Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Our Sad Political System

[Joe, I released your post--it was "draft" mode. Please fix it if I did wrong.]
[Dave, my post wasn't finished... but I've finished it now, so no matter...]
[Joe, it was I, Barry, who released your post because Dave had already weighed in on it. ;-)]
[Barry, you sneaky bastard. :)]

I think we've been over the brunt of my arguments on this issue before, so I'm just going to take a scattershot approach and hit a few of Dave's points that I find objectionable.

Therefore, the choice for the rest of the Democrats was, as it usually is these days: filibuster, register symbolic opposition, or go along.

I find it difficult to believe that there is no point with regards to constraining the unlimited nature of the resolution, negotiations with the UN, sources of funding for the operation, funding caps, postwar planning, congressional oversight, etc, on which the Democrats could agree. I'm fairly certain that even genuinely pro-war Democrats would not have objected to adding some language on one or more of these issues to the resolution. Of course this would have led to a confrontation with the House and the administration where a compromise would have to be reached. Which is why they made no effort in this regard, and which again goes to my point that what the Democrats did on this occasion was a matter of political expediency, rather than conscience.

2) Bush had sworn to the Senators that he intended to get the U.N.'s support for any action and that open-ended resolution was a bargaining chip to strengthen his hand in international negotiations

I reject the notion that anyone who voted for that resolution with this intention in mind had the least bit of respect of the UN Security Council. The idea that Bush should be able to bludgeon the Security Council into supporting a war with the threat that he would otherwise ignore them is a grave insult to the integrity and authority of the council and of international law and makes a mockery of anyone who voted for the resolution and feigns respect for the UN. Blackmail is not a path to legitimacy. I wrote the following shortly before the bombs started falling back in March:

"When President Bush first addressed the UN regarding his war on Iraq last fall, he presented them with an untenable choice: either fall into line or fall into irrelevance. It was an act of political blackmail. The effect was that even had the security council authorized the war on those terms such a decision would be purely an effort to save the council from irrelevance, which paradoxically would have robbed the decision, and the council, of integrity and legitimacy. The only viable way out that could have salvaged the body's integrity would have been for the UN to deny authorization of the war and for the US to abide by that decision. "

From the perspective of the individual voter on the right or left, it is better to fall in line with your more preferred major party as well--no matter how far it moves to the center--unless it appears that there is a third party alternative that is more favorable with a legitimate chance to win.

Your game theory arguments don't seem to posit much intelligence on the part of politicians. As long as this is the approach of the majority of voters it becomes subject to gaming by the candidates wherein we end up with rather awful politics. For example, 1992 where we had three essentially conservative candidates for president after Bill Clinton realized that "triangulation" made Democratic voters irrelevant to him as long as he was slightly less conservative than Bush. Or the 2000 election wherein Karl Rove was wise to Gore's rehash of Clinton's triangulation and put Bush right there next to him, resulting in possibly the most staid, boring, and lifeless campaign in US history, and a voter turnout of less than 50% of eligible voters (the lowest percentage since these things have been tracked). As long as any politician knows he is guaranteed your vote you have surrendered your primary form of power in the political system.

I like Bill Clinton a lot. But I still blame the guy for destroying the Democratic party. He led the party on a rightward lurch, playing to exactly the sentiment you espouse, and has left the part visionless and grasping for an identity for the past 10 years. He shifted the whole center of political dialogue in this country to the right. He lost Congress for them and allowed one of the weakest GOP Presidential candidates ever, to take the Whitehouse in 2000. Clinton is a brilliant and charismatic man with phenomenal rhetorical skills, and this whole tactic worked out fine for him. But it fucked the party. This is the danger in allowing parties to feel that their traditional constituency will vote for them regardless of what they say or do. Your vote exists within a larger context that the immediate election at hand. You can win the battle but lose the war. And you simply have to make a priority judgement, can I accomplish more by voting for the major party candidate of my choice, or can I accomplish more by not voting for them. It is a perfectly rational decision to evaluate.

Therefore, the party has the incentive to do what it has to to attract swing voters, while party stalwarts have an incentive to support the party.

This rationally suggests that anyone who acts the role of a party stalwart is a sucker. You are inviting your party to ignore you. Whereas if you rebel when they don't please you, either by voting for the other side or by not voting, all of the sudden you're a magic swing voter and the party has incentive to pay attention to you. Frankly, I don't like the Democratic party that much. I am not averse to voting for Republicans, although their core party values have taken a dive over the past 20 years. Whatever happened to their libertarian leanings, fiscal discipline, and support for states' rights? But I digress... If Bush hadn't bought his way to victory in the 2000 primaries I probably would have voted for McCain over Gore. I owe no fealty to the Democrats. If they please me, I vote for them. If I think they're acting like jackasses, I won't.

I am a liberal, this is true. In our country apparently that means I'm stuck with the Democrats. But I can barely tolerate the DNC leadership and have not been impressed with the Democrats' congressional leaders for some time either. If it takes some bleeding to create turnover at the top of the party, I say let 'em bleed. The fact that Howard Dean is the top dog in the primary race suggests that I am not alone in this position. Dean and his staffers get it. His support base gets it. Who's to say that the party's pathetic turnout in 2000 and 2002 didn't have something to do with that?

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