Saturday, April 22, 2006

Duverger's Law

I'm not a political scientist, so Duverger's Law was news to me. From Wikipedia:
Duverger's Law is a principle which asserts that a first-past-the-post election system naturally leads to a two-party system. The discovery of this principle is attributed to Maurice Duverger, a French sociologist who observed the effect and recorded it in several papers published in the 1950s and 1960s. In the course of further research, other political scientists began calling the effect a “law”. It is important to realise Duverger's law suggests a nexus or synthesis between a party system and an electoral system - with a proportional representation (PR) system creating the electoral conditions necessary to foster party development and a FPTP system marginalising many smaller - single issue - political parties.


How and why it occurs

Two-party systems often develop spontaneously when the voting system used for elections discriminates against third or smaller parties, because the number of votes received for a party in a whole country is not directly related to the proportion of seats it receives in the country's assembly/assemblies. While there is sometimes a coincidental relationship between votes cast and seats received in these systems, voters are not assured that their one vote will directly count toward an additional seat. The most widely-used system to have this effect, the simple plurality system (first past the post) often appears to pull systems into encouraging the survival of only two major parties: a third force can break in on the scene (the Labour Party in 20th-century Britain, or the Republican Party in the 19th-century United States, for example) but only at the ultimate expense of a former major party (the Liberal Party in Britain, the Whigs in the USA respectively). The overall system re-stabilizes into two-party mode after a three-party interlude.

Some representation systems - such as those involving a single elected president or a mayor dominating the government - may encourage two-party systems, since ultimately the contest will pit the two most popular candidates against each other.

When constituencies (districts) vote for candidates on the basis of a geographical constituency, all votes for candidates other than the winner count for nothing. This reflects another factor that encourages a two party system: smaller parties often cannot win enough votes in a constituency because they have smaller support and sometimes more scattered support than larger parties. Often a first-past-the-post electoral system and the election of candidates from geographical constituencies (districts) appear together in a single political system: this means that some smaller parties can garner a significant proportional of votes nationally, but receive few constituency seats and thus cannot realistically expect to compete overall on an equal footing with larger country-wide parties.


Spoiler effect

A frequent consequence of Duverger's Law is the spoiler effect, where a third-party candidate takes votes away from one of the two leading candidates. The common desire among voters (including a third-party candidate oneself) to avoid this problem frequently leads to the distortion of tactical voting, in which a race can be won by a candidate who is not comparatively (and proportionally) the most popular.

My very strong feeling is, if liberals or moderates wish to try to force a "three-party interlude", the time to do so is clearly not when an oppressive and authoritarian party is in control of all the major organs of government and has the mainstream media behind it. Under those conditions, such an effort is all but doomed to fail, and can only help the ruling party to remain in power.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 05:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A dangerous idea

Kurt Anderson puts the argument for a "purple party" -- a "third way" party for moderates sick of both the Republicans and the Democrats.
We are people without a party. We open-minded, openhearted moderates are alienated from the two big parties because backward-looking ideologues and p.c. hypocrites are effectively in charge of both. Both are under the sway of old-school clods who consistently default to government intrusion where it doesn’t belong—who want to demonize video-game makers and criminalize abortion and hate speech and flag-burning, who are committed to maintaining the status quos of the public schools and health-care system, and who decline to make the hard choices necessary (such as enacting a high gasoline tax or encouraging nuclear energy) to move the country onto a sustainable energy track. Both line up to reject sensible, carefully negotiated international treaties when there’s too much sacrifice involved and their special-interest sugar daddies object—the Kyoto Protocol for the Republicans, the Central American Free Trade Agreement for the Democrats.

I don't believe Anderson's idea has a ghost of a chance of succeeding, primarily for structural reasons I've outlined here, but also because I believe he badly overstates the number of disaffected moderates who would be available to join such a party.

Not only that, but Anderson really ought to realize that attempting to start such a party at this particular delicate and dangerous moment in time is a very, very bad idea, for the same reason that Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 were bad and dangerous ideas, because the party most likely to be hurt is the Democratic Party, and any even insignificant challenge to the Democrats at this point will most likely result in yet more years of disastrous Republican rule, that's how thin the knife-edge is we're balanced on.

I was not impressed by Nader's "Both parties are the same" argument, and I'm not impressed by Anderson's whining that neither party is a totally centrist one. As I wrote earlier:

It is undeniable that even watered-down and made to serve as best as possible the interests of Big Business, legislation passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Democratic President will more likely be beneficial to ordinary citizens than similar legislation controlled by Republicans.

Sure, I absolutely know that sounds like pretty thin gruel and meager justification for continuing to stay within the Democratic coalition, but it is, nonetheless, true. When the Dems are in power we don't take the powerful strides towards social justice and egalitarianism we would prefer, instead we get mincing half-steps, which is frustrating and annoying as hell. But, on the other hand, when the Republicans are in power, we take no steps at all! In fact, they do their damnedest to roll back the clock and take away the little progress we made in the past.

Anderson's call for a moderate third is not a hard-nosed political idea, it's a sloppy and sentimental one, with little or no chance of success, but a good possibility that it might do enough damage to help keep us under the thumb of the radical authoritarian corporate-controlled anti-humanistic oppressors we're currently suffering under. It's a dunderhead idea, which Anderson should immediately retract and apologize for.

[via The Green Knight]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 04:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The dangerous active/negative President

In a column in 2004, John Dean reported on an analysis by political scientist James David Barber of presidential personalities as a predictor of presidential performance:
Barber has catalogued presidents based on the similarity of their personalities and character traits. His first baseline is to describe them as either "active" or "passive" regarding their work. This he determines by looking at how much energy they invest in the work of the presidency. For example, Lyndon Johnson was a human dynamo; Calvin Coolidge slept eleven hours every night and took naps during the day.

The second baseline for Barber is how presidents react toward their work: "positively" or "negatively." Generally speaking, he seeks to determine if their political experiences are satisfying. To quote Barber, "The idea is this: is he someone who, on the surfaces we can see, gives forth the feeling that he has fun in political life?"

Examples of president who had fun notwithstanding the burdens of power are Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- placing them on the positive side of Barber's typology. No doubt Barber would have found Bill Clinton there as well

-- except perhaps toward the difficult end of his second term.

Barber's four categories are active/positive (Example: FDR), active/negative (Example: Nixon), passive/positive (Example: Reagan) and passive/negative (Example: Jefferson).

It is the active/negative group that is the most troubling.

The Troubles of Active/Negative Presidents

Active/negative types, broadly speaking, are aggressive in pursuing their political and policy aims, yet they get little true emotional reward from undertaking these endeavors.

In addition to Richard Nixon, Barber says Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and Lyndon Johnson were active/negatives -- all presidencies that did not end well.

In his book and his other writings, Barber has noted that for active/negative types that "[l]ife is a hard struggle to achieve and hold power" -- one in which they are "hampered by the condemnations of a perfectionist conscience."

"[A]ctive/negatives pour energy into the political system, but it is energy distorted from within," Barber notes. He found that these presidents are "much taken up with self-concern," and they always want to know if they are "winning or losing, gaining or falling behind."

Active/negative evaluate themselves "with respect to virtue." They view their actions (if not the world) as being good or bad. Their "perfectionistic conscience" provides no room for growth through experience, for they expect themselves to be good at all they undertake. Their ethics result in "denial of self-gratification," for these men see themselves as self-sacrificing rather than self-rewarding. They are "concerned with controlling [their] aggression … reining in [their] anger."

These presidents are capable of generating "tremendous energies for political domination." They are also uniquely stubborn men, who become more rigid and inflexible as they proceed, for they become caught up in their own self-righteousness. And as Barber says, they mask their decisions not to budge, their rigidity, in whatever rhetoric is necessary, so that they can ride the tiger to the end. They also are our most secretive presidents.

Failure by these presidents is predictable because their flawed perceptions are often risky, they are gamblers, and their rigidity can easily plunge the nation into a tragedy. This occurred with Wilson -- whose presidency was marred by a failed peace accord, a disintegrating economy, and refusal to admit the impact of a debilitating stroke. It occurred with Hoover -- who ineffectively presided over the nation's most devastating economic depression. And it also occurred with Lyndon Johnson -- his Vietnam debacle and withdrawal from reelection. Finally, and most obviously, it occurred with Nixon -- forced to resign after Watergate .

With such presidents there is always "the potential for grievous harm," Barber warns, observing that while the nation has survived several such presidents, this is "cold comfort to those individuals and families who suffered for what these Presidents did."

Barber admonishes that when we find ourselves with an active/negative president, we have a situation that cannot be ignored -- for all such presidents are potentially dangerous.

Dean went on to marshall the evidence that Bush is, without a doubt, an active/negative president. Now, in a new column, Dean confirms his findings:

President George W. Bush's presidency is a disaster - one that's still unfolding. [...] [He] has continued to sink lower in his public approval ratings, as the result of a series of events that have sapped the public of confidence in its President, and for which he is directly responsible. This Administration goes through scandals like a compulsive eater does candy bars; the wrapper is barely off one before we've moved on to another.


Bush has never understood what presidential scholar Richard Neustadt discovered many years ago: In a democracy, the only real power the presidency commands is the power to persuade. Presidents have their bully pulpit, and the full attention of the news media, 24/7. In addition, they are given the benefit of the doubt when they go to the American people to ask for their support. But as effective as this power can be, it can be equally devastating when it languishes unused - or when a president pretends not to need to use it, as Bush has done.

Apparently, Bush does not realize that to lead he must continually renew his approval with the public. He is not, as he thinks, the decider. The public is the decider.

Bush is following the classic mistaken pattern of active/negative presidents: As Barber explained, they issue order after order, without public support, until they eventually dissipate the real powers they have -- until "nothing [is] left but the shell of the office." Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all followed this pattern.

Active/negative presidents are risk-takers. (Consider the colossal risk Bush took with the Iraq invasion). And once they have taken a position, they lock on to failed courses of action and insist on rigidly holding steady, even when new facts indicate that flexibility is required.

The source of their rigidity is that they've become emotionally attached to their own positions; to change them, in their minds, would be to change their personal identity, their very essence. That, they are not willing to do at any cost.

Wilson rode his unpopular League of Nations proposal to his ruin; Hoover refused to let the federal government intervene to prevent or lessen a fiscal depression; Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam while misleading Americans (thereby making himself unelectable); and Nixon went down with his bogus defense of Watergate.

George Bush has misled America into a preemptive war in Iraq; he is using terrorism to claim that as Commander-in-Chief, he is above the law; and he refuses to acknowledge that American law prohibits torturing our enemies and warrantlessly wiretapping Americans.

Americans, increasingly, are not buying his justifications for any of these positions. Yet Bush has made no effort to persuade them that his actions are sound, prudent or productive; rather, he takes offense when anyone questions his unilateral powers. He responds as if personally insulted.

And this may be his only option: With Bush's limited rhetorical skills, it would be all but impossible for him to persuade any others than his most loyal supporters of his positions. His single salient virtue - as a campaigner - was the ability to stay on-message. He effectively (though inaccurately) portrayed both Al Gore and John Kerry as wafflers, whereas he found consistency in (over)simplifying the issues. But now, he cannot absorb the fact that his message is not one Americans want to hear - that he is being questioned, severely, and that staying on-message will be his downfall.

Other Presidents - other leaders, generally - have been able to listen to critics relatively impassively, believing that there is nothing personal about a debate about how best to achieve shared goals. Some have even turned detractors into supporters - something it's virtually impossible to imagine Bush doing. But not active/negative presidents. And not likely Bush.


Active/negative presidents -- Barber tells us, and history shows -- are driven, persistent, and emphatic. Barber says their pervasive feeling is "I must."

Barber's collective portrait of Wilson, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon now fits George W. Bush too: "He sees himself as having begun with a high purpose, but as being continually forced to compromise in order to achieve the end state he vaguely envisions," Barber writes. He continues, "Battered from all sides . . . he begins to feel his integrity slipping away from him . . . [and] after enduring all this for longer than any mortal should, he rebels and stands his ground. Masking his decision in whatever rhetoric is necessary, he rides the tiger to the end."

Dean speculates that Bush and Rove are hatching up another "October Surprise" to hijack the November mid-term elections, in which, at this point, the Republicans seem poised to lose what could be a significant nmber of seats. That could tie in to the recent "shake up" and Rove being moved out of a policy job (which was incidental to his true work in any case, except insofar as policy in Bushland is subordinate to winning elections and primarily designed for that purpose) -- perhaps Rove's desk was being cleared so he could concentrate on the October Surprise?

[Thanks to Peggy]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 03:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


W. P. E.

Historian Sean Wilentz, writing in Rolling Stone:
George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.


In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a "failure." Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's "pursuit of disastrous policies." In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton -- a category in which Bush is the only contestant.

The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent. Separate surveys, conducted by those perceived as conservatives as well as liberals, show remarkable unanimity about who the best and worst presidents have been.


Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.


No historian can responsibly predict the future with absolute certainty. There are too many imponderables still to come in the two and a half years left in Bush's presidency to know exactly how it will look in 2009, let alone in 2059. There have been presidents -- Harry Truman was one -- who have left office in seeming disgrace, only to rebound in the estimates of later scholars. But so far the facts are not shaping up propitiously for George W. Bush. He still does his best to deny it. Having waved away the lessons of history in the making of his decisions, the present-minded Bush doesn't seem to be concerned about his place in history. "History. We won't know," he told the journalist Bob Woodward in 2003. "We'll all be dead."

[via Follow Me Here]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 03:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Confirming what's generally well known

Is it really news that being around a sexy woman makes it more difficult for a heterosexual man to think clearly? I wouldn't've thought so. Nice to have the confirmation, though, I guess.

[via A Rational Being]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 03:00:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Half-baked shake-up

Matt Stoller accurately deconstructs the recent so-called "shake up" in the White House staff as a total sham, but in the course of his analysis treats Bush much more respectfully than he deserves:
Bush has a very good campaign mind, but as President he is completely paralyzed by his arrogance, fear, and personal weakness. He likes feeling like he makes big decisions and has 'the vision thing' (as another Bush once put it), so power rests with infighting advisors who tell him what to do in the guise of 'taking care of the details'. All problems are ascribed to as ones of 'communications' as the AM talk radio circuit has been spewing for months, which allows blame to go to the communications staff instead of those with the real power. [...]

This is an awful situation. We have a man frightened to be President clinging desperately to the comforting adults who tell him what to do. These 'adults' happen to be vicious ideologues bent showing the world their manliness no matter how weak they transparently are. In other words, this isn't a real shake-up, because at this point Bush can't shake up the White House staff.

It reminds me of a punch-drunk boxer, who is standing because his legs are working and who won't go down because the connection between his legs and his brain is temporarily gone. It's an extremely dangerous situation for the world right now, with the 'fake shake-up' as PR gloss for what really is rearranging deck chairs on the Titannic.

Now, to be clear, a shake-up can happen, but it won't happen until November, 2006. That's when the American people can pick new leadership in Congress and force this weakened Presidency to change course.
What Stoller says about the nature of the "shake up" is certainly true, and the picture he paints of a weakened and frightened man in the White House is chilling, but he absurdly credits Bush for Rove's ability to shape effective campaigns, and, worse, he absolves Bush of some of the responsibility for his administration's decisions and policies, by making it appear that he's simply a puppet for his advisors. That may be the case to some extent, but the puppeteers can't make their dummy do anything he wasn't inclined to do in the first place. He's dangerous because he's weak and he's stupid and he's in power, but like many weak and stupid people he believes what he believes and can't be made to believe anything differently, because he knows it's the truth.

If there was a true shake up, with new people coming in, Bush's policies afterwards would look very much like his policies before it, because his policies actually do reflect what he wants to do.

So a Democratic take-over in the Congress would be extremely unlikely to "force" Bush to change his course -- he'd still try to do what he wants to do. What can be done until we re-take the White House is to more effectively block his intentions, and perhaps do some minor clipping, nipping and tucking around the edges of policy, but no Democratic legislative body is going to tell George W. Bush what to do, that's for damn sure.

[Adapted from a comment on MyDD]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 02:32:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


10 little words, one big message

[updated below]

On MyDD there are two posts (here and here) looking for a 10 word slogan, an "elevator pitch" to sell the Democratic party to the everyday voter.

From the articles and the comments, here are some of the attempts that I found interesting:
  • Effective, honest government, serving the needs of all its citizens.
    (Matt, O Fallon, MO)

  • Equal opportunities, better lives, and honest government for all Americans.
    (Rob, Decorah, IA)

  • The Democratic Party- Tackling problems and finding practical solutions.
    (Don, Letts, IA)

  • Leadership that will restore the American Dream to all Americans.
    (Bill, Stewartstown, PA)

    [I prefer Ephus' simpler restatement of this: Restoring the American Dream.]

  • Common sense for the common good.
    (Jason, Chicago, IL; Brenda, Wakefield, RI; and Robert, Timonium, MD)

    [Or this variation by Mimikatz: Common sense solutions for the common good.]

  • A better life for all.
    (UK Labor Party; weatherunderground)

  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people.
    (Abraham Lincoln; hellenica)

  • Broad prosperity, practical government, free expression, common good, better future.
    (Chris Bowers, MyDD)

  • Fairness, progress and prosperity.
    (Ted Kennedy [?]; Jimbob Kinnikin)

  • Liberty and justice for all.
    (Pledge of Allegiance; slb36cornell)

  • Real Security, Honest Government, Individual Rights and the Common Good.
    (js noble)

  • Working with everyone for everyone.
    (Lucas O'Connor)

I like Fairness, progress and prosperity, but I'm tempted to extend it somewhat to Fairness, progress and prosperity for everyone, and the world's trust [respect?].

I do think that the concept of inclusiveness ought to be in there (as it is in several of the suggestions above), something like Nobody left out or All for one and one for all (if that's not too terribly hokey), or We're all in this together.


Fairness, progress and prosperity, because we're all in this together.

Update: From Georgia10 on Daily Kos

If you haven't noticed, Democrats have been making a concerted effort to explain in plain and simple terms what Democrats stand for. Yes, Democrats have finally trained themselves to drop the clause-laden, inaccessible rhetoric of the past, and are beginning to embrace a much more effective method of educating voters about the Democratic Party.


Six points, five points, seven points, ten points--the general idea is that Democrats are taking affirmative steps to shatter the myth that "Democrats don't have any ideas."

We don't need a "Contract with America." We don't need to think of new ideas. We are a party full of ideas, and we're finally able to express them in a concise and confident manner to the American people.

Examples are given from Howard Dean, Rahm Emanuel and John Kerry.

As far as the "10 words" go, I think what's needed is something more than a slogan, which can feel like just another advertising tagline to consumers drowning in taglines already, and something less than a laundry list of policies, no matter how artfully and succinctly worded.

On the other hand, slogans like "New Deal" (FDR), "Fair Deal" (Truman), "New Frontier" (JFK) and "The Great Society" (LBJ) did yeoman's work at helping to convince people that government intervention in their lives wasn't necessarily a bad thing. (Gerald Ford's "Whip Inflation Now" (WIN) was a loser, as was Jimmy Carter's "A New Malaise With Lust in Its Heart".)

I'm working on a new campaign slogan for '06 or '08 (depending on the development time -- you can't rush these things), something on the order of "Republicans, French Philosophers and Intelligent Design Creationists Support Relativistic Postmodernism," but with the kinks worked out a little.

Update: Armando has more, here, too, where he talks about the return of the concept of "The Common Good" (which is reflected in many of the entries above). I think this is related to a necessary revival of the idea of "Enlightened Self-Interest", as I discussed a while back.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/22/2006 12:28:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, April 21, 2006

Just a thought

May I suggest a New Year's resolution for the American voter for 2008?
No more dry-drunk religious fanatics in the White House.

Especially when they're intellectually challenged and emotionally unstable. Seems sensible, no?

Billmon's got some of the reasons why.

P.S. Assuming, of course, that we survive until 2008. The possibility seems somewhat stronger these days that we might not.

Update In The March of Folly, historian Barbara W. Tuchman quotes Count Axel Oxenstierna, Chancellor of Sweden during the Thirty Years War:

Know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is goverened.

I'll pop my clonazepam to that.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/21/2006 09:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


My little fantasy

I was fantasizing just now about the possibility that mainstream journalists might actually take a look around at the world as it exists and report what they see, instead of running everything through their internal Politic-o-Meters and framing everything as "he said/she said" partisan bickering.

The NY Times today said that the Democrats would probably use the high price of gasoline as a campaign issue -- a brilliant piece of political analysis. I suppose the Dems will also stoop to harping on the debacle in Iraq, the corruption of the Republican party, the torpid state of the economy, the growing chasm between the rich and the poor, and the general incompetence of the Bush administration as well. All of which means (to the mind of the contemporary political journalist, anyway) that none of the those things has any independent validity, they're all just political ploys.

Post-modernism really has a lot to answer for.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/21/2006 12:47:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The joke's on us

Unfortunately (for me, anyway, and for anyone expecting this weblog to publish entries at a fairly consistent rate), I'm finding it harder and harder to see as funny the mind-lock that unreality has on the people who control much of our lives. Not that it's not funny, and deserving (well-deserving) of being satired, I just can't find it in me to laugh anymore, no matter how ludicrous their misperceptions become. These are the people who run everything, how can they live in an alternative reality that bears little relation to the one in which you and I and the remainder of the civilized world exist? It goes so far beyond mere "disagreement about policy" or even "disparity in goals" (although those things come into effect too) that I begin to worry if certain chemicals weren't put into the drinking water when nobody was looking.

What, exactly, was in the Kool Aid that these people drank?

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/21/2006 12:49:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Aiming low... er... high

Here's a slightly risque change of pace: the worlds most phallic building contest.

And the winner is:

"The watertower of Ypsilanti, Michigan!
Called 'the brick dick' by locals, this building is clearly the world's most phallic."

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/19/2006 10:57:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Religion, USA

There's an interesting series of maps here which show the distribution of religious affiliation within the US. The maps are based on data collected by the Catholic Glenmary Research Center for its publication Religious Congregations and Membership in the United States, 2000, and on US Census Bureau population figures.

I'm not at all certain about the accuracy of these findings: is the Western US really so unreligious as the first map shows, or is it a function (as speculated here) of ignoring Native American religious beliefs? Or perhaps some other systemic bias is influencing the results?

And is the Catholic Church really so pervasive as shown by the second map? I find the results surprising.

[via Follow Me Here and Regions of Mind]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/19/2006 06:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Staying in

[updated below]

The problem keeps popping up in the online liberal/left community: Should we stay within the Democratic party? How far do we allow the party to move to the right without protesting it? Are we pulling the party too far to the left, to the detriment of its general success, as if often claimed by the Republicans and the media? Can we trust the Democratic party to represent our point of view?

As I see it, it's really not so much a matter of trust, it's a matter of the realities of power and how it's manifested in the way our political system is structured.

Our non-Parliamentary political structure allows for only two major political parties at any one time, generally a center-right one and a center-left one. When one party moves too far to one side, as the Democrats arguably may have done in the 70's, and which the Republicans have, without a doubt, done now, the other party must act to take up those that have been left behind by the shift. That means that the hope for the Democratic party is to become generally more centrist, not to become more liberal -- it's the only reasonable way for the party to get back into power.

(But hear me out -- "centrist" does not mean conservative, nor does it mean right-wing, nor is it centrism to acquiesce to abuses of power. In point of fact, the central assumptions of American politics are decidedly liberal ones, so centrists can and should be our allies in the vast majority of our battles against the right wing. Within Left Blogistan, for instance, the widely respected Josh Marshall is essentially a centrist, as is the unfairly maligned Kevin Drum.)

Because our major parties are by definition coalitions between groups with somewhat conflicting priorities, having the Democratic party as a whole broaden its focus somewhat to attract more centrists doesn't mean that it necessarily should lose people at the left end at the same time -- it's an expansion that's required, not a shift. If liberals keep the pressure up on the party, hold their feet to the fire, liberal principles won't be abandoned when the time comes to negotiate between the various conflicting interesting inside the party, but if liberals abandon the party over a perceived shift to the right, that weakens the liberal part of the coalition and reduce the need for others within the alliance to serve the liberal agenda.

Looking askance at the Democratic party because it necessarily will include more centrists is therefore self-defeating for liberals, since no purely liberal party can survive in our system, and no more than two major parties can exist at any one time. (This will ultimately be the reason why the Republican party will not stay so far into the right-wing forever. They will eventually need to re-establish some centrist elements, or else they will disintegrate as a party, leaving room for a new center-right coalition party to take over.)

The Democrats are our only recourse within our system as it exists. During those times when the Democrats are strongly ensconced in power, we can occasionally attempt to influence them via leftist third parties, but the function of those parties (in our system as constituted) is entirely to act as a goad -- they are essentially blackmail to the center-left party saying: you need to pay us more attention, or we'll withdraw our support. That only works, however, with the Democrats firmly in power, when there's less chance of the Republicans taking over (this was Nader and the Green's fundamental mistake and misunderstanding in 2000) -- when the other party is in power, as it certainly the case now, then liberal influence can only be usefully wielded from within the party's Big Tent.

There's also the disturbing fact that the other potential centers of power which should be acting as a break against Bush & Company are, like Congress, in the hands of the right: the Supreme Court and the Press. (The power of the collective individual states is another power center, but it's pretty evenly divided at this time between the parties. There is some hope because Republicans in state-wide offices are necessarily more cognizant of the realities of the world and therefore don't get so lost in ideological fantasies. They may start to act as something of a counter to the wildness of the national Republicans and their supporters, but that hasn't been the case so far.)

The only potential weapon to be wielded against the Republicans from outside the system, is Public Opinion, which is why the liberal blogs are so important, not because they themselves carry much weight, but because they allow liberal response to coalesce around specific issues and concerns, which then serves as the nugget around which Public Opinion can grow.

The sum total of that is that we're in an extremely dangerous situation, as I'm sure everyone on the left understands. We're not only in the grips of the party which represents corporate power, that party is profoundly corrupt as well.

The objection can be made that the Democratic party is also strongly influenced by the needs and desires of corporations, and that the party is also corrupted by corporate money. It's undoubtedly true that the tendrils of the culture of corruption go pretty much everywhere, and there's no doubt that corporate power is pervasive in our system but, on the whole, weighing every aspect of it, it still remains true that the corporate will is more directly and consistently served by politicians of the Republican party then by those of the Democratic party.

It is undeniable that even watered-down and made to serve as best as possible the interests of Big Business, legislation passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Democratic President will more likely be beneficial to ordinary citizens than similar legislation controlled by Republicans.

Sure, I absolutely know that sounds like pretty thin gruel and meager justification for continuing to stay within the Democratic coalition, but it is, nonetheless, true. When the Dems are in power we don't take the powerful strides towards social justice and egalitarianism we would prefer, instead we get mincing half-steps, which is frustrating and annoying as hell. But, on the other hand, when the Republicans are in power, we take no steps at all! In fact, they do their damnedest to roll back the clock and take away the little progress we made in the past.

Given our circumstances, given the reality of globalization and the thoroughly entrenched existence of the big corporations, and given the structural political situation laid down by the Constitution, there may be little choice for us but to fight like hell to get a half a loaf, because the alternative is no loaf at all, and perhaps no water to go with it as well. That's, as I said, damn frustrating when we all know that a whole loaf would do a hell of a lot of good, but we have to fight for what we can get now and when the situation changes, fight then for what we can get at that time, which will be different, and perhaps will be more, it depends.

We need to stay strongly connected to the Democratic party in order to preserve the possibility that the party stands for basic liberal principles of governance and social policy. Opening up the Big Tent to more centrists shouldn't threaten that, but it might if liberals abandon the party out of frustration and annoyance and don't stay on to anchor our end of the coalition. That really should be our bottom line, that the Party stands for those liberal principles, even if the Party's politicians don't quite manage to live up to them. What we shouldn't expect is for an expanded Party, with more centrists on board, to necessarily support every plank of the current liberal agenda, as opposed to basic liberal principles. The agenda is something we work for within the party, as a matter of compromise between factions, but the principles are what should be inviolate. To insure that's the case, we have to stick around.

So, my advice to all of us who have been put off by the unwillingness of the Democrats in power to actively fight against the abuses of the current regime -- is to suck it up and support them anyway, but to keep pressing them to stand up for what is right. The time to deal with the slackers within the party is not now, when every Democratic vote is vitally needed, but after a Democratic resurgence (assuming that can be pulled off, which is not a foregone conclusion given the generally poor record of mainstream Democratic political operatives). That's when the billl will come due and certain Democrats will learn the cost of their fecklessness -- that's why I keep lists on my weblog of those who have voted against our vital interests.

(Of course, there are always outliers who may be plucked off, which is why I'm supporting Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman in Connecticut -- but as has often been said, Lieberman's essential sin is not being too conservative, it's being disloyal and too willing to suck up to Bush.)

Update (4/21): Digby, riffing on Michael Tomasky, has better, more sophisticated thoughts on this subject than mine.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/19/2006 06:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Another oldie but goodie

Have you ever noticed that when you're driving, anyone going slower than you is an idiot? And anyone going faster than you is a maniac?
George Carlin
Napalm & Silly Putty (2001)

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/19/2006 06:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

Martin van Creveld - The Rise and Decline of the State

Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
bush & company are...
class warriors
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Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
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Roy Moore
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Richard Perle
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