Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Election Strategy

Every presidential election, people spend the last month grousing "Is there any way I can vote for 'None of the above?'"  This time around, Joe Biden seems to be attempting that.

Every presidential election it is also said that we get the government we deserve. That is one of those cynical, semi-satisfying things that gets us through the night, a way to either lick our wounds or apologise for our support of some jerk.  Yet I don't think it is true.  Most people are quite decent and want only to be left alone and notified when there is a problem to fix that requires collective effort.  We are happy to farm that out - or would be, if we thought the people we are assigning that to were as well-meaning as we are.

But they aren't.  the people who like organising all their neighbors into ranks and files aren't quite the same as thee rest of us, and the problem intensifies the higher up the mountain we go.  Even the ones we like are not worthy of us.

I don't have a corrective. I'm just discouraged.


Unknown said...

After living in three countries with parliamentary systems, I had countless occasions where my friends thought that the president should "just do X". I would then patiently explain that the president couldn't "just do X", because of:
• Federalism, what they wanted the "US" to do was properly the purview of the states or their subdivisions.
• The US president not being 'properly' the head of his political party, he can not insist on legislation being introduced, or enforce the whip to see that his party's representatives/senators vote for it.
• One or more houses are/were controlled by the opposing party, so while the President could assent to legislation that passes, he hardly even has moral authority to suggest something that the opposition would then push through.

After many years of that, I started to understand that the president isn't nearly as important as who controls congress and the senate. Only in "swing" states can our vote be powerful for the senate, but we have a lot more impact on the house -- even in a "safe" district our volunteerism could help neighboring districts.

But I think even more important is who we elect to more local seats, because the majority of new congresspeople have many terms of experience in 'lower' elected office. I'd much prefer to vote for the folks who actually know the remit of the office they are running for (Bernie as mayor seemed to think that foreign policy was in his remit, for example) and people with general intelligence.

In one place I watched on the TV as they interviewed a legislator who was introducing a bill to bar a landfill from accepting waste from nuclear-medicine, as she was standing in front of her granite island countertop. She was very concerned about the low-level waste, not at all concerned about her radioactive countertops, and I know which one would excite the geiger counter more.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

My wife would support that thinking, Unknown. She knows local candidates better than I do.

David Foster said...

"the people who like organising all their neighbors into ranks and files aren't quite the same as thee rest of us, and the problem intensifies the higher up the mountain we go. Even the ones we like are not worthy of us." See Francis Spufford's description of the kinds of people who became leaders of the Soviet Union:

"In the Czarist era, to be an intellectual was to feel that you were, at least potentially, one of those who spoke truth to power. ..These attitudes meant that while intellectuals largely welcomed the Revolution as the end of tsarism, very few of them signed up for Lenin’s brand of Marxism, even when–or especially when–it had state power behind it. Indeed, a number of scholars who had been happy to teach Marxism before the Revolution, as a way of sticking a finger in the eye of power, promptly started offering courses in religious philosophy after it, to achieve the same effect…By the end of the 1920s, however, the Party was in a position to enforce ideological conformity…the new technological intellectuals were willing to be told, were willing to believe, that the task of speaking truth to power was now redundant, because truth was in power.

On the kinds of people who achieved positions of power in the Soviet Union: At the turbulent beginning of Lenin’s state, the Party’s operatives had signified their power by using the direct iconography of force. They wore leather jackets and cavalry coats, they carried visible revolvers. Stalin’s party, later, dressed with a vaguely military austerity…Now, by contrast, the symbolism was emphatically civil, managerial. The Party suit of the 1960s declared that the wearer was not a soldier, not a policeman. He was the person who could give the soldier and the policeman orders. The philosopher kings were back on top.

But there is a problem with the kingship of philsophers. Wisdom was to be set where it could be ruthless. Once such a system existed, though, the qualities required to rise in it had much more to do with ruthlessness than with wisdom…(Lenin’s original Bolsheviks) were many of them highly educated people, literate in multiple European languages, learned in the scholastic traditions of Marxism; and they preserved these attributes even as they murdered and lied and tortured and terrorized. They were social scientists who thought principle required them to behave like gangsters. But their successors…were not the most selfless people in Soviet society, or the most principled, or the most scrupulous. They were the most ambitious, the most domineering, the most manipulative"

The phenomenon he describes probably happens to some degree in every political system, though with much greater intensity in some than in others.

Christopher B said...

The electoral system is the least of my worries. Its participants are at least reasonably visible, and there's an element of self-correction as we swing from one party to another.

The almost invisible 'cancel culture' is far more dangerous.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ David Foster - we see something similar in Nazi Germany. The originals were college students and professors, philosophers, writers, dreamers. In the end the place was largely run by bullies and people of mere cruelty.

Texan99 said...

Being decent and wanting to be left alone is not the same as deserving good leaders.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ T99 - a fair point