Thursday, October 18, 2012

The purpose of voting

Something I think I've mentioned before, and that Stuart Zechman and I talk about privately, is that without the New Deal framework, social progress goes down the drain. It was that New Deal framework that made social progress movements possible, and that's why the arch-conservatives and Big Business banded together to destroy it.

And it's working. It is already difficult-to-impossible to obtain local access to abortion in most parts of the United States. It is not only difficult but damn-near illegal to protest in public. And even where you can legally protest, you get diverted, attacked, and arrested anyway. The relationship between your politics and your ability to obtain or keep a job is increasingly so strong that anyone who isn't on board with the arch-conservative program is terrified to make any statement that can be interpreted as economically liberal in the hearing of anyone who might make their employer aware of it.

These things add up, especially in an environment where "equality" means little more than an equal shot at no jobs.

And this is why, above any other issue, I am on board with Stuart when he says:

Restoration of the New Deal framework is my priority policy agenda.

This is because I am convinced that social liberalism's successes, e.g. civil rights, the successes of liberation movements (sexual, women's, etc.), intolerance with respect to security state regimes, etc., follow from the small-d democratic, economic and cultural empowerment of the majority of ordinary citizens. The history of the 20th century is the history of the balance of powers created by such a modern liberal-democratic framework, and the "culture of liberty-entitlement" that such empowerment produces in populations of otherwise reactionary-agricultural or labor-competitive citizens.

Without the New Deal, or a New Deal-oriented governing framework, there is no liberal democracy, only oligarchy. Without liberal democracy, the cultural forces of popular reaction take hold in American populations, and social liberalism's creativity has little value in solving the problems faced by ordinary folks under plutocratic rule. Without liberal democracy, majority literacy itself is at risk.

Bedford Falls' economy's culture produces the broad acceptance and (therefore) legality of privacy rights. Pottersville's economy's culture produces the broad rejection of and (therefore) illegality of natural selection being taught in public schools. One comes before the other. In post-19th century capitalist America, there can be no civil rights, and no dominance of individual liberty without first securing the economic rights and democratic power of the majority against "the old enemies of peace."

Of all of the policy agendas I support, such as limiting executive power, expanding privacy rights, de-industrial militarizing of America, reforming the justice system, inhibiting poverty creation, etc, there is a preference order, with "Restoration of the New Deal Framework" being at the top. My vote will therefore reflect what I believe to be the priority policy agenda for movement liberals.

Yes, because the New Deal framework is fundamental to any other social liberty.

I know that my vote, in Maryland, will have no impact on the election. Barack Obama will win handily. Stuart can reasonably expect the same of his vote in New York.

So what can my vote accomplish? A vote for Romney would be wasted even if I thought it would slow the Grand Bargain train to elect Romney. (And, you know, it might - it might be that since Obama is more competent and less likely to be fought by his own party, he will be best suited for wrecking Social Security, and thus Romney would be the better choice. But I have no say in that matter.) All a vote for Romney says in Maryland is "one more person who wants right-wing government". A vote for Obama would also be meaningless, since it could just be interpreted as support for his odious, anti-democratic, hateful policy of wrecking the New Deal.

To the extent that my vote can have any impact at all, it is that it makes a statement, and the statement I want to make is that I do not support the policies of either of these two chiselers. I want it to be clear that when I don't vote for Obama, it isn't because he was "too liberal". Jill Stein is on the ballot, so I'm voicing my choice for someone who supports the New Deal. I know she won't win, but at least I will have made an "official" public statement that not everyone is happy to let the oligarchy have its way.

A note about Making a Statement: I know the party leadership is not listening to the people, and neither is the establishment media. It doesn't matter what I say to them. But as I have long noted, it's important for ordinary people to talk to each other, to make clear that whatever appears in the headlines does not necessarily reflect what most people think. I noticed a long time ago that people around me simply assumed that everyone agreed with whatever was in the headlines of the Daily Mail, even though there were several issues on which it was clearly difficult to find anyone who agreed with them. If people don't talk to each other, they don't know what their neighbors really think. So I won't be casting that vote to influence the election (it can't) or to speak to my undemocratic leaders or the press, but to talk to my fellows instead, and say I don't support right-wing government.

It might be another matter if I lived in a swing state. Then I might have to ask myself if a Romney win might actually be beneficial. Would Democrats rise up and make noise if Romney tried to wreck Social Security? Would word spread and cause Republican voters to call Congress and demand that they vote against any such plan? I wish I knew. But what I do know right now is that rank-and-file Democrats seem to be sleepwalking their way to the gas ovens behind Obama's leadership, and I don't like it.

The question for voters in a swing state isn't between policies, because the policies are not really different. The question has to be: Which one is more likely to be able to get it done? And then vote against that bastard.

Here's Stuart:

The primary purpose of voting is neither protest nor symbolism.

The primary purpose of voting is to influence the viability of priority policy, either in the long, medium or the short term.

A vote's potential value is maximized when priority policy made the most viable in long, medium and short terms as the result of an election in which that vote's designee carries.

When the priority policy is likely to be immediately and negatively impacted by all candidates' likely future administrations' agendas, one must assess the likely degree of negative impact of potential administrations' successful agenda execution, and vote for the candidate whose administration is least likely to successfully execute, both in political and policy terms.

Therefore, the immediate choice for voters confronted by candidates whose election would likely result in the pursuit of harmful policy agendas is between which particular candidate's future administration is more likely to fail in such pursuit, whether due to incompetence, the political circumstances likely to be created by election results, or a combination of both.

I will be voting for the candidate whose election is most likely to result in the failure of that candidate's agenda with respect to priority policy, which I believe to be the restoration of the New Deal framework, i.e. "good government." The evidence seems to be that both candidates would pursue --in different ways-- further degradation of the New Deal framework.

At this time, neither candidate has yet convinced me that their administration would be more likely not to deliver their intended policy agenda, given the probable circumstances of their successful election.

Now, the idea that Romney will be less competent at destroying the New Deal is just a fantasy. In fact, Romney is very good at getting what he wants. Just read what Greg Palast had to say in The Nation about Mitt Romney's Bailout Bonanza (or listen to him telling Sam Seder about it on The Majority Report).

But if I really believed Romney couldn't pull it off, yeah, I'd be saying vote for Romney, because I know Obama wants to round-file the New Deal, and I think he can do it. And then we're screwed, because the New Deal framework is fundamental to any other social liberty.

* * * * *

Yves Smith says, "It's Time for a Tax to Kill High Frequency Trading: It's frustrating to know that there's a simple solution to a serious problem but no one seems willing to do the obvious." The serious problem is High Frequency Trading, electronic front-running, which happens to be illegal. But the SEC won't stand up to it, and Tom Harkin and Peter DeFazio have introduced legislation to tax it out of existence. They want a .03% tax, although Yves says even .01% would do it, since that's more than such transactions make. It wouldn't hurt real investment, and it would get rid of a highly destructive process. (via)

What are the chances that anyone at the WaPo or the network news programs will be accurate about the Social Security COLA?

Did I mention yet that "tweaks" are slashes? "It has been estimated that for the lowest 20 percent of couples, their wealth is reduced by 18 percent. The highest comparable income group has a reduction of eight percent. Any higher taxes on the rich or battery plants in Michigan will be cold comfort to those in benighted circumstances absorbing a retirement age tweak. [...] Much has been made of Republicans' flagrant disregard of truth. And Lord knows they deserve it. But what of their counterparts? I suggest that if Democrats are honest, they would a) acknowledge their own exaggerations of the program's difficulties, and b) spell out the impact of their purported "tweaks." After all, if Romney ought to spell out how his magical tax proposal reduces rates and recoups all lost revenue, shouldn't Democrats do the same with respect to their Social Security reform nostrums?"

Charlie Pierce on Paul Broun and What the Democrats Cannot Do - It can't be true that Democrats can't put up a candidate against a legislator who even other Republican voters thinks is crazy.

At the Tory conference: "At a moment when the Conservative faithful recognise that their party is on course to lose the next general election to a rabble of leftwing zombies, they see Boris as the fat white hope, Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, El Cid, Superman, Indiana Jones."

Lies about "socialized medicine" and Social Security are an old tradition.

The Bill O'Reilly vs. Jon Stewart debate, 2012

Getting the details on the Romney Tax Plan.

It is the Future, Here is Your Jetpack.

Star Wars in Manuscript (via)

Books read: Snuff by Terry Pratchett. He hasn't lost his touch.


  1. I am also voting for Jill Stein.

    You can't oppose our war for terror and drone strikes on innocent civilians by voting for President Drone Strike.

    His protection and enrichment of the banksters has been appalling.

    If Obama had worked half as hard for the average Democratic voter as he has for Goldman Sachs, Citibank, and friends, this election contest would be over for all practical purposes.

  2. I was floored to discover (via one of those quizzes) that I am 95% in agreement with Jill Stein. (20% with Romney, who I think of as the Hell Freezes Over candidate.)

    My absentee ballot has arrived. Decisions will get made over the weekend.

  3. Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson aren't on the Ballot in Kansas (unless something changed in the last week) ... I was planning on a write in vote but, I'm really not certain how/if those are counted here. They certainly aren't reported.

    Gary Johnson IS on the ballot. But, I'm pretty sure he wants to dismantle the new deal. And I completely agree with you about the importance of that in this and any election.

    Oh -- Kansas. My vote has never counted, right? Still, I've always taken my vote seriously. No chance I'll vote for either Obama or Romney but, I really am undecided about the rest of this decision.

  4. Jill Stein. No question.

  5. Replies
    1. I'd like to hear Stein vs. Obama

    2. Me, too. She got arrested just for protesting outside the building.

  6. Heretofore I've always voted for the most liberal candidate with the best chance of winning (i.e. the donkey). Hereafter I plan to vote only when someone appears on my ballot who's an authentic liberal committed both to restoring the New Deal, already in tatters, and ending our horribly destructive empire. Since neither major party has a lick of interest in doing either of those things. In fact, since they're committed to exactly the opposite pursuits...

    And while I'm registered in a safely blue (presidential) state, it'd be the same if I were in my sister's purple state or FL or what have you. And I'd own that vote (for Stein obviously) here or there in the face of all hostility, Nader hysteria redux. If all the non-partisan liberals in America starting voting their convictions, not as a protest or in a symbolic way as SZ says, but consistently, perhaps our politics wouldn't be locked into this duopolistic variation on Stockholm Syndrome.

    And I welcome the scorn of partisans and here's why. B/C we don't need them. B/C if there's any goddamned hope for America we don't need to convince the partisans of the world, we need to be talking to the part-timer at Walmart, the migrant worker, the yet burgeoning legion of disenfranchised who wouldn't recognize or seek out this closed discourse loop if at gunpoint. We're generally comfortable, educated professionals talking to our fellows when the only hope for our pluralistic survival demands that we talk to people not like us, people mocked by dem partisans for a generation. Not only the poor who are wise enough to vote for one corporatist party over another, but those who may loathe both parties and condescending elites everywhere. Whether the current president wins/loses next month is of relatively little concern if we don't face up to that much more daunting task--Romney and Obama simply offer up different timelines, but either trajectory leads to some rather bad outcomes for everyone.

  7. Apropos of individual voting rationales, here's my response to ace political reporter Katy Steinmetz's Swampland post "Watching the Second Presidential Debate–With the Sound Off"

    Katy Steinmetz:

    Did you get a sense from the candidates' expressions and body language which one of the two would be more likely to fail at passing a bipartisan Grand Bargain deal after the election?

    You see, I'm an undecided voter, and I'm having trouble making up my mind which candidate would be less competent at executing their plans to "reform entitlements." If Romney is more likely to be successful at getting a deal through, then I must vote for Obama. If Obama looks like he might better shepherd that reform through Congress after the election, then I'd have to vote for Romney.

    I watched and listened to the debate, and I still am undecided, so can you, Katy Steinmetz, tell solely from visual cues which candidate might be worse at Grand Bargaining, given their own capabilities, and the individual circumstances to follow each's election? Or can you decipher from their mannerisms which candidate would be better at getting a bipartisan deal on entitlements, so I can vote for the other one?

    Thanks so much in advance for utilizing all your finely honed skills as a pro political reporter in solving this problem, Katy Steinmetz.

    Read more:

  8. Polishing up the New Deal is the macro approach, making an effective sales pitch to Teabagger Bob is the micro approach.

  9. Since I have to live under the results of actual votes and actual elections, I will be voting for Pres. Obama.

    1. Ruth,
      The Chicago Teachers Union's willingness to oppose Rahm's, and by extension Obama's, policies during an election year gave me hope for a second Obama term. The strike suggests that resistance to undermining New Deal programs will be stronger than I'd imagined. So, I've joined the Romney-will-be-the-more-effective-evil camp and would vote for Obama if I didn't live in a safe blue state. Romney may not be able to compromise Democrats but, with Cofer Black and Paul Singer at his side, he can create crises that neuter them.

      That said, if convincing the unconvinced is your intent, sniping at people who don't see it that way is counter-productive.

  10. If all you do in politics is vote in primary and general elections, it is too late. You need to get involved promoting progressive candidates at all levels and working to get them in positions where we could have a NewDeal Democrat be elected president. I have seen this process work at the local level. Getting involved in the process gives you more voice in the system.

    1. Exactly. People who think they can just sit on their hands between elections are the problem.

  11. Voting within the current system clearly is not working. Not just the new deal, but the planet itself, is being dismantled at a pace that threatens current generations.

    Obviously that calls for activism beyond voting. Also obviously, if there is some vote that will ameliorate this process, even if things still get unacceptably worse, there is a moral duty to cast that vote, however noxious.

    But to me, it also calls for having a long-term plan for how to get out of this bind. There has to be something you're working for that would reduce the power of money to distort the process, and/or increase the power of voters to organize and make their voice heard. Helping unionization, addressing campaign finance... these could in principle meet that need, but to me they look more like rear-guard actions in the current context. So I'd say that the hopeful, forward-looking thing has to be voting reform.

    How can I talk about voting rules when there's massive unemployment, hell and high water, flying death robots, Orwellian surveillance, a prison-industrial complex, etc? Because the two-party system strangles any hope of dealing with those issues. Approval voting would allow mainstream third parties to grow, which would break money's zero-sum leverage over politics.

    How could we accomplish that? Pay attention to state-level politics. Actually talk to your state representatives about this issue. When voting for secretary of state, if there isn't a viable candidate who supports approval voting, actually use approval voting (vote for several, including a write-in for "approval voting"); yes, your vote will not be counted, but you will send a message that it could have been counted if they fixed things. And of course, organize, organize, organize; including building alliances with people in all parties, major and minor, because voting reform has something to offer everyone except lobbyists (even incumbents could see some benefits from such a positive-sum reform).

  12. You are starting at the wrong end. In Maryland there is a sufficient progressive base that starting to primary all of the right wing democrats AT ALL STATE AND LOCAL LEVELS could a) move the party left b) get rid of some of the worst (yes, Steny, we are looking at you). OTOH, to be effective such a strategy has to be incremental, e.g. don't run the most far left nut job you can find.

    Dont protest, organize

    1. Yes! I've been talking about getting rid of Steny for years.

      There's a lot that can be done at the local level, but it's been very sad to see how few people are picking up that torch.

      A few are doing it. And they are making headway.

  13. I'll make you all a deal: Help me help get Darrell Issa out of office before he endangers more lives. Jerry Tetalman's war chest isn't one tenth Issa's is but we can make a difference.

  14. Really appreciate this. It's what I've been telling friends all along. I vote in California, so I have the opportunity to lodge a Green Party vote as reflection of my true politics. I'm also fortunate enough to live in Australia (duel citizen) where voting for a Greens Party candidate actually gets some elected (Greens currently hold "balance of power" in our Federal Government and in one state). This is in large part because we have a preferential voting system, where you can vote minor party candidates, and if they lose in the first round (or any round) of voting, their stack of ballets gets redistributed by voters second preference, and so on. Without this voting system, we would be stuck with the US-style two-party duopoly.

  15. Clinton killed the Great Society. Obama will kill the New Deal. The feckless Democratic Party, living only on its legacy, will then be finished.

  16. i confess to being totally unconcerned with voting this year. which is an incredible thing for someone like me to say, but it's true. down here at the bottom, it's very hard to argue in a fact-based way that our "choice" of national leader makes much of a difference. i've been skating the edge of real poverty for quite a while now, and to someone like me, there isn't really any demonstrable proof that D or R changes the reality of things like employment opportunity, health care access, freedom from things like police brutality, economic/business opportunity... the biggest change the obama admin has brought me is, yeah! i can serve in the military and kill innocent wedding parties with drones openly now! things like 'equal pay for equal work' only matter when there is work. altho everyone in the hood desperately tries to pretend otherwise, the value of my family's homes aren't rising. gas isn't getting cheaper. this was one of the scariest growing seasons in recent memory, and nothing is being done about that. blah blah, i can go on and on. you all know the drill.

    but speaking practically, what difference does it really make, that i vote in the presidential election? that is the question i keep asking myself this year. i have to go change my address this week, and get a new DL. they will ask me if i want to register to vote. i'm honestly not sure i should bother to say 'yes.' really, the only politics i have time for anymore are local, and that effort can only happen when i'm economically secure, even at the most minimum of levels. and that's getting harder, and harder.

  17. [question posed at 42:16]

    [44:17] DeLong: Back in the 1990s, when I was working for the Clinton administration, I wrote a bunch of memos about how [globalization as a cause of rising inequality in the United States] was then nonsense, that [any off shoring effect of manufacturing] was simply too small to matter.

    Since the mid-1990s it's become significantly larger but I'd say it's still in third place as far as the increase in U.S. -- fourth place as far as the increase in U.S. inequality is concerned. That in first place...

    [45:05] DeLong: Second place is the shift in the tax and transfer system. The fact that our tax and transfer system as a whole is less progressive than it was a generation ago and, in fact, it's regarded as Kenyan-Muslim-Socialism to even return taxes on the rich back to their levels of Clinton administration.

    And don't laugh too much, it really is that the bar for what is communism has been significantly lowered, it's [now down to the level that prevailed during the] Bill Clinton [administration]. Third are the...

    [57:03] Harley Shaiken: And this question from someone who is a professor at UC Berkeley but, also, a Chilean so it combines both countries for our final question:

    >>>Given the growing inequality in the U.S., how do you explain the lack of social outrage in the country? Is it that people are not aware, are indifferent, or find this level of inequality acceptable and deserving?<<<

    I think that's probably for you Brad.

    [57:30] DeLong: Oh dear, uhm. So the question, I suppose, if you want to sharpen the question and give it historical context, it's that given the Gilded Age of the 1890s and 1900s, you had strong political movements saying, "Something is going remarkably wrong with this. That this isn't the country that we thought we were going to live in." The way that historian Ray Ginger, Roy Ginger?

    Shaiken: Roy Ginger(sic).

    DeLong: Roy Ginger. Two absolutely brilliant books, you know, Altgeld's America [and] The Age of Excess put it that even the Republicans thought that they wanted to live in Abe Lincoln's America where everyone when they're young splits rails then goes to law school at night and becomes a lawyer and becomes successful and then frees the slaves. That, that kind of world, that even if you were the son of a penniless and not very successful rural farmer you can grow up to be president and free the slaves, was the country that they wanted to live in and they found they weren't.

    And so as a result you had two political movements, a kind of Democratic left-farmer-labor-semi socialist-populist movement on the one hand and a mixed Democratic-Republican urban progressive movement on the other both of which were desperately eager to change America, to repair the flaws of the Gilded Age and to make the economy work for everybody, uh- or at least for every white guy with we're going to give women the vote.

    [59:27] DeLong: In fact so much so much so that someone like Theodore Roosevelt who was as aggressively partisan an animal as you would ever see, that his loyalty to the Republican cause was second to his loyalty to, call them, progressive principles for American reform.

    And he was happy denouncing Democrats as communist anarchists but equally happy denouncing rich Republicans as "malefactors of great wealth" who desperately needed a control; someone who wove a nice political career as head of the Republican party and head of the progressivist movement until at the end Republican President Taft simply offended him one time too many, he decided to blow up the Republican party and hand the presidency to Woodrow Wilson from 1912 to 1920 on the grounds that a progressive Democrat was better than a un-progressive Republican.


    1. [1:00:23] DeLong: That was the history of America from 1880 to 1920 or so and then after the 1920 you do get a Republican Gilded Age resurgence under Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, very corrupt initial stages under Harding but even Hoover is running as a heir of the progressives. And then, when the Great Depression comes, Roosevelt comes in and he takes the entire progressive agenda off the shelf and promptly begins to implement it, and other stuff, as fast as possible.

      We haven't had anything like that over the past thirty years. And here I'm simply going to throw up my hands and say it's been a great mystery to me, that as an economic historian I like to look at economic patterns and political economic patterns from the past and say that we should learn from these and generalize from them and they provide some insight to the future and the present and, I would say, were extraordinarily successful, there were a lot of lessons to be drawn from the first stage of globalization for the second, there are a lot lessons to be drawn from the education, the high-school-ization of America for the college-ization and for education elsewhere in the world.

      There are lots and lots of lessons to be drawn from the Great Depression for today. But the political economy of Gilded Ages, why the first Gilded Age produces a populist-progressivist reaction and the second, so far, does not, there I throw up my hands and say that my economic historian training betrays me and I have no clue as to what's going on here.

      [1:02:20] Shaiken: ...Oscar, very briefly, if you could leave us with a thought.

      Oscar Landerretche of the Universidad de Chile: Yeah, just to finish very briefly with a whack at the same question. I think that what you observe here [in Chile], could be what you're observing in the United States. It's the importance of the population understanding what you're doing, in a sense. So maybe, in the previous Gilded Age, some people came up with plausible ways of facing the problem that became credible after time, maybe they didn't.

      The problem that I see with the current trends in indignation is that, O.K. people are angry, they occupy things but we haven't really seen leadership come out with plausible directions to go - aggressive, plausible directions to go so, after a while, your indignation sort of, you know, gets diluted in your general, sort of, life and you can't go on. So at the end I think we are, in a way, sort of missing some sort of political leadership that enables people to construct a solution to this problem.

      I think that one should look, and let me finish with this, that one should look at the experience of post-War Britain. The country wanted to be more egalitarian but they didn't want to become the Soviet Union. And the Labour Party with a leader called Clement Atlee came up with a solution for that and it wasn't obvious. And that sort of thing hasn't come up yet and so we're sort of trapped, waiting for the next Clement Atlee. That's what I think.

  18. [46:04] Bill Moyers: If the plutocrats keep on winning; if they manage to avoid tax reform; if they keep low regulation; if they get a president who is sympathetic to them; or even, enables them, what's ahead for us?

    [46:16] Matt Taibbi: I fear that what's ahead is just the continuing worsening of the situation. We've seen in our lifetime, even since we've come back from Russia (during the Yeltsin era) is this decimation of the middle-class in America. If we continue on this path what we'll end up with is Russia or some other third world country where, again, you have this handful of people who are protected and have expanding wealth and then there's just this massive population of everyone else and that's what I worry about.

    [46:52] Chrystia Freeland: I would like to really issue a clarion call to progressives because, I think, the progressive public intellectuals are to blame as well. I think a big reason no one is protesting is because no one is offering sufficiently compelling alternatives and solutions.

    And when you think back to the history of the Industrial Revolution, the Progressive Era, the New Deal, these were brand new ideas and brand new institutions designed to cope with changed economic circumstances.

    What I think is the challenge for everyone who is worried about this,and I think all of us should be worried about it, we should be terrified. But, I think, we need to start taking the next step and we need to realize the 1950s are not coming back.

    What angers me sometimes about these debates is people talking about manufacturing jobs coming back. It's just not going to happen...

    Taibbi: Right.

    Freeland: let's really face the facts of how the world economy works and really come up with what needs to be the political and social response.

    And frankly, I see the Right not interested in addressing this issue, at all, and I see the Left not offering enough new thinking and people know that. And that's why people are not manning the barricades, there's no manifesto to be waving.

    [48:11] Taibbi: What one caveat I'd like to throw in there is that anytime you propose anything that has any kind of government component to it there's this automatic criticism that it's communist and socialist.

    So, when you come up with a solution the boundaries are, let's come up with a solution that can't be criticized as being communist or socialist and that is incredibly difficult for people to work around.

    [48:39] Freeland: O.K. but let's, at least, see the new ideas...

    Taibbi: Sure.

    Freeland: argument is we are living through equally profound economic transformations and we're just trying to rehash and re-tinker with the twentieth century institutions. I don't think it's enough.