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Huis clos?

By Michael J. Smith on Sunday February 12, 2006 04:39 PM

Tim D wrote in a recent comment (I'm excerpting):
... We are on a bullet train heading toward a gaping chasm full of environmental and social catastrophes... We need radical change now, but no political vehicle for it.

[Some argue] we need to take it one school board and local election at a time.... Well, I don't necessarily disagree, but time is not on our side. However, I'll admit that even if an informed and incorruptible person like Nader was elected to the presidency, she or he wouldn't have the kind of dictatorial powers necessary to arbitrarily make the kind of changes we need (nor should he).

What to do, what to do...?

Quick, slightly flippant answer: we need to stop behaving predictably.

More serious answer: Nobody knows what will work, but the necessary precondition to finding what will work is to stop doing things that not only don't work, but make things worse (like pinning our hopes on the Democratic Party).

Once public discontent breaks out of the vessels designed to contain and tranquilize it, the elites start getting worried. That's when they stop pushing and start making concessions. There have been several such phases of "instability" in American history, and every one of 'em had positive effects.

Considerable intellects like Karl Marx have proven unequal to the task of mapping out in detail what will happen or must happen to bring about social change, and none of us in in that league. But let instability be our watchword. Get the genie of public discontent out of the bottle of the party system. Stuff will happen. I don't know exactly what form it will take and neither does anybody else. But once the water overflows the levee, it will find its own course.

Sorry for the mixed metaphors. Sniffing those Pythonic vapors always does that to me.

Comments (7)

Apropos being unpredictable, here's a gem from the great Guy Debord: “The future belongs to those who create chaos without loving it.”


Here's an unpredictable idea I had that's sort of been forming for a while. It's based on the following assumptions:

1) We (meaning people that are sick of having no effective political representation and getting run over by the Republicans) probably can't win any battles in the federal government.

2) Where we can win battles, though, is at the level of state governments.

Even Schwarzenegger, although he piled literally tons of money into remaking California into Texas with his redistricting and silencing propositions, ultimately failed.

3) Initiatives have better odds of success at the state level than candidates. For an initiative to succeed, you need an idea, enough signatures, and enough money to publicize it. Candidates, in comparison, require parties and both parties have figured out, or in the final states of figuring out, how to prevent third party challenges.

4) Part of how the two party system functions currently is that both parties funnel money en masse to candidates in order to guarantee that their election has almost nothing to do with what the electorate actually wants.

5) If state governments start 'disconnecting' from the two-party system, it will damage the central two parties that maintain the status quo.

So here's my idea:

Run an initiative that states that candidates for stats office must receive all of their money from organizations and people within that particular state. It has to be an initiative-not a referendum, because if something like this is put before a state legislature, by the time it emerges it'll probably have the exact opposite of it's original meaning.

If it passes, then this damages both large parties simoultaneously, and might create some 'breathing room' for smaller parties to get actual governing experience at the larger political offices-which seems to be one of the big stumbling blocks right now as to why none of them have grown that much.

It's failure seems likely to come from these two causes:

1) Politicians, from both parties, have unified to ensure it's demise. This would demonstrate to the public that they really are unified-in ensuring that the people never get what they want.

2) The court system overturns it-but in this case, it would have a similar effect as to if politicians had been responsible for it's demise. It would demonstrate to the people that aren't already aware of it that it is systemic unaccountability that is responsible for our common crisis. Furthermore, putting this before the court system would force them to 'choose' either between states rights, or the 'rights' of the two parties to perpetuate themselves at everyone else's expense.



I like your ideas, DH. However, living in OR aka the Ballot Measure mill, makes me wonder about the sticky matter of how to fund and publicize.

I have worked on at least a couple of campaigns in PDX where the big-money opposition to reform simply buried their opponents alive with money. Take the Healthcare For All measure (23) of about three years back: The public was polling originally as being hugely in favor of it. Then in came Pharma and HMOs with hundreds of thousands of dollars to saturate the papers and airwaves with their scare stories. Case closed on Healthcare for All.

So many people get all their info about politics from TV and the nearest Newhouse rag, without questioning how those vehicles manufacture opinions with huge sums of money from large special interests. Until we can get those people to look elsewhere for balanced info, I am at a loss as to how to break the cycle. The very reforms you propose to break the cycle would go down for exactly the same reasons. Reform would be once again strangled in its crib, and most of the public would believe that it was a fair fight, when in reality it was just the opposite...

I actually had a co-worker inform me, with a straight face, that of course the anti-23 folks must be correct, because they were putting up all these arguments and the pro-23 folks weren't on TV and in the papers doing the same.

Not trying to rain on your parade, DH. Just trying to figure out some way to smash down the door.

j s paine:

hey dh i agree you'll find some postage to that effect floating back up stream

to address the keen point
big money can swamp em
as a 39.5 points out

depends on the issue

minimum wage hour ceiling laws
are not magic wand issues
where i well funded campaign can hocus pocus
the preference and turn out

long as the issue
turns on facts
deeply embedded
in the reality
of the electorate's life
as it already is ....

stick to these
then the smoke and mirror boys will fail



So if that's true, how do you think it might be possible to treat 'duopoly dominance' into a fact so deeply embedded that the electorate will see through the big money nonsense from both parties?


DH -- I think 40% and up of 'em already do see through it -- they don't bother to vote.

The problem is that so many of the politically active minority -- always a minority, even in periods of upheaval -- gets pulled in by the Democratic Party and neutralized.

I don't know what the critical mass of upheavers is. It's never a majority of the population, or even a very big percentage, I bet, but there is some threshold amount. I don't know whether the general level of discontent is high enough right now to generate that threshold amount, though I suspect it might be. But if the Democratic Party is out there sucking in potential upheavers and anaesthetizing 'em, it's that much harder to make up a quorum.


Believe me, DH. When I figure out the answer, this space will be the first place I post it. There are some interesting ballot measures that have now cleared the signature hurdles here in Stumptown and some equally interesting ones that did not. I have a lot of local news to catch up on...

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