Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Disconnect between Democracy and Republicanism

It should now be clear to all that the highly polarized environment that is Washington is dysfunctional, and the disillusionment it is causing portends yet more headlocks and cynicism to come.

Here is the all-too-familiar cycle of American electoral politics in the last few decades. Campaign gurus draw sharp distinctions to get out the vote. The impassioned vote wins the day. Impatient voters watch their newly elected president or representative fail to pass in undiluted form the the reforms promised during the campaign. Disillusion ensues. The gurus step in with a new round of fiesty charges, and the cycle begins anew.

At some point, citizens are going to get tired of being stoked, poked, and roped, and all for nought. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements are reactions against a system gone awry. The low approval ratings for the Congress and the president are another indicator. The Republicans' perpetual search for an anti-establishment alternative is another.

And now we are facing a spectacular new failure. The "super committee" charged to reach a budget reduction deal has proved itself anything but super. If twelve people can no longer agree to make hard decisions, it is reflective of the larger malaise of which we dare not speak. It is that democracy has run amok in a republic founded on the idea that out elected representatives should be able to make decisions on our behalf, and sometimes in spite of ourselves because representation is a higher calling than mimicry. Maybe that is why Abraham Lincoln did not deliver a single campaign speech in 1860.

Each of the twelve men and women in the committee are thinking about their constituencies, their parties, and their base and so bluster and bravado must take precedence over compromise and conciliation. When the voice of the people, artificially stoked for shrillness, begins to infect the deliberative process even in between electoral cycles, there is no chance for serious inter-branch deliberation. We have reduced our representatives to sycophants whose mantra is do nothing but heap the blame on the other party.

The solution is not to exploit the disillusioned by way of new campaign slogans and negative ads to artificially jolt their temporary and baser passions, but for the noise and the trouble-makers fixated only on winning at the next ballot to be weeded out of the system. To do that, citizens must realize that the lion's share for what counts as democracy today is making it nearly impossible for the representatives of our republic to make decisions on behalf of We the People. Remember: ours is a republic, if we can keep it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Republicans Can't Find their Candidate

Mitt Romney must be the happiest Republican in the world. His political rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, seem to be trying to out-do the other in terms of whose campaign can implode faster.

Let's start with Rick Perry's campaign. Now we know why his campaign advisors were telling him to skip upcoming debates. Perry's oops moment in last night's debate will enter into the political hall of infamy, because that was the moment when his sponsors will realize that he is just a bad investment. If Perry cannot think just one sentence faster than he can talk, he will be demolished by a law professor when they debate next year.

Perry's gaffe's was probably a godsend to Herman Cain, but it would be little relief in the worst week of his campaign yet. It doesn't matter if the accusations of sexual harassment are true, but they are now distractions to Cain's message that he was already struggling to explain. And then he had to go call former Speaker Pelosi "Princess Nancy."

Sarah Palin wasn't an aberration in a line of competent Republican candidates from Eisenhower to Nixon. She is the new rule. The thing about modern conservatism is that it has become so anti-establishment that it now happily accepts any political outsider as a potential candidate for the highest office in the land. Political outsiders aren't tainted by politics, by Washington, so we are told. But, by the same token, they can therefore also make terrible candidates!

The irony, of course, is that the slew of debates being held this year was meant to give voters greater choice and knowledge of the candidates' positions. But all this is doing is reinforce the front-runner status of the establishment candidate. There is a reason why Mitt Romney and his perfect haircut has coasted through the debate without any oops moments. He's a professional politician! Tea Partiers are going to have to come to the uncomfortable realization that it takes one professional politician to beat another.

One relatively unmentioned reason why Mitt Romney is still hovering at 25 percent is because the Republican party changed the nomination rules in 2010 away from winner-take-all, so that states (except the first four) would allocate their delegates proportionately to the candidates at the national convention. This has the effect of giving less known candidates more of a chance of lasting longer in the race than they normally would, but the unintended consequence is that republican voters will have to watch their candidates battle it out, and even suffer the potentially demoralizing conclusion that in choosing their candidate, they must follow their mind, not their hearts.

It is far from clear, then, that 2012 will be a Republican year. Conservatives have yet to explain away a fundamental puzzle: if government is so unnecessary, so inefficient, and so corrupt, why seek an office in it? This is possibly why the very brightest and savviest would-be candidates are in Wall Street, and can't be bothered with an address change to Pennsylvania Avenue. Except Rick Perry and Herman Cain, of course.