictly logical standpoint, from a discussion of political and social sciences, Murphy’s position is not egregiously unreasonable.

      Murphy did not say, “These scumbags are worthless and subhuman and should be herded into gas chambers.” He said in essence, “These people should contribute. However, it’s their choice. If they choose not to contribute, then they shouldn’t get a say in how things are done.”

      You could point to my essay, and the many others I’ve written, and to the words of some of the founders, to liberal philosophy, and to certain religious precepts, and you could argue that Murphy’s position is unacceptable on moral grounds, and some of you have suggested exactly that.

      Murphy could point to my essay, and Ayn Rand, and conservative philosophy, and certain religious principles such as the so-called Protestant Work Ethic, and justify his position also on moral grounds.

      This is basically the fundamental argument that divides Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative, Libertarian Republican and Corporate Republican/Social Democrat – or more precisely, personal responsibility vs civilization’s responsibility.

      This is why I left morality out of it and suggested that you all do the same – because as Tux pointed out, we’re not likely to agree on that particular subject. It’s not necessary to the conversation anyway.

    66. Now, down to brass tacks:

      The basic argument:

      Some people contribute to society, some don’t.
      * Contribute is defined as “pay federal income taxes.”
      * Contribution is voluntary.
      * Those who don’t contribute do so by choice.
      Therefore, only those who contribute should have a say in managing society.

      Contribute is defined as “pay federal income taxes.” We’ve allowed that contribute can possibly be non-monetary, but the same problem that I’m about to explore also applies to non-monetary input.

      Contribution is voluntary. Since “contribute” is primarily defined as payment of taxes, voluntary contribution implies either sufficient employment or independent taxable wealth. Since, in Murphy’s model, the franchise is tied directly to payment of taxes, that directly extrapolates a tiered society made up of those with
      a) the permanent franchise (the wealthy)
      b) those who earn the franchise from day to day via employment (the middle class and working poor)
      c) the disenfranchised.

      According to Murphy, it is entirely possible move from c) to b) and hopefully even to a). Ideally this model would encourage exactly that.

      This, of course, implies (as Murphy himself specifically stated) that there are plenty of jobs which provide sufficient income and that everybody can get one, or create one.

      I think at this point, Murphy has the basis for an interesting science fiction novel ala Ayn Rand or Robert Heinlein (Not surprisingly, Heinlein thought Rand’s ideas had some merit), but I think we’ve reached a point where Murphy’s position is starting to show some fundamental problems.

      Leave aside for a moment Murphy’s assertion that there are enough good jobs for everybody, even if that were true, the single most fundamental problem is this: If the right to full participation in society is dependent on money, then those who control the money control the franchise.

      Or, if you tie the franchise to employment, then you’ve created a government of the employers, by the employers, and for the employers.

      Or to put it more bluntly, you’ve just given Wal-Mart control of the single largest voting bloc in the country.

      As I said in the essay, you ignore human nature at your peril.

      If employment, or more specifically income, determines the franchise, then without some very specific and draconian safeguards, ipso facto the employers will control the vote. They can hire or fire at will to manipulate the outcome of elections. They can form alliances and arrange political power at will. They can use the threat of unemployment to intimidate their employees’ vote – and don’t even try to tell me that they won’t, history from Company Towns to modern Unions demonstrates otherwise. Without doubt, inevitably, you’ve created a nation of those with a) a permanent franchise, b) those with conditional franchise as mostly determined by (a), and c) those with no franchise as determined by (a) and (b).

      What you end up with, Murphy, is Corporate Feudalism, complete with permanent royalty, serfdom, and peasantry.

    67. Murphy, you argued that your position stems from the idea that the Takers will always vote themselves more entitlements.

      I will accept that as a general case, again, it’s human nature.

      And there is a real danger that eventually the number of those who take out will surpass those who put in, where exactly that threshold lies is another conversation.

      However, in the simplified scenario you offered above, the Takers operate unopposed. In reality, that’s simply not the case. Those who live on the public dole and who vote themselves more largess from the public coffers are countered by people like, well, you, and the conservative and libertarian members of the legislature as the recent vote to reduce and limit SNAP benefits demonstrates. QED.

      Once employers, or rather the corporations and wealthy who own the means of employment, effectively control the vote, what’s to keep them from voting themselves more and more and more benefits? Again, QED. You’ve simply traded one relatively manageable problem for a much larger one without any checks and balances.

      That’s why I specifically asked what safeguards you offered to prevent the inevitable rise of Corporate Feudalism.

      You offered none, but I can think of at least one method: For your idea to work, employment must be an inalienable right, available to all, with rigid controls imposed on employers, based on Constitutional Amendment (otherwise employers could change the law via control of the vote).

      What’s that?

      Oh, right.

      When the government controls employment, it effectively controls the means of production and you get … communism.

      Murphy, I suggest to you that your cure is worse than the disease.

    68. _______________

      The rest of you may now comment freely. Thanks for your patience // Jim


    69. I completely reject the "takers and makers" argument, not because there aren't lazy people out there but because it's selectively applied.

      I don't hear anybody here claiming that stores that sell food are takers, but let's get real here--any store that accepts food stamps is ALSO a taker because the government is paying for the food (and helping shareholder profits).

      I found an interesting link that tells you how much money was spent on the SNAP program, and it separates actual benefits from administrative costs:


      So those figures, in addition to being the amount given to people, are also the amount of the government subsidy to stores that accept food stamps.

      Then we have the government subsidies to large corporations like Walmart.


      My biggest problem with this thinking is that you can't have it both ways. You can't claim the poor are lazy takers and yet support corporations whose wages insure poverty.

    70. Understand that "Takers" and "Makers" as used in my response to Murphy above was strictly as defined in the context of his argument.

    71. Perhaps I can state this better.

      You can't have it both ways. You can't have a meaningful discussion about makers and takers when the system is rigged in such a way that an outrageous number of people have to choose between taking or dying. Until there actually are sufficient jobs at a pay level that guarantees making or taking is actually a choice, then it's a bad idea to disenfranchise anyone.

    72. I believe that's implicit in my response to Murphy.

      That said, while I understand your position, @Zola, and maybe even agree with you, your argument is unlikely to sway folks who stood in the crowd in front of Ron Paul and shouted, "Let 'em die!"

      However, if those people were forced to work through the Makers and Takers argument as they themselves have phrased it, they'd see that the probable outcomes are contrary to their stated beliefs of liberty.

      That might change their minds - or not, people are perverse that way - but appealing to their morality regarding the disenfranchised poor sure as hell won't. They are perfectly willing to let those people die. Quod erat demonstrandum.

    73. I guess that's the thing I just can't understand. Before I was a computer programmer, I was working on a major in Anthropology and a minor in History, and there are ample lessons in the past for anyone with the wit to study them..

      Have these so-called "makers" forgotten that wealth and resources can only take you so far?

      No amount of money in the world can completely protect you from bad luck. If some drunk crashes into your limo, will you be any less paralyzed if you are wealthy?

      Wealth won't protect you from a novel virus that you catch from your cook or housekeeper who couldn't afford medical care, nor will it keep you from getting old.

      When you do get old, wealth won't guarantee you will be free from disability, nor will it protect you from people taking advantage of you. Look at what happened to Brooke Astor--she was, by all accounts, a wonderful, well-loved person in addition to being a very rich one, and it didn't protect her from elder abuse.

      And what about what happens when large numbers of disenfranchised people have nothing left to lose? Is the French Revolution still taught in history class?

      It's not only false thinking, it's stupid.

    74. I guess that's the thing I just can't understand.

      I get that, and everything you stated afterward. Which is the entire point of my response to Murphy and why I walked it through the way I did.

      You don't think that's necessary. You're outraged at the entire idea on moral grounds. I get that, I really do. This was my entire point vis a vis my statement, This is basically the fundamental argument that divides Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative, Libertarian Republican and Corporate Republican/Social Democrat – or more precisely, personal responsibility vs civilization’s responsibility.

      Murphy is immune to the emotional argument, he's not wrong, that's just how he is.

      You sympathize with the poor and disenfranchised. You're not wrong, that's just how you are.

      It's a moral question, is it more moral for people to lift themselves up, or for society to lift them up? Is it immoral for people not to lift themselves up? Is it immoral for society to attempt to change a person's station at the expense of others? Which is how Murphy interpreted my comment about inalienable rights coming at the expense of another's inalienable rights - with rights in this case defined as "my damned money."

      This is the basic libertarian leaning conservative beef with our government, specifically the popular complaint that government "steals" money from makers and gives it to takers. Many modern conservatives and even some liberals believe that's immoral just on general principles and contrary to liberty in particular.

      Using your statement as an example: No amount of money in the world can completely protect you from bad luck. If some drunk crashes into your limo, will you be any less paralyzed if you are wealthy? Perhaps not, but conservatives don't see that as government's decision to make. Money won't make you any less paralyzed, but it's your money nonetheless.

      Zola, you can go down this rabbit hole all day. You can argue each and every point I made above from a moral standpoint, from a logical standpoint, from an economic standpoint, from a religious standpoint, from any standpoint you like. That exploration will never end, because human society is a composed of endless variations.

      What it comes down to is this: If you tie the franchise, i.e. the right to vote and hold office, to anything other than majority citizenship, then there are going to be direct and predictable changes to society.

      The only one that leads to a society we can all live with ... is the one we have now - given that, we should work on improving that.

    75. This comment has been removed by the author.

    76. Notes on fraudulent use of government welfare programs.

      1. It's not a non-existent problem. Part of Greece's financial problems is widespread tax evasion and popularly supported government overspending. (The other part of them is Eurozone financial shenanigans. Whole 'nother discussion.) This, however, does not apply to the rest of the European Union or the USA.

      2. Does it happen in the USA? Not very often. Various sorts of fraud in programs for low-income people have been studied. It's quite rare.

      3. What does happen is subsidies for the middle class and the wealthy. These, starting with the home interest deduction—it used to cover all interest payments—, continuing on to the tax breaks around capital gains, and the more baroque methods of tax evasion the very wealthy use, are much, much larger than any payments that support the poor. As rational consideration suggests, and as reality confirms, wealth grants power, even in a system with a near-universal franchise.

      It is utterly important in such arguments to get ones facts straight, and this, Murphy, I do not see you doing. You may personally know frauds, but "data" is not the plural of "anecdote." The evidence is overwhelming that in the USA, welfare fraud is rare, and that the system is dominated by the power of the wealthy, not the poor.

    77. Well, you fooled me , Mr Wright.
      Thought I had a good idea where you were going with :

      "* Contribution is voluntary.
      * Those that don’t contribute do so by choice.

      Again, what how do you see securing such a system so that everybody does indeed have free choice? "

      Got to a similar place as I imagined but from a completely different angle. Have to think about it some but it all holds together pretty damn well.

      Hoping someday you have the time and inclination to do an essay on free choice.

      Murphy- I disagree with you mightily but it was interesting to watch this unfold.
      I would encourage anyone and everyone to serve on an election board for at least one election cycle, preferably more. Sure blew a lot of things I thought were true about voting, voters, and the like right to hell. I hate having to rethink a lot of un-inspected notions . Sure have to do it a lot.

      Alaska Pi

    78. Jim, what you are describing is a version of what economist William Nordhaus called "the political business cycle," in which the economy is manipulated to produce political outcomes.

      I don't think, by the way, that the outcome of a money requirement for the franchise is necessarily corporate dominance; if employee organizations are allowed unrestricted action, it might go in an entirely other direction. In the USA, labor unions are much weakened by the Taft-Hartley Act and three decades of anti-labor policy-making. They can be much more powerful than they are in the USA.

      Murphy, how would you feel about an economy in which union workers and business owners were the main voting groups?

    79. There's some question as to whether a purely financial business like Bain Capital contributes anything to an economy, or is simply an accounting function. Mitt Romney seems to have made his money largely from sending parts of the US auto industry supply chain to China. (Sometimes entire factories have been literally packed up and shipped, though I am not sure if Mitt Romney was connected with any of those instances.) As the son of George Romney, an auto executive and later liberal Republican politician, Mitt Romney was uniquely qualified to do so: he had the contacts and knew the business.

      So here is a question. Mitt Romney's business income did not come from the creation of new technology, nor from the development of new business models. New factories were built in China, but old factories were shut down. Did Mitt Romney contribute anything at all? Or did he instead destroy wealth for his personal gain?

    80. What I find interesting about the de Tocqueville quote is that "men who have entirely renounced the habit of managing their own affairs" could also describe the very rich, who largely leave such matters to managers.

    81. I don't think, by the way, that the outcome of a money requirement for the franchise is necessarily corporate dominance; if employee organizations are allowed unrestricted action...

      The operative word being "if."

    82. "The operative word being "if.""

      And as we have seen throughout history, that is a very, [i]very[i]huge 'if'. Hell, just look at the massive pushback against unions currently happening in the US, and you get a pretty clear idea of where things would be headed if corporations were people ( my friend ).

      At any rate, yes, corporate feudalism is the end result of where Murphy's Law wants to take this, and I'm really glad to see I was right about where Jim took the argument. Another example would be the so-called "rotten burroughs" in the UK at the late 18th and beginning of the 19th century; electoral districts that had been viable electoral districts at one time, but which had for one reason or another become depopulated to the point where one or two men were choosing a representative to Parliament, often at the behest of a local noble.

      Experiments with franchise based on contribution/property/assets have been tried before, and there's a reason we're not using them today ( taxes aside ).

  41. As ever, Jim, your thoughts and ideas are well-formed, echoing many of my own. To them, I would add the need for the education of the voting public. It is not easy for many to discern the truth from the posturing, the the lie from the oily-tongued falsehood.

    It is beyond time to put aside the partisan nature of our political system and for us all to have a greater understanding of how the parties work...for the good of the party and its associate pocketbooks. It is beyond time for the people to stand for the people, rather than what ever issue their party of choice has gotten them fired up on.

    Indeed, it is beyond time for us all to realized that we are in this all together; to shut out the little voices that make us different or better than others and to realize we are all Americans.

  42. In short: Democracy (The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) "rule of the people") is hard.

    The Ancient Greeks already understood this (no need to go back to the Founding Fathers). They called someone who wrecked the system *on purpose* an idiot. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiot:

    Idiot as a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτης, idiōtēs ("person lacking professional skill", "a private citizen", "individual"), from ἴδιος, idios ("private", "one's own").
    An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.

  43. I've recently joked on Twitter that each year the government should be replaced completely, using a panel of citizens randomly selected to represent their fellow citizens. Pretty much, like serving a year on a very important jury.

    The beauty of this absurd system would be that the 99% would get 99% of representation, and 1 year is hopefully too short a time for people to fall in line with the status quo or to completely sell out to lobbyists.

    People on Medicare or living on benefits would get a voice in government.

    Hell, even prison inmates should have a chance to make up a proportion of government; issues like the unfairness of the system around privatised prison conditions would have a chance of being discussed. It's not like enough prisoners would be in power to vote to open the gates. But they'd be less likely to vote for funding more privatised prisons.

    Minorities of all origins would stand a chance of representing and being represented. Women would stand a chance of representing or being represented. Gays and lesbians would stand a chance of representing and being represented. The young would stand a chance of representing and being represented. The old would stand a chance of representing and being represented.

    Yes, you'd get some noisy fruitcakes, but the odds would be against getting enough to do any major damage.

    If just randomly selecting the new government scares you, and you still want to do that voting thing, then maybe we could tweak it: the candidates for each district could be selected by the same process used to build a jury list. Each district gets 12 local, random candidates to choose from. The likelihood of those 12 people toe-ing a hard party line would be low and then their fellow citizens in that district get to vote for the best two of them to go off to the Capitol... it also stops politicians being parachuted into gerrymandered "safe" districts.

    I'm still not sure if this is a sensible idea or a joke. But it would be a way to eliminate the "political class" that has colonised this temporary niche in modern society - as you alluded to it should be a duty, not a lifetime gravy train.

    1. It sounds like a joke, but it makes too much sense to dismiss.

      The whole bureaucracy, or just the decision makers? Worth discussing.

    2. We have history books. These history books tell what happens when government is made up of amateurs. Just sayin'.

      Oh, if you're wanting the thumbnail summary rather than looking at the history books -- if the decision-making class are amateurs, then the bureaucracy runs the nation. China was run by the mandarins -- the entrenched bureaucracy -- for centuries, despite being conquered by the Mongols, the Han, then the Manchu, it was not until Mao executed the mandarins and put in an amateur bureaucracy that their power was broken. If the bureaucracy are amateurs, the nation falls to ruin -- major infrastructure like waterworks and highways no longer get maintained, the economy goes into freefall, cities empty out as food no longer arrives due to the infrastructure for moving and paying for food falling into ruin, and if you're unlucky the barbarians arrive before your amateur bureaucracy gets sufficient expertise to put things back together and you have someone else's flag flying over your capitol.

      So that's the thumbnail summary. Personally, I want someone who knows what he's doing running the country. Unfortunately that hasn't been the case for quite a number of years now...

    3. Personally, I want someone who knows what SHE'S doing running the country.
      Unfortunately that hasn't been the case for......ever.

  44. Excellent as ever.

    I have often wondered if removal of Gerrymandering and open primaries would sort of automatically work out the Term Limits issue all by itself, but my appreciation of history kinda sucks.

  45. I'm a firm believer in allowing anybody to contribute as much as they want to any candidate or cause. I'm also a firm believer that they should be taxed for the privilege of participating in the electoral process. What I'm suggesting is everybody be allowed a base contribution, but a steeply progressive tax be applied to anything above that.
    $50 contribution is tax free.
    $100 contribution, contributor owes 10% of the contribution in taxes.
    $150 contribution, contributor owes 20% of the contribution in taxes.
    The percentage of taxes owed doubles with each $50 contributed.
    The amount owed in taxes exceeds the contribution by the time the contribution hits $300.
    This allows people to contribute as much as they want, they just have to pay for the privilege. It also has the advantage of lowering the budget deficit.

    Just a thought.

    -Paul Cooper

    1. I like it! Just make sure it's not anonymous (says the person who's posting anonymously), since money is power.


    2. What about those people who can't afford the $50?

  46. I am fairly startled by the who people are willing to shut the poor out of the electoral process posting here. This is, by its nature, undemocratic.

    It discourages me how little we have come from ideals of aristocratic, even monarchist, government. Personally, I would prefer to run away as fast as possible!

    1. Agreed. The idea seems to be that one should buy one's way into the electorate.

      In fact, it seems a small extension to the current state of affairs.

    2. This country has a long history of fighting about who should be included. It goes back to the human-nature dealie Mr Wright summed up here.
      While we can point to a history of increased enfranchisement - women, people of color, et al- none of it came without enormous arguments.
      And for some, those arguments are still going on.
      While folks scare themselves silly over illegal-immigrants possibly voting these days, states had some royal legal fisticuffs in the early days regarding letting all immigrants vote to beef up their electorate numbers.
      Alaska Pi

    3. So is our country better served by allowing people to vote who have contributed nothing and who won't be affected by the impact of the taxes that they're voting on? Do we do ourselves a service by allowing people to vote who think that elections are just a PBS version of American Idol? ("Ohhh! Ima vote for that black guy because he's young and hip and doesn't wear a tie even though I know nothing of his past...Qualifications, schmalifications! He's angry and I'm voting for him to run the country!") In many ways, it's like giving a five year old the keys to the family car, or letting the pre-teen kids in the house vote on which bills get paid every month. (Yeah, mom and dad voted to pay the mortgage and put money in the college funds, but the three kids voted for new Xbox games instead so now the family is out on the streets...but they got Xbox!.)

      Sometimes what seems right on the surface really isn't the best choice.

    4. Murphy-
      You seem to treading into "starw man " territory with some hasty generalization thrown in here.
      As someone who was a precinct judge for multiple election cycles,I can tell you the folks you are postulating here certainly exist - in fairly small numbers. So do any number of other peculiarly motivated voters. I saw way more folks clutching papers of recommendations from their churches than I personally would like to have seen.
      It is the nature of democracy, if evenly applied, that we have to accept some voters are flat out doofs. However, institutionalizing the assumption that any one class of voters is by nature "better" than others puts us into the aristocratic/rule by the few routine that has whole other sets of problems when it comes down to basic notions of civil and political rights for all.
      Alaska pi

    5. oh for craps sake!
      (I really have no clue what "starw man" might be.Sci-fi folks- do you?)
      STRAW man territory
      Alaska Pi

    6. Murphy, your proposed system is vulnerable to manipulation. If you look at the employment population figures for the USA, go on, look at them, you find they fell off a cliff in 2008 and 2009. It wasn't that people suddenly became less useful or less willing to contribute—the opportunity to contribute has been taken away from 5% of us. People can be shut out of the vote by being shut out of the economy. Consider musicians. Mostly poor, many black and the USA would be a lesser place without them. But you would shut most of them out because "they don't contribute."

      Money is not a reliable measure of the worth of a person and, as one anonymous commentator pointed out, "poverty is usually transitory in this country."

    7. "Ohhh! Ima vote for that black guy because he's young and hip and doesn't wear a tie even though I know nothing of his past...Qualifications, schmalifications! He's angry and I'm voting for him to run the country!"

      As opposed the calm rationality that gave the presidency to Richard Nixon or John Fitzgerald Kennedy?

      The public is not mostly policy wonks. The largest plurality, 45% in the early 1960s, votes on identity and, through a controlled mass media, the system has been gamed. Campaigning has become performance art. Lower-middle-class white guys are persuaded to vote for a privileged son of privilege because he has a rough accent, speaks in malaprops, and cuts brush on the ranch he bought for show.

      Political campaigning has always been theatrical, but now it is almost entirely theater. The character of the candidates has been replaced by the image of the candidates, and this can only lead to the domination of image-makers, and poor governance.

      You, I think, have stated your objections to Obama above. My objections are very different: it seems to me he projects an image of thoughtful rationality when he is in fact focused on deal-making. He is a poor executive. Just look at the healthcare rollout. He simply did not understand what it took to do—execute—the job of creating the new national health insurance system.

      The problem of picking good leaders is one that haunts all political systems. In times as bad as these—when a global depression is actually the lesser of major problems we face—we desperately need to do better.

    8. Anon, a "straw man" argument refers to attributing a false position to a debated opponent—creating an opponent of straw, as it were—and then disproving it, winning a debate by attacking a position which your opponent does not hold.

      Discussion in Wikipedia.

    9. Folks, we're scattering this argument all over the comments section.

      Let's try to keep this particular argument, i.e. who should or should not vote, to the thread up above.

    10. Regarding the Strawman comment, that's one of the reasons I've asked Murphy to clarify his position. So that we're debating actual positions, not assumed ones.

      Again, see the thread above. Thanks // Jim

    11. D'oh! Sorry, Jim. And sorry for missing Anon's snicker.

      As to what Murphy thinks, let him speak for himself.

  47. I appreciate Jim's posting and the subsequent discussions and hope that somehow we can begin to have this discussion on a national level.

    It seems to me that advocating for campaign finance reform will negate the 'need' for term limits, closed primaries and redistricting along party lines. If the (enormous amounts of) money is removed from the political (circus) arena, then I believe, the people's/country's interests will once again be the primary goal of any politician elected to office. Without financial gain as a goal of political office, the interests of corporations and religious hypocrites and or extremists will wane and politicians can return to being servants of the public. The difficulty is how to achieve this given the level of corruption we currently have in Congress.

    Some commentators have mentioned the need for reforming the media tools and I agree. Again, I think that will follow if we remove the money via campaign finance reform.

    And, while it's true that many of our citizens don't participate in the electoral process, perhaps much of that is due to cynicism based on the fact that our political system is corrupt. Also, if we managed to devote a weekend or, better yet, a week to our elections, perhaps that would encourage greater participation. Face it, we don't provide much voter support..in fact, quite the opposite.

    I'm fortunate to be retired and would be more than happy to work for campaign finance reform. Hopefully there will be increasing discussion and action before our democracy is totally broken and I'm too feeble to lend a voice and hand!


  48. I'm not opposed to your prescriptions in theory, but it is far too simplistic to identify individuals and the federal government as the only actors in the political theatre. The US political system is built from the ground up. The most important form of government in our system is self-government: striving to be a more prudent and productive citizen. Lest anyone become an island, we are nurtured and obligated to our immediate as well as extended family. We learn social context and responsibility as well as economic interdependence in our broader community. Cities, states, and the national government are, in diminishing order, to address residual necessities that are beyond the scope of control of citizens, families, and communities. The federal government was intended to arbitrate only international or inter-state interactions such as treaties, trade, and wars. Families and communities could fix their defective citizens. The federal government is too far removed to do so. With nearly all authority stripped from families and communities and accrued to the federal government, right down to what parents have to pack in their children's school lunches, defective citizens remain defective. With the disintegration of traditional families, a disappearing economic middle class, and the federal government's intrusion into all aspects of life, the federal government becomes the court of arbitration for all matters great and small. Fractious debate and stalemate aren't surprising. Rejiggering the arrangement of those institutions won't provide much relief.

  49. Oh, and if I haven't caused enough angst already, I'll go further and declare that I think that illegal aliens should not be counted in the census for apportionment purposes, that is that states should not get more congressmen (and more votes in Congress) because they have a high number of illegals as they do now.

  50. I have a copy right here on my desk. In point of fact, I own at least one copy of everything RAH ever wrote, usually more than one copy.

    <Klem Kadiddlehopper>
    *Gasp* No!
    &lt/Klem Kadiddlehopper>

    I just read vol I of the new Bio, and I'm looking forward to vol 2 to find out WTF happened to turn an Upton Sinclair EPIC Democrat into a Conservative Republican arguably to the right of Bombin' Barry Goldwater. My guess? A combination of his abhorrence/fear of totalitarianism, the loss of his very Liberal 2nd wife, Leslyn, and the gain of his very Conservative 3rd wife, Virginia. If you've read the first volume of his bio, it's obvious he was "soulmate" to both of 'em, which certifies RAH as a very complicated guy.
    (One thing he was *not*, though--for any anti-Heinlein Liberals down in lurkage--was a Fascist. He hated Fascism and Communism with a flaming red passion. Starship Troopers usually gets people off on that tangent. It was indeed militaristic, but then Heinlein was a military man, in a very militaristic mood right about then. Duh. The Fascism in the movie came from Verhoeven, who--and I'm not kidding--never read the book. Bite me, Paul. OK, I feel better).

    Alexei Panshin said Starship Troopers was "the account of the making of a soldier–or, rather, a marine–and nothing more.", and I think that's about right, if a bit brief. He also said Heinlein in his later years "turned into a tweety bird and flew up his own asshole". Sadly, I think this is about right, too.

    And I wish I still had all the copies of RAH books I've worn out,"loaned" or just given away. Then again, I'd need to build a couple more bookcases to hold 'em...

    1. The elitism, though, threads through his politics, left and right. I think it reflects an intuition that wrong people are in charge, and the world would be better off it the right people were in in charge. I've expressed similar sentiments above. But there is always the temptation to short-circuit the process, to do what is "good" for people rather than helping them choose what is right for them. And that way lies tyranny.

    2. Heinlein actually addresses "Starship Troopers" in a letter published in "Grumbles From The Grave", which I recommend to anyone who hasn't read it.

      "Starship Troopers", he writes, "is an examination of why men fight. Since men *do* fight, it seems to be a question worth examining."

    3. OK, I may have missed some things when I read SST - I guarantee I am not the smartest or well read person out there! I am going to reread it again and see if I can get what all of you see in that novel. There do seem to be many interpretations of this work.....but whatever the interpretations, it is a fun novel to read and reread...

    4. it is a fun novel to read and reread...

      Indeed. As is just about everything he ever wrote. I struggled with I Will Fear No Evil a few times, and it remains the only thing of his I never finished.
      I've been on a bit of a binge lately, with his juveniles, and just finished The Star Beast, which I haven't re-read in decades. RAH had the balls to write a novel for youngsters--in 1954--with a Black hero: Mr Kiku, "Permanent Under Secretary for Spatial Affairs" who bosses around the (probably) White politically appointed Secretary, and in the course of the story overcomes his own xenophobia. (The boy in the story seems to be there for other characters to talk to). When you consider that Heinlein wrote the juveniles as propaganda, fully intending to "teach" the kids something, you have to wonder at all the "Heinlein is a racist/Fascist/sexist/asshole!" we hear even today. (OK, in certain aspects "asshole" might apply. See Panshin.com [Critics' Lounge] for details...)

  51. OK - I've read all the comments to date and am going to jump into the middle of this.

    Everyone keeps talking about who should have the right to vote, but according to Jim's original post, it's not a right, it's a responsibility. The abysmal voter turnout for most elections frankly scares me. The apathy I see even in some of my friends scares me.

    There's an old saying about people who don't vote getting the government the deserve, but I do vote - why am I getting the government THEY deserve? Because THEY outnumber me as shown by the low election turnouts.

    Would we be better off with mandatory voting like Australia? Some days I think so, but then I see some of the idiocy spouted by our so-called media and wonder. Whatever happened to fact-checking before printing (or airing) a story? Mandatory voting only works with an informed voter base. I would prefer to see mandatory secondary education - free.

    Then there are the emotional issues. I think they should be kept out of government - completely out. As in Congress should not be allowed to make laws about religion (or abortion).

    1. I think so. At least the parties would no longer be able to pick their voters, as in the Brecht poem in which he sarcastically suggested it might be easier "For the government to dissolve the people and elect another?"

      (Those old commies had their moments.)

    2. Voting, IMO, is both a right and a responsibility. It should not be considered a "privilege" (except in the broadest sense), which is the notion advanced above by Murphy'sLaw -- that one must somehow EARN the privilege through paying taxes and/or some other amorphous activity.

      Raven -- how true that too often the politicians/political parties choose the voters rather than the reverse, which is how it is SUPPOSED to be.

  52. Saw this headline today and thought is Jim a mindreader?
    Obama: 'Our Politics All Too Often Encourages People To Think Selfishly'

    1. Well, somebody from the White House reads Stonekettle Station on a regular basis. Coincidence? You tell me.

  53. Increasing voter turnout won't make our horrible election system any better.

    1. While I don't want to see required voter turnout, the only way to get good government here is to increase voter turnout. If you want to see results, get out there, talk to people and get them to vote.

  54. Speaking of media and image, we have Charles Pierce today, on Bush II and Christie:

    "Throughout 1999 and 2000, I watched in horror as the courtier press turned George W. Bush's career of failure and obvious public ignorance into political advantages based on the fact that he was a regular dude with whom you'd like to have a beer. This led to campaign coverage in which an actual familiarity with the major issues, and actual intelligence, were treated as political liabilities. (Remember what a big ha-ha it was when boring old Al Gore actually knew the names of all those foreign leaders? Remember how awful it was when my Boston bud, Andy Hiller, revealed that C-Plus Augustus thought Jose Felix was the king of Spain?) This, in turn, led to the horrors of the Avignon Presidency.

    "I have a terrifying feeling that we are going to be seeing something like this as regards Big Chicken [Chris Christie]. He's a lout, plain and simple. His actual record as governor of New Jersey is, at best, problematic. He kicks down and kisses up. But if we've already got beat guys from major newspapers translating his contempt for them and most of the rest of humanity into something charming, if they're already kissing the whip, we're a long way down a bad road."

    Seriously, what is wrong with these people? And why do we listen to them? It didn't take much to figure out that Bush II was a failure and a dry drunk; Molly Ivins had been writing about it for years before he ran for President. But we had most of the major media making him look good. And so he became President, and started a pointless war which killed over half a million people.

    I feel like I'm watching the accelerated modernized equipped-with-jets version of the fall of the Roman Republic, Twittered.

  55. The Constitution mentions the "right" to vote several times, but not in that short list of "inalienable" ones. I wonder, though, how you're supposed to help ensure your own rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness when you don't have the right to vote for the people--in your own estimation--best able to help you do so. Murphy made direct reference to this earlier, with the obvious implication that Sheila Jackson Lee has no business helping people Murphy doesn't like to get anything he thinks they shouldn't have. It seems obvious to me, though this is definitely a "variable mileage" sort of thing, that those who seek to limit the franchise to people of whom they approve--by whatever criteria--see the rights and privileges granted by the government as a zero-sum situation. More rights for you means fewer for me. Or the entertaining idea that marriage for gays damages, demeans, or somehow devalues my straight marriage. That these two things are related is pretty obvious, since it seems to be the same people getting lathered up by both issues. I'm sure it's just a coincidence...

    1. "U.S. Voting Rights Timeline
      Only people who own land can vote
      Declaration of Independence signed.Right to vote during the Colonial and
      Revolutionary periods is restricted to property owners—most of whom are white male Protestants over the age of 21.
      No federal voting standard—states decide who can vote
      U.S. Constitution adopted. Because there is no agreement on a national standard for voting rights, states are given the power to
      regulate their own voting laws.'
      Lots of history packed into this- maybe a bit too short but valuable as an overview.
      Please note Amendment 24 in light of state's rights v federal
      After 1966 and Harper v Virginia Board of Elections, the no-no on taxes to vote stuff was extended to all jurisdictions (state and local as well as federal ) under the 14th Amendment .
      States have had and retain the right to manage registration, elections, and rules for it all , with some adjustments by the fed.
      Alaska Pi

    2. That short list of 'inalienable' rights is from a war-time propaganda open letter, which has no legal affect on the federal or state governments established by the current constitution. However, note the original constitution grants rights to the government from the people. The 9th and 10th amendments recognized that the federal government is NOT the source of rights for the people.

  56. It's Thanksgiving and I just wanted to take a moment this morning to say that I, and a whole lot of other Stonekettle Station readers are thankful for you and this blog. Especially for those of us who used to be centrists who now find ourselves being considered "far left" when our beliefs haven't changed in the last 30-40 years.

    Thank you and your family for the sacrifices you have made and make, the service you have given this great, complicated, and sometimes contrary country of ours and still give us here on this blog.

    May you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving and may all of us remember that we have much to be thankful for.

  57. Nick formerly from the O.C.November 28, 2013 at 3:54 PM


    In light of several of the comments above, I'm just wondering if you or others have read RAH's "Take Back Your Government".

    1. Nick formerly from the O.C.November 28, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      Screw it -- I see it was addressed above. Sorry for the stupidity. I blame my kids.

    2. As I said up above, obviously I was too subtle in naming this essay and starting the text with a Heinlein quote.

      Yes. I've read it. I have a copy on my desk right here

  58. I find the American habit of characterising King George as a tyrant strange. He was a constitutional monarch and as such was a mere rubber stamper. Those decision that Americans so reviled were not his but Parliament's. Then as now that is where any blame should be laid.

    1. Lord North was basically a direct appointee of George III with no party of his own until he assembled one around himself after accepting the job of Prime Minister, and due to the close friendship between the two men it is likely that North's policies were George III's policies. George III was not an absolute monarch in that he did not have the power of the purse, but he certainly wasn't a modern-day rubber stamper monarch either. For example, Lord North attempted to resign multiple times during the course of the American war of secession when it became clear Crown bankruptcy was inevitable because the Crown was having trouble even making the interest payments on its loans (the core reason why the Battle of Yorktown basically ended the war -- the forces defeated there were less than 15% of the British forces in America, but there was no money left to hire more soldiers to replace them, and indeed even making salary on the existing soldiers was not happening). George III refused to accept Lord North's resignation until 1782, when it was clear the war was lost and all that was left was to negotiate the terms of the peace.

      Parliament in the early days of the war certainly did support the war, because they wanted to tax colonists, not Englishmen. That Parliamentary refusal to raise taxes on Englishmen to pay the Crown's debts (debts mostly incurred fighting the Seven Years War from 1756-1763) is what fundamentally doomed the Crown's efforts to retain the colonies, because it is what led to the financial default that ended efforts to recruit and maintain the military necessary to retain the colonies. Hmm, Boehner would approve, I think...

  59. Thank you for suggesting I read this Jim...you proffer many good ideas and, perhaps more important, your ideas prompt questions that are in sore need of exploring. Thank you. ~ Michael Touhey

  60. good grief. humanity! EPIC god fail.


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