Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review of The Centrist Manifesto by Charles Wheelan and a Meditation on Third Party Politics in America

The Centrist Manifesto by Charles WheelanCharles Wheelan is the latest in a long line of would-be political reformers who have looked at the two party duopoly in the United States, found it wanting, and proposed the creation of a new third party as the solution. He outlines his strategy for a Centrist Party in his 2013 book  The Centrist Manifesto and continues to beat the drum on his website/blog The Centrist Project.

There is much to like in Wheelan's Centrist Manifesto. First and foremost, he does not fall into the usual trap befalling most third party fantasists - challenging the Republican/Democrat duopoly by running a candidate for President of the United States as a means to popularize and organize the party. Wheelan notes some of the historical challenges facing third parties:
"Conventional wisdom suggests that the American political system is hostile to all third parties. That is wrong. The system is hostile to third parties emerging from the political fringe—the Green Party, for example. These parties do not win elections because they represent relatively small, deeply ideological segments of the population. In fact, they often have a counterproductive effect. Ralph Nader almost certainly cost Al Gore the election in 2000, the pathetic irony being that the Green Party he was supposedly representing ended up worse off as a result of his campaign. When these fringe parties appear, potential supporters must choose between making noise and making a difference." - Charles Wheelan - The Centrist Manifesto (p. 25) - Kindle Edition 
True enough, as far as he goes, but Wheelan does not quite connect the dots on just how truly hostile the American political system is to third party efforts. In particular, he fails to note the pointless futility of third party presidential campaigns. If third party presidential efforts are not completely irrelevant, it's only because of their potential to be spoilers.

Most recently, the 2012 Americans Elect and 2008 Unity08 efforts (generally acknowledged to be stealth Michael Bloomberg for President vehicles), hoped to trade on the same frustrations over our "broken" political process identified by Wheelan to put a new third party candidate for president on the ballot in all 50 states. They never got any real traction.  As further noted by Wheelan, Ralph Nader's failed 2000 Green Party presidential run undoubtedly spoiled Al Gore's efforts and elected George W. Bush. Ross Perot garnered 19% of the popular vote in 1992 and succeeded only in helping elect Bill Clinton. In 1968 George Wallace arguably siphoned enough popular and electoral votes from Democrat Hubert Humphrey to give Richard Nixon the White House.

Third party Presidential campaigns that do not asymmetrically impact enough votes to spoil the election for one of the two major party candidates are simply exercises in irrelevance. Count John Anderson's 1980 campaign and Ron Paul's 1988 Libertarian Party runs among them. Ron Paul is a particularly interesting case as he ran for President both as the Libertarian Party nominee and in primary campaigns to secure the Republican Party nomination. While all his efforts failed, there is little doubt that Paul's impact on American politics was much greater in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the Republican nomination than his third party effort heading the Libertarian Party ticket.  It is instructive to note that in recent cycles the Libertarian Party presidential candidates have actively embraced the spoiler label.  Presumably it's better to be a spoiler than completely irrelevant.

To fully appreciate just how hopeless third party presidential runs are in American politics, consider the 1912 Bull Moose campaign of Teddy Roosevelt. In Teddy Roosevelt we had a highly qualified, wildly popular ex-president who also served as Vice-President, Governor of New York, and Secretary of the Navy. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner,  a true war hero, and Congressional Medal of Honor winner. He championed a platform rooted in the same populist, centrist politics that is the very essence of Charles Wheelan's Centrist Party strategy.  And what was the result?  He garnered 27% of the popular vote, handily beat the Republican Party candidate in both popular and electoral votes, but nevertheless succeeded only in splitting Republican Party votes and ensuring the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  The Bull Moose Party lasted exactly one election cycle. Ultimately, like Ralph Nader and Ross Perot,  Teddy Roosevelt's impact was nothing more than just another spoiler who sabotaged the major party candidate closer to their own political position. If Teddy Roosevelt could not get elected President on a third party ticket in the United States, no one can.

While Wheelan does not specifically mention the historical futility of running a third party presidential campaign, he clearly understands that it is a path that leads to failure. His third party strategy neatly sidesteps this political land mine by simply not focusing on the Presidential race.
"The Centrist electoral strategy revolves around the U.S. Senate. The party will focus on winning a handful of U.S. Senate seats in states where moderate candidates traditionally do well. With a mere four or five U.S. Senate seats, the Centrists can deny either traditional party a majority. At that point, the Centrists would be America’s power brokers. Nothing could happen without those swing votes. And when those swing votes represent sensible, moderate voters— rather than the non-compromising extremists of the Left and Right—good things can start happening again. The Centrist Party will organize the vast American middle into a political movement built around sensible governance. It is more feasible than you might think." - The Centrist Manifesto (pp. 12-13) - Kindle Edition.  
"Angus King was elected to the Senate from Maine in 2012 as a moderate independent. Consider him Centrist number one. Senator King will caucus with the Democrats , but he has stated that he hopes to be a bipartisan bridge builder. We need to give Angus some more Centrist buddies in the Senate. Once the Centrists control four or five U.S. Senate seats, the party will hold the swing votes necessary for either the Republicans or the Democrats (including the president) to do anything. The Centrists would be the gatekeepers for the entire federal government... The Centrists would be a small, disproportionately powerful bloc demanding what most Americans are asking for. The Centrist Party could use its fulcrum of power in the U.S. Senate to force Republicans and Democrats to come to sensible compromises on important issues." - The Centrist Manifesto (pp. 122-123) - Kindle Edition
This is the core concept of The Centrist Manifesto and what Wheelan calls "The Big Idea". It is, in fact, a big idea because it is a third party strategy that can work.  Unlike the Presidency, Independents like Angus King can and do get elected to the Senate in the United States. The modest goal of electing a handful of Senators who will act as a swing vote to moderate and broker the legislative agenda for the federal government is reasonable.  Yes, It's still an extraordinarily difficult task. It still entails soliciting massive funding and creating all of the infrastructure of a national political party. It still entails convincing a significant voting block to organize around Centrist Party principles and identify as Centrist Party members. It still entails recruiting serious candidates of national stature to run under the Centrist Party banner.  It's still an extreme long shot.  But it could work.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dividist "10" - Senate Update
Angus King Edition

The Dividist "10" - Starring Angus King
With apologies to "10" and Angus King.  
Maine Independent Senator Angus King opened the door to potentially switching teams after the midterm results are in (H/T Doug Mataconis):
By Alexander Bolton 

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, will decide after the midterm elections whether to switch sides and join the Republicans. He is leaving open the possibility of aligning himself with the GOP if control of the upper chamber changes hands.  “I’ll make my decision at the time based on what I think is best for Maine,” King told The Hill Wednesday after voting with Republicans to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, a measure at the center for the 2014 Democratic campaign agenda. King’s remarks are a clear indication that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle will have to woo the 70-year-old senator in order to recruit him to their side.

That lobbying battle could be especially intense if King’s decision determines which party will control the chamber in the next Congress  If Republicans pick up six seats this fall, they will be running the Senate in 2015. But a pickup of five would produce a 50-50 split and Democratic control, with Vice President Biden breaking the tie. King could tip the balance..."
Where have I read this before? Oh yeah. It was me:

Friday, April 04, 2014

Friday Flotsam - Divide (the government) And Conquer (the deficit) Edition

Time once again for the Dividist to stroll down our metaphorical beach and take note of the detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered this little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean.

With the midterm election on the horizon, the looming reality of divided government continuing indefinitely into the future is beginning to sink in for partisans and independents alike.  While beachcombing, we stumbled across a few shiny bits of divided government flotsam we previously overlooked. Submitted for your reading enjoyment...

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

On the inevitability of divided government and the emergence of parliament envy.

The dawn of divided government.

Political pundits, columnists, bloggers and others of that ilk are coming to terms with the realization we will have divided federal government for the foreseeable future.

The Dividist is, of course, delighted by this prospect. We find divided government to be the last best hope for limiting bad legislation, containing explosive growth in federal government spending, protecting civil liberties, and moving incrementally toward other preferred policy objectives. Or, at least, moving away from them at a slower pace than under unified one party rule. But not everyone is so sanguine about this state of affairs.

Many Republicans have yet to work through the stages of grief over the 2012 election outcome. They are still in denial and angry over failing to take the White House and Senate and restoring the glory days of One Party Republican Rule from '03 - '06.

During the government shutdown last fall, Democrats bought into the delusion that they could sweep the discredited Republicans from the House in the 2014 midterms and restore the era of One Party Democratic Rule, much as they enjoyed during the first two years of President Obama's administration. They are only now coming to terms with the realization that, not only is the House majority a virtual lock for Republicans, but there is a very real probability that Democrats will also lose majority control of the Senate.

The range of reactions to the inevitability of continuing divided government are instructive and, dare I say - offers a teachable moment.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Return of The Dividist "10"
Wherein we disagree with Nate Silver.
Sort of.

With apologies to "10" 

Note to Pundits: It's Still 2014
With all the speculation about the 2016 presidential election prospects of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Elizabeth WarrenChris Christie, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, et. al. ad infinitum, something important has been overlooked. We have a very important election in 2014.  Nate Silver informs us that majority control of the Senate hangs in the balance:
FiveThirtyEight Senate Forecast: GOP Is Slight Favorite in Race for Senate Control 
"When FiveThirtyEight last issued a U.S. Senate forecast — way back in July — we concluded the race for Senate control was a toss-up. That was a little ahead of the conventional wisdom at the time, which characterized the Democrats as vulnerable but more likely than not to retain the chamber.  Our new forecast goes a half-step further: We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber. The Democrats’ position has deteriorated somewhat since last summer, with President Obama’s approval ratings down to 42 or 43 percent from an average of about 45 percent before. Furthermore, as compared with 2010 or 2012, the GOP has done a better job of recruiting credible candidates, with some exceptions."
Given we are still early in the primary season... Given the Republican penchant for nominating clown candidates in winnable Senate races...  Given the hole the Republicans dug for themselves in the Senate in 2012... the Dividist is a bit dubious of Nate Silver's prediction.  We'll come back to that. But first, let's consider one 2014 outcome that is not at risk in any meaningful way - the continuing status quo of our happily divided government.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

That wasn't Vladimir Putin's first tweet. This is Vladimir Putin's first tweet: "...good intentions cannot justify the violation of international law and state sovereignty."

Putin Russian Twitter Account Profile
This week twitter released a new service to view anyone's first tweet. Vladimir Putin's first tweet garnered a lot of attention. Sent in November 2012 it commemorated the occasion of President Obama's reelection:
Vladimir Putin's first English tweet

The tweet was characterized in MSM and blogs as ironic and an indication of how badly relations have degraded in subsequent years. Examples include WaPo, NBC, CBS, The Independent, TPMHuffington Post, etc, etc, etc. I'm not sure how truly "ironic" that tweet is. Certainly banal. Probably perfunctory. Maybe sarcastic. But not ironic.

Regardless, there is a bigger problem with the the reporting on that tweet. Despite the media assertions, that was not Vladimir Putin's first tweet.  Not even close. That was Vladimir Putin's first tweet from his English language twitter account.  Vladimir Putin's actual first tweet was sent from his Russian language twitter account over 10 months earlier in January 2012. Vladimir Putin is, after all, a Russian.

This was Vladimir Putin's actual first tweet, and it is one hell of a lot more interesting than the pablum with which he inaugurated his English language twitter account:
Putins 1st Russian tweet

Friday, March 21, 2014

Crimea is like Texas. Or something.

 Russian Crimea like Mexican Texas? 

She takes the long way around with a comparison to Texas, but a smart take from Rachel Maddow making a very good point about the repercussions of Putin's annexation of Crimea on Ukraine, Russia and the West. We recognize her very good point as insightful,  since it is the exact same point we made three weeks ago.

Maddow 3/19:

Monday, March 03, 2014

Three Soviet stooges and why Ukraine may be better off without Crimea.

The Soviet Stooges  - Joseph, Nikita and Vladimir
Anyone with a passing interest in the "the most seismic geopolitical event since 9/11", learned quite a bit about Ukraine, Crimea, and Russia over the weekend.  In particular we learned how three Soviet stooges have done enormous damage to the small semi-autonomous region of Crimea over the last 75 years. The most recent destabilizing damage was just inflicted on the region by Vladimir Putin (stooge "Larry"). Yeah, I know - The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is long gone so, strictly speaking, Putin is not a "Soviet" stooge. He just plays one on the world stage.  Here is the stage where we find him performing his schtick today:

The important part of this map is that brown bit hanging out the back end of Ukraine. That is Crimea, the region of Ukraine recently annexed by Russia. You'll note it is the only part of Ukraine shaded brown - i.e. Crimea is the only region of Ukraine with a majority ethnic Russian population.  Among the Crimean population not ethnic Russian, are the original inhabitants of the region - the Crimean Tatars. The history of why this region has a majority ethnic Russian population and why it is (was?) part of Ukraine is an important story. To understand that story, we need to go back to our Soviet stooges.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Choosing Sides in the Immigration "GOP Civil War" (Spoiler Alert - I'm with Will)

Grandma and Grandpa Dividist
Apparently there is a "civil war" in the GOP over the issue of immigration reform. George Will has chosen sides. In a recent WaPo column, he carefully, deliberately, logically, demolishes GOP arguments against doing comprehensive immigration reform now: