I have been voting since 1970. I have cast my vote idealistically, practically, out of loyalty, and I have, upon occasion, thrown my vote away. I have walked out of a voting booth feeling euphoric, I have walked out of a voting booth feeling I have wasted 30 minutes of my life, and I have walked out of a voting booth feeling soiled and in need of a shower.
Among the voting rationales I have employed: Voting straight ticket for the major party that most closely matches my views; Voting for ideologues in the hope they will pull the government a few degrees in their partisan direction; Voting for the 'Best Man" in any given race regardless of party or ideology; Voting for 3rd party candidates that more closely match my views, and; Voting for the "lesser of two evils". In some races, I have not voted (including a write-in vote for "None of the Above"). None of these stratagems have been particularly satisfying.
I have also been dissatisfied with the results when my candidates have won, and I have been pleasantly surprised by candidates I voted against.
I'd like to think there is a more satisfying way to vote.
In an October 2004 commentary, (coincidently titled the same as this blog), Dick Meyer of CBS made some bad predictions and some interesting observations about the American electorate:
"... The great collective unconscious of the American voter, the invisible hand of the political market, prefers divided government... You can analyze it up and dissect it down. The conclusion is pretty simple: Americans don't trust either political team very much. They haven't for years. Voters don't just want checks and balances; they want full nelsons and sandbags."
Well, the "invisible hand" did not work all that well in 2004, so here is a proposition for 2006 and beyond. What if we make the "invisible hand' visible? What if the "collective unconscious" that prefers divided government, starts making that decision consciously?
Think of it this way. An election is a scale. Pile the large mass of partisan Democrats on one side and the large mass of partisan Republicans on the other, roughly balancing the collective polarized "Partisan Dead Weight" (PDW) that can be relied on to always gets on one side or the other. Then there are some smaller, more mobile weights, that call themselves Independents. However, the reality is that Independents almost always identify more closely with one party or the other, so that when it is crunch time, when it is time to walk in that voting booth, most Independents will decide among the " lesser of two evils" which, by definition, is the party they already identify with. So most Independents are really in that same category of "Partisan Dead Weight". The true Independents tend to cancel each other out, and are not sufficient in number to change an election outcome. This is why there is so little focus in federal elections on wooing Independents. You just don't see it. Not in the advertising. Not in the platforms. Not in the speeches. The Independents just don't matter. That is why John McCain (2008), is wooing the Republican base, as opposed to John McCain (2000), who wooed Independents, and got his head handed to him.
This is also why voting as an unaligned true independent, is just not a very satisfying experience.
So what does change elections? Two things. First and foremost, getting your guys to the polls. Whether they call themselves partisans or independents, they are still your guys. That is the whole story. The Roves and Carvilles understand that. This is why negative advertising works. Fear is the most powerful motivation and if you can drum up enough fear about the opposition, you will motivate more of your guys to show up, and you will tip the scale. They don't bother trying to change votes. Only getting enough Partisan Dead Weight on the scale matters.
But, speaking only for myself, I just don't find voting as dead weight to be a satisfying experience.
Dick Meyer is also dissatisfied. In his recent column "America vs. Third Parties" he bemoans the dearth of meaningful choice with the two parties, and practically begs for another choice.
"Yet we are stuck with the same two parties, ad nauseam... I want a third party right now... I'd support just about any one, provided they had money, buzz and a fighting chance."He is certainly right about this: If you are unhappy with the status quo, a third party movement is the one other thing that can actually change elections. Problem being, third parties affect elections in a negative way, by draining PDW support primarily from one party or another. If they drain evenly, they are irrelevant (see "Libertarian Party"). So Clinton beats Bush(41) because Perot siphons votes from Republicans, and Bush(43) beats Gore, because Nader siphons votes from Democrats. Which is why voting for a third party, is also not a satisfying experience - If you vote for a moderately successful 3rd party, the person you probably deem the greater of two evils wins the election.
I'd like to think there is a more satisfying way to vote.
So lets get back to the proposition. What if this "invisible hand' that prefers divided government becomes visible? What if the "collective unconscious" that prefers divided government, starts making that decision consciously?
The effect would be like a third party. Lets call it the "Dividican" Party (or the "Dividocrats" if you prefer - the 2nd "i" is pronounced "eye" - "Div-eye-dicans"). It could change elections in the same way 3rd parties do, by siphoning partisan support. The beauty of this idea is that this party needs no candidates, no leaders, no platform, no conventions, really none of the trappings of a political party. Dividican party members are voting by objective, not by platform and not out of party loyalty. Party members vote on what politicians actually do (see earlier post: "Thesis: Divided Government is Better Government") as opposed to what politicians say.
How to vote, as a Dividican, in any given federal election, is either obvious, or there is no Dividican party vote. You are voting for Divided Government and the documented benefits of a Divided Government. In 2006, that means you are voting a straight Democratic ticket for Congress. If the Democrats take control of Congress, and it looks like the Democrats will maintain control in 2008, you vote for the Republican candidate for President in 2008. Simple. Easy. Satisfying.
Of course, this only works if we are in a political environment that is highly polarized and evenly split.
So, no problem.
In fact, a nuance of Dividican party membership is recognition that a polarized, partisan, evenly divided electorate is a positive good thing for the party and should be encouraged. This means, that when a Dividican party member is not voting, he/she should be actively working to stir the pot by antagonizing partisans of either (or both) sides. This is good sport, and it permits the Dividican to vent their personal partisan spleen throughout the campaign, knowing they are helping the Divdican party maintain its delicate leverage, by maximizing the size and stability of the Partisan Dead Weight. This venting of the partisan spleen, is also therapeutic and will leave a clear thinking Dividican voter at the poll to make that logical decision to vote for the positive good of divided government.
So, How do you join the Dividican Party?
Just repeat after me: "I am going to vote for divided federal government."
Congratulations and welcome aboard!
Now go antagonize some partisans. Just remember where your loyalties lie come November.
UPDATE: 11-May-06: Dick Meyers is still beating the third party drum with his tongue-in-cheek five step program "A Recipe For 3rd Party Victory". The ingredients: 1) Name it 2) Field a presidiential candidate. 3) Build infrastructure and raise money 4) Field senate candidates 5) Field house candidates.
I dunno. I think my plan is easier. Just Vote Divided.