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It’s the System, Stupid!

A few days ago I posted a story about Hillary Clinton (told by Elizabeth Warren) about how after becoming a Senator, Clinton voted for something that she fought hard against before that. Go watch that video if you have not already.

And now, we have a similar story from the other side of the aisle. Senator John McCain voted against overturning the Citizens United ruling that gave corporations and unions the right to spend infinite amounts of money in political campaigns. This is hypocritical because when the Supreme Court decision was announced, McCain denounced it as the Supreme Court’s “worst decision ever” and blasted the court for demonstrating “a combination of arrogance, naivete, and stupidity, the likes of which I have never seen.”

McCain is well known as a promoter of campaign finance reform, including the McCain-Feingold Act.

McCain’s office claims that the reason he voted against it is because it had no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. And he has a point. It is clear the the main reason the Democrats introduced this bill was so they could use it as an election issue to keep control of the Senate. They knew it had no chance of passing the House.

But that just begs the question, why would Republicans refuse to vote against campaign finance reform? McCain himself is evidence that there are influential Republicans who support reform. But unfortunately in today’s gridlocked political world it has become a partisan issue.

Which to me brings up the real point. Both Clinton and McCain are evidence that the problem is not people, it is the system. And indeed, both show that we need to find some way to reduce the influence of money in politics. And there are definitely ways to do this without compromising the right to free speech. One way would be to require the disclosure of every person and organization who donates money for political ads. We need more transparency.

We also need to slow down the revolving door between politics and business. Otherwise, our representatives will only represent their future (or past) employers.

And finally, we absolutely need to reduce the power of political parties. A very good way to do this, which is already working in a few states is nonpartisan primaries (also sometimes called open primaries), where all candidates appear on the same ballot and the two highest voted candidates proceed to the regular election, which is actually acts as a runoff election.

I think it is absolutely crazy that we have partisan primaries, which are paid for by the taxpayers. It is insane that I am not allowed to vote in a taxpayer-funded primary election that may well determine who becomes my representative (or even president) unless I register as a member of that party. The constitution gives me the right to vote for my representatives.

You would think that even Republicans would be in favor of nonpartisan primaries, since it is well known that current Republican primaries end up being a race to embrace the lunatic fringe. Candidates are forced to go so far to the right in the primary that they often become unelectable in the general election. I’ve seen the same thing happen in Democratic primaries too, although not to the extent seen in recent Republican primaries.

Another thing that needs to be done is to take redistricting out of the hands of the political parties. Stop gerrymandering now.



  1. Michael wrote:

    “You would think that even Republicans would be in favor of nonpartisan primaries, since it is well known that current Republican primaries end up being a race to embrace the lunatic fringe.” This seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, with Obama’s election being a major factor. I wonder how long it will continue.

    Regarding gerrymandering, there’s one thing that I often find ironic: People often scream at exactly the wrong party. (Not saying that’s the case with you, IK, but I’ve seen it happen often.) The point that’s often missed is that the goal of gerrymandering is NOT to create a safe district for your party that you’ll never lose (see IL-4 for a perfect example). The point is actually to create a district that is safe for the OTHER party. What you are trying to do is to remove those voters from other, competitive districts and lump them into a race you know you don’t have a chance in. So, generally, when you see a district that always votes 90% for one party, that district was probably created by the opposite party.

    Also, toss in my normal argument for proportional representation. Eliminate the notion of districts entirely and award seats based on the proportion of the state vote. This system also rewards third parties, because if you can get some minimum number (often 5%) from across the state, your party is guaranteed a seat. But 5% across the state is never enough to win a seat when there are districts involved.

    Friday, September 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  2. Patricia wrote:

    Interestingly, I remember more than one teacher in high school Am. History and Civics pointing out that gerrymandering was a dangerous but sometimes necessary function. Too bad I graduated fifty years ago!

    Friday, September 12, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  3. PatriotSGT wrote:

    To add to the debate, if you live in a blue state (like me) they gerrymander the red out of relevancy. So I’d fully expect the same thing to occur in a red state.

    IMO, our system while messy, frustrating and prickly works exactly as it should and was intended to be. Since before our founding it has been a contentious and fiercely debated beautiful beast designed to give rise to democracy and keep dictatorships and power monopolies out of office. Ain’t it wonderful!

    Monday, September 15, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink