Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Let’s Call American Elections What They Are: Rigged

Rigging electionsby Jerry D. Rose

(view original)

A recent AlterNet post said “Let’s Call the Superdelegate Process What It is: Election Rigging” Well let’s look at this. What is “rigging” except a process of denying certain individuals a fair opportunity to compete in a contest the outcome of which is already “fixed” before the contest occurs? We need to see this alleged rigging through superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention in the broader context of how American elections actually are rigged. They are rigged, I will argue, in that they deny opportunity for election to four categories of people: (a) the relatively poor; (b) those of relatively extreme political persuasions; (c) those who are challenging a sitting holder of a public office; (d) people of less appealing or charismatic personalities. The wealthy (or those who have access to the resources of wealth), political “centrists”, office incumbents and the personally appealing are able to enjoy advantages that practically “rig” elections in their favors.

I won’t devote too much space to elaborating on these well-known sources of advantage and disadvantage in electoral contests. Political campaigns are so outrageously expensive, and public financing of them is so grievously inadequate, that one must either be independently wealthy or willing and able to accept the contributions of those vested interests who are only too willing to invest in some political influence through contributing to their campaigns. Our quadrennial presidential elections, involving a system of two parties relatively even in voting strength, guarantee that candidates of more purely conservative or progressive political views must, to attract the all-important support of “independents,” tack their political appeals toward the center of political philosophies, hoping only that they won’t so egregiously offend their conservative or progressive “base” that these folks will stay home on election day, or else support 3rd party candidates who are more congenial to their beliefs. As to challenger disadvantage, it’s about as easy to unseat an incumbent legislator as it is to beat the home team in a professional basketball game; the political game is “rigged” in favor of the incumbent because people evaluate their representative in terms of how much he or she “does for” the home district or state, how much for example those much-maligned “earmarks” will come home to the local pork barrel. Finally, the factor of “charisma” or the “likeable” personality is a huge factor in our elections; as was said about G.W. Bush, the average Joe would be more likely to want to “have a beer” with him than either of his opponents, the wooden Gore or the aristocratic Kerry. With the exception of Truman and Ford (both of whom gained their presidencies by constitutional rising from the vice-presidency rather than by election), all our Presidents since FDR have been more or less such charismatics, no matter how disastrous for the country some of their presidencies may have been. I could go on, but I want to get to the superdelegates.

To re-iterate the lament against superdelegates, it is said that they are allowed to substitute their “own” voices for those of the “ordinary” voters who have voted in primaries and caucuses. I have two things to say about these charges. The first is to observe that, if elections generally in this country are “rigged” in the manner I’ve suggested above, these superdelegates will not be immune from the same influences that influenced those sacred “voters” in the primaries and caucuses. They owe their own elections to personal or sponsored wealth, they are raised in the 2-Party culture which defines the preferred candidate as the one must “viable” in competition with the other party, they have been judged and their electoral opponents have been judged in terms of their likeability. In other words, they will use their judgment in the same way “ordinary” voters choose the candidate they think will fare best in the general election; if these judgments are divided in the electorate, they will be divided in the superdelegates; a “wash out” in terms of their supposedly decisive influence, which seems exactly to be happening as Clinton support among superdelegates erodes and that of Obama increases (with, I predict, declines in claims of superdelegate “rigging” from those in the Obama camp).

The second and more “principled” point that I would make about superdelegates is the view that it perhaps is a good thing for “democracy” if these men and women are somewhat independent of the views of “the voters” in making their choices for a nominee. Tocqueville, whose views Noorani likes to quote in his article, is somewhat admiring of the genius of the American Constitution’s “checks and balances” that help to ameliorate what the French aristocrat saw as the tendency toward a “tyranny of the majority” in American life. “Representative” bodies like city, county, state and national legislatures involve a process of “deliberation” prior to votes that commit the given entity to a line of public policy. A member of Congress should, in this view, be able to give a more reasoned consideration to a decision than can typically be done in a political campaign in which, before voters “speak” with their votes, they have been bombarded with the likes of sound bite commercials, bumper stickers and swift boat attacks on candidates. There is a certain genius, I think, in a political party reserving a certain number of seats at a nominating convention for persons who are “uncommitted” and therefore presumably amenable to reasoning and debate. Maybe superdelegates are not the best way to do this; they are, after all, subjected to the same “rigging” influences that I described above. But at least they are men and women with some degree of experience in deliberation on issues that arise in their executive or legislative offices so that, absent another distribution formula, it may be as good a way as any to keep the nomination of a presidential candidate “open” to candidates none of whom have captured a majority of delegates in primaries and caucuses.

I close with the words of an American contemporary of Tocqueville, Henry David Thoreau which, even though they don’t sound so “democratic,” may contain an element of political wisdom when it comes to determining the “virtue” of different presidential candidates. “A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is little virtue in the action of masses of men.” (Civil Disobedience).

Jerry D. Rose is a retired professor of sociology from State University of New York at Fredonia, now living in Gainesville Florida. He is editor of his own website and also engaged currently in constructing a list-serve for "uncommitted" dissidents who are seeking ways to enhance progressive influence in the 08 elections and beyond. He may be contacted at: Read other articles by Jerry, or visit Jerry's website.

No comments: