Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, January 25, 2008

Overcoming America's Corporate-Militarist Party Duopoly

Upgraded and adapted from Comments in the Moot: "Jackie" writes:
"I am actually somewhat surprised with how much you (Dale) tolerate the superficiality of the campaigns. I can't really stand to watch any of the candidates unless they are talking about genuine issues… I would expect you (Dale) to be completely away from the two-party political system and support a 3rd or even 4th party. Perhaps you could give some insight into this."

Well, needless to say I sympathize with your righteous frustration, Jackie. My view is that the two party system exists, and that my strong distaste for it provides no means "to be completely away from" it.

If you are appalled at the anti-democratizing effects of the US party duopoly (which functions too often as a corporate-militarist monopoly), the thing to do is to become an advocate for Instant Runoff Voting, the National Popular Vote, and Public Financing of Presidential campaigns.

Instant Runoff systems eliminate the "spoiler" effect and empower people to vote first for whomever they truly prefer without "electability" concerns entering their calculations, very much to the benefit of third party, issue oriented, and more radical candidates -- and hence to the benefit of our domesticated political discourse. We advocated for IRV in Oakland, then we voted for it, then we got it. Let that be a lesson to us all. The IRV movement is seeking to implement this feature at the local level across the country in the hopes that local use will educate and familiarize people about using a marginally more complicated system, the better to demand it nationally next. The movement for this reform is picking up steam.

National Popular Vote is a reform of the conservative Electoral College that does not require a Constitutional Amendment, in which States agree on their own to guarantee a majority of their electoral votes will reflect the actual popular vote nationally, once enough states agree to do this to ensure that this shift marginalizes none of them nationally. Many states have already agreed to this and the number is rising. This is a real, serious, highly organized movement for electoral reform.

Public financing of Presidential campaigns is of course a long battle -- many mainstream candidates now advocate it and its prospects were never better, though the forces arrayed against it are formidable. Read more at Democracy Matters, the League of Women Voters site, and at

Common Cause is also a good place to look for basic information about such proposals in general. I strongly recommend that people who are concerned enough about incumbent interests making a mockery of our democratic aspirations to contemplate support for third party candidacies become involved instead in substantial education, activism and organizing efforts to improve and enrich American democracy through campagns such as these.

In my view, supporting third party candidacies in an institutional environment that perfectly marginalizes them is an arrant absurdity. It seems to me that it is incomparably more democratizing (however frustrating, believe me, I know) for a person of the left to join with the progressive feminist, anti-racist, pro-democracy, pro-labor, environmentalist, populist forces existing in vast numbers at every level in the Democratic party already (however disorganized and demoralized they may sometimes be) and together force our party leftward to its base than to try and create a more progressive third party ab initio -- one that will have fewer actual progressives in it numerically speaking than the Democratic party already does for years to come -- and which faces institutional barriers to effectiveness that no amount of doctrinal purity can overcome.

It has always seemed to me that Ralph Nader should have engaged in a national campaign (of the kind for which he is rightly celebrated as an icon of the good fight) for IRV, national popular vote, and public financing of elections (another good campaign would be for same day registration -- we need to expose the ugly anti-democratic reality that drives the relentless Republican ingenuity devoted to disenfranchisement, and we need to turn that tide) rather than running as a third party candidate to the cost of his own concrete goals in a hideously rigged system.

Nonviable third party campaigns damage actually existing third parties and will continue to do so wherever institutional barriers so utterly marginalize them. The progressive fight is to create the institutional space in which third parties and issue campaigns are viable, and then -- and only then -- to engage in such campaigns. Inverting this order just contributes to the noise, the superficiality, the interminable demoralizing ineffectuality of alternative voices that dem-left third party candidates and their supporters rightly decry. To say all this is not to express resignation to the prevailing order but to demand more actually engaged, more practical, and less superficial pro forma interventions to build a pathway to a more democratic order rather than pouting and stamping at the lack of one.

Update: Friend of Blog Greg adds in the Moot: Get rid of all the fucking voting machines!

But of course.

This is a good example, by the way, of the reactionary politics of techno-utopianism and corporate-militarist futurology: a fetishized "high-tech" solution suffused with cybernetic totalist handwaving is proposed to a non-problem and manages to make some rich people richer while disenfranchising millions and contributing to the catastrophic right-wing reactionary theft of two Presidential elections in a row, and who knows how many other more local contests. Classic retro-futurism.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Also, please don't point to the successes of 'Green' and similar parties in Europe.

They have parliamentary systems that make them viable, we do not.

Another thing for the US Green Party to do is to not act as dupes for the GOP looking to split the progressive vote. Like this: