The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Little Things

Ahren wrote the following over at his blog:

the real questions anyone who loses anything, be it a poker hand, a baseball game, or an election, should be asking are, "why was the opponent better than me?" and "what could i have done better in order to win?" that's how you get better-- self-exploration and self-improvement. in the democrats case, they need to replace the question, "how could anyone vote for that bumbling idiot from texas?" with the query "how did we possibly run a candidate that garnered less votes than this person who everyone knows is stupid, that everyone knows misled the country into war, and that takes radical christian positions on issues of personal freedom?"

I started thinking about a few simple things that the Democrats could have (and should have) done differently. It is amazing how many seemingly insignificant little events can end up having huge ramifications. There are still two states that are "undecided," New Mexico, and Iowa. I don't know which way they will go, but let's assume for a moment that Kerry wins Iowa and Bush wins New Mexico, making the total Bush-279, Kerry-259. Now read this article by Gregg Easterbrook, written the day before the election:

Contrast this to Missouri, where Dick Gephardt is beloved as a favorite son. Bush is leading by a small margin in Missouri; in 2000, he carried the state by three points. The Show Me State has many times demonstrated its love of Gephardt--had he been Kerry's running mate, he might well have been able to deliver Missouri and its eleven delegates. Yours truly is also a fan of Gephardt, who might have brought to Kerry's candidacy not only Missouri's votes but moderate populism, labor ties, bipartisan credentials for his help to Bush in the days after September 11, and none of the negatives associated with Edwards's trial-lawyer calling. If Kerry loses by a margin smaller than Missouri's eleven electoral votes, his choice of Edwards over Gephardt may come to be seen as a historic blunder.

If you give Kerry Iowa and Missouri (and while I know nothing of Iowa/Missouri politics, I suspect that Gephardt would have also helped in Iowa), and Bush New Mexico, Kerry wins 270-268. Historic blunder indeed. Of course if both NM and IA go for Bush then is is more of a moot point, and if Gephardt had been on the ticket the entire campaign may have been altogether different.

Circumstances may have conspired against Kerry in his own state. Arnold Kling makes this very good point at Tech Central Station:

Once again, it appears that a Supreme Court ruling gave the election to George Bush. In this case, it was the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which issued a ruling that Massachusetts' failure to recognize gay marriage was unconstitutional.

People who want to sound smugly knowledgeable about chaos theory will tell the story of a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a storm. In the 2004 election, that butterfly was the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Their ruling on gay marriage stoked fears among religious conservatives. This inflated the religious conservative vote, helping President Bush and hurting the candidate from Massachusetts. I interpret the election returns not as a mandate for America's tough stand on terror or for privatizing Social Security. This election was a rebuke to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. If they had not out-ed the gay marriage issue, then the result of the election, for better or worse, would have been different.

The
exit polls, which if anything may have undersampled Bush voters, showed that one of the top issues among voters was "moral values," with Bush gaining an overwhelming majority of the "moral values" voters. In my pre-election essay, I despaired of what I called President Bush's decision to run as a Bible-thumping moral legislator. It's a good thing for Republicans that I wasn't their chief electoral strategist.

Although I take a liberal attitude toward gay marriage, I do believe that the Massachusetts Supreme Court need not have found a right to gay marriage in that state's Constitution. The Democratic Party reaped the whirlwind from that exercise in judicial activism.


This makes a lot of sense, and it should also serve as a cautionary tale on judicial activism. Issues settled by courts are seldom truly settled, as people on the losing side will generally feel that their loss is illegitimate. At that point, rational discussion tends to break down, and people get vindictive.

These are just two examples of small things that could have easily gone the other way.

One major change that I predict for 2008 is that there will be a new nominating process. As of now there are two fundamental flaws with the way candidates are selected. The first is the selection process itself. It is almost cliched now to say that candidates start on the extreme and then move toward the center for the general election. Does this sound stupid to anyone else? If the people want moderate candidates shouldn't the parties give them moderate candidates?

Unfortunately the parties foist their ideas on the people instead. If I want a tax cutter I'm stuck with pro-lifers. If I want a social libertarian I'm going to pay for the privilege. The reason that this can occur is gerrymandering.

Any time the states redraw their districts the result is fewer and fewer contested races. When a politician faces no competition he is free to slide to his party's extreme. In politics, when an area is carved out that is free from competition we call it gerrymandering, but when we do exactly the same thing in the private sector we call it a monopoly. Gerrymandering is one of the greatest threats to American democracy for the same reason that monopolies are a threat to productivity: they stifle innovation, they stagnate, and they provide poor service. At their worst they become tyrannical. This collusion by the two parties has been getting worse lately, but it will not last much longer.

Let's say that the two parties are Coke and Pepsi. They are both moderates in the battle for the hearts and minds of America's soft drink aficionados. They have to stay in the middle because if one strays the other will crush it. This is as it should be.

I'm sure everyone remembers "New Coke." Let's call "New Coke" "Alan Keyes." Notice that when Coke attempted to foist this cheap, foul tasting talking head onto everyone that it was soundly rejected. After all, good old Pepsi was right there. Now imagine that Coke and Pepsi agreed to introduce Alan at the same time as "New Pepsi" AKA Michael Moore. This collusion has produced two equally bad products, but it has also reduced overhead for the two companies. Sure a few people may throw their drinking experience away on "Royal Crown Cola" or become apathetic and not enjoy any refreshing cola taste at all, but most will probably give in to the new beverages. This is especially true if the change is gradual.

However, this collusion can not last, for there is competition in politics. The carrot before the donkey (or elephant) in politics is power. Whereas in the private sector the drive for wealth ensures competition, in politics it is all about power, and if power can be gained by moving to the center, then at some point someone will do just that.

The easiest way to capitalize on this little market inefficiency is to change the nominating process in such a way as to encourage moderates instead of courting extremists who are then forced to lie about themselves in the general election.

This may come from some entrepreneurial party that seeks to appeal to political moderates, or it may come internally if the Democrats or Republicans decide that the deal they have is no longer worth it. What is assured is that at some point very soon, someone will seize this opportunity and create a new party, or reform an old one to the benefit of all.

I hope it's strawberry flavored.



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