Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday Morning Politics

The House Clock in the US Capitol; Clio, the Muse of History, stands in the Chariot of Time and records what is said in the chamber.

*Gay marriage rights were repealed in Maine in a heart-breakingly close election. Before we all go out and slash our wrists, let's keep this vote in some perspective. Whenever the rights of gay people, or any minority, are ever put up for a vote, they will always lose. Minorities of every description, racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, or whatever you can think of that sets anyone apart from the majority "norm", will always lose by definition. Majorities will never voluntarily share the franchise with any minority. What is so remarkable about elections involving gay rights is that those margins of loss are so very narrow. I can remember when gay rights initiatives would come up on the ballot in any city, and would lose overwhelmingly by 20 percentage points. If the rights of African Americans or Hispanics were ever put up for a vote, do you think they would lose by so narrow a margin? I think not. If African American voting rights and the legal end to segregation was ever put up for a vote in any of the Southern states during the Civil Rights era, they would have lost by huge margins. They might still lose by big margins today; and not exclusively in the South (say "crime" and "welfare" and watch the Pavlovian response among white suburban voters) . Do you think the rights of straight white middle aged men could survive a vote? I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.
No one's rights should ever be put up for a vote.

*Republicans aren't used to losing. They lost that race in upstate New York's 23rd House District. Folks in the Adirondacks aren't liberals. They can be as right-wing and xenophobic as rural Southerners. They don't like Southerners, and they especially don't like Southerners coming in and telling them how to vote. The Republican Party is a Southern party these days.

*Democrats are too used to losing. They lost 2 governor's races. Virginia wasn't that big of a surprise, but New Jersey was. Suburban NJ voters angry over high property taxes and corruption turned out in droves to vote for the Republicans. Urban NJ voters who last year came out in droves to vote for Obama stayed home rather than back a former Goldman-Sachs executive who used his private fortune to get elected and to keep New Jersey's famously crooked local politicians pacified.

*Mayor Mike of New York got re-elected in a surprise squeaker. Anthony Weiner must be kicking himself this morning. He could have won this race. Bloomberg starts that third term which he purchased for about $200 per vote in a very weak position. Everyone expected that his re-election would be an easy double digit walk. Instead, he barely won by 5 percentage points.

*I've always wondered just how truly representative is our political system. Voter turnout in our elections is always low (a 51% voter turnout is not high, and neither is a 60% turnout), and in New York anyway, this year was no exception. Mayor Bloomberg returns to his office in City Hall knowing that 45% of the people who bothered to vote hate him, and that most of the rest of the city just doesn't care if he's there or not. That's not my idea of a mandate. I suppose he could take the Dubya-in-2000 approach and pretend that a near loss was really a landslide and rule arrogantly. I doubt that he will. He's too smart.
Our political system is set up to preserve the status quo. Incumbent politicians usually like low voter turnouts. Political establishments do not like the spectacle of people voting in droves, especially in unreliable and uncontrollable droves of non-suburban, non-elderly, non-white, people. Voting laws are usually designed to encourage such people to stay apathetic and to stay home on election day. State and local election laws across the USA are designed to prevent insurgent candidacies. The system is very much rigged against third party bids and independent candidacies. Our 2 parties are the oldest functioning political parties in the world. The right-wing to conservative Republican Party began as a liberal reform party built around the abolition of slavery (a Republican campaign banner from the 1850s said "Capital is Not Our Master!" smoke that one Ayn Rand). It became the pro-plutocrat party after the Civil War under President Grant and his famously corrupt administration. The GOP aligned itself with North Eastern railroad and banking interests. The Democratic Party began as the Southern populist party of Andrew Jackson, and represented established Southern planter interests on the eve of the Civil War. The most hardline opponents of Civil Rights laws were not Republicans, but Southern Democrats still imagining that the party was still the one of John C. Calhoun and not FDR. It became a liberal-progressive party only in the 20th century. The historian Richard Hofstader once quoted a journalist from the 188os who described the 2 American political parties as 2 different bottles with 2 different labels, and both empty.
Our winner-take-all system makes me wonder just how truly representative our legislatures really are. The political right, despite recent election reversals, still dominates public political discussion. Washington is to the right of most of the electorate; compare the Conventional Wisdom of the Washington mandarin class on the political viability of health insurance reform with the actual poll numbers that support reform, even in usually conservative states. Does a Congress person or a Senator who won an election by a squeaker really represent the views of the people of their district or state? Or, does the election only mean that the 48% percent of the voters who opposed the candidate, and the 60% of the electorate who didn't bother to vote are simply disenfranchised and are effectively voiceless? When the Representative returns to the district, do they really see the people who live there, or do they simply see their supporters and their financial backers? When they see opposition, do they really see the views of the people who live in their districts, or do they see fanatics bussed in by well-financed political action committees and big corporate news networks? When we see politics on teevee, are we really looking at serious decision making, or are we looking at the freak show that corporate media need to keep ratings up and advertising prices high?

*Democracy or Oligarchy?

*Liberty, or the Liberty of Idiots where we can say or do whatever we want, but only because it doesn't matter?

4 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

No one's rights should ever be put up for a vote.

Too true, but how do we stop that from happening? Like the end of segregation, I can't see nation-wide equality for all GLTB folks in this country happening through legislation. It will be through the courts, and that won't happen soon. It's very discouraging. The way to go for now is to continue the state by state efforts.

Counterlight said...

I agree that we must play the cards we are dealt, and now that looks like state by state fights over ballot initiatives called by the segregationists who know that they can win them. I don't see any of those fights as winning battles except local ones in urban areas. State governments are usually dominated by rural interests at the expense of urban interests, and suburbs play the role of swing vote (usually against cities).
We will have lasting progress only through court decisions, and since the federal court system has been completely made over by 30 years of conservative rule, I don't see much progress there, at least in my lifetime. It may begin to change if the expected generational and demographic shift materializes and progressive politics in some form is able to shape policy and the federal court makeup. Only then will LGBTs be fully recognized as citizens of the United States.

There is some reason for optimism. Remember that it was the Rehnquist Supreme Court (no liberal paradise) that definitively ended the criminal status of gay men in all states.

Ueber-G said...

As depressing as this is, at least we don't live in Uganda.

Brian R said...

Despite many people complaining, I am glad we have compulsory voting so that elections do represent the will of the people. Also at the Commonwealth level we have preferential voting so that I can give my first vote to the Greens(whose current national leader is a gay partnered man) and yet my vote is not wasted as my 2nd preference goes to Labor who, despite their faults, are better than the conservatives.