Monday, June 09, 2008

A Proposal for The Party

The heat (if not the light) from the six-month collision of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has revealed deep division in the Democratic party. It's sort of funny watching the Kossies get het up about it, but more regrettably, it's affected people I like and respect. The Party, they argue, can not survive with split loyalties. Elderly white women may not recover from their Clinton support, and will stay home on election day. Jobless Midwesterners can't get past the mean things she said about Obama, and they will vote, inexplicably, for John McCain in protest. Racists, real and imagined, make battle against the living and the phantom sexists. Gaffes (a word that deserves to be buried) are researched with the compulsive zeal of sports statistics, and no one talks much about foreign policy or energy policy (allegedly buried in there somewhere), at least not enough to make an easy comparison, and probably because there's not much to argue about. Schism among the Democrats? I'm registered, but I have to tell you, this is the lamest party I've ever been expected to attend.

As one lucky Democrat prepares to battle an old man who only becomes visible if his voice gets high enough, I hope he's grateful that The Party has managed to milk six months of free air time from the internal contention that was no doubt trying for him and his other alpha contender. I don't discount (and I completely support) the idea of fighting to the last hope, but I doubt that The Party's very upset about the oceans of lucre that the fight has drawn in, nor about all of the brand new cash contributors floating behind Obama's "winner" pheromones like a gang of cartoon hobos entranced by a pie. Each one of those donors has an address, and reeks of a youth that the pledge committees will find irresistible. They can expect to receive mailed donation cards from now until the time they're sucked dry.

Switching metaphors, playing hard until the end of the game ("sixty minutes of football") isn't just good for the team's morale, it's good for the whole system. You keep your advertisers happy, and you don't want to piss off the people that pay for their tickets. And all those scary skeletons drawn out in the primaries? Surely the Republicans, of all people, would have managed to figure out that Hillary is married to Bill Clinton and that Barry Obama is black.

Party unity is an idea that is more important to the system than the people in it, or the people served by it. Unity is like Mom and Dad keeping an air of strained civility so as not to alarm the children, and avoid the notice of their friends at church. It puts a happy face in public, even if he hasn't gotten it up in years, and even though she spends four hours of quality time with gin and sitcoms every night, both of them bored to death of the life, and neither yet reached the point where they realize that no one else could possibly put up with either of them, and the kids are just as fucked up, and everyone's whispering anyway. Party unity is angling for the broadest common connection, and ending up with the nothing but the institutional shell: some made-for-everyone canned satisfaction, huddling in the soulless 'burbs, where they hunker in their garages and entertainment rooms terrified of, and secretly titillated by, their unseen neighbors. Party unity is important: single people don't buy McMansions.

I have a constitutional antipathy for an organization that would command any act for the good of The Party. It calls to mind the political unity imposed by a purely ideological government, and it speaks uncomfortably of the corruption and reach of twentieth-century Communism. Two parties may be better than one, but keeping a steady platform that appeals to the most people doesn't allow a great range of political alternative, comrade. Proposing that The Party stop the fundamental abuses of American government, or that it advocate a fundamentally different service model is hella divisive, exactly the opposite of unity, which is why everyone laughs at Denny Kucinich and Mike Gravel. The Democrats might win this if they heal the razor-thin rift between Hillary's and Barrack's visions of the American dream, but really, what do they win? Or rather, what do the voters win?

So on that note, I move (finally) to a modest proposal. (Since American Idol didn't answer my letters, maybe the chairmen of The Party will.) Instead of voting for a candidate, I want an opportunity to vote against one of them. I know just how popular negativity can be, and here in America, it can give the goobers something really fulfilling to get behind, to cast down their superficial one-issue horrors or their caricatured evil. Do you hate black people, women, or idiots more than you want universal health care? Cast your ballot against one of them. It'll feel good.

The idea would work pretty easily, provided the necessary committees understand how to add negative numbers. Rules would be needed to control the pool of candidates--more stringent than today's rules perhaps, but maybe not much--lest someone completely unknown pull in a victory, and once the ballot is set, citizens will have the opportunity to cast a vote against the candidate of their choice. When tallied, the person that ends up least in the hole proceeds to not lose the race.

This strategy has some serious advantages: it's anti-incumbent (who do you hate more than the person that's been stiffing you for the past four years); it's already adapted to American campaign styles; and it allows the goofy, marginal candidates a greater share of the attention (alarming questions about how the Republic works will be shot down with vigor!). Sure, it's got a downside that it might sneak through even less inspiring suits peddling mild lies about how great everyone is, but this caveat is greatly outweighed by relieving the voters of the embarrassing burden of actually voting for yet another one of these turds. We can admit that we're only letting through the least bad. Imagine the voter satisfaction when elected officials start their terms with negative approval, before signing their name on anything.

Detractors may further argue that a candidate may come along every now and then that really is truly inspiring, but even that could be worked into my system, in fact, it would improve it. An option for "for" votes could coexist with the usual vote "against." In fact it could even be weighted more highly. Idealists that are actually worthy of a lever pulled in their favor can even have an aye vote count extra, and even better, this would preserve an essential comedy of today's system, allowing an odd candidate to take the inspirational high road, or pretend to.

As for me, I'd be a lot more enthusiastic to kick the bums out of office than support their contenders, even at a discount, and I don't think I'm alone in that mindset. Even if the negative vote were half the value of the positive, turnout would still double, and, just like our founding fathers emphatically didn't want, more Americans than ever will have a reason to participate in this wonderful democratic process.

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