Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Kinsely comes dangerously close to something I agree with wholeheartedly

Michael Kinsley, founding editor of Slate writes a pretty good article about "Divided Government", and how a) people don't actually want it, and b) it's not actually that good an idea.

He points out the divided government comes from a small amount of ticket-splitters, while the overwhelming majority of people still vote relatively partisanly -- i.e., they vote for an undivided government. So unless you're speaking of a gestalt of people that disagrees with the people themselves, people don't want an undivided government, but rather, a small number of centrist or independent voters tip the balance in different directions in different branches of government, essentially creating divided government from to camps of the other 98% of people who DON'T want divided government.

It's an interesting, and I think, rather accurate viewpoint.

Kinsley goes on to praise parliamentary systems, where you vote for the party, not the person, and the head of government, the Prime Minister, is of the legislative body. We've praised the genius of checks and balances with our three branch government, but even ignoring the fact that most countries get by without them, Kinsley's point is that having undivided legislature-executive power means that each election allows a party to come into power and try out their ideas effectively, rather than being able to blame an obstructionist president or obstructionist Congress. Thus, when election time comes, it's actually a referendum on what they've done, rather than on what they promise to do, if they just get a majority this time or get the presidency back.

I'm rather a fan of that proposition, though I haven't spent much time thinking it over yet. In terms of a referendum on actual policies, I think that's important. As Kinsley says
Unfortunately, politicians in a system without accountability get elected by promising to ignore all these inevitable trade-offs. "Yes, we can" will come back to haunt Barack Obama, because often we can't. Inspiration is no match for mathematics. So the Democrats who now control the agenda face a moral dilemma: Should they do what is right or do what they promised?

Part of my repeated point about Obama and the Democrats more generally is that if leftists insist that being realistic means always voting for the Dems (assuming the likely case that the Republicans continue being, at the very least, identifiably less progressive), then there continues to be no way to have a referendum on Democratic politics. People are excited about Obama, it's true, and let's give him that he's awesome, we'll assume that. Now -- if the Democrats had nominated a piece of toast, would it then be ok to vote for a 3rd party? If they nominated, say, Joe Lieberman, a hawk and McCain supporter? The point is, we may be lucky to have Obama, he's positive, exciting, and more, but people saying that leftists *must* vote for him -- is that in some way different than every other race ever from this perspective of being "realistic"? It just rather seems to me that a strategy that doesn't involve changing tactics with changing circumstances just can't be an effective one.

I know, I'm raining on parades and not embracing the historicness of the moment. But I just can't get excited about a vote that from a mainstream leftist perspective was a fait acompli, was decided before even the Democratic primaries. The point of the excitement is that we did not get a piece of toast, or Lieberman, of course, but that almost worries me more -- because Obama is potentially great, but he will only be great if we make him. And if we lose sight of this because of how good he makes us feel, we will miss a greater historic chance than tonight itself. We must find a way to make voting a true referendum, whatever happens with Obama. Because even it he's fantastic in all ways, they won't all be winners, and I seriously don't want to feel coerced to vote for a piece of toast next time 'round, 2010, 2012, 2016, or on and on. Some time, someone's gotta explain to me what the long-term plan on the "realism" ticket is such that we don't get toast next time 'round.

And ignore the sturm and drang here if you would; I am a bit thesis-related crazy tired. I'm optimistic, but cynically so. Go "O", and let's see this through, this history in the making and change on the horizon.

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