Saturday, May 28, 2016

ethnic versus ideological axes of political power

Talking about American elections in Germany lately, I usually said, by way of shorthand, that in the US we have winner-take-all elections, so we make coalitions before elections whereas in parliamentary democracies, as in most of Europe, you make coalitions after elections. In a system of proportional representation, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would not be in the same party.

Bernie supporters generally understand this. Hillary supporters and her infrastructure try to downplay or reject the idea that the Democratic Party is a coalition of progressives and corporatists with a healthy dose of ethnic identity politics.

With proportional representation let’s say you have 100 seats in the legislature. Let's say, for the sake of example, that you have three parties and each party gets a third of the vote, each party would get 33 or 34 seats. Then the parties would have to form a governing coalition. The majority would be 66 or 67 but only as long as the coalition lasts.

In the US system, all of our elections are winner take all. If there were three ideologies or strains of thought, and one got 34% in every jurisdiction and the other two each got 33%, then only one out of three would dominate the legislature with 100 seats.

If 25% of American are very liberal or progressive, they may get, under winner take all, no representation in the government, unless they segregate themselves geographically and manage to have themselves gerrymandered into a majority progressive district, which rarely happens. Thus, although we see that Bernie Sanders would have little trouble getting a huge number of votes spread out all over the country, if he were the head of a third party, he would get nothing in terms of power. You have to get to 50% to get one bit of voice.

Both major parties are coalitions. They have to be. Half of the voters cannot be ideologically consistent enough to be a single faction. The democrats are many factions. These factions cannot be parties but they are quite different.

Thus, the idea of a “closed primary” is flawed. In New York State, for example, only people who listed themselves as Democrats or Republicans 6 months before the primary could vote. But the respective parties are not really coherent visions with specific policies. Within both coalitions there are a variety of opinions. How are you supposed to know six months before the election which faction will dominate each party? Requiring you to chose a party for an inter-party affair might make sense in a system of proportional representation when a party can have a clearer agenda, but in our system, requiring factions to pre-coalition build before voting is illogical.

We can think about the election structure in terms of ideology or in terms of ethnicity, two different axes on which to turn a campaign. The Black Congressional Caucus only exists because of residential segregation and the voting rights act leading to gerrymandering that helps improve the ethnic diversity of the House while allowing a Republican majority. If Black people were evenly distributed among the general population, although about 14% of the voters are Black, you could easily have only a couple of rare Black congresspeople. In terms of ideological representation, Black people might yet have a better representation in some senses, as Democrats might then have control of the House, even with fewer Black congresspeople.

There is nothing in the constitution mandating winner take all elections. A state with 20 congressional seats could hold a statewide vote, not create districts, and then allocate the seats based on the result. Any state legislature could institute a new system for the House of Representatives.

One problem with proportional representation can be that the individual legislators may be chosen by the party boss. So if the Liberal Party has 30 seats to divide up, someone choses who those 30 people are and they are less free to vote their conscience. Also, look at Spain right now: they could not find a coalition and have to vote again, having just voted a few months ago. But the problems with the winner take all alternative are at least as clear and negative. I think some of each system might be a good way to do politics.

Now, as to 2016, and the Democratic primary: Hillary Clinton has failed every important test of her career. As First Lady she was supposed to pass Hillarycare and screwed it up. As senator, she voted in favor of the Iraq War. As Secretary of State she killed Qaddafi and put an email server in her basement. As a private citizen from 2013-2015 all she had to do was avoid scandal and controversy and she couldn’t manage to do that (transcripts anyone?). I fully expect her to fail as nominee of the Democratic Party and end her career with an unbroken record of corruption, warmongering, cowardice, short sighted dependence on the advice of sycophants, etc. However, I would love it if she would surprise me and do something right.

What she should do is form a coalition with Bernie Sanders. If he refuses to be her Vice Presidential candidate and will not name another person to serve in his place, then she should sweeten the deal by offering him his choices for various cabinet posts until he accepts the offer and forms a coalition with her.

Bernie would overshadow Hillary in the general campaign and would remain independent of her in the administration, might even resign in protest or publicly disagree with her. But the Hillary-Bernie coalition would win the general election in a landslide and probably take the senate for the Democrats and maybe the House.

It’s nice of the corporate democrats to give progressives a lot of votes on the platform committee of the party to write a progressive platform for the convention. Hillary and her supporters can use the platform as toilet paper if supplies run low.

The only precedents I can think of for this kind of coalition cabinets are FDR, with real new dealers/socialist leaning leftist and rightists all arguing it out, and Lincoln’s cabinet of enemies. But those were pretty successful presidencies, wouldn’t you say?

Instead of ideology and coalition government, Hillary and her ilk would like to promote ethnic identity politics. Look at Kenya for example. In Kenya, the Kikuyu and related groups are 21 percent, the Luhya  are 14 percent, the Kalenjin are 13 percent, and the Kamba and Luo are 10 percent each. An election is about coalitions of ethnicities and if the heads of the various ethnic parties are corrupt or whatever, members of each ethnicity have little choice but to support their leaders or face discrimination and being iced out of government services should they fail to join the winning coalition.

In America, about (rough numbers!) over 2/3rds of voters are White. Blacks and Hispanics are about 14 percent each and then the rest are other, Asian, etc. If the Republicans are the White Supremacy Party, as Trump has shown they are, then the non-racist Whites could be seen as an ethnic group with about 25%-30% left over to join the Democratic ethnic coalition.

So Hillary has been floating names for Vice President that are Mexican and Black, Cory Booker and Henry Cisneros. She doesn’t want an ideological coalition with a progressive that would not allow politicians such as herself to get rich and support oligarchs. She would like to do politics by ethnicity as much as possible so that policy doesn’t matter much and she can be as corrupt as her colleagues in Kenya, and she already fits right in with the Third World crooks in the Panama papers, so it all makes logical sense to her.

See? A woman and a Mexican. That should do it. And we can vote about whether we put a white or male or Hispanic or Black face on leadership and leave the oligarchs in charge of a failing democracy with a strong strain of crony capitalism.

Hillary’s supporters have been quick to label criticism of her sexist. Sexism does exist, so they should be allowed to level this charge when they feel it’s justified. Likewise, I call Hillary a corporatist and it’s not a compliment. Such people do exist -- basically hired guns for the 1% of rich people who have captured the government. She is not alone. Most of them are. Practically all of them.

If you do coalitions on the basis of race or ethnic identity, it doesn’t matter too much what policies those politicians advance. This is why the super delegates of the Democratic Party nomination process were so quick to switch from Clinton to Obama in 2008 and so slow to change to Bernie in 2016. Obama is not an ideological progressive. He did not drive a hard bargain with the banks to get them a bailout, and as a consequence, the net worth, or total wealth, of African American households dropped 40% under his watch. He didn’t impoverish Black families because he is evil but because he has a corporate mindset and could not imagine standing up to the banks, breaking them up, jailing their directors and boards, and bailing out the mortgage holders, including Black families, instead of bankers. Obama exacerbated the wealth gap (not income but net worth) between Whites and Blacks, building on the 50 years of redlining in home mortgage loans. He didn’t mean to, but when your world view is corporatist, that stuff happens.

Bernie Sanders would not have done it like that. He would have driven a hard bargain to save collapsing banks in 2008 and Black households would have more wealth and the gap between the races would have declined rather than increased. This is but one example of how the perception of ethnicity is a bad way to run politics while ideology is a good axis on which to turn politics.

So our two big parties have to be coalitions. They can be ethnic coalitions like in Kenya or ideological coalitions as in many European countries. Hillary could surprise me and make an ideological coalition but I would bet almost any amount of money against her salvaging her pathetic legacy. Trump has shown that majority of Republicans are cool with White Supremacy. Clinton would like to counter with an offer of corrupt ethnic coalition building. Bernie Sanders is trying to make politics revolve around an axis of economic power and actual policy.

Now, as almost a non sequitur, Margaret Thatcher. The appeal of Thatcher was not White Supremacy I don't think but a consistent ideological position in favor of liberalizing the economy to create more competition, efficiency, and wealth. Thatcher genuinely believed, I think, that more than 30 years of social democracy in the UK had created a stagnant mess of rules and webs between unions and the Labor Party that prevented the creation of new jobs. She had a point. Her world view was a legitimate ideology that she actually believed and was not paid to mouth.

If Margaret Thatcher’s ghost and the Spirit of Bernie Sanders were running against each other for President of France in 2016, I’m not sure who I would vote for. In other words, Bernie’s prescription for the US after 36 years of liberalization would not sound the same in France, where unions and their parties still have considerable power. Maybe France needs a bit of Thatcherism, I don’t know. I know the US doesn’t.

If the Republicans threw up a candidate like Thatcher who honestly presented a pro-liberalization ideology without dog whistles to racism, and the Democrats threw up a honest vision of redistribution and the common good in a Bernie Sanders kind of way, that would be a fine debate between honest rivals. As it is, Bernie is the only candidate with a legitimate ideology and has no competition in the ideological sphere. Since we don’t run campaigns on the basis of policy and ideology, this imbalance has not been a decisive factor in the 2016 race.

America never had a labor party. Consequently, we’re 100 years late for the Bernie Sanders agenda. He himself seems to think he is left of FDR.

Lastly, the primary election of Hillary Clinton was not fair and square and I would argue that the nomination was essentially stolen. But that’s another article.


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