Friday, August 06, 2004

Principles and pragmatism

A lot of Democrats are trying to stop Ralph Nader from getting on the ballot in some states, including Pennsylvania, and a lot of Republicans are trying to help him get on so he will siphon votes from Kerry. I sympathize with my fellow Democrats but I believe there is a greater principle at stake here. While I hope Kerry wins, I believe that the monopoly the two parties share over the political process, from presidential debates to ballot access to fundraising, poses a danger to our democracy, and thus I believe in the right of any third-party candidate to gain access to the ballot. I believe that there are enough differences between the parties--and Bush and Kerry--that it does matter who wins. But let's face it--on many key issues Republicans and Democrats are fighting at the margins. One of the reasons we have no serious third parties is our winner-take-all electoral system; but the two parties have added plenty of barriers to perpetuate their stranglehold on political power. (Including the requirements for ballot access.) And that should give us all pause.

Fester, whose opinions I respect if not always share, is looking into a challenge of Nader's signatures. Here is my response:

I'm sorry; I want Bush defeated and Kerry elected like you, but I think Ralph Nader, so long as he does follow the rules, deserves a spot on the ballot, as do any other third party candidates. I understand that Republicans are trying to help Nader to get on the ballot in some states, in the hopes that he will be a spoiler, and I understand that carries potential for much chicanery. If you care about the integrity of the process, then I respect your efforts; I just hate to see Nader's signatures challenged because as Democrats we fear the impact he will have on the election.


Blogger fester said...

Jonathan; First let me thank you for the kinds words regarding your respect for my writing. I fully recripocate towards you. Secondly, as I commented to your basic response over at my blog, I agree with you; as long as Nader's ballot access petition drive followed the rules that are clearly established before they started the process and can collect 25,000+ valid signatures, then he sure as hell deserves to be on the ballot. However the state only does a cursory scan of the data. If a more comprehensive check needs to be made to ensure that the rules are followed, some outside individual needs to sue the state to ensure a comprehensive examination. For a suit to be successful, the plaintiff needs to know if s/he has a chance in hell of winning. I was just a little data-entry monkey today to evaluate whether or not it is worth going forward with a suit. My guess from what I was seeing, is yes, it is questionable whether or not Nader will have received 25,000 valid signatures.

Now onto the matter of principals; I would love to live in a country where there are multi-member districts, proportional representation and other means of ensuring third, fourth and fifth party representatives beyond extreme cultural splits/seperatists movements which is the only way single member districts with first past the post countries see long lasting non-duopolies. However, this country has decided to stick with first past the post so that is normative talk and not prescriptive talk. I also think that there are more pressing problems that need to be addressed than a nationwide simeualtaneous (sic) change to IRV or any other technical fixes. And it would need to be simeaultenaous (sic) if there would ever be a chance of it being enacted.

10:49 PM

Blogger MikeB said...

Hyper-open political systems can impede democratic decision-making. Take Israel, with a robust multi-party system, where relatively small minorities like the religious parties can have power well beyond their weight in the electorate. They achieve this by 1) disciplined adherence to party principles contrary to and even reviled by the great majority of their countrymen; and 2) manipulating the electoral system to make themselves a swing group.

In fact, that's very much what Nader did in 2000 and aspires to do again this year. He's essentially a blackmailer of Democratic politicians and voters: my way or the highway. He and his supporters become highly offended at the thought that they should play by the same rules as everyone else and seem to regard that as a form of discrimination. In recent polls, Nader's negatives are in the 70s in Favorable/Unfavorable/Undecided polls. He is one of the most reviled politicians in America, commanding 2.7% of the electorate based on 2000 (considerably less today), yet demands that the rest of us take him seriously. It's not like the two party system is closed to him -- he could have had considerable clout in the Democratic party, but chose to spit on that path.

Refusing to play by the rules and even having contempt for them, for the thought that he has to do what everyone else does -- that's the essence of undemocratic behavior. If Nader had a movement and a following, he could get those signatures in our system as is without having the Republicans doing it for him and stiffing those poor homeless people in Philadelphia like he did. The man is a disgrace and not worthy of the fine sentiments that so many people bring to his defense.

5:55 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

It's not that want to see us turn into Israel or Italy when it comes to party politics. I do, however, think we need to acknowledge that it isn't just our system of government that favors a two-party system; the parties themselves have erected all kinds of barriers, ballot access being one, to entry to the political arena. The system is rigged, de facto and de jure, to give us two dominant parties.

You'll also get no argument from me that Ralph Nader is a narcissist, as was Ross Perot. Nonetheless, it remains the responsibility of the Democratic candidate, in this case Kerry, to convince Nader supporters that they and the nation will be better off if they vote for Kerry. If he fails to do that, and Nader grabs enough votes in a key state to throw the election to Bush, well, that's the price of living in a democracy.

6:47 PM


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