Saturday, July 09, 2016

The right of nomination is real, but it's been co-opted by party politics

More than a year ago, I wrote about the right of nomination and how it has been captured by the top 0.05%. I believe that someone has discovered how this happened. Over the last 116 years, American politics adopted and used a primary election system for nomination of candidates to run for office. The primary is then followed by a general election to decide the winner between parties just as we do now. I believe that the primary and convention process of selecting a nominee that we have now is, by design, a way to keep power in the hands of the 1%.

I got this idea after reading "Sanders Supporters: Check Out This Amazing Piece of American History for a Path You Might Take, by David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This is the story of the Non-Partisan League and how they came to power. In the following excerpt, let me show you what caught my eye:
To gain power the NPL relied on a political tool born of the Progressive movement: the political primary. To make government more responsive and transparent, Progressives urged states to bypass political conventions, political bosses and backroom deals and adopt direct primaries. By 1916, 25 of the 48 U.S. states had adopted the primary as the vehicle for nominating political candidates.
The primary system gave people the power to elect candidates of their political party, but the key to the remarkable political revolution that swept through North Dakota was its adoption, in 1908, of an “open primary” law that allowed anyone to vote in a party’s primary even if unaffiliated with that party.
Hmm. What's that you say? An open and direct primary where anyone could vote for any candidate of any party in a primary election? What a novel concept.

The Non Partisan League was an organization dedicated to program based politics rather than party based politics. To put it differently, they focused on the issues rather than the party or personality. This is an important distinction that is often drawn by Senator Bernie Sanders, a man who, despite what the mainstream press may tell you, is still running for president.

As Morris puts it, the NPL was "a movement for an American-style decentralized, anti-corporate, democratic socialism." That sounds very much like what Bernie Sanders is attempting to start. Morris has detailed the tools used by the NPL to gain power and transform the local economy of North Dakota. The changes made by North Dakota allow their citizens to act more like a state than a colony. Yes, dear reader, today as you read this,"the several states" are being treated like colonies.

In sum, here is a list of the tools used by the Non-Partisan League to help the people maintain and assert power:

1. Legislation or constitutional amendments by initiative
2. A focus on program based politics rather than party based politics
3. Direct and open primaries that leave the political party and their convention events out of the nomination process

Many states already offer item 1, legislation or constitutional amendments by popular vote. I'm not aware of any states that offer non-partisan elections at every level based on programs rather than political parties. The political party has become the nexus of centralized power in our current political system. Taking the parties out of the nomination process would limit the backroom deals eschewed by the NPL.

An open and direct primary means that there are no superdelegates to subvert the will of the people. There are no delegates to send to far off places in expensive hotels on expensive flights taking taxis or renting cars to get to the convention and all the events that take place there. And we know that the hotels are going to jack up the prices for every night they can during the convention.

An open and direct primary means that the people maintain a strong hold on the nomination process. An open and direct primary forces all political parties to play to the largest audience, not just the most extreme political factions that support them. Note here, that the two "front-runners", Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have some of the worst net favorability ratings in history. Neither candidate polls well with or is trusted by a majority of Americans.

I believe that closed primaries are a part of the conservative agenda and I think that conservative actors have taken note of this. Morris notes that the courts have not been kind to open primaries:
Recently the courts have not been sympathetic to the open primary. Not long ago the Supreme Court invented a new “right of association” and bestowed that right on political parties. In 2000, for example, by a 7-2 vote, the Court overturned a California form of open primary approved by the voters by a 60-40 vote. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia objected that the California law "forces political parties to associate with—to have their nominees, and hence their positions, determined by—those who, at best, have refused to affiliate with the party, and, at worst, have expressly affiliated with a rival."
I believe that the right of association, as Justice Scalia put it, is not as important as the right of suffrage. It is not as important as the right of self-determination as a part of a group. Scalia seems to have conveniently ignored what happens when a party becomes dominant and then uses that dominance to close off dissent, and to enact the wishes of their members against the will of the rest of the people who have to live with new laws that work against their interests. Scalia was a very conservative justice on the Supreme Court, and I think he could see what was coming if he was not able to put some restraint on open primaries.

As we have seen in this primary season, that "right of association" was used to deny people the right to vote most obviously in Arizona, California, and New York. Making all primary elections completely open must become a priority in order to restrain the power of the dominant parties and to force them to acknowledge that they do not exist in a vacuum.

A comparison of our primary selection process to what they had in North Dakota, easily explains how we are now faced with a choice of two evils. A system that permits a narrow class of voters to assert power in two dominant political parties, offers little to no competition and provides every incentive for the most corrupt to rise to the top. That system gave us the choice between a corrupt businessman and a morally bankrupt and politically powerful woman set on using every means at her disposal to secure the White House.

Party loyalty has hard to observe problems built into the system. I've noticed that people who are loyal to the party tend to be blind to the policy positions of that party. This is true for both Democrats and Republicans. How else can we explain a middle class that has repeatedly voted for people who once in office enact law after law that work against the interests of the middle class?

Both parties have slipped in and supported policy positions that benefit primarily the 1% while hanging the rest of us out to dry. Our elected officials do this because they must appeal to big money interests before the rest of us are even considered. The most significant example is the so-called free trade agreements that have come to pass. Both parties have supported them at the expense of the rest of us. As a result of that kind of behavior, Congress has the lowest approval rating in history, yet has the highest re-election rate in history.

Their exclusive primary elections and conventions provide insulation from the electoral consequences of their support of free trade agreements, while securing the blessings and the large contributions that only the 1% can provide. As big money in politics came to be accepted and perceived as a necessity, the 1% is now able to pay the piper and call the tune. Let that sink in. Big money is perceived to be a necessity in running a successful campaign.

Politicians like Bernie Sanders offer hope to millions of people that there are people with integrity who are willing to run for office. When they reject big money and solicit small contributions from thousands or millions of donors, they make themselves dependent on the people alone. That principle requires them to appeal to the broadest number of people with policy positions that will help the most people rather than the few.

I believe then, we may have a sort of prescription for fixing American politics so that it works for all of us:

1. Every state must provide for legislation or constitutional amendments by initiative.
2. We must put an emphasis on program based politics rather than party based politics.
3. Every state must offer direct and open primaries that leave the political party and their convention events out of the nomination process.
4. We must abolish the Electoral College to reduce the amount of influence that one state or another may have on the presidential election.
5. Publicly funded elections with conditions designed to reduce the influence of big money in politics.
6. Require disclosure for all political contributions.

There are many proposals for political reform to choose from, but I think that the Non Partisan League has provided very useful instruction. By following their example, we can work together to restore our democracy and ensure that our government and the economy it supports will work for all concerned, not just the 1%. 

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