The insider/outsider Response to the Debt Ceiling Cave-In

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Burning the Midnight Oil for Progressive Populism

The Story So Far (imagine a Star Wars Scroll):

Under normal conditions, the primary political parties are representatives of distinct interest groups within the status quo. Democracy, after all, is allowing the citizens of the country to choose winners and losers among the elite, rather than having that choice performed by military might, accident of birth, or etc.

For most of its political history to the late 1800’s, the US was either dominated by one or two political parties. The (extra-constitutional) winner take all electoral college system and the winner take all nature of a state legislature selecting the state’s Senator strongly pushed in that direction.

And with business interests always falling on distinct sides of important issues of the day, that meant that political interests have long been distributed among the rival claimants for power or the natural party of government and natural party of (regional) opposition.

But alongside this was a political institution that allowed third parties to emerge and compete for influence ~ and indeed, the Great Re-Alignment from the Democrats and the Whigs to the Republicans and the Democrats occured in part thanks to the existence of third parties that were available to merge with the Anti-Slavery Whigs once they had been purged from the Whig Party. So in the late 1800’s …

Well, in the late 1800’s after the virtual obliteration of the Republican Freedman vote in the South and the counterbalance Republican “Solid North”, progressive, populist and other reformist interests that could not find a comfortable home in either the racist Democrats in the south or the big-corporate Republicans in the north organized third parties, many of which gained some measure of influence through the practice of Fusion Tickets:

From Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America, by Micah L. Sifry (New York: Routledge, 2002), Chapter 9:

Neither man [Daniel Cantor and Joel Rogers, founders of the New Party] wanted to repeat the failures of third-party experiments, but at the same time they both felt a real frustration with the limits of the two-party duopoly. And so they set out to revive an old political practice that had been prevalent in America since the dawn of the Republic until the 1890s: fusion. Also known as cross-endorsement, fusion had given minor parties a substantial role in winner-take-all elections all through the nineteenth century. Under this system, a candidate could be endorsed by more than one party, with the votes for that person counted separately under each party’s name and then tallied together. Rathern than ask their supporters to “waste their votes” on candidates with little chance of winning, fusion allowed minor parties to maintain a separate existence while contributing to a major party candidate’s victory. But it existed because it served the needs of at least one of the major parties, who often initiated fusions to shore up a weak position vis-a-vis the other major party. According to historian Peter Argersinger,

“If fusion sometimes helped destroy individual third parties, it helped maintain a significant third party tradition by guaranteeing that dissenters’ votes could be more than symbolic protest, that their leaders could gain office, and that their demands might be heard. Most of the election victories normally attributed to the Grangers, Independents, or Greenbackers in the 1870s and 1880s were a result of fusion between those third party groups and Democrats. That some politicians regarded fusion as a mechanism for proportional representation is not surprising.”

Argesinger added that minor parties regularly “received at least 20 percent in one or more elections from 1874 to 1892 in more than half the southern states,” thanks to fusion. And between 1878 and 1892, they held the balance of power at least once in every state but Vermont, “culminating in 1892 when neither major party secured a majority of the electorate in nearly three-quarters of the states.”

Unfortunately for third-party supporters, the fusion laws worked too well for the comfort of the major parties. Starting after the 1892 election, when the Populist “People’s Party” made extensive use of fusion with the Democrats, threatening to become a major party in its own right, Republican-dominated state legislatures moved to ban the practice. One Republican Minnesota state senator made clear exactly what his party was doing, saying, “We don’t propose to allow the Democrats to make allies of the Populists, Prohibitionists, or any other party, and get up combination tickets against us. We can whip them single-handed, but don’t intend to fight all creation.”

With the Republican War on Voting in progress since the 1890’s, we should not be surprised to see the present malignant outbreak. And, of course, after the New Deal Coalition was formed, it became the interest of the Democratic Party to ensure the irrelevance of third parties, so suppression of fusion voting was not restricted to Republican legislatures.

According to the Wikipedia machine, there are only eight states that allow full fusion tickets today: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont.

In other words, four northeastern states with 42 electoral votes, 2 Southeastern states with 15 electoral votes, one Mountain Western states with 4 electoral votes, and one West Coast state, with 7 electoral votes, for a total of 68 electoral votes ~ 16 Senators and 52 Congressmen. 68/538 is 13%, so even a “major 3rd party” which somehow emerged with an average of 20% of the vote in each fusion state would hold roughly 3% of the Federal electoral power in the country.

Why Fusion Tickets Worked

In a winner take all system with first past the post plurality voting, those aiming for access and influence will gravitate to the two leading parties. As they do, the chances of every other party decline. And as each of the two leading parties monopolize elected positions, the supporter of an actual policy position is forced into a choice between a “wasted vote” for the party that fully and enthusiastically supports that position and the “Lesser of Two Evils” party that either partially and with qualification supports that position, or even is less firmly dedicated to opposing that position than the other major party.

But suppose that the third parties adopt fusion tickets. They work to get access to the ballot ~ either through ballot petition or by retaining a large enough vote in previous elections to be granted automatic access. The major party candidates that are “good enough”, they list as a candidate on their own ballot line. The major party that are not “good enough”, they list a rival name.

This is not a “endorsement swing” between the two major parties. The Fusion Ticket Third Party has one major party it is targeting. And almost invariably, it decides that the Gubernatorial candidate is “good enough”. The game, here, is in the (mostly State) Legislature. The fusion ticket candidates are more likely to win if they attract more third party votes than they lose by whatever it was they had to agree to in order to be accepted. Just by virtue of the fact that five percent or ten percent or twenty percent of the electorate vote third party, getting listed as a fusion ticket candidate gives you a clear advantage in gaining election.

After all, far above policy planks and moral sentiments, the chief aim of the major party politician is to gain office and power. A relatively small but united block of votes that votes their party line can easily be the balance of victory in a tight race. So the third parties under the fusion system can wield clout in proportion or beyond proportion to their numbers.

Which reverses the “wasted vote” dilemma. Indeed, there is no need for a purity test ~ fusion ticketing “the best half” of the major party candidates serves to push the major party candidates to work to demonstrate that they are among the “best half”, and can herd a 40% plurality party in the direction of policy priorities of two or three 10% parties.

They Outlawed It, but It Didn’t Go Away

By the 1950’s, the project of eliminating the relevance of fusion voting in most states of the union was largely complete. But also in the 1950’s, we saw the rise of fusion tickets in another form. As primaries took over from party conventions as the means of selecting candidates, we saw a new form of fusion tickets emerge from the radical reactionary “Conservative Movement”, financed by radical extremists among the business elites.

The “Conservative Movement” had all the trappings of a 3rd party of the 1800’s. Its had its own dedicated groups of people hammering out policies, its dedicated groups of propagandists ~ partisan newspapers in the 1800’s, “think tanks” in the 20th ~ it had its dedicated ongoing fundraising activities ~ it had its conventions, though no candidates were nominated at them.

However, except for some fringe 3rd party extremists too extreme for even the “Conservative Movement”, they did not have a ballot line. Instead, they cultivated and supported politicians to run as Republicans. With the Democrats dominated by Big Oil, Property Developers, Labor and other interests, the Republicans were representing a wide range of business interests that were the natural enemies of Labor, which ranged all over the map on social issues, stereotypically represented as the Taft Republicans and the Rockefeller Republicans.

And fast forward to the 1980’s, and its clear how effective this shadow fusion ticket party without its own candidates had been in recasting the Republican party in its own image, and progressively filtering out the Rockefeller Republican wing. Of course, it helped that the Texas oil field quotas had vanished by the 1970’s, and with it vanished the incentive of Big Oil to pursue full employment, so corporate Big Oil abandoned the Democratic Party and joined with the radical reactionary oil millionaires that were already helping to fund the Conservative Movement.

The Insider/Outsider strategy of gaining the power to herd a major party in the direction of a firmly help set of priorities works, because major party politicians are a herd of unprincipled scum who deliver policy decision in return for power and influence.

“That major party politician is an unprincipled scumbag” … {Just repeating yourself, so far.} … “who did / did not deliver my highest policy priorities.” {Aha, now you have told me something I did not know before you started talking.}

Getting angry at a major party politician for being unprincipled careerist scum is like getting angry at a cat for what you think is an unjustifiably high self esteem. Of course they are most likely unprincipled careerist scum, that’s what  the system selects for. It is, of course, possible for principles politicians to sometimes slip through the cracks, but any political strategy that relies on collecting a majority from among principled politicians is a strategy designed to fail.

The Rush to 2016

In 2008, the Democratic primary narrowed down to two Hedge Fund Democrats ~ as I called them at the time, before we had even experienced the massiv economic meltdown that the Clinton wing of the Democratic party had engineered in cahoots with the Republicans over the 90’s, when instead of fixing the gross mess revealed by the S&L meltdown, we doubled down on bubble economics.

And, yes, they both made progressive noises during the primaries. So? That proves what, exactly? We all know that Democrats are much better at making progressive sounding speeches during primary season than casting progressive votes and making progressive decisions during negotiations with Republicans. Progressive noises in primaries don’t mean anything, without any means of disciplining the people making the noise.

And there’s a trick to the insider/outsider strategy. While you fight to get the standard bearer that is most appealing to you, the real discipline is exercised in legislative races. A standard bearer ~ Mayor, Governor, President ~ can either hold one clear position or, if they try to cover a range, holds no real position at all. A legislature is an array of politicians holing a spectrum of positions.

The place where the insider/outsider playing 3rd party makes its wins is in the Legislature. Making wins in the Legislature, it repays its supporters for their loyalty and attracts more, like minded supporters. Attracting more supporters, it increases its clout, increases the voting block in the legislature that strives to attract its support, and increases its ability to determined whether supporting or opposing its principles and priorities is the short path to power and influence for the scumbag careerist majority that dominate our state legislatures and our Congress.

In the days of fusion tickets, the 3rd party puts the major party standard bearer on their line if their members are willing to stand for it at all. The fact that they pick and choose in the legislative slate maintains their credibility with their supporters, and their supporters vote the major party candidate on the 3rd party ballot line ~ generating votes which increases the ease of ballot access the next time.

In the modern age of shadow parties, the shadow 3rd party aims to get the standard bearer selected from among their ranks ~ but if they fail, despite grumbling and an “enthusiasm gap”, they fall in line behind the intra-partisan enemy. The Taft Republicans, for example, fell in line behind the too-Keynesian Nixon, after Reagan lost in his bid. They fell in line behind Ford, after Reagan lost in that bid. And having done so, they demanded that the moderate wing fall in line behind Reagan, when he finally won his bid.

So, as I argued shortly before Senator Obama was elected President Obama, that meant that progressive hopes rested on three Congressional elections to work on building the progressive supporting infrastructure to shift their position from window dressing to power brokers … and then in 2016 was our first hope to elect a progressive President, or in any event to elect a President who would be willing to work with a Progressive Populist coalition in Congress.

Well, they still are. The Take Everything Away Party has unseated lots of Blue Dogs and “moderate” corporoDems (“moderate” always means a tool of some faction among the big corporations). So those seats should be targeted in primaries whenever practical by anti-corporate Economic Populists and by Progressives. And any corporoDem holding onto a gerrymandered as Democratic seat should be primaried if we can recruit anyone willing to run as an anti-corporate Economic Populist or as a Progressive.

Either Obama wins or loses. If he wins, the second mid-term is normally not so hard as the first on an incumbent, so its a re-run of 2012, with hopefully with more experience and a better organization. If he loses, we have the first midterm of a Republican President to look forward too, and should be aiming to have movement candidates running in the “R+5/R+10” “flood plains” created by gerrymandering, as well as continuing the 2012 lines of attack.

Primarying President Obama

I know that Nader has called for a progressive to step forward to primary President Obama.

I just don’t get it. Its seems to me to be just a publicity stunt. It forces President Obama to make progressive sounding noises and give progressive sounding excuses for an administration that is run as if he is from the Hedge Fund wing of the party ~ unsurprising, that is the wing of the party he is from.

And just in case I have not made it clear ~ while I was an Obama voter in 2008, I was not really an Obama supporter. It was a LOTE vote. So I am not writing this today in the heat of the disappointed supporter.

I just don’t see what it gains either anti-corporate Populists or Progressives to invest anything into that contest. Is it aimed at winning token gestures during the primary season, easily forgotten if the President gains re-election? What’s the benefit of that?

Is it aimed at distracting attention from the effort to elect anti-corporate Economic Populists and Progressives to State Legislatures and to Congress? What’s the benefit of that?

Is it aimed to increase the media profile of a careerist attention seeker of a different sort ~ the same careerist attention seeker who pursued the destructive strategy for the Greens of fighting to punish the Democrats in swing states instead of the constructive strategy of campaigning for protest votes against the Electoral College winner take all system in non swing states, where there was no issue of “wasted votes” since all votes were basically watsed votes? What’s the benefit of that?

Now, if a challenge is launched, I’m not going to rush to the defense of the President against the challenge. But I am certainly not going to lift a finger in support of any challenge, no matter how appealing the candidate. I am going to be getting on my bike and riding to help out in the Congressional seat to the north or west or south of me, if there is a Progressive or anti-corporate Economic Populist running in any of the primaries … and if not, will be looking for a chance to phone bank further afield. In the unlikely event I have any money to donate, it’ll be going to get rid of Take Everything Away toadies of Governor Kasich here in Ohio. So I’m not going to have any time or money available for a Presidential challenge.

Indeed, for those reading who may be supporters of the President ~ don’t take it personally. Just cause I stated my view does not mean I’m demanding agreement. Let’s just not fight about it. You go ahead and believe what you believe, and I’ll go ahead and believe what I believe, and we can work on getting progressives and/or anti-corporate populists elected to Congress, like a Hindu and a Muslim working side by side to get sandbags on the levy before the flood rages through.

As for Sherrod, I’m on the fence ~ if only he had not cast that slow suicide via coal vote, I would have been all-in on support Sherrod. If he were to come out strongly for sustainable biocoal, he might win me back.

So, Anything I Missed Back in the fall of 2008

Now, in the Fall of 2008 I was writing all about a “progressive change coalition”. And more recently its dawned on me that I was being really stupid. That coalition is not forged to create the shadow 3rd party. Its forged in the legislature among representatives (directly members of, or unprincipled careerists angling for the support of) of more coherent movements.

Without sitting on the inside track of being able to offer career advancement ~ there needs to be a stronger agreement on not only positions but also priorities. And I think that there is a Blue-Collar / Green axis that can be the foundation of a strong progressive shadow third party.

But the flip side of coherence means that if forged, it will lie in a particular position in the political spectrum, and what it gains in coherence it loses in coverage.

Well, you know what I am going to say next. There are lots of people who have a strong interest in opposition to gargantuan corporations, but who are not drawn to the heart of that Blue-Green progressive movement. Just as one example, small businesspeople get the shaft everyday, and in exchange for crumbs and concessions from the gargantuan corporations who are shafting them, and following established frames that their struggles are all due to “government regulation”, they fall in line to support the Republican party.

I reckon there is also room in the American political landscape for an anti-corporate authentic populism to counter the reactionary corporate sell-out populism of the Take Everything Away Party.

60 anti-corporate populists in the House to match the 60 “Congressional Progressives” in the House who actually voted their presumptive convictions against the Depression Deal … that would be an extraordinarily difficult Democratic caucus for the corporDems to ride here on, and quite a hard target for the radical reactionary “Conservative Movement” to land blows on.

And if You Just Can’t Vote Democratic

And if you can’t vote Democratic? Look, I feel you. In the early 80’s, fueled by Z Magazine and Coevolutionary Quarterly subscriptions, I was all gung ho. I followed the rise of Green Parties overseas with enthusiasm and hope.

I mean, it’s a dilemma. Voting the Lesser of Two Evils is, says one side, “LESS EVIL“. Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils is, says the other side, “SUPPORTING EVIL“. If you just can’t, you just can’t, and its fruitless trying to convert you, other than the long game of trying to have an impact that leads to a change in the political terrain that itself persuades you.

This is likely hopelessly naive, but I’m a social scientist, and an economist at that, and not a political operative. So under the qualification that this is all my personal expression of political views as a citizen with no explicit or tacit claims to expertise …

… with two shadow 3rd party support networks, if an explicit 3rd party contributed to a network, I don’t see why they shouldn’t reap benefits from that contribution. We’ve got so many people who don’t vote, and if the 3rd party voter wouldn’t vote for the major party candidate anyway, its not really a “wasted” vote.

But even for 3rd parties, there is a tacit fusion ticket strategy available. Given the severe legal repression of 3rd party voting in this country, its a rare 3rd party that can field a candidate in each race up and down a ballot in most precincts in a state ~ except of course in the eight fusion ticket states, were by fusing their ballot line in the governor’s race, they can sometimes gain the vote shares to gain automatic ballot access.

So there’ll be a number of districts where the Progressive supported candidate is on the ballot, in a serious contest with a Republican. A number of districts where the Progressive supported candidate is on the ballot who won the race in the primary, given the gerrymander packing in Democrats. And a number of districts where the candidate on the ballot is not the Progressive candidate. Focus your limited resources on fielding candidates in districts type two and three.

And the same for any anti-corporate Economic Populist 3rd party. Focus your efforts on the natural shoe-ins (type 2’s) and the anti-populist Dems (type 3’s). In both type 2 and type 3 races, the populist 3rd party running tacitly helps the shadow Populist party position ~ “we need a populist Dem because otherwise we’ll shed votes to the 3rd party”, in Type 2, the primary electorate are basically rewarded for having nominated a populist, who will attract most populist votes where there is any willingness at all to vote for a Democrat and in Type 3, they are punished for having nominated an anti-populist.

Conclusions …

Conclusions? Hah! I’m obviously still thinking this through. The floor is now open.


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    • BruceMcF on August 6, 2011 at 02:21

    Its not Burning the Midnight Oil with the Oils.

  1. Obama is that there is not one thing about his policies that is actually OF THE LEFT.

    Not one.

    And that’s the reason he was installed as a candidate by powerful interests (General Dynamics) , before his one term as a senator was done. It was obvious that that the left would have a hard time repudiating him on racial grounds.

    The policies implemented have been hard right.  Not even center, or center right. Except possibly on Israel, where he’s a centrist, which is a verbotten subject on this ‘political’ blog.

    Anything that the left can do to repudiate Obama’s right wing policies is to the good– since the media want to hang us with this crap.  And has been very successful to some extent.

    We need to primary him.

    Third party him.  

    Protest him in the streets.

    Get rid of him.

    He’s toast anyway; let him be someone else’s damn crispy toast.  

    • toto on August 7, 2011 at 19:54


    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, VT, and WA. These 8 jurisdictions possess 77 electoral votes– 29% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

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