Sunday, January 06, 2008

Bye Bye, Obama-like Blah Blah: Toward An End to Presidential Talk

by Marcelle Cendrars "The greatest human invention ever...has been the practices, customs, and institutions of democracy. Everything pales by comparison. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence without a computer or the Internet; the Magna Carta was composed without automobiles or the telephone or a fax. Mary Wollstonecraft's Declaration of the Rights of Women was imagined without a Palm Pilot or a Web page. And their ideas have spread across centuries, sometimes like wildfire, other times like slow and patient tree roots." -- from the Epilogue of Steven Hill's Fixing Elections

"A lot of no-shows at the polling place feel in their bones that they'd be scammed if they showed up." -- Supporter of The Center for Voting and Democracy

Anyone know how we came to have our Electoral Scam on the first Tuesday of November on a regular basis? Tuesday instead of, say, on a weekend. Tuesday in lieu of having the ballots cast over several days. How is it that we don't have a "holiday" declared for that all-important day? To make things easier on all counts.

Turns out that our 1845 President Polk set up the Tuesday voting tradition for the convenience of farmers! As far as he was concerned our voting had to take place after the fall harvest -- since most people lived on farms at that point -- and time had to be allowed for those workers of the earth to get to town. That meant a full day's travel for many on the Monday before The Big Electoral Hulabaloo.

Time for a change, yes?

Well, not just in that realm, please. Let's also -- while we're confronting voting reform -- put in a good word for proportionate and semi-proportional representation. After all, the way things stand we rank somewhere between Botswana and Chad (138th!) in terms of voter turnout. And we're headed for... heading the list of "voter turnoff" at our present rate. (1)

Clearly something must be done. Unless you talk to politicians in power. Unless you're okay with a post-democracy milieu.

We have what you might call a Winner Take All system. Proportional systems are used by almost every other democracy in the world today, including Italy and Israel. I mention those two countries because they're often cited as examples of places which have difficulties because of their proportional systems.

The fact is that the world's clear trend is very much away from our Winner Take All system, and toward proportional alternatives. Those alternatives make it possible for there to be representation for losers, whether they represent 49% of a given election, or represent a lower percentage of ballots cast.

At present that our Winner Take All system is quite The Scam. Using nefarious methods such as "redistricting" at the end of every decade to ensure that incumbents aren't unseated for the following ten years in almost every case, our Winner Take All system guarantees that a given politician not only doesn't have to answer to his/her "opposition," but that he/she is not bound in any significant way to the wishes of any of a given constituency.

But you learned all this in school, right? When you were taught about the origins of our First November Tuesday Scam, yes?

No, of course not. The reason I use the word "scam" is that...obviously the powers that be do not want to have to represent their constituencies. They want a free hand.

And that's what they've got. And that's what they'll have...until you do something about the status quo.

California, the last time I counted, had 69 times the population of Wyoming. Yet Senatorial representation clocks in at 18 to 1, not 69 to 1. Why? Same deal.

Now that's a fact of life that we have heard something about, but no one's doing anything about it. Hint: The Powers that be in both California and Wyoming (and elsewhere) have decided not to rock the boat with the kind of fundamental change that would be required to set things right on that count. No, it's in their mutual interests to let things be. To encourage "Rock the Vote" activity, if they must, but keep the important factors quiet, unceremoniously/sanctimoniously ...continuing.

Just like they do when it comes to presidential elections and the Old Electoral College Scam. Look how much blah blah goes into debating whether this or that candidate is a better bet to be our next president. How much versus, say, discussion about some of the disingenuousness alluded to above. But no, "elected tyranny" doesn't like to have a lot of blah blah impact on its desired low-profile.

I mean, if the powers that be were really interested in boosting voter participation, one of the first things they'd do is to do away with the First Tuesday Inconvenience/Insanity, yes?

But well-meaning, knowledgeable citizens who have influence -- such as the rock stars and other celebrities who took part recently in a Vote or Die campaign -- insist upon focusing their energies on registration of more voters instead of helping to educate the public on the counts above. "Rock the Vote" efforts -- regardless of how successful in signing up additional voters -- cannot compensate for the internally rigged elements...such as suspect machines, redistricting, etc.

When you talk to citizens about all this, you invariably hear great numbers of them putting it all to bed with something like, "Oh, it's that way 'cause that's how it's always been. If it was good enough for our Founding Fathers it's good enough for me." Something along those lines.

But just like the Founding Fathers never anticipated our severe shift of population from farms to urban areas, they never dreamt that the number of representatives wouldn't increase proportionately with population. They were counting on something like 50,000 constituents per representative versus what we have: an average of 600,000 to ONE(!!!) for each of our 435 Congress members*. That's a lot of wiggle room.

*Hamilton and Madison, in Federalist No. 58, underscored that the purpose of the Census, to a great degree, was to augment the number of representatives as population increased. Every decade from 1792 onwards the House expanded...until 1910, when it froze to death. We should have something close to 600 House members. Each UK Member of Parliament represents only 70,000 souls. Think in terms of going to a shop where there's one clerk to handle 70,000 customers vs. 600,000, and you should get the point. (2)

The need for finance reform and other such foci pale in comparison to the dilemma of Winner Take All politics, yet most citizens -- even highly educated ones who study and talk politics -- aren't up to speed on issues which The Center for Voting and Democracy (See tackle as a fundamental part of their agenda. Much of which should be on our minds, and included in our discussions. With the idea of doing something about The Scam That Rules The Ruled, Us.

I recommend Steven Hill's Fixing Elections for one and all. It'll open your eyes, I daresay, to much information about our post-democracy setting, including how ( as with a Soviet-type Politburo ) in our 2000 House elections there was virtually no competition, nearly 99 percent of incumbents winning reelection.

We are involved -- have been involved -- in meaningless voter charades. Yet, I am convinced, there is deep reason to be hopeful. Which is why I wrote this article.

Both major parties are increasingly involved in committing unprecedented resources to end-of-the-decade legislative and gubernatorial contests. It's greatly because the gerrymandering and such which follows each decennial census has more impact on who will win state, congressional and presidential elections than voters in a given year!

And the "accomplishments" on that count determine electoral results, for all practical purposes, for the following decade.

The trench warfare which is fought state by state, district by district, in a very few select races -- what Steven Hill calls "the 'Gettysburg' of our political landscape" -- can be circumvented, and addressed adequately in time to force change in 2010. But it requires movement now, following a new paradigm for dealing with our skewed system.

We cannot remain stuck to the flypaper of old ideas. Which blah blah reinforces.

And it demands taking our focus off of the present presidential shenanigans to a significant degree, so that we can devote our energies in solidarity where they will count. Vote for whoever you want to be Chief Executive, but spend half of your heartbeats --better, a quarter of your presently expended energies-- on Obama-like blah blah.

Focus on our internal scars...where the meanings are, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson. Not the lastest fad in foolishness. Not on fake father-figures and their incessant self-serving talk.

I ask all "orphaned voters" to contact me at their earliest possible convenience to discuss details concerning the above.

Footnotes: (1) "Voter Turnout for 1945 to 1997: A Global Report on Political Participation," published and distributed by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 1997, Cited in Steven Hill's Prologue to Fixing Elections (Routledge: New York, 2002), p. viii. (2) Interesting to note that few people know that the original Bill of Rights included 12 amendments, one of which specified that we have a ratio of "not less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons."

Marcelle Cendrars can be reached at

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