June 25th, 2003


Political realities...

One of the biggest problems with the American political system is that people almost invariably vote for candidates that don't support the issues they believe in... which is why sites like SelectSmart are so interesting and potentially important, because they let you find the candidates that best match your beliefs.

The thing I find kind of amusing (if not surprising) is that a lot of the people who I know who have used SelectSmart have found Dennis Kucinich on the top of their list, well ahead of the other candidates... which only goes to show how far most Democratic candidates have moved away from mainstream party values.

On any given election year, there is a core group of about 10% that are undecided. How their vote swings is often seen to decide who wins political office. However, by trying to court them, the Democrats lose their biggest potential advantage -- the grassroots efforts of many thousands of volunteers. These are people who get out the vote, bring in donations, and who get people interested in the race, which is very, very important.

In the last political race, 50.7% of the eligible voters voted, as compared to 1992, where 55% voted. Assume you're a political candidate -- if a strong grassroots campaign can get an extra 4.3% of voters to show up to the polls and support you, why worry much about courting the 10% who could swing either way? Chances are that no matter how far you are to the left or the right, at least 30% of the undecided voters will vote for you anyway. In other words, it's far better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush. Yes, it helps to be a populist when it comes to the presidential race, but the idea of selling out your platform to court the center doesn't really work, because it's better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush.

The Republicans seem to know this fact, even if the Democrats don't. Politicians like Reagan and G.W. Bush didn't have to compromise their platform in order to win office. All they had to do was spin their existing platform for the mainstream.

For example, in G.W.'s case, he said things like:
"I'm a compassionate conservative"
"Leave no child behind"
"I'm a uniter, not a divider"
"I'll be a president of all the people, not just those who voted for me"

...but who believes that any more? Not to mention all the policy-specific statements he has made. He lied about the true threat of Iraq -- big time. He said his tax cuts wouldn't cause deficits, even in a bad economy -- as if. He said that the Social Security trust fund would remain in a "lockbox" -- and since then, the extra funds needed for the Baby Boomers to retire on have been pillaged. He even promised to pay down the national debt...

And of course, when these things happen, a people get upset briefly, say "He lied to us!" and then ignore it until something else happens, in which case they say "He lied to us again!"

My point isn't that Democratic candidates have to lie to the voters in order to win an election... they don't. However, if Republican politicians support policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and then lie about those policies before the elections, couldn't the Democrats hold policies -- even very progressive policies -- and then spin them to be popular for the general public? Who doesn't want better health care? Who doesn't want to know they'll have money to retire on without sticking it to their kids who will have to pay for it? Why shouldn't the country's debts be paid down? Why shouldn't we honor our international treaties and commitments?

These are populist policies which could mean something and which could gain support from middle America... but only if they are backed up by candidates who actually stand for something. The presidential contest is, in effect, a debate of ideas... but only an idiot would come to a debate having already compromised his beliefs so that he held the same beliefs as his opponent. Now more than ever, the Democrats need to enter the debate with some real ideas -- and if their candidate gets elected and has to make some compromises later, well... that's politics.