Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

What’s a Fusion Party?

Third political parties don’t do well in the US. What they usually do is take votes away from the major party they’re ideologically closest to. Thus, in the 2020 election, 1.8 million people voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, not the Republican, and 400,000 voted for the Green Party candidate, not the Democrat. In 2016, 4.5 million voted Libertarian and 1.5 million voted Green. Voting for a third party in America is a way to “send a message”, while helping to elect the Democrat or Republican you probably can’t stand. A classic case was Ralph Nader, noted progressive and consumer advocate, getting 97,000 votes in Florida, in an election with a final margin between Bush and Gore of 573 (thanks to the Supreme Court). Bush should have invited Nader to the White House, although Nader wouldn’t have shown up.

But some third parties make sense. They’re called “fusion” parties. A fusion party nominates the major party candidate they like best. All votes cast for the fusion party in the general election go to the Democrat or Republican they’ve nominated. Thus, in New York, where fusion parties are legal, the Working Families Party usually nominates the Democrat and the Conservative Party usually nominates the Republican. It may sound like a dumb idea (why not just vote for the Democratic or Republican nominee?), but it allows the fusion party to run its own campaign and allows fusion party voters to avoid thinking of themselves as Democrats or Republicans.

The most interesting case, however, is when the fusion party nominates a candidate they’d ordinarily oppose. That happens when the other major party candidate is so bad, the fusion party can’t support them. That’s what’s happening in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District this year. Disaffected Republicans have created the Moderate Party and nominated the Democrat (who happens to be relatively moderate). They don’t want to support the Republican, because he’s an empty suit who’s aligned himself with the Make America Great Again crowd. They see the Moderate Party as a political home for Republicans or others who might ordinarily vote for a Republican, but can’t bring themselves to support an extremist.

As of now, however, fusion parties are illegal in New Jersey and most other states. They were popular in the 19th century and legal in New Jersey until 1920. For whatever reason, Democratic and Republican politicians have usually preferred the two-party system that put them in power. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that states have a strong interest in “the stability of the two-party system”, so although a third party could “endorse” a Democrat or a Republican, they could be prohibited from casting ballots for that candidate.

Assuming the state of New Jersey declines to recognize the Moderate Party, its organizers plan to sue. According to the New Jersey Globe:

The Moderate Party is expected to argue that fusion voting protects voter rights, free speech and equal protection for candidates and voters. Organizers say their group will include Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

The Globe article cites two cases in which fusion parties made a difference:

Democrat Daniel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut in 2010 by 6,500 votes after winning 26,000 votes as the candidate of the Connecticut Working Families Party.

In his 1980 U.S. Senate race in New York, Republican Alphonse D’Amato received 275,000 votes on the Conservative Party line and an additional 152,000 as the Right to Life Party candidate.  That enabled him to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman by 81,000 votes.

Now that the Republican Party has lost its collective mind, fusion parties would be a way to elect more Democrats. We’ll see if New Jersey’s Secretary of State and Supreme Court allow it to happen.

Yeah, There’s a Name for It

We’re having a primary election today. The people I planned to vote for had no opposition, but I walked over and voted anyway. Voting is a ritual of democracy! (Plus our local election workers used to provide cookies.)

It was worth the trip. They have new, electronic, paper ballot machines. You put in a piece of paper, vote on the touchscreen, and then you look through a little window to see your votes printed on the paper. If it all looks ok, you press “cast your ballot” and the paper goes into a container. So there’s a paper trail if there’s a recount. Very cool. Every voter in the US should be able to use a machine like that. While voting still matters.

From Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

“1776 motherfuckers.”

That’s what an associate texted to Enrique Tarrio, then the leader of the Proud Boys, just after members of the group stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In a new indictment that prosecutors filed against them, variations on that idea abound: Members refer to the insurrection as a glorious revival of 1776 again and again, with almost comic predictability.

… The way 1776 comes up in the indictment — combined with some surprising new details it reveals — should prompt a serious look at how far-right extremist groups genuinely think about the long struggle that they envision themselves waging.

In short, groups such as these generally are driven by a dangerous vision of popular sovereignty. It essentially holds that the will of the truly authentic “people,” a flexible category they get to define, is being suppressed, requiring periodic “resets” of the system, including via violent, extralegal means.

Such groups aren’t going away anytime soon. We should understand what drives them.

The new indictment that a grand jury returned on Monday against Tarrio and four other Proud Boys is for “seditious conspiracy.” This requires prosecutors to prove that at least two people conspired to use force to overthrow the U.S. government or subvert the execution of U.S. law.

To build this case, prosecutors have sought to present extensive evidence that the Proud Boys fully intended to use force to subvert governmental authority and relevant laws concerning the transfer of presidential power. This included arming themselves with paramilitary gear and discussing violent disruptions online in advance…. The indictment alleges that they attacked police officers, breached police lines with violence, and helped coordinate the storming of the Capitol in real time.

What’s more, in the indictment prosecutors disclose highly revealing text exchanges between Tarrio — who was not present that day — and another member later on Jan. 6. The exchanges appear to refer back to a document Tarrio possessed called “1776 returns,” which reportedly contains a detailed scheme to attack government buildings.

Those text exchanges compare Jan. 6 to both 1776 and the attack on “the Winter Palace,” which helped lead to the Russian Revolution. This seeming reference back to that document perhaps suggests they viewed Jan. 6 as the successful execution of a premeditated plan….

In this context, while all the 1776-oriented talk might seem like posturing, it points to something real and enduring on the far right.

It isn’t easy to pin down the Proud Boys, who tend to define themselves as defenders of Western civilization. Tarrio’s views appear pretty convoluted. In a 2021 interview, he admitted that the 2020 election had not been stolen from former president Donald Trump,… yet he openly celebrated the “fear” that members of Congress felt of “the people,” and helped mobilize Proud Boys to mass around the Capitol that day.

So how to make sense of that, as well as the broader tangle of ideologies on the far right?

helpful framework comes from Joseph Lowndes, a scholar of the right wing at the University of Oregon. As Lowndes notes, a longtime strain in American political culture treats procedural democracy as itself deeply suspect, as subverting a more authentic subterranean popular will.

For such ideologues, what constitutes “the people” is itself redefined by spasmodic revolutionary acts, including violence. The people’s sovereignty, and with it the defining lines of the republic, are also effectively redrawn, or even rebirthed, by such outbursts of energy and militant action.

In this vision, Lowndes told me, the “people” and the “essence of the republic” are “made new again through acts of violent cleansing.” He noted that in this imagining, the “people” are something of a “fiction,” one that is essentially created out of the violent “act.”

“This regeneration through violence is going to be with us for a long time,” Lowndes said, “because it is fundamental to the right-wing political imagination.”

Lurking behind all the 1776 cosplay, then, is a tangle of very real radical and extreme ideologies…. They aren’t going away.

Unquote.

Journalist John Ganz sums up the current situation in response to a New York Times article by a “National Review fellow”, Nate Hochman:

Since he’s fond of Marxist categories, I’d like to introduce Hochman to another one: totality. This refers to the notion that we have to analyze a social and political situation in its entirety, and that failing to do so will give us a false or incomplete picture. While he is more frank than most, Hochman doesn’t want to look at the Right in its totality. While he seems comfortable with the portions of the right that, despite being demagogic and repressive, remain within the bounds of legal and civic behavior, like the anti-trans and anti-Critical Race Theory campaigns, he doesn’t really want to talk about January 6th, or the stolen election myth, great replacement, or the cultish worship of T____, or the Proud Boys, who now have a significant presence in [the] Miami-Dade Republican party….

But these things are as much, if not more, emblematic of the modern Republican party as young Mr. Hochman in his blazer over there at The National Review….

So now let’s recapitulate the totality of the political situation, with the help of Mr. Hochman’s fine essay. He wants to say this new right is essentially a secular [non-religious] party of the aggrieved, [a coalition that feels] the national substance has been undermined by a group of cosmopolitan elites, who have infiltrated all the institutions of power. That believes immigrants threaten to replace the traditional ethnic make up of the country. That borrows conceptions and tactics from the socialist tradition but retools them for counter-revolutionary ends. That is animated by myths of national decline and renewal. That instrumentalizes racial anxieties. That brings together dissatisfied and alienated members of the intelligentsia with the conservative families of the old bourgeoisie and futurist magnates of industry. That looks to a providential figure like T___ for leadership. That has street fighting and militia cadres. That has even attempted an illegal putsch to give their leader absolute power.

If only there was historical precedent and even a neat little word for all that.

Unquote.

Well, here’s a hint. The precedent is Nazi Germany and the neat little word is “FASCISM”.

Who’s On Your Side: A Simple Dichotomy?

The White House website has a new page devoted to last year’s very big infrastructure bill.

Untitled

It got Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post thinking about the Democratic Party’s “message”, a phrase that ideally would fit on a bumper sticker:

While Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and a highly impressive Supreme Court nominee afford Biden his first chance in months to break the bad news cycle and to project strength, he still lacks a big picture that ties it all together.

Biden faces several challenges: 1) He can’t do much about the biggest economic concern (inflation) which fairly or not voters blame on him; 2) Voters seem to have taken job growth and a return to post-covid normal for granted; 3) The GOP noise machine of constant conspiracies and baseless accusations effectively manipulates the mainstream media, which regurgitates GOP talking points; and 4) Voters forget how positively nutty the GOP has become and the degree to which its worst elements will predominate if it returns to the majority in one or both houses.

So what can Biden do? At its most basic, Democrats must convince voters they are on the side of regular Americans — making progress and solving real problems (e.g., jobs, covid). They need to remind voters that Democrats are on the right side of the middle class, democracy and law and order. Democrats must leave no doubt as to which party did a lot to clean up the mess left behind by the previous administration and which party understands the real problems left to work on (e.g., inflation, green energy, defending against international bullies).

Republicans? They are bullies and chaos creators (be it attacking the Capitol, letting the country default on the debt, setting up a litigation machine to sue teachers, undermining elections, threatening to take away kids whose parents give them medical care and inviting a truck blockade). Do voters really want to give power back to the crowd that defends violence (“legitimate political discourse”), lets their cult leader extort Ukraine, and goes to bat for big corporations (e.g., allowing them to escape paying taxes, protecting Big Pharma’s price gouging)?

Democrats need to get back to a fundamental message: When in power, they make government work for ordinary people and defend American values (democracy, opportunity, fairness, playing by the rules). They solve real problems. When Republicans are in power, they create division, conflict and chaos. They are not on your side. That’s it. A simple dichotomy.

Unquote.

The problem is that if there are voters out there who don’t already understand the difference between the two parties, they’re probably unreachable. If they bother to vote, they’ll make their choice one of two ways. If they see themselves as a Democrat or Republican, they’ll stick with the party that makes them feel comfortable. If they don’t have a particular political identity, they’ll vote for or against “change” (i.e. for or against the incumbent) depending on their mood that day. The irony is that if voters want meaningful change, they should elect more Democrats. In particular, more Democrats in the Senate would make roadblocks like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant. But since Democrats “control” both houses of Congress, many voters will mistakenly think electing more Republicans will bring about the kind of change they want.

Why People Vote the Way They Do

I finished a book recently and thought I might write about it here, but was too lazy. Then I read a comment after an article at Three Quarks Daily:

A crucial question: how does the party of oppression and social inequality get away with parading its commitment to liberty, and capture power with the votes of those whose interests it totally neglects?

That was the motivation I needed to write something in response:

Two political scientists, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, cited a lot of surprising evidence in their book “Democracy for Realists” (2016) that “voters mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues” and that “voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties”. They concluded that most voters are remarkably ignorant about politics, but that even well-informed and engaged voters usually choose parties and candidates this way (in fact, more often than voters less interested in politics).

They admit that people do change their political identities sometimes, but say that, for the most part, the issues take a back seat to identity and partisanship. Once you see yourself as, e.g. a Democrat in the US or a Conservative in the UK, you will tend to vote and think a certain way. The subtitle of their book is “Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government”. It was both informative and depressing to read.

It’s depressing because one of our political parties makes a serious effort (sometimes successful, often not) to address issues and enact policies that will help average people’s lives, while the other mostly ignores real problems and policy, but gets their supporters (the non-wealthy ones anyway) riled up about things that didn’t happen or don’t matter (see, for example, how they got millions of people upset a “stolen” election). One might conclude that the party that tries to make our antiquated government work is at a permanent disadvantage. It’s so much easier to invent a “controversy” about Critical Race Theory in elementary schools than to replace all of their old lead pipes.

So when we hear that it’s the Democrats who are all about identity politics, we should keep in mind how important identity is to politics, even to coal miners in West Virginia, farmers in Nebraska and cops in New York City.

The 2024 Election Could Make History (Dismal History)

Unless all 50 Senate Democrats agree to protect voting rights this year, our next president might be someone who got fewer votes and didn’t even win the Electoral College. Here’s a brief preview from a profile of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) in The New Republic:

These next three years will test our democracy in ways it hasn’t been tested since the 1860s, or maybe ever. The scenario is pretty straightforward. The Republicans retake the House in the midterms. Immediately, any chance of Biden passing meaningful legislation is dead, but that’s the least of it. The GOP will launch hearing after hearing, issue subpoena after subpoena; they will find some flimsy rationale on which to impeach Biden, and they will stretch it out as long as possible. T____ will run—as Raskin put it, “for psychological, political, and financial reasons”—and he will be the GOP nominee, Raskin has little doubt. Assuming Biden seeks reelection, the election will probably be close, because elections just are these days.

If Biden wins by a matter of several thousand votes in a few states, as he did in 2020, the T____ machinery will kick into gear to steal the election. Republican election commissioners and state legislators and even some governors will put forward pro-T____ electors. The House of Representatives will not vote to certify Biden’s win in January 2025, which will toss the election to the House, which will make T____ president. (When a presidential election gets thrown to the House, under the Twelfth Amendment, the vote is by state delegation, so North Dakota has the same voting power as California; Republicans now control, and will likely in 2025 still control, a majority of state delegations, and Liz Cheney will probably be gone, meaning that Wyoming will go pro-T____.) For the second time in the history of the United States, the other time being 1824, Congress will have installed as the president a candidate who did not win a plurality of votes in either the Electoral College or the popular vote.

“D____ T____ [and Republican officials have] now converted every formerly ministerial step of the process into a moment for partisan rumble and contest,” Raskin told me. “So when we’re talking about the certification of the state popular vote, the governors’ certification of the electors, the electors meeting, and then the January 6th joint session receipt of the electors … all these phases of the process have now been turned into yet another opportunity for partisan combat.” There is no question in Raskin’s mind that this is what T____ and his supporters will try to do.

The [House] select committee on January 6 ties in directly here. Aside from trying to get to the bottom of who did what before and on the infamous date, Raskin wants the committee to try to take steps to safeguard democracy from attack by T____ or any future T____ wannabe. “Our select committee, I believe, should do whatever it can to reform the Electoral Count Act, to make it conform as much as possible to the popular will,” he said, referring to the 1887 act that spells out—confusingly, ambiguously, contradictorily—the presidential election certification process.

That obviously won’t be possible if Republicans retake the House. In the majority, the GOP will likely do all it can to subvert democracy and preemptively make people distrust the electoral process. 

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