Restoring political stability in the US depends on defeating individual Republicans at the ballot box in states. As long as Trump remains at large and the Republican Party remains his instrument, the rest of us who care about the survival of self-government must join together to defeat candidates still loyal to the so-called Republican brand. Continue reading
Election 2020 is the most important election of our lives. It is also the most unusual, because of COVID, because of Trump’s dirty tricks, and because underneath the titanic struggle between Trump and Biden is a creaky, deaf party system that many voters loathe.
The “nationalization” of political campaigns under the direction of an army of political consultants and ad directors has reached the limits of its efficacy. Citizens are tired of slick ad blitzes, tech-only wizardry, and political negativity. They are tired of being reduced to a statistic, tired of being bombarded with impersonal appeals.
In the interstices of all this, something truly extraordinary is happening. Americans are organizing themselves in more authentic and locally appropriate ways. They are mobilizing their friends and families, reaching out through personal networks, developing bloc-specific agendas, hoping to multiply the influence of their constituencies at the polls.
The ideological agenda of the new mobilizers may be a bit vague. They don’t operate at the pleasure of a political party. Their overarching mission is to preach the power of civic engagement to groups underrepresented in the polity. The Minnesota Youth Collective, for instance, asks prospective members to take a pledge to be civically engaged: “Young Minnesotans are the largest voting bloc in the state, and we’re ready to use that power to get things done for our communities. By filling out this quick form, you’re making a commitment to join this fight with us, whatever that means to you.”
Similar groups are springing up all over the country, sometimes banding together to increase their visibility:
Alliance for Youth Action (national consortium)
BLOC: Black Leaders Organizing For Communities (WI)
Engage Miami (FL)
LIT: Leaders Igniting Transformation (WI)
Voces De La Frontera (national)
Voting While Black (national)
These groups could have an unexpectedly large effect on the presidential election, precisely because they are mobilizing communities that the national party system has cynically neglected for years. They lie outside the aegis of the Biden campaign and may be reaching voters whom political polls miss.
“Democrats Are Ignoring the Voters who Could Decide This Election.” (NYT)
“Democrats Belatedly Launch Operation to Share Information on Voters.” (NYT)
“How to Mobilize Rural Progressives.” (Washington Monthly)
“The Trump Campaign Knows Why Obama Won. Do Democrats?” (NYT)
“There Is a Better Way for Democrats to Win in Wisconsin” (NYT)
“Why Mobilizing Black Voters in Michigan Is Key To the Election” (Christian Science Monitor)
Image: “Electioneering in Georgia,”
from this source.
Convince Americans that the two parties are hopelessly broken and obsolete.
Unify everyone in the political universe who objects to Trump.
Restore the broken connection between the people and their federal representatives.
Create an entirely new political party organized around relevant and forward-looking governmental goals.
Neutralize corrupt actors, including all those who lobby or influence elections with money.
Convince disenchanted voters to support a new third party.
Cultivate a new generation of knowledgeable citizens and public-spirited leaders.
Lure decent moderates back into politics.
Turn off the television.
Cultivate national self-love.
Image: Both houses of Congress assembled for President Trump’s first State of the Union address, January 2017.
Have you heard of this? Americans Elect is an online method for nominating and electing a president without the aid of a party. It’s an intriguing if problematic experiment that’s gotten a lot of press this election season. Thomas L Friedman praised it as a well thought-out initiative that could demolish our “two-party duopoly.” As late as last week, an enthusiastic Douglas Schoen of The Daily Beast proclaimed “it’s not too late” for Americans Elect to produce November’s winning ticket. (Wikipedia identifies Mr Schoen as a paid consultant for AE.) Supporters expect AE’s momentum to build in the next few months, as the remaining Republican candidates are winnowed.
The idea of Americans Elect is so seductive. Just visit its website: it’s as simple and pristine as a new Apple computer. With its childlike graphics and cheery colors, it makes politics seem so uncomplicated and straightforward. You will be walked through the steps of political participation. All you need to do is supply your email address (every trust relationship begins with that these days), check a few boxes regarding your political values, fill in the blanks regarding your favorite candidates, and—wah-la!—you have circumvented everything you loathe about the parties and pushed the country one step toward a brighter future. Or have you?
The premise of Americans Elect is that “the voice” of “the people” is being distorted and disregarded, and that the nation will be better off if we eliminate all political intermediaries. Americans Elect aspires to get rid of parties (which it pictures as impeding the rise of the best leaders) by crowd-sourcing the nominating process and the (snakier) task of platform-building. Leave behind the mess of face-to-face politicking! We can achieve a better outcome impersonally, with the aid of quantification and the newest technology. This is the gist of Americans Elect’s appeal.
To my mind, AE’s fails to identify our system’s real demons. We do not need “more democracy.” I’m not sure we even need better leaders. We do need better ideas and a reining-in of excesses in the way political candidates and partisans campaign. In the meantime, Americans Elect is a legitimate expression of frustration: a way for voters to threaten the security of the Democratic and Republican Parties, which have turned into such behemoths that it’s hard to imagine how to supplant them or get them to change. The difficulties of creating a competitive new national party are daunting. It could be done, but it hasn’t—not for the last 150 years.
Nonetheless, isn’t building that party better than embracing the alternative Americans Elect is offering, which is to elect a president dependent on—nobody? Whose only debt is to the electorate, considered abstractly? Parties constrain the executive by placing him or her under obligation to a brokering community. Historically, presidents have been constrained—in a good way—by a large community of peers, who are party statesmen. Americans Elect aims to create an executive untrammeled by any such obligation. “Pick a president, not a party,” its slogan proclaims. This atomized notion of leadership would make the Founding Fathers, who were all members of the political elites of their states, turn in their graves.
Will AE be the wild card of 2012? And what kind of ticket will it field? Despite its non-partisan stance (apolitical, really), Americans Elect must itself become a party or fail. Even as it effects a technological end-run around this eventuality, outside forces require its transformation from the virtual to the real. The process has begun already. The organization has been engaged in a massive signature drive (using paid organizers) so that, once its presidential ticket has been selected, its choice will appear on ballots nationwide. Meanwhile, questions regarding AE’s personnel, financing, field operations, organizational status, and lack of transparency are swirling. No matter how they are resolved, this intriguing experiment forces us to think again about why we need parties and the work we count on the parties to do.