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You Can’t Make a Rational Electoral Choice, so Stop Trying

Let’s entertain a simple intellectual exercise.  You and I are going to play a game.  Here are the rules:

1) In my left hand I’m holding a $100 bill.
2) In my right hand I’m holding a $50 bill.
3) You can choose which amount you want to take, but…
4) Upon your choosing I reserve the right to instead give you nothing, and the authority to take $20 from you at my discretion.

How do you play the game so that you can come out ahead?

This is the problem with our politics.  To illustrate, and understand that I don’t mean to pick on him at all, this excerpt from one of letsgetitdone’s comments is illustrative of the type written by thousands of people, and can be read everyday in every corner of the internet:

This assumes that the Ds lose the House and Pelosi wins on Tuesday, both good possibilities. It also assumes Pelosi has more good sense than she’s shown in the past two years, when she allowed the Senate to have its way with the House. Anyway, I think a defeat will sober her up and get her angry, and that she won’t care much what O has to say about the desirability of making Ds complicit in cutting SS.

Any sober reader of something like this should see it as nothing but rampant speculation about the internal motives and personality of another person over which you have effectively no influence and no control.  In fact, the author of that statement I’m sure would agree to that characterization. Essentially, a pet theory about the machinations of a stranger.

As we race ever further into the frackas of mid-term elections we’re going to be inundated with headlines of various congressional and gubernatorial races, and what they purportedly mean.  You’ll be pressured by your peers and your own conscience to make tough decisions about where to cast your vote.  Some of you will be admonished for throwing up your hands, and voting outside the major Party duopoly.  Others will be heckled for continuing to support the Parties, despite the evidence that they’re corrupted and unresponsive.

You’ll do your very best to make a rational, educated decision about how to cast your vote.  Here’s the good news, you can’t.

Going back to the comment quoted above, the fact that one cannot assert what Rep. Pelosi will do with any certainty is what leaves us with speculation like this.  Predictions of emotive backlash, insider betrayals, and hopeful powerplays are really all we have to go on, because our form of government is utterly opaque.  This stretches beyond Rep. Pelosi, and beyond Congress.  It’s not opaque because our representatives hide behind closed doors, though they do, and not because they take cues from obfuscated donors and political operatives, though they do that as well.

Our system of government is opaque because we’re not mind-readers, nor truthsayers.  Even when candidates and politicians are out in the open, we can’t determine with certitude where their loyalties lie.  We cannot peer into the head of any candidate for elected office, and determine the veracity, resolve, or intent of their many campaign claims and promises.  It requires thorough checking and cross-checking to find the inconsistencies in words and actions, and even still then we don’t know for certain if the inconsistencies are for good or ill.

We have effectively constructed a form of governance wherein a person can campaign for office as Mahatma Gandhi, and then once elected they can govern as Gengis Khan, and it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle they’re on.  Your only point to demand accountability in such a scenario is to replace them with someone else on a fixed schedule of years, and that someone else can just as easily engage in a ruse identical to their predecessors’.  Rendering your opportunity for accountability moot.  How do you choose, so as to avoid Gengis Khan in the future?  What’s the strategy for success?

This scenario is near and dear to many of us at FDL in the condition and character of the Obama administration.  A campaign clearly run on progressive ideals.  There were even choice historical quotes from Obama’s earliest political career points that attempted to give credibility to his purported progressive ideals.  The result?  He’s ushered into office on a message to the public that could not possibly be more betrayed by his administration’s actions since.

However, it’s important to note that this bait-and-switch isn’t unique to Democrats and liberals.  There were many disaffected conservatives and Republicans who voted for George W. Bush on the pretense of his being anti-nation building, fiscally conservative, compassionate conservative.  They felt as betrayed by Bush as much as many on the left feel betrayed by Obama.  Further, we fully expect this betrayal in some cases for ourselves, but almost unanimously when admonishing the opposition.  How many times have you read disparaging commentary about how the Tea Party candidates are just the GOP dressed up in an astroturf campaign, and that the Tea Party followers are being lied to by the leadership about the perpetrators of the conditions which fuel their populist rage?

The whole thing, all of it, is predicated on a con.  We all know too well just how much of political action is made up by cynical ploys and plays on public ignorance, faith, goodwill and hope.  The con is endemic.

Your only real means of “winning” is not to play the game.  Now I don’t mean this to say that you shouldn’t vote.  Go right ahead and cast your vote.  Just do so with the knowledge that you’re effectively playing roulette when you cast it for a would-be politician.  You’re casting it for their personality, their incentives, their self-interest, their handling of peer pressure, their whims of careerism, etc. etc. etc.  This is why even for a seemingly standup guy like Senator Feingold, a person can make the claim that he’s a stalwart supporter of civil-liberties in the Senate, and others can claim that he really just takes safe protest votes, but caves when it counts.  Given the evidence they’re both perfectly valid arguments to make, and you can’t know which is true, because you’re not Senator Feingold.

The question to ask yourself is, “Why do you even have to care what Russ Feingold says and does?” (or any other politician for that matter)

The FDL movement behind JustSayNow is an excellent example of how you can stop playing a game you can’t make a strategy for winning, and start playing one that you can.  This is what it’s about people.  Making choices for policies, not promises. Putting your time, your energy, and your money into a specific cause, not a personality or guessing at the principles of a total stranger.

You can look at the proposal of Prop 19 today, you can look at the language, you can make a direct decision whether or not you want to support that specific piece of citizen legislation.  You get to decide for yourself, and cast your vote accordingly.  You’re not left just selecting a surrogate with their own interests, flaws, and incentives to draw up some law, pass it amongst their friends in the capitol, and foist it onto you without your direct consent.  So you throw them out for passing it?  You’re already subject to the law, and there’s no guarantee their replacement will do any different.

There’s a lot of talk and tribulation about how to arrest control of our government back from the egomaniacs, the narcissists, and the careerists who fill its ranks today.  The answer to that is more, and more, and more JustSayNow’s.  There are 22 states in this union that have popular initiative and referendum mechanisms.  There are two more that have popular initiative mechanisms only to amend their state constitution, and an additional three that provide popular referendums.  That’s where change is going to come from.  D.C. isn’t going to get any better.  If we want popular reforms, then we need to use popular means to get them.

Politicians are just distractions from the issues, so dump them, and go straight to the source.  Make your own policies.  Make your own proposals.  Put them on the ballot.  Make your state the one you want to live in.  Play a game you can actually build a strategy to win.

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Nathan Aschbacher

Nathan Aschbacher

I'm a business owner in the fields of IT and business strategy, and have a strong interest in solutions-based policy built on empirical evidence, and validated through logical analysis. I am neither right, nor left. I am a functional ideas advocate.