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Form and content

By Owen Paine on Monday April 17, 2006 10:41 AM

Tim D has posted a comment here that itself contains a comment:
I posted a comment on the Guardian's site about Gary Younge's Jesse Jackson article, in which I pointed out the disconnect between the politics of the rank-and-file and those of the office holders. Here was one of the responses to that comment:
I'll avoid the political science jargon, but look up the median voter theorem -- it explains why, in a first-past-the-post system, two-party politics is most likely and the two parties are likely to adopt effectively similar platforms. It has nothing to do with corruption, just with the need to get 50% +1 of the total number of votes cast. It doesn't matter *how much* your supporters actually like your position, just that more of them like your position than that of your opponent. Representatives are often "unrepresentative" of their constitutents; American blacks tend to be social conservatives, uncomfortable with homosexuality and abortion, yet black Congressmen are overwhelmingly in favour of gay and reproductive rights.
Far be it from me, as an atttack trained economist to appear to hold formal vote system models like this at arm's length one only needs to open any "first class" academic journal to see this Euclidean vice controls the better half of my "science", and has, I'd say, since the last quarter of the 19th century.

However the midget with the big cigar in me sees all this algebraic goo gaw about N electoral parties in the Mth method of election as being very looking-glass indeed.

To me, the formalities change no long-run outcomes.

Now long runs get to be long with some fellahs -- using the proper yardstick, the difference between FDR and Hitler are formalities -- but I think it helps me to extract this from the midnight gray of all long run cows:

The formalities do in large part answer this key question -- at what remove from the citizenry is the choice to and of compromise made? Our first-past-poster leads to the ultimate dirty-hands collaboration -- the citizen him/her self is forced by party funnels into preference constraints, i.e. the people vote directly for one or other of these squalid mass checkerboard compromise hack candidates like Hubert Humphrey or Howard Baker pick one please ...now !!!

Yes we end with only two stable parties, because each needs victory right at ground level in 435 districts, so they look toward the center of the district i.e. the middle heap, the unstructured inarticulate morass in quest of 50 plus 1.

But here's my point -- the alternative formalisms still seem to me to put the compromise somewhere, not nowhere. I don't believe the state makes more compromise then it can afford -- err, till it massively breaks down, which thank the gods of social motion always eventually happens.

Take the other extreme -- America's comic side kick "other" and living anachronism Israel, which seems ultimately to rock to the same beat we do, even with a system of proportional representation as far away from ours as possible.

Well ....so much for substance over form, at least at the level of the ultimate state.

Side light on today : speaking of the level of state -- there's our House and Senate. The Madisonian analysis behind our House of Reps never leaves my mind for long -- but it right now reflects one thing clearly: the logrolling, logjam, inherent characteristics of pop elected rep set ups are no way to run an empire. Their motions and actions, left unguided from above, reflect interests in conflict, and the study of their mechanics has a long and noble history. However since the emergence of the security state smart folks have attempted to explain its fifth wheel status.

I like C.W. Mills' take best -- the rep system essentially has been a side show since Pearl Harbor. It's too slow and too befuddled to run an empire. It was always too slow to run a war -- but empire means perpetual war status. In a nut shell, checks and balances can't get us to the launch pad on time for the first strike. It's always been clear, at certain key points where forces counter pose so well the body ceases to produce anything beyond make believe and flatulence, even the most watery of compromises is impossible. The sterling case: slavery. But the security state we've lived under since Pearl Harbor has set Uncle Sam a new task -- run a global empire -- a task that can't wait on Senator Claghorn's glass slippers. So the last 65 years or so, a fast-moving unelected, self-perpetuating self-appointed elite has run the main events above the heads of Congress. Thats what it takes to keep the imperium humming.

The election today that really counts happens but once in four years and is for one office only -- and the race for that office, I contend, is a post-party affair if we admit it to ourselves. The whys of that I'll leave for a later post.

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