Reale Simple

The world is more than what they tell you. Listen up. It's not complex. It's Reale Simple.

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Former USCHO writer, former writer at a Midwestern broadsheet, occassional CHN blogger.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Calling the Maytag Repairman

If you want to be among the trendiest of the trendy on the Left today, you need to be claiming that American democracy is broken. Why, and how is it broken, do you ask? Why, it's broken because those of those cursed suits who are rigging elections so that those darn Republicans win so often! Why, of course the Democrats won in 2000, more people voted for Al Gore, therefore he should have been President! And everyone knows that incumbent parties are supposed to lose mid-term elections, which is why 2002 was a stolen election, and there was 2004, where John Kerry was winning those exit polls, and therefore was supposed to win the election! Democracy is broken because the people's voice was ignored!

All conspiracy theories aside, it's popular for an increasingly agitated and angry Left to simply make the claim that they can't win elections because the democratic institution just isn't working correctly. After all, if it were working correctly, they'd be in power.

Underneath all of the paranoia and power-hunger, there does appear to be an increasing amount of truth to the basis of the argument. Is Democracy itself broken?

If so, it can hardly be blamed on the Republicans solely. Yes, they are the party in power right now, but one thing Democrats rarely do is turn their critical eyes inward - if they did, they'd probably find ways to win elections through other methods than by default.

What Democrats have done since losing the White House in 2001 is to gradually make it the exclusive position of the party to oppose the President at every turn. Despite President Bush's promise of a "new tone" in Washington following the 2000 election and the subsequent appearances of such items as steel tariffs, the No Child Left Behind Act (authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy), and a record in five and a half years of precisely one veto, which wasn't for a spending bill, Democrats have chosen to lambaste the President continuously and without remorse on every single issue. Even when the President enacts things like NCLB, which, if you look carefully at it, looks like exactly what the average liberal wants in an education bill, the Democrats and their liberal allies will find fault and stand against it. If you want to know where the Democrats will stand on an issue, ask the President what his stance is, and the Democrats will take the opposite view by default. That's not exactly a party of principle.

This strategy has led the Democrats to several unenviable positions, which make them successful only when bad things happen to the nation - whether it is the economy, the war in Iraq, or elsewhere. No, I'm not questioning their patriotism. They told me I couldn't.

But then there are the Republicans. By spending like a drunken sailor with a three-day pass, the Republicans have drawn the ire of Americans of all political walks. Conservatives are frustrated with the unbalanced budgets and want to cut spending. Liberals are flabbergasted that taxes aren't higher to pay for all of the spending (never mind that the Bush tax cuts spurred the highest ever government revenue numbers last year). Further compromises on domestic issues like immigration and energy policy has conservatives up in arms. But who are they going to vote for in 2006? Are they supposed to vote for the party whose sole tenet is "Bush is an idiot," or are they supposed to vote for the party they've tended to support in the past who has let them down and continues to let them down? Should they vote for Bad or Worse?

The tinfoil hat crowd is in a similar predicament. They'd never vote for the Republicans and that evil fascist Bush. But they'd never vote for the Democrats who refuse to call for the President's public execution by stoning. Who are THEY supposed to vote for?

Vote for a third-party, sure. But it's not considered a two-party system for nothing. It's been said that voting for a third-party is like throwing your vote away because, well, it is. If you vote for someone who is not going to have a chance at winning, what have you accomplished? Sure, you've shown your displeasure, but either Bad or Worse still won the election. Which one is more palatable for the next 2, 4, or 6 years, Bad or Worse? Could your vote for either of them have changed things? Was your vote for a third-party just a helper vote for Worse? Who would vote for Better if Bad was more likely to beat Worse? So you end up voting for Bad to keep Worse from winning. As such, conservatives will vote for the GOP even through the party continues to abandon its principles in favor of whatever will keep it in power, and liberals will vote Democrat even though the party continues to abandon its principles in favor of whatever will help them gain power.

It is because of this "spoiler effect," as seen recently by H. Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, that the two parties have gained a new stranglehold. Now that the Republicans have had their Perot, and the Democrats their Nader, the political arena has only become more polarized as voters increasingly begin discounting third-parties completely while the two main parties become so convoluted that up becomes down and left becomes right, and the only choice for America is to vote for either Bad or Worse, because Better has no shot.

That's how Democracy was broken.

How do we fix it? Perhaps the answer comes from an unlikely source. The concept of Instant Run-off Voting, or the Alternative Vote, has been a prime tenet of the Green Party (yes, that Green Party, the one that championed Ralph Nader in 2000, and is beloved by left-wing radicals all over the nation) for years. The reason for their advocacy is simple - under IRV, they'd wield more influence. Yes, many times advocates for change are motivated by greed, even on the Left. Because of this, I've been skeptical in the past of IRV, but recent events and trends have led me to believe that it's an idea whose time has come.

IRV is simple. Given the choice between Better, Bad, and Worse, a voter would be able to vote in a manner which eliminates the spoiler effect by essentially ranking the choices he or she was willing to vote for. Instead of voting just for Bad in order to beat Worse, the voter could vote for Better first, Bad second, and Worse third (or even not at all). In Instant Runoff Voting, the first vote on every ballot is counted and recorded. After the counting, if a candidate does not have a majority, the candidate in last place is eliminated. That candidate's votes are then recounted and redistributed to other candidates by using the second preference among the eliminated candidate's voters. This process continues until one candidate has achieved a majority.

For example, in the first round of voting, perhaps Worse leads, but does not have an absolute majority. Better got the fewest votes, so Better is eliminated. Now everyone who voted for Better has their second choice counted. It may well turn out that the majority of Better voters voted for Bad second. Thus, after the second counting, Bad pulls ahead of Worse and nets a majority thanks to Better voters generally preferring Bad to Worse. It would allow a conservative to vote for an Independent or Libertarian while still preferring Republicans to Democrats. It would allow a liberal to vote Green or even Socialist while still preferring Democrats to Republicans. In short, it would allow a much more vibrant and diverse range of political discussion in the public forum.

This is the reason why the Republicans and Democrats will never go for IRV. It eliminates the advantage that they currently hold, and allows third-parties to challenge either their grip on power or their near-grasp on power.

And in the meantime, everyone will continue to vote for Bad just so we don't end up with Worse.

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