The Null Device

The lesser of two evils

I just logged into for the first time in many months; the first thing I saw on the home page, in the list of "recent listings from my network" was three posts from someone in the US in my 2nd degree about Howard Dean campaign meetings. One of these was crossposted to a group named "PDX pagans".

There are Howard Dean campaign meetings on, Howard Dean meetups, Howard Dean blogs, probably even Howard Dean flashmobs, machinima, MP3 mashups and stencil graffiti. And all this for a candidate for the Democratic Party, a political machine every bit as vast and beholden to special interests as the Republican Party.

I don't know much about this Dean person (except that he's somewhat of a centrist); though even if he had the charisma of a cult leader, I doubt he would singlehandedly bend the Democratic Party to his will. If he gets elected, chances are that all that will change is which special interests will be favoured (out with the oil companies, in with the copyright industry) and a few token attempts at social justice, stopping short of anything anyone would accuse of "socialism" or "class warfare". The War On Drugs will continue apace, perhaps even accelerating to deflect accusations that the goddamnliberals are "soft on crime". Though perhaps the Patriot Act III may never happen, or may be watered down. One of these decades, the rights lost to Bush/Ashcroft's "anti-terrorism" legislation (none of which would have stopped 9/11) may even be restored.

The fact that a machine-man from the lesser of two evils is seen as an almost messianic figure (an American Gough Whitlam, as it were) is testament to how loathed the Bush administration is in the more liberal, cosmopolitan parts of America. Mind you, with the US political system, Dean is as good as it gets; last election around, the best Ralph Nader could do was to bleed votes away from the Lesser Evil towards the Greater.

There are 11 comments on "The lesser of two evils":

Posted by: Sal Sat Jan 3 07:44:39 2004

The American electoral system insures that anyone selected to executive office (with or without supreme court decisions) is bona fide status quo. So where's the news here? That still doesn't make the candidates interchangable however. There is clearly a worst evil in each election. In 2004, however, the worst evil can be found in both Bush and Lieberman. In an election between two Republicans, the Republican always wins.

Posted by: acb Sat Jan 3 13:24:19 2004

The problem is the first-past-the-post system, which entrenches the two-party system. There is no way for a third party to do anything other than damage the chances of those most like them (as the Greens did in 2000), as a vote for a losing candidate is essentially wasted.

In Australia and a few other places, we have preferential voting, where voters rate the candidates in order of preference. First, the '1' votes are counted; the candidate with the fewest is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to whoever was '2' on each respective ballot paper. That way, you could vote Green/Libertarian/whatever without it being a lost vote for your respective lesser evil.

Posted by: acb Sat Jan 3 13:26:21 2004

The Australian senate has an even better system called proportional representation, where each district has several seats which are allocated in proportion to the number of votes each candidate got. This means we have a more or less permanent minor-party presence in the upper house, often holding the balance of power (well, for the last N terms, at least). The minor parties have used this at times to water down particularly odious or unpleasant legislation (our government's post-9/11 "national security" power-grab bill was one which was pared down considerably thanks to the Greens); usually such legislation makes it through the senate when both major parties agree on it, leaving the handful of idealists behind.

Posted by: acb Sat Jan 3 13:29:08 2004

Though the one good thing about American politics is the lack of party discipline, and the fact that many votes are conscience votes. Thus you can have people like Patrick Leahy appearing in the major parties, proposing sensible legislation, opposing blatant power-grabs, and not getting expelled for their trouble (as their Labor/Liberal/National equivalent in Australia would).

Btw, what's the state of campaign finance reform in the US? Is the corporate/special-interest buying of congressmen likely to become any harder any time soon?

Posted by: Alex Sat Jan 3 15:04:44 2004

You talking to yourself again, acb?

Posted by: acb Sat Jan 3 15:14:09 2004

No, to readers who are wondering why I think the US electoral system is flawed, or how a fairer system could exist.

Posted by: Sal Sun Jan 4 07:46:18 2004

The Deutscher Bundestag also has proportional representation. It would work wonders for "third" parties in the US because they would have to be included in legislative politics. This would give them greater influence and hence greater exposure in future elections. The US House of Representatives would be perfect for this role. Simply throw all district Jerrymandering out the window and pool all votes nationally. The problem is not lack of solutions but enactment of methods known to work. The system works well for those in charge, however, so now you're up against a chicken and egg enigma.

Posted by: Sal Sun Jan 4 08:09:40 2004

Preferential voting would also work wonders, but again, you're talking about implementing solutions for the electorate to regain power. The ruling elite are not going to throw their success of subverting representatives away. They have worked so hard at convincing Joe Sixpack that a vote not cast for either of the two major parties is a WASTED vote. Now every yokle is afraid that he might possibly cast his vote for a losing horse. Constructive advice for the US is not, "look, this problem has been solved in some country in such a way." but rather, "the prerequisites for implementing this solution were setup in such a way and this is HOW the ball got rolling."

Posted by: acb Sun Jan 4 15:07:28 2004

If, some years from now, the US has preferential voting and/or proportional representation, how might it have come about? My guess it would have been as a result of public awareness of the limits of the present system and possible alternatives, and a growing popular movement for electoral reform. This will take a while to coalesce, though if it does so at the grass-roots level, there's less risk of media proprietors (who have an investment in the status quo) derailing it.

Posted by: John Sun Jan 4 22:08:00 2004

There is an effort here to promote Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and San Fransico will use it in the coming elections.

Posted by: acb Mon Jan 5 03:09:39 2004

Thanks for that link. Instant runoff voting seems to be similar to the preferential voting in use in lower-house elections in Australia.

Interesting that the FAQ suggests that most opposition to IRV would be from minor parties wanting to hold out for plurality elections (i.e., proportional representation).