Someone please tell me what is accomplished when Libertarian Party candidates divert enough votes to elect the Democrat and defeat the Republican.
Are we better governed as a result? Do grateful patriots flock to the banner of Rothbard and Rand?
On Tuesday here in Colorado, the LP candidate cost CU Regent GOP nominee Brian Davidson 115,000 votes as he lost by 55,000. Republican Lang Sias trails for a state Senate seat by 322 votes, with his LP wingman (hitman?) having taken 4,800.
Brian Watson would have been an excellent state House member, and if the the LP line had not drawn 1,588 votes, Watson would trail the Dem incumbent by only 235, close enough for a recount.
Rick Enstrom, another GOP House candidate, lost by 2,347 as the LP line cost him 2,387.
And all of this, I repeat, for what purpose in the cause of liberty and limited government? Granted we can't know for sure that every single vote for the Libertarian is one subtracted from the Republican. Some LP voters might have otherwise gone for the Democrat or stayed home.
Additionally, Colorado's marijuana ballot issue may have changed the dynamic this year, increasing the falloff from R and D candidates to LP, though I am not quite sure why or how this may have played out. But add it as one more variable, to be fair.
Regardless, my broad assumption is likely valid, and this should certainly be an action point for the Colorado GOP as far as seeking some kind of accord with our libertarian friends (and friends they are in most cases, honorable, earnest, well-intended) in the aftermath of 2012 and the runup to 2014.
Source: Colorado Secretary of State election results website
(Denver Post, Apr. 29) If I undertook to write about partisan politics for dummies, I’d immediately have your attention. Many people think that’s all partisan politics is for. It’s everyone’s favorite punching bag.But I’ll argue that partisan politics is forever with us and a good thing, so we may disagree. At least if we avoid capital letters, there’s no trademark rub with the popular “For Dummies” book series. Anyone cover a cut with a generic bandaid or xerox on an off-brand copier, after all. So I come to praise partisan politics, not to bury them. If that sounds crazy or wrong, it doesn’t make you a dummy in the sense of low IQ. But it may do so in the sense of that book series – someone who just never got up to speed on a subject. Politically, I dare you to do it now. Really you can’t afford not to.Several straws in the April wind bring this up. Harris Kenny of the libertarian Reason Foundation tells The Denver Post that for him and other young voters, “the future is nonpartisan.” Jason Salzman of the progressive Bigmedia.org complains in the Huffington Post that partisan Republicans (me included) “overwhelm” Democrats as voices in the Denver media.Petitioners set out to make the Colorado secretary of state’s office nonpartisan after Democratic chairman Rick Palacio brands the GOP incumbent, Scott Gessler, as shockingly partisan. Some Republicans brand their state chairman, Ryan Call, as a liberal after he appeals for cooler rhetoric and fewer charges of “RINO” (Republican in name only) or “establishment.”Meanwhile the new super-PACs overshadow the old parties as Romney takes on Obama. The waters are further roiled by such well-funded upstarts as the No Labels effort, targeting Congress, and the Americans Elect movement, promising a bipartisan presidential ticket with one maverick from each party.
Never mind that this led to a train wreck with Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr after the deadlocked election of 1800, necessitating a constitutional amendment. Our transpartisan dreamers missed that in school, which is typical of these earnest folks. Sam Cooke’s “Don’t know much about history” could be their national anthem. History teaches ten reasons why partisan politics is fortunately here to stay: (1) Power corrupts; human beings tend to lie, cheat, steal, and overreach. (2) Parties check each other’s stewardship of power and fulfillment of promises. (3) Human beings naturally disagree; interests inevitably clash; unanimity is rare. (4) Parties give voters a choice between contrasting visions for governance. (5) Governing is difficult; wrong turns are everywhere; mistakes can be disastrous. (6) Thus while the ruling party steers and accelerates, the opposition party is there to monitor and brake.(7) Americans who see the rewards and benefits of government tend to be Democrats; those who see the dangers and costs of government tend to be Republicans; we need both. (8) Republicans, favoring the brakes, thus tend to agree parties are good; while Democrats, favoring the gas, tend to wish away the need for parties. Hence the “partisans R not us” angle taken by Salzman and Palacio. (9) There is no real-world example of a free society with democratic institutions and constitutional self-government that doesn’t also have competing political parties, each party consisting of a contentious coalition around an establishment core. Hence the wisdom of Call’s appeal.(10) There are too many real-world examples of unfree societies with only one political party, or with personality cults and thought control instead of parties, resulting in brutal tyranny. Hence the impossibility of Kenny’s nonpartisan future. It’s a fantasy, and ominous at that. Aristotle said man is a political animal. Moses and Jesus warned he’s also an imperfect one; often a dummy, in fact. I know I sure am. Parties can help save us from ourselves.
(CCU Fellow) In the 1960s the discipline of political science was becoming distressed by what they perceived to be an imbalance in the political system. Their impression was that interest groups, what they often called "pressure" groups, were becoming much more influential than political parties. In their view groups and parties had offset the goals of the Madisonian system which includes the aggregation of public opinion through compromise. What pressure groups wanted to do was disaggregate the populace into groups which could then successfully lobby Congress. The point of parties was to aggregate society into broad groups in order to win elections. One analyst, Theodore J. Lowi, went so far as to claim that hyper-pluralism existed: all groups who made requests upon government were accommodated. This was a very prescient view that has only been exacerbated. However, this may be changing.
One of the voices in favor of a stronger party system was E. E. Schattschneider, in The Semisovereign People. Schattschneider's argument was that people did not pay attention to politics at the national level; there were too many more important things going on in their daily lives and workplaces. For Schattschneider this meant there was little to no conflict between the parties. What the parties were aiming at were independents, the voters in the middle as opposed to the extremes. The idea was that strong or even weak Republicans would most likely if not always demonstrate their loyalty to their party by voting Republican and would not be dissuaded, except in the most extreme cases, by the other side. The same was true of strong and weak Democrats. Interestingly, there were what can be called extreme cases, e.g. Democrats for Reagan in 1984 or Republicans for Clinton in 1996. The fact remains that the majority of American elections hinge on the rather small percentage of independent votes in the middle of the spectrum.
This strategy changed approximately in the 1990s with Bill Clinton trying to increase the turnout of strong and weak Democrats, now called the base. Being that most American politics are like the NFL, copycats just reacting to the other side and not coming up with new or original ideas, the Republicans tried to strengthen the turnout of their base. The result of this has been a polarization of the electorate, something Madison could not have foresee. The far right and left wings of the spectrum of American politics have become much more powerful and much more vocal. The problem for the politician is that he also must maintain his appeal to the middle. Thus, the current president looks like a ping-pong ball being smacked back and forth between far left and the moderate center.
Is this good or bad? For Schattschneider it might be a good thing. For Schattschneider a good deal of the problem was that there was little to no conflict between the parties. His, and others, idea was to expand the scope of the conflict by making parties more distinct from each other, i.e. responsible parties. Responsible parties are those which are accountable to the people, have a mandate from the people and can exert party discipline on its members. This is not true of modern Airresponsible@ parties. Because of separation of powers, parties and politicians are not actually accountable to the voters. One can always have one=s own view of the truth. But if one objectively tries to sort out, e.g. the current economic collapse by giving proof of specific credit or blame to the present or former president, Congress, etc., we come to a fork in the road and as Yogi Berra once said, when you come to a fork in the road take it.
Who or what is responsible for the bailouts? Obviously Bush started the TARP program. Wrong, obviously Obama he expanded bailouts way beyond our ability to pay. However, if you are a truly objective voter trying to assign credit and blame and cast a rational vote you cannot because economic issues do not occur neatly within administrations but over decades. Often times presidents in office place blame on the Congress, the opposition party, his own party, the bureaucracy, foreign affairs, ad infinitum. (The current president has a unique approach. He blames the American people themselves. Schattschneider is informative here making the argument that professors cannot flunk the people.) In fact this is true. If the essence of separation of powers is to bring about compromise then factually and objectively no president, Senate, House, congressional member, nor political party can actually take credit or get blame so that a rational voter can make a rational choice. Thus, there is no true accountability which is helpful to the voter.
One of the first things politicians do upon winning election is claim a mandate, an authoritative command or an authorization to act given to a representative. This claim of a mandate, except in extreme examples, e.g. Reagan in 1984, are fallacious. Because of the way elections are run we often times do not know what a candidate truly stands for much less what he will actually do. Radio and television ads seldom inform us of the party the candidate is a member of. Again, this is the logic of appealing to the independents in the middle. The result is that politicians do not know why the voters have sent them into office! So they generally make it up themselves. This is legitimate in the Burkean sense of representation wherein uninformed voters entrust a person of character, reputation, etc. to represent the people=s interests as he sees fit. This may intellectually solve the problem but it is a better fit in a parliamentary system than the American system.
The American system has evolved into a much more candidate centered politics in which we expect the candidate, irrespective of party, to follow our wishes. This is referred to as the delegate model of representation; politicians are there to follow the will of the people. The problem is, as outlined above, is there a will of the people? Here, the so-called crisis of rationality mitigates against the creation of a will of the people. The crisis of rationality states that rational party behavior leads to irrational voter behavior. The job of the rational party is to obfuscate the differences between the parties, appealing to independents in the middle. Voters then vote irrationally based on personal whim rather than casting a vote which influences the political system. Here, we vote for a candidate because he is good looking, she is black, he went to Harvard or the candidate just has beautiful children. These are irrational votes in the sense that they do not communicate a mandate to the candidate.
Lastly, there has been no party discipline in American politics. All politicians in America, save the presidential candidates once they pass the nomination phase, raise their own money, form their own staff, campaign on their own with little help or influence from the party. Thus, the rational politician, upon entering Congress, makes a rational calculation on all actions: will this help or hurt me to get reelected since the party, if I go along, is not going to benefit me very much. This explains much of the Democrat party=s refusal to follow resident Obama=s lead.
This leads to what might be the biggest campaign lie in all of American politics. The next time you hear any candidate say Aif elected I willYY@ they are either lying because with separation of powers they cannot guarantee anything, or they are ignorant of the theory of the American government. Thus, especially at the presidential level, the result is heightened expectations which can never be fulfilled, guaranteeing failure. The American people are only semisovereign because while our votes exhibit our sovereignty, in fact we have no control over the process or the system. AIf politics is not competitive the people are powerless.@ (Schattschneider, 137) Note the number of noncompetitive seats in the House of Representatives.
On the bright side we might be unknowingly developing Aresponsible parties.@ Pres. Obama is easily the most liberal candidate from a major party America has ever had. Interestingly, Bill Clinton was the most conservative Democratic president of the last century. The House has a majority of Republicans and presents as a very conservative body. The Senate is less so. It is becoming a bit easier for the informed rational voter to hold one side or the other accountable for their actions. Certainly what has developed is, in Schattschneider=s terms, a contagion of conflict. The conflict between the two parties has become like a fight at the flagpole in grade school after class. Everyone runs out to watch. It is then, at least according to Schattschneider, human nature to take sides. The conflict in American politics might seem like a fifth-grade squabble, cf. the kerfuffle over raising the debt limit. But it got people to pay attention to the American government, often in spite of themselves. These voters are then taking sides and can hold politicians and parties accountable. To extend the theory, the next election cycle should have politicians running under the umbrella of their party, uniting under a set of principles be it conservative or liberal. The winner will have a mandate, in this case speaking generally, bigger or smaller government. If the party is elected on this mandate of bigger or smaller government, the politicians in the House and the Senate will also be elected by that same criteria. Thus, the ability to enforce party discipline will be greatly enhanced. We will have responsible parties, greatly reducing the influence of the pressure system.
The downside. This theory assumes a certain type of democracy, ADemocracy is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organization define the alternative of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision‑‑making process.@ (Schattschneider, 137). What is the problem? As always, as James Madison knew well, in the American political system there is always the possibility of tyranny. Madison=s definition of tyranny was government taking sides, not being neutral as a result of compromise. Especially if we have one party government, which seems likely in the near future, we must maintain a rigorous adherence to separation of powers.
Amid all the attention to Election 2012, voters in Colorado and many other states should not overlook Election 2011. And as we vote, by all means take note of who the R's and D's are - even if it takes a bit of detective work to find out.
Here in my state, the election might slip past some people for three reasons. First, ballots in most counties will be handled entirely by mail, with no polling places open. Many thousands of voters have received their ballots (asked for or not) from the postman in recent days. Voting is on right now!
And second, election day itself is Tuesday, Nov. 1 - something that can never occur when federal races are at stake, since "the first Tuesday after the first Monday" is specified in the US Constitution. Counting occurs that night, and that's that.
A third factor tending to keep this year's Colorado races under the radar is the misguided policy forbidding candidates' party affiliations to be officially listed in municipal and school board races - which constitute most of the matters being voted on this year.
Political parties are valuable to citizen decision-making because they help "brand" candidates according to broadly contrasting principles of governance, and because they provide an organizational base with competitive incentives to inform and turn out voters in greater numbers.
The fallacy that parties degrade or impede the quality of governance is a vestige of the Progressive Movement's disdain for broad-based political decision-making and its elitist preference for administrative expertise as a substitute.
Enshrined in election law nearly a century ago for local government nearly everywhere across the land, this wooly-headed piece of political sentimentality remains in place today - to the detriment of genuinely competitive contests and robust checks on power.
It's one of those notions only an intellectual or a naif can believe in. All the rest of us know that it matters a lot whether any office in the land, high or low, is held by a Democrat or a Republican. Democrats generally favor government solutions, unions, collectivist approaches, taxes and spending. Republicans are more generally skeptical of those things. This can end up making a huge difference.
When I was a state senator, 1998-2005, I tried repeatedly to bring party affiliations out in the open for school board and transit district elections - since those affiliations already play an unadmitted role both in voting patterns and in the conduct of officials once elected - but to my disappointment, not even my fellow Republicans would support this needed reform in sufficient numbers to enact it.
As a result, I didn't even attempt the same kind of bill for municipal elections. The irrational phobia against "partisanship" for town or city officials (albeit that county officials in buildings often right across the street, and often representing a smaller population, are partisan) just seemed too much to overcome. So I saved my ammo for more winnable fights.
But early in the history of my newly incorporated hometown of Centennial in southeast metro Denver (formed only in 2000), I had a good time calling out with blog posts the generically-concealed R and D team jerseys for city council candidates - much to the inexplicable dismay of, again, some fellow GOP stalwarts.
It's become a habit since then, this politically incorrect labeling of the red team and the blue team in grassroots contests. If you want to see this year's rundown, here's the link.
Meanwhile, Coloradans also have a very important ballot issue to vote on - Proposition 103, which raises both income taxes and sales taxes across the state for the next five years.
This issue also generally breaks along party lines, with Dems in favor and Republicans opposed. But there are some oddities on Prop 103, with the Denver Post having come out against it and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper claiming neutrality, refusing to lend his support
Centennial Institute does not take positions on such questions, but we commend the work of our sister think tank, Independence Institute, whose fiscal experts Barry Poulson and Penn Pfiffner have keenly analyzed Prop 103 here. My own very skeptical thoughts on the tax hike are here.
John Andrews is director of the Centennial Institute, former President of the Colorado Senate, a regular commentator for Colorado Public Television and the Denver Post, and the author of "Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century" (Denali Press, 2011).