Corporate Republicans v. Corporate Democrats

by Henry on August 23, 2007

John Edwards reminds me of why I’d vote for him in a heartbeat, if I had a vote in the forthcoming primaries.

It’s not just that the answers of the past aren’t up to the job today, it’s that the system that produced them was corrupt—and still is. It’s controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it’s perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don’t stand a chance.

Real change starts with being honest—the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It’s rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It’s rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it’s rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They’ll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are—not for the country, but for themselves.

… The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.

[nb. that this is a purely personal statement – I have no idea of where those of my fellow CT-ers who live in the US stand on this]

{ 1 trackback }

links for 2007-08-24 | Prof Ron’s Test Area
08.25.07 at 1:45 am

{ 88 comments }

1

Steve LaBonne 08.23.07 at 6:06 pm

This certainly reinforces my own preference for Edwards. Unfortunately it also means that our corporate “news” media will step up their efforts to squash him. Expect more stories of the haircut / mansion type.

2

NJL 08.23.07 at 6:16 pm

A strong indictment, yes. But is not this EXACTLY the point Ralph Nader made in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 … ?

3

Other Ezra 08.23.07 at 6:25 pm

Has he apologized for his DLC membership and according Senate career like he’s apologized for his vote to go to Iraq?

4

nogo war 08.23.07 at 6:46 pm

Why should Edwards apologize for past ties with DLC???..
If do not believe he is not sincere with positions he has staked out since January fine….

Between the top 3 Dem Candidates who do you believe Big Biz is most concerned about as being a threat to their control?

5

norbizness 08.23.07 at 6:52 pm

Nogo: None of them, really.

6

Matthew Gordon 08.23.07 at 6:53 pm

John Edwards opposes same sex marriage.

7

Jim S. 08.23.07 at 6:55 pm

I like him too. However, it will be difficult for him to win, since women, gays, African-Americans, and other minorities now dominate the Democratic Party, and they support the centrist, DLC crowd so long as their interests are met-vide the Clintons (both of them). This is the case in my home state of Wisconsin, where a rather weak, middling govenor is nevertheless considered a “white African-American” and other such accolades, and it has been gaining in the country as a whole since the sixties-with increasingly disastrous results.
I am sorry to have said this. I would like to vote for a female or gay or minority candidate, but where is the radical one? Except Obama ( another choice) there does not appear to be one.

8

c.l. ball 08.23.07 at 7:01 pm

So what’s Edwards going to do about it? If he’s really serious, how is he going to get his fellow Democrats but corporate-dependent ones to toe his line rather than the corporate mark?

I like Edwards more than the other front-runners, but I’m not sure how much more.

9

Anderson 08.23.07 at 7:01 pm

John Edwards opposes same sex marriage.

As opposed to which Dem candidates who support same?

10

wolfgang 08.23.07 at 7:17 pm

> It’s rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier.

Of course, john Edwards himself is a wealthy man and he has to be i order to be heared as a political candidate.

11

Drew 08.23.07 at 7:18 pm

What a load of silly rubish!

12

Seth Finkelstein 08.23.07 at 7:23 pm

Umm, I think he’s the best overall of the current crop … but he is a “Washington insider”.

Again, better a campaign based on economic populism than selfishness and terror. But nobody is going to get to be President in the US without some backing of corporate interests.

13

tps12 08.23.07 at 7:29 pm

Uh oh, he said the “M” word. It took, what, two weeks after Dean said media conglomerates should be broken up before he became angry-crazy-Howard-Dean. Either Edwards wasn’t paying attention, or he now sees himself as a long enough shot that he should get in his jabs while he still has some sliver of the spotlight.

14

nick s 08.23.07 at 7:50 pm

Ah, Mouseland.

15

luci 08.23.07 at 7:59 pm

“or he now sees himself as a long enough shot that he should get in his jabs”

I thought the same – he’s gotta push the rhetoric a little more radical to to distinguish himself, and try to get some attention, as he’s been at #3 for a while.

I initially liked Edwards and thought he’d be running stronger. But when I hear or read the candidates’ words, they pretty much all strike me as pandering doofuses. Edwards, also, isn’t exactly for single payer healthcare.

Maybe it’s necessary, to get elected. Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are pretty disappointing, though.

Any one of them is much less likely, compared to the Republicans, to start another unprovoked war and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, so IMO you’ve absolutely gotta vote for one of these idiots.

16

Rich B. 08.23.07 at 8:31 pm

I inevitably pick the candidate you does surprising well in the Democratic primaries, but inevitably falls short when all the votes are counted.

In the previous contested primaries in which I was of age, I contributed money to Paul Tsongas (1992), Bill Bradley (2000), and John Edwards (2004).

So, if you want to know who will be on the cover of Time and Newsweek in mid-February as the surprise “possibility” before his inevitable March fade, I have just wrote my first check to Bill Richardson.

17

Steve LaBonne 08.23.07 at 8:35 pm

luci- goes without saying. I’m not wild about Hillary (politically- as far as ability and character go I rather admire her) but would run to the polls to vote for her in the general election.

18

Uncle Kvetch 08.23.07 at 8:50 pm

For the record, none of the three leading candidates (Clinton, Obama, Edwards) supports same-sex marriage. All have expressed “support” for civil unions but none has pledged to institute them on a nationwide level.

The only candidates who do support full marriage equality are Kucinich and Gravel, who are, as everyone knows, clinically insane. I mean, they’re the only two who have actually talked about reducing the US defense budget, so, I mean, you know…woooooooowooooo….

19

Jake 08.23.07 at 9:44 pm

Dennis Kucinich?

20

ejh 08.23.07 at 9:45 pm

Any one of them is much less likely, compared to the Republicans, to start another unprovoked war and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people

Are you quite sure about that? I wouldn’t be.

21

Marc 08.23.07 at 9:55 pm

An honest question here. Given the cynical and sour commentary above, what precisely would the folks here support? I’m in the information gathering stage myself. The one luxury that we can’t afford is above-it-all posturing. I would have thought that 8 years of the disastrous Bush administration would have been a sufficient lesson on the folly of asserting that there are no real options in the US, as the two major parties arethesamething. An inability to mount an effective defence against insane recklessness is not equivalent to insane recklessness.

22

Anderson 08.23.07 at 10:05 pm

Don’t worry, Marc, voting is too bourgeois to stoop to.

23

Shelby 08.23.07 at 10:23 pm

I still think the best preventative for US military action is divided government — make the president persuade a congress in which one or both houses are controlled by the other party. Obviously this is imperfect, but it’s a useful limiting factor.

24

ejh 08.23.07 at 10:26 pm

what precisely would the folks here support

I don’t know: I don’t really have precise opinions anyw more. I’m not a US citizen so it’s a hypothetical question anyway.

My general opinion is that the less you ask of them the less you’ll get. What I thought last time was this and I guess it applies again.

25

Cryptic Ned 08.23.07 at 11:10 pm

Are you quite sure about that? I wouldn’t be.

Do you think President Gore would have decided to invade Iraq? Bear in mind that Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, and every other neocon on earth would have played no role in a Gore administration.

26

greensmile 08.24.07 at 12:29 am

Good for you Henry.
You have Stirling company today.

Of the people who are not too coy to bid to be the Democratic candidate for president, Edwards manages to compel my growing respect as the most committed and authentically progressive. Edwards may not win but he has already done more to pull the body politic back from the ledge where Rove left it teetering to the right than some who might win.

I like Richardson as well for his realism and experience. Gore, should he be grooming a stealthy convention coup, would show himself a deeply calculating politician. Leave Gore to lead the good fight he now leads and set an example in that way.

27

Matt Weiner 08.24.07 at 1:01 am

Cryptic Ned/ejh: Never mind Gore v. Bush, the top Republican candidates are insanely hawkish. Romney says he wants to “double Guantanamo,” in those exact words; Giuliani thinks diplomacy only gets you attacked, all I have to say about McCain is the Regents did “Barbara Ann” first, and I can’t bring myself to watch Fred Thompson’s speech on Iran but I’ll be surprised if it’s much different. The Republicans are crazy.

28

Thomas 08.24.07 at 1:36 am

I like the sentiment behind this statement but how about a dose of reality.

John Edwards got himself nominated to the vice presidency of the united states, the second highest office in the land. He could not have done that without being beholden to those same interests that he claims to vilify.

This is more empty rhetoric.

29

Thomas 08.24.07 at 1:50 am

Ned, I’d remind you that Lieberman would have been VP in a Gore administration, and that Gore believed, as late as late 2000, that it had been a mistake not to depose Saddam in 1991.

30

jk 08.24.07 at 1:51 am

I must say I have been mildly surprised by the endorsements I have seen for Edwards here on CT (while I don’t follow the threads all that closely, I have noticed more than one on him).
I have always viewed him with a very cautious eye. By all accounts, he seems genuine. But how much weight does a “2 America’s” slogan have when the person shouting is worth between $20-60 million and with strong ties to a hedge fund company (over $16 million invested) that has its hand in sub-prime lending, amongst other niceties?
His history as a litigation lawyer is leaves much to be wished for as well. He made his initial millions from claims suing doctors and hospitals over botched deliveries that supposidly caused cerebal palsy. A few years later, but after millions had already been awarded, these claims were roundly rejected by comprehensive medical studies. I personally know of one left-leaning doctor who voted for Bush/Cheany based soley on this fact alone.
These few facts about the man make me very hesitant to give any type of liberal designator to him. His language might sound sweet, but I tend to believe it is mostly a candy coating. Why vote for a man who, in his personal life, has done nothing to change the very institutions he is berating? Here is a man who, more than likely, has single-handily contributed to the inflation of malpractice insurance rates, and who has increased his personal wealth through ill-defined and under-regulated hedge fund means. He hasn’t been an elected official since the 2004 Presidential campaign. What has he done since except get richer and wait idly by, watching his rivals tally 4 years of votes and decisions that can be used as campaign ammo?
In my opinion, the choice should be Barack Obama. He never has had money, never has had a chance to be an “insider”, and has, for the majority of his, albiet brief, political career, championed the right caused at the right times.
I don’t see the “honesty” in John Edwards; I only hear it. I do in Obama.

31

Slocum 08.24.07 at 2:00 am

… The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.

Right — because Bill Clinton’s presidency was such a corporate-drive disaster for the country. Sounds like Edwards is taking a page for Gore’s playbook — run against the most only successful democratic administration in the last third of a century. Not as dumb when Edwards does it than it was when Gore did it (given Gore was, you know, actually a big part of the ‘the power’ structure that he claimed to be running against). But still dumb.

So which of the three? Henry has outlined the reasons why Edwards would be my least favorite candidate (although, to be honest, I suspect Edwards populist, anti-corporate rhetoric is more posturing than substance — I doubt he’d govern that way. But fortunately it’s really unlikely we’re going to have to worry about that).

I had hopes for Obama, but they don’t seem to be panning out. I never liked Hillary, and I really don’t like the idea of another familial succession at all, but there you go. If I could hold my nose and vote for Gore, I can do it for Hillary, too.

32

Matt Weiner 08.24.07 at 2:05 am

But how much weight does a “2 America’s” slogan have when the person shouting is worth between $20-60 million and with strong ties to a hedge fund company (over $16 million invested) that has its hand in sub-prime lending, amongst other niceties?

FDR wasn’t exactly a member of the one-third of the country that was ill fed etc., but he helped them very effectively. And a plaintiff’s lawyer seems much more likely to stick up for the downtrodden than, say, a corporate counsel would be. (This isn’t meant as a slam at any other candidate; I’m undecided among Edwards, Obama, and Richardson.)

33

K R Hasan 08.24.07 at 2:25 am

As an outsider who’s been following US Presidential Elections for nearly 40 years as something of a spectator sport, all I can say is if the Democrats couldn’t win in 2000 when everything was in their favour, and lost again in 2004 when they mobilized to the maximum to try and get rid of Bush, I wouldn’t be surprised if they missed out again this time. A Republican victory seems highly unlikely if one is objective, yet nothing surprises me now, especially after Bush’s re-election following the disaster of Iraq.

34

brooksfoe 08.24.07 at 4:02 am

I plan to devote 3 of my 5 votes to Obama, and 2 to Edwards.

Wait — you say Lani Guinier was fired? What the hell for? Damn. Guess I have to choose one.

35

ejh 08.24.07 at 5:47 am

Do you think President Gore would have decided to invade Iraq?

Democrats like to say this as if it – a hypothetical point – meant something. How many of their representatives voted against the invasion? How many of them opposed it at the last election? How many of their leading contenders now are clearly unwilling to go to war with Iran?

I know, of course, what will happen, because it’s what always happens and it’s why the Democrats are as piss-poor as they are. Who will be the lesser evil in 2008?

36

almostinfamous 08.24.07 at 5:56 am

john edwards is the rich man’s dennis j kucinich.

37

Harald Korneliussen 08.24.07 at 6:28 am

Edward is in third place. This means supporting him only splits away support to one of the two leading candidates, probably Obama. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was Edward’s intention – I mean, politicians aren’t stupid. Are we to believe that they will never try to game the system with a little tactical campaigning?

You need to fix your primaries to select the dominant winner. This winner would have a better chance in the presidental election, as can be seen from experience: 1972 for the democrats (McGovern won the primary with a tiny plurality, Humphrey was probably the dominant winner. McGovern went on to lose with a landslide to Nixon) 1964 for the republicans (Goldwater won the primary, Scranton was most likely dominant, Goldwater lost the presidental to Johnson, again with a landslide – the biggest ever in the US).

38

stostosto 08.24.07 at 7:54 am

I wonder whether Brad de Long is going to denounce Edwards as “crypto-Nazi scum”.

39

Ben Alpers 08.24.07 at 8:22 am

I’m not wild about Hillary (politically- as far as ability and character go I rather admire her) but would run to the polls to vote for her in the general election.

I don’t know what state you vote in, Steve, but unless it’s one of the dozen or so battleground states, your vote doesn’t matter anyway, as your state’s electoral votes are essentially already decided.

The silver lining of living in a non-battleground state is that there’s then no excuse not to vote for a candidate you actually like, assuming, that is, there’s some minor party or independent candidate who more closely approximates your political views than Hillary Clinton (or whoever is the Democratic nominee).

40

bad Jim 08.24.07 at 8:37 am

It wasn’t actually that easy for the Bush administration to market the invasion of Iraq, because it didn’t make much sense on its face. Would anyone but Bush and Cheney have pushed this nonsense? No Democrat would have needed a new war to help his party at the polls in the next election, nor would nearly any other Republican. Bush did.

I’m inclined towards Edwards. I like what I hear from him. I like most of what I hear from Obama, apart from the foreign policy chest-thumping. Hillary’s too far to my right to get my vote in the primary (DeLong’s on the record that he doesn’t want her hands on the controls).

Edwards is the white guy and electability is an issue. I’m actually pretty hopeful that Hillary’s negatives will decline with further exposure, and that Americans have actually evolved to the point that her sex and Obama’s race will have neglible effect on voters who would even consider voting for a Democrat, but to the extent that I’m wrong, or that other voters don’t share my optimism, Edwards would do better.

41

chris y 08.24.07 at 9:12 am

I don’t know what state you vote in, Steve, but unless it’s one of the dozen or so battleground states, your vote doesn’t matter anyway, as your state’s electoral votes are essentially already decided.

Unless everybody takes this sort of advice, in which case they’re not. Vote, you eedjit.

42

Katherine 08.24.07 at 10:32 am

So, here is a somewhat basic question that it may not be terribly appropriate to ask in this thread, but hey I’ll give it a go anyway.

I think I understand what goes in primaries – i.e. that people registered to a particular party get to vote for the candidate they want. What I don’t understand is the reasonibg behind requiring people to register, when they vote, an affiliation to a particular party. I know (I think) that there is an “Independent” category too, but still, this seems to institutionalise the two parties to such an extent that a third party or candidate is never realistically going to get a look in.

Now, I know the UK isn’t exactly a model of multi-party politics, but we do at least have a semi-sizeable third party and the odd others getting a look on their particular single issues (e.g. the Green Party, UKIP and (ugh) the BNP). And within the last century the two “main” parties have changed from the Tories and the Liberals to the Tories and Labour.

A small third party may at the moment look to be an illusory choice, but it seems to be more of a choice than the ever-optimistic Mr Nader, since there is at least an historical precedent for a major party political shift.

43

Katherine 08.24.07 at 11:10 am

Um, that last paragraph was badly worded, and to be clearer I meant “A small third party in the UK may at the moment look to be an illusory choice, but it seems to be more of a choice than the ever-optimistic Mr Nader in the US, since in the UK there is at least an historical precedent for a major party political shift”.

44

Mary Catherine 08.24.07 at 11:57 am

I personally know of one left-leaning doctor who voted for Bush/Cheany based soley on this fact alone.

Anyone who voted for Bush/Cheney in 2004 was either: a) not at all left-leaning; or b) a complete idiot; or c) both of the above.

45

Steve LaBonne 08.24.07 at 1:08 pm

Ben, I live in one of the two swingiest of all the states- Ohio. Neener neener! ;)

46

dave heasman 08.24.07 at 2:02 pm

Katherine “What I don’t understand is the reasoning behind requiring people to register, when they vote, an affiliation to a particular party.”

The idea behind it is that voters will vote for the candidate they prefer. If voters have no affiliation to the party or are opposed to it they may vote for the most ludicrous candidate. Remember in the early 80s a number of Labour MPs were plotting to form the SDP. Before they left they voted for Michael Foot as Labour Party leader..

47

ed 08.24.07 at 2:07 pm

Katherine’s question is good, but my time to type this is limited, so I hope someone else answers.

It seems to me that Hilary is the odd woman out among the Democratic candidates. If you are a Democrat concerned with either getting out of Iraq, or rising inequality, then Hilary is the worst candidate. She is the most prowar, or least antiwar of the group, though Dodd and Biden are almost as bad neither has much of a chance. Much of the measures encouraging concentration of wealth were put in place during her husbands administration, and its obvious she can’t or doesn’t want to deliver on some sort of national health care plan.

Contrawise, if you are a prowar or conservative Democrat, Hilary really should be your candidate. She is also probably the least positioned of the non-fringe candidate for the general election.

On the other hand, Obama and Edwards strike me as similar in their current positions. Obama has something of a better public record, and Edwards currently is willing to use stronger anti-war and anti-inequality rhetoric. Obama seems more concerned with clean elections, and Edwards with reducing poverty. Both can give good speeches. But they are more similar than either are to Hilary.

From the standpoint of a non-DLC Democrat, why not wait until the early primaries, then support whoever emerges then as the strongest non-Hilary candidate? In the meantime you can give money to both, and perhaps to Gravel and Kucinich as well. That would seem to be the best strategy.

48

Katherine 08.24.07 at 2:09 pm

Dave, I don’t get the comparison you make with the US party affiliation comparison and SDP and Labour. A true apples and oranges situation if ever there was one.

If voters have no affiliation to a party or are opposed to it, then they won’t get to vote in that party’s decision making processes surely.

49

Bruce Webb 08.24.07 at 2:22 pm

Well I couldn’t let this pass without comment:

“since women, gays, African-Americans, and other minorities now dominate the Democratic Party, and they support the centrist, DLC crowd so long as their interests are met-vide the Clintons”

This is maybe the silliest depiction of American political reality that I have seen ever. It implies that the only inhabitants of the progressive movement are straight white men. This is loony. Whatever your own opinion may be on choice, civil rights, gay marriage, the notion that women, minorities and gays gravitate towards the DLC because that is where they are pandered to is to turn reality on its head. The motto of the typical DLCer on all these topics might as well be “Not so fast!” because after all pushing too far might offend some “values voter”.

That women and minorities support Clinton is despite her ties to the “centrist, DLC crowd” and certainly not because of them.

Is there a whiff of revolutionary vanguardism in the air? Or simply a new version of White Man’s Burden?

50

Grand Moff Texan 08.24.07 at 2:41 pm

But how much weight does a “2 America’s” slogan have when the person shouting is worth between $20-60 million and with strong ties to a hedge fund company (over $16 million invested) that has its hand in sub-prime lending, amongst other niceties?

Let’s not make the mistake of assuming that you have to be poor to be a populist. Populism from below, after all, it too easily excused as envy. The man made his own money and yet he advocates policies that do not benefit his class. I respect that.

Furthermore, this is not a new line from Edwards. To my knowledge, he was the first American politician to actually talk about corporate socialism (and actually use the phrase).
.

51

Grand Moff Texan 08.24.07 at 2:43 pm

Democrats like to say this as if it – a hypothetical point – meant something. How many of their representatives voted against the invasion?

A majority of them. In both houses.
.

52

Bruce Webb 08.24.07 at 2:51 pm

Must be my day to be a contrarian (okay that’s every day)

“Now, I know the UK isn’t exactly a model of multi-party politics, but we do at least have a semi-sizeable third party and the odd others getting a look on their particular single issues (e.g. the Green Party, UKIP and (ugh) the BNP)”

Well there are twelve different parties with members in parliament, none of whom are identified as Green, BNP or UKIP. Now while neither Plaid Cymru or the Scottish Nationalists are looking to take national power (at least not in London) their existence shouldn’t be discounted to nothing. Britain’s ‘First Past the Post’ system is extraordinarily friendly to multi-party politics, both currently and historically.
http://www.parliament.uk/directories/hcio/party.cfm
Labour elected its first two MPs in 1900, had its first government in 1917 (though a minority) and now has 353 MPs. This is hardly a closed system comparable to the US two party system.

53

Bruce Webb 08.24.07 at 3:16 pm

“What I don’t understand is the reasoning behind requiring people to register, when they vote, an affiliation to a particular party.”

Well I am not sure what the intent of this question. Nobody has to declare a party to vote in a General Election. And the requirement to be a registered party member in primaries is a protection against hijacking a ballot line. Different states make it more or less difficult to get your party an official ballot line, but once earned you don’t want some outside faction to simply take it over on election day for a free pass to the General.

That is when Nader ran as a Green he at least had to get backing from existing Greens. They had a choice as to whether to risk their hard earned automatic ballot position. Of course they lost that bet. A very foolish move by the way. Greens had a chance to create a new nationwide party working from the ground up, instead they put their entire future into the hands of an egomaniac who was not particularly sympathetic to their platform and who went out of his way to ignore their input after the nomination. Nader used the Greens like Kleenix. Well at least he used them twice before disposal – pretty much the closest he ever got to being green himself.

54

Katherine 08.24.07 at 3:18 pm

Erm, I was in fact pointing out that the UK is NOT a closed system comparable to the US two party system, because of the presence of parties like the Lib Dems, UKIP, Green Party, and, yes, SNP, Plaid Cymru etc. My saying that it’s not a model of multi-party politics was in comparison to many mainland Europe countries.

I disagree that the first past the post system is friendly to multi-party politics – in fact, I think it is is decidly unfriendly, given, for example, the proportion of MPs that the Lib Dems have in comparison to their proportion of the vote.

However, this was not the point of my comment or question, which was to wonder about the reasoning behind the requirement for US voters to register a party affiliation and the effect this might have on the possibility of third (or fourth or fifth) parties getting a look in.

55

Katherine 08.24.07 at 3:21 pm

Bruce, I think your second post displays the total difference in the way of thinking about this. As a comparison, to help out, in the UK no one has to register a party affiliation at all on the electoral register -in fact, there is no way to do so. The people who make the decisions on the policies of a particular party, and leadership of that party are the members of the party, who have applied for membership and paid their (small) dues. The system of party governance is entirely separate from the electoral register/voter registration structure.

56

Steve LaBonne 08.24.07 at 3:23 pm

I don’t think any state requires you to declare a party affiliation and some don’t even allow it. New York, where I come from, allows you to register as an independent or just not declare any affiliation (which makes you a “blank”.) Ohio, where I live now, does not even allow you to declare an affiliation (your “affiliation”, if any, is simply the result of whichever primary you choose to vote in.)

57

Katherine 08.24.07 at 3:35 pm

Yes, Steve, but the point is that affiliation (or not) is a part of the voter registration structure. Whether it “allows” you to register as an independent or not, the party structure is intimately linked with the government structure. I am curious as to why this would be, and whether people think it acts as a stifling effect on the growth and development of alternatives to the Republican and Democratic parties.

58

Steve LaBonne 08.24.07 at 3:45 pm

Ah, I take your point. The reason for it is simply that the major parties control the whole process (in many cases elections boards are actually required to have equal numbers of Republicrats and Demmicans, nobody else need apply) and have rigged it in their favor. In this country that’s what we mean by the “two-party system”- it’s not just a de facto situation resulting from first-past-the-post voting as in the UK (where the identities of the big two can change and have.) Here, the game is fixed from the start.

59

Thomas 08.24.07 at 3:50 pm

GMT, in the Senate, 29 Democrats voted for the Iraq war, including Clinton and Edwards, and 21 against. In the House, 126) of the Democrats voted against the war, while 81 voted for. So while a majority of Democrats in both houses voted against the war, a majority of Democrats in the Senate did not.

60

Ignacio 08.24.07 at 5:01 pm

the point is that affiliation (or not) is a part of the voter registration structure. Whether it “allows” you to register as an independent or not, the party structure is intimately linked with the government structure. I am curious as to why this would be,

The practical reason is, I think, that it allows local elections commissions to have a record of your party affiliation during the primaries, so that they know whether or not you are eligible to vote in them.

61

Steve LaBonne 08.24.07 at 5:18 pm

That may be an excuse, but it’s not a reason. What’s wrong with voting in whichever primary you chose, without having to change any previous formal declaration? Works perfectly fine in lots of states.

62

Harald Korneliussen 08.24.07 at 5:29 pm

“Britain’s ‘First Past the Post’ system is extraordinarily friendly to multi-party politics, both currently and historically.” For a FPTP system, yes. I think that is largely a happy circumstance arising from the geographic segmentation of the parties, and the sufficiently small districts. Chris Lightfoot (boy, do I miss him) wrote a lot on it, I think it starts here.

63

Katherine 08.24.07 at 6:01 pm

Ignacio and Steve, again perhaps I am not making myself clear, or perhaps I am just underestimating the fundamental difference in approaches here. Or perhaps I’m just missing myself the fundamental point of what I’m asking – here’s another go – why primaries, then? Ignacio is saying that it is practical so as to allow for eligibility to vote in primaries – so the question is then, why primaries as the US system has them? I guess to me it seems an odd sort of system that effectively means two rounds of presidential elections – one to elect the candidate and one to elect the president.

Again, the whole system of primaries seems to institutionalise the two parties, which is oddly unique in western political systems, to my knowledge, and very rarely seems to be commented on. I’ve never heard any explanation as to why local elections commissions or any other governmental structure should be so formally linked together with internal party political governance.

64

Steve LaBonne 08.24.07 at 6:07 pm

I am not enough of a historian to be able to explain the origins of the two-party stranglehold, I only know that, one established, it has perpetuated itself using the means that I described. (As I understand or possibly misunderstand it, primaries were an attempted Progressive reform to undermine the stranglehold of the party machines, but evidently the latter were successful in perverting to to their ends.) Perhaps someone else can address the question of origins.

65

Ben Alpers 08.24.07 at 6:27 pm

Again, the whole system of primaries seems to institutionalise the two parties, which is oddly unique in western political systems, to my knowledge, and very rarely seems to be commented on. I’ve never heard any explanation as to why local elections commissions or any other governmental structure should be so formally linked together with internal party political governance.

Very good questions! Steve Labonne is absolutely correct that the system is rigged by the two parties. The history of how that came about has many parts. Important factors include periodic challenges to the two major parties (most notably the Populists in the 1890s, the Bull Moose/Progressives in the 1910s and 1920s, and George Wallace in 1968). Each of these challenges provoked a wave of tightening of ballot access laws.

During the Cold War, American political scientists suggested that a two-party system was a precondition for a stable democracy. Otherwise, you ended up with Italy or Weimar Germany.

Meanwhile, the courts began to recognize a state interest in maintaining the two-party system (not surprising as many judges started their careers as partisans for one or the other of the major parties).

Meanwhile, the extraordinary provincialism of even civically active Americans over most of the last 75 years or so (it was actually quite different before, as Dan Rodgers has shown in Atlantic Crossings) has led most people who bother to think about it to believe that the two-party system is simply a result of FPTP, despite the fact that the other Anglophone democracies have FPTP (or partly FPTP) systems and all are much friendlier to minor parties.

The notion that reasonable political discourse is defined by the positions of the two major parties is an important part of modern American political culture and also helps ease popular acceptance of the two-party system.

66

ejh 08.24.07 at 7:44 pm

Does anybody else have a remotely similar system, by the way? And if not, are Americans at all aware that their system is so little emulated?

67

dd 08.24.07 at 8:10 pm

Not every state requires a declaration of party affiliation to vote in a primary.

In Minnesota, for instance, you are merely required to vote in only one party’s primary — all candidates for all parties are on one ballot. If you try to vote for candidates from more than one party, though, your ballot can’t be counted.

Don’t Louisiana and Washington have nonpartisan primaries (the top two vote-getters go on to the general election regardless of affiliation)?

68

Jim S. 08.24.07 at 8:52 pm

I am sorry but do not Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, et. al., have basically two main political parties? This argument does not seem to hold much water.
No one seems to want to admit that what is really at fault is the insanity and hatred for one’s own people on the part of the American Left. There is no decent political organization, no advocacy of the right issues, etc. It is very easy to say “oh those Americans, their sick political system is hopeless and so are they ,” but the problem is deeper and demands more self-criticism on the part of the Left.

69

freshlysqueezedcynic 08.24.07 at 10:13 pm

67: Louisiana do, as far as I’m aware, but only for the state primaries. Used to be the same for national ones, but was changed recently.

70

dan 08.24.07 at 11:07 pm

Jim S.–

One could even say that the problem is that the US doesn’t have a left party. We have one moderate party and a conservative party. This tends to be what people outside of the US find so confusing (I know I’ve explained it to several people who find if baffling).

Greater electoral openness is a solution for this problem, in that it would at least give a leftist candidate a chance to run.

71

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 08.25.07 at 1:49 am

No, Jim. S. Canada has multiple parties under FPTP, but that’s also due to geographic segmentation. Australia has two and a half primary parties (ALP versus Liberal and Nationals) plus smaller blocs like the Greens. But Australia uses preferential voting instead. And proportional voting in the senate is good at giving minor parties a chance.

In my experience, FPTP is good at preventing votes from going to third parties. Take 2000, when you’ve got a choice between Gore, Nader, and Bush. You could have voted for Gore, but Nader is closer to where you stand, so you vote for him. Whoops – Bush wins the election instead. Bummer. But what’s worse is that your mates in the Democrat party starts blasting you for undue idealism and “wasting” your vote on Nader.

I don’t agree with this argument, but I’ve seen quite a few flame wars on this theme. It’s one way how FPTF reinforces a two-party system – by psychological blackmail.

72

Quo Vadis 08.25.07 at 3:36 am

To understand why the two party system persists in US politics, one need only recall recent presidential elections in which third party candidates ran. The third party candidate wound up drawing support from the candidate whose ideology most closely resembled their own to the benefit of the candidate who least resembled them.

Political parties in the US are more like marketing organizations for political office seekers rather than centers of ideological thought. Their goal is not to advance a particular ideology, but to put together a winning package. The closeness of recent presidential elections is a testament to their skill. Regional ideological variations and their interaction with the party’s national image tend to make Senate, House, and state and local elections less even, but parties try to adjust their programs as much as possible. In California we have a Republican Governor who would probably run as a Democrat elsewhere.

73

Ben Alpers 08.25.07 at 6:21 am

I am sorry but do not Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, et. al., have basically two main political parties?

You’re changing the issue here, Jim S.

The question is not: why are there only two predominant parties in the U.S.? The question is: why are minor parties so shut out of the U.S. system?

In each of the countries you mention, the role of minor parties is much greater and, in some cases, the identity of the two major parties is more fluid than in the U.S.

74

Katherine 08.25.07 at 8:54 am

This is all extremely interesting – and thank you to the people who have taken the time to address my question. I think my major curiosity is not that the US has a two party system as such (the UK in many ways does, with the government and official opposition, as do many others) but that the US system seems to actively make the emergence or development of even a semi-serious third party virtually impossible. As ejh says, this is a system so little emulated that I am quite surprised there seems to be so little comment on it, let alone any serious moves to change it.

What has become quite clear in this discussion is that the Americans commenting have, quite understandably, a basic understanding and acceptance of the status quo of primaries that the questioning of it seems genuinely strange, perhaps because of the lack of internal discussion of other systems. Please don’t take that as a criticism – after all, it often seems as if the rest of the world is obsessed with the US political and electoral system to the exclusion of all else. I’m pretty sure most people in the UK know a great deal more about the US system than, say, the French.

75

Ben Alpers 08.25.07 at 9:09 am

One other thing to note about primaries: they are a fairly recent development. Though some states have had presidential primaries much longer, only since the 1970s have they (more or less) determined who wins the parties’ presidential nominations. Before then, a much higher percentage of delegates were selected by other methods (both parties still have “super delegates,” mainly elected officials, who are not bound by primary voters). And conventions frequently took more than one ballot to nominate a candidate. Through the 1930s, the Democratic Party required a 2/3 majority of delegates to nominate a presidential candidate, which virtually guaranteed a multiple-ballot convention (and which gave the South a veto over presidential candidates). Primaries certainly played a role in earlier nomination processes, but they were not entirely determinate.

The larger point is that the Democratic and Republican Parties arguably began to be semi-official entities more than a century ago, but the primary system as we know it today is a lot more recent. It’s an important part of the two-party system today, but it did not bring that system about.

76

engels 08.25.07 at 1:09 pm

Here in the UK, of course, we rely on the far more democratic Granita system of choosing party leaders.

77

Katherine 08.25.07 at 1:14 pm

That comment about the Granita rather depends on the meaning of “democratic” in the arena of party leadership. There isn’t anyone arguing, I don’t think, for wider public participation in leadership selection, partly at least because party leaders become Prime Ministers not Presidents and partly be cause they have to be elected as MPs in their own right. So if you are talking about internal party politics needing to be more “democratic” then you get into the shark infested waters of imposing state rules on political parties, which in turn risks the very institutionalisation of parties that I’ve been wondering about in the US.

78

engels 08.25.07 at 1:48 pm

What I mean by “democratic” is that the people of this country might have some say in choosing their leader, rather that it being arranged by a “gentleman’s agreement” in a smoke-filled room.

There ought to be wider public participation in choosing the leadership of the Labour party. As it stands there are 200 000 members (compared to the 400 000 before the anointment of His Holiness Tony Pious) and they are not at all representative of the Labour voters or of the people of this country.

I’m not defending the American system, just pointing out for the record that the British system is also abysmal.

79

engels 08.25.07 at 1:55 pm

Also, I don’t think you can put all the blame for the entrenchment of the Republicrats on the system of primaries. There is also the small matter of the obscenely high financial barriers to entry to American politics.

80

engels 08.25.07 at 2:24 pm

Okay, I take that back. The idea that anyone would have been smoking in a temple of organic yuppie pretentiousness like Granita is preposterous.

81

ed 08.25.07 at 3:53 pm

I’m glad others have answered the question. I’ll just add a few points:

1. Don’t forget the presidential system. Heads of federal executive departments serve at the pleasure of the President, not of the legislature. Same with states and governors. If you don’t control the executive, you are shut out of power. That means the whole game is to get a President elected, and if you can’t be one of the two big presidential parties you might as well not play. A third party can’t even in theory use a small block of supporters in Congress to make a deal to sustain a government in return for getting some of its policies enacted, because a President as we are seeing now can govern effectively even with a hostile Congress.

2. As others have pointed out, the Democratic and Republican parties function more as arms of the US and state government than as political parties the way people in other countries understand the term. You become affiliated with them through the voter registration process, there are no memberships -their funds come entirely or almost entirely through corporate contributions- their candidate selection process is a matter of state law, they usually have guaranteed ballot access while other organizations are shut out.

3. Also in a strict legal sense, parties only exist at the state level, and elections are held only at the state level -the presidential election is really a series of state elections, for slates of electors. Its hard to work out what exactly the impact of this it, but it has one.

4. There is no US equivalent of the BBC or the CBC, and TV news consists to a large degree of propeganda. Its hard for political alternatives to flourish in this environment.

Latin American countries have similar systems to the US, in some cases deliberately modeled after the US. However most Latin American countries have introduced proportional representation and made some efforts recently to clean up their political process. The U.S. political system is now arguably less democratic than the systems in Argentina and Brazil.

82

Marc 08.25.07 at 4:02 pm

One quick note: the partisan primary voting system in the US has a real purpose. In states which permit anyone to vote in any primary there is a fairly common scenario, usually employed by conservatives. The Republicans settle on a primary candidate, who faces no opposition. They then go into the Democratic primary and vote for the most conservative candidate, tilting the tables in their direction (so to speak.) (Voting for a candidate unlikely to win the general election would, in principle, be the most effective tactic; but people tend to be reluctant to cast a vote in favor of someone they despise regardless of tactics, at least in numbers enough to matter.)

This is a dynamic I recall regularly occuring when I lived in Texas, back in the day when the elected officials were mostly Democrats (in the 1980s.)

83

Marc 08.25.07 at 4:06 pm

Another note: coalitions are formed in multi-party systems after elections; they are effectively formed in the US system before the election.

People seem to be forgetting that this can cut in very different ways. The coalition system was used from the 1930s through the 1960s as a very, very effective mechanism for setting up the US social welfare network (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.)

Would anyone who claims that multi-party systems are intrinsically better care to defend the pathological Israeli system, for example?

84

engels 08.25.07 at 4:13 pm

My general feeling about the US system versus the British one is that in general the US system is a lot better designed but it is far less democratic in practice. Rather sad, really.

85

Ben Alpers 08.25.07 at 6:36 pm

Also in a strict legal sense, parties only exist at the state level

This is incorrect. Parties have national structures (i.e. the Democratic and Republican National Committees). And national parties have to register with the Federal Election Commission.

It is true that the presidential election consists of formally separate state systems of selecting electors.

86

Quo Vadis 08.25.07 at 6:43 pm

I think you are all completely missing the grass roots nature and mechanisms of political activism in the US. If you want to engage in political activism in the US, you don’t do it through a political party, you do it through any of the myriad of formal and informal organizations whose purpose is to advance an agenda by influencing the electorate, politicians and political parties.

Look at Moveon.org, DailyKos, Swift Boat Veterans, or any of the thousands of PACs, 527s, “Citizens for whatever” groups. That’s how democratic process in conducted in the US.

87

J Thomas 08.25.07 at 7:50 pm

Would anyone who claims that multi-party systems are intrinsically better care to defend the pathological Israeli system, for example?

The devil is in the details. Maybe the best multi-party system is better than the best single-party system. I don’t know for sure, though I suspect the best possible single-party system might be better than the best two-party system or the best N-party system. But how often do we get the best?

It depends on the details.

88

engels 08.25.07 at 8:12 pm

The devil is in the details.

Yup.

Comments on this entry are closed.