FAQ: Answering Common Questions About No Confidence Protest Vote 2012Submitted by matthewj on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 07:33
This is the second in the series I am cross posting from FDL. Please join us for discussion over at the original post (http://my.firedoglake.com/matthewj/2011/05/17/faq-answering-...). Also, I want to remind all of you that I would never think of asking you to leave Dr. Paul's campaign for the Republican nomination. I am posting this here because I think many libertarians will be interested, especially if Dr. Paul does not get the Republican nomination or if he runs as an independent.
Last Thursday I presented a strategy for a No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 campaign and coalition. If you have not read it yet, please do so. It outlines the strategy in some detail and there is a good discussion in the comments. Several good questions and some misconceptions about what I am proposing arose in that discussion. I will address each of these items in this post, but first a brief recap of the main points of the strategy:
- Those who currently hold power will not willingly relinquish it.
- The legacy Democratic and Republican parties work together and with the oligarchs to maintain and further consolidate their power.
- Therefore change will not come from the Democratic and Republican parties.
- Continuing to vote for Democrats and Republicans will lead to our country heading further in the same direction it is heading in now.
- The legacy parties are working across the aisle to hold maintain their duopoly and we must work across the aisle to break it if we want change to happen.
- We will also need the support of the general public - the non-activist citizens.
- Many citizens are afraid of not voting for the lesser of two evils or have reached a level of cynicism that has caused them to stop voting.
- Building support will require confidence that enough voters are going to participate to make a meaningful statement.
- This confidence can best be built by building a pledge system that allows voters to tell us under what conditions they are willing to vote for a third party, independent, or write in candidate.
Q. Isn't it better to focus on getting candidates elected? Protest votes are just wasted votes.
A. We are currently passing through a unique time in American history. A recent poll (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011...) suggests 52% of Americans want an option outside of the Democratic and Republican parties. They have become extremely cynical and disenchanted with our legacy parties. For those of us who feel this way votes for Democrats and Republicans are wasted votes. We are looking outside the box for ways to influence American politics. The No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is intended to use the election cycle, associated media attention, and increased general interest in politics that occurs during presidential campaigns to do this. The goal is to change the discussion rather than to win elections in the immediate term.
There are some who have not yet reached the level of cynicism and disenchantment with the Democratic or Republican party to give up voting for them. They believe the system can be transformed from the inside through traditional electoral politics. The No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is not intended to change their mind or be evangelical in nature. We are focused on building a coalition of voters who are ready for something new. one_outer reminds us of the well known aphorism that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results". Our coalition will include people from all political views who believe this aphorism applies to traditional electoral politics and the legacy Democratic and Republican parties.
Any of you who do believe the challenges we face and are interested in learning more about why many of us no longer feel that way are encouraged to check out the work of Naomi Wolf and Naomi Klein. Naomi Wolf presents The End of America: Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjALf12PAWc), a wonderful and frightening picture of the what lies ahead of us on the path we are currently following (The End of America on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/End-America-Letter-Warning-Patriot/dp/...). In The Shock Doctrine (http://www.amazon.com/Shock-Doctrine-Rise-Disaster-Capitalis...) Naomi Klein documents the tactics that have been used by the American (and international) oligarchs elsewhere in the world that are now returning home and increasingly being used domestically.
Q. Why make things so complicated? If you don't like Republicans and Democrats just vote for a third party or independent candidate of your choice.
A. This is a very good question. The simple fact is that many of us have been doing this for a long time and it hasn't been working. Not only does it not work, but momentum does not build from election to election. There are several reasons why it doesn't work in our electoral system. There have been good posts by Jon Walker discussing this. First there are the obvious issues of ballot, media, and debate access. Secondly, voters perceive that these candidates have little to no chance of winning and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Voters are not willing to support the candidate and thus there is no momentum. We never find out how many voters would have supported the candidate had they received sufficient media attention and been perceived as having a chance to win. Lastly, the voters willing to look and think beyond our major parties are splintered across the political spectrum.
This block of voters increasingly looks like it may be large enough to win a plurality if it stands together around the issues held in common (the most obvious one being desire for political choices that are not currently offered). Standing together and building confidence among voters that there are enough of them to have an impact is critical. This what the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy aims to do. Without solidarity and confidence we will remain many small and powerless groups of voters. Together we will be a large and potentially quite powerful block of voters.
Q. What about the outcome of the election? Protest votes will not influence the outcome of the election.
A. Very good question. Many of us looking for another option feel that both legacy parties are taking us in the same unfortunate direction, the only difference being how quickly they want to reach the destination. This is why Barack Obama is considered by many to be more conservative than Richard Nixon and also why his health insurance reform was very reminiscent of earlier plans proposed by Republicans. This is also what makes it very difficult to tell what election outcome is more inline with the long term interests of the majority of Americans. We're all very familiar with the analogy of a frog in boiling water. When the temperature is raised slow enough the frog stays in the pot and dies, when the temperature is raised quickly enough the frog jumps out of the pot and lives. Whether this analogy applies to the American citizenry today is difficult to tell but it often feels quite compelling.
We ask those who are willing to focus strategically on the need to disrupt the imperial oligarchy even if that means potentially sacrificing our influence over the outcome of the election. While desire to stop the inertia and find a new course is widespread the structure of our legacy electoral system presents serious challenges to any viable alternative. The No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is designed to work around the limitations of party status, ballot access, debate access, winner-take-all elections, and the diverse opinions held by those looking for an alternative. Only through a very creative grassroots / viral strategy like this or through $1 billion or so (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-2012-its-not-ju...) in private wealth will it be possible to impact the 2012 election in any way. If anybody has other creative, out of the box ideas about how to impact the election please let us know!
While we do not aim to influence the electoral outcome we do believe this strategy can make an impact. If this campaign receives significant, pledged votes, support through social media, and discussion on the internet there is a point where it will become hard to ignore. We have the ability to measure our own progress and disseminate that information widely. Given enough support, mainstream media will be faced with the choice of either covering our effort or ignoring us and thereby increasing their already growing irrelevance. Either way there would be a significant change in the discussion among activists of all strips and a sense of empowerment that we are not permanently locked into our current party structure. Space will start to open to explore new possibilities.
Q. I am still afraid that not voting for my side will throw the election the other way. Why should I take this chance?
A. This is a good question also. One of the interesting things about the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is that it is non-partisan. Nobody will know prior to the election which side it might draw more votes from. This is not at all trivial. It will not have a traditional spoiler effect in the same way a third party such as a green or libertarian candidate would. Instead it would function as a wild card factor more like a moderate independent. It is just as likely that this coalition will draw votes from the other side as from your side.
More importantly this strategy is mostly aimed at voters who are fed up with both major parties and the current oligarchical party system. On both sides we see parties that are not responsive to the voters they are supposed represent. Continuing to vote for them sends the message that this is ok. It tells them that they do not need to respond to their constituents in order to be re-elected as long as they believe they can convince the voters that the other side is worse. This is not a healthy political culture and it is destroying our country. We the people need to take back our power by ceasing to enable the policies we oppose which will never change as long as the legacy parties remain in control.
Q. Do you really think the other side would join with you?
A. Certainly not everyone on the other side (whichever side happens to be the other side for you!) will join. But many of them are just as frustrated and hungry for change as we are. There is a general feeling in the country that our political system is not working and that everyday Americans are not listened to or represented in most major policy decisions. Some of us have ideas about where we think the country needs to go and others are not quite sure but certainly know something is wrong. There are many people of all political persuasions who are ready to move beyond the legacy parties. This strategy is a way to do that and will attract any voter who is ready to demand different choices than we are being given by the legacy parties.
Q. Just because folks on both sides think government is broken does not mean they want the same solution. Why should they work together?
A. This is possibly one of the best questions that has been asked. Part of the answer is that empire and corporatist oligarchy are reviled by a large and quickly growing segment of these frustrated Americans. On policy questions related to these issues there will be much agreement. More importantly though, everyone is looking for choices that are not offered today. While we are not all looking for the same thing we would all like to see a broader and more responsive political menu. This is simply not ever going to be available if we do not break the political duopoly and create a truly competitive market for political leaders.
If we want a truly competitive political market that responds to the actual values and opinions of its citizenry it is absolutely imperative that we work together and demand this. By working together we can create the space for this change to take place. If this strategy works it will help to foster growth of new ideas, coalitions, movements, and possibly parties. All of our votes would need to go to somebody. New leaders will emerge looking to receive those votes and take the country in a new direction. Elections may not be won immediately, but by sustaining this movement through the next few elections cycles they will eventually be won by candidates with dramatically different policies than are currently on offer.
Q. Why should I (and my political allies) support this campaign / issue when there are so many other important issues?
A. I think history speaks loud and clear here. There has been a sustained, long term trend in the direction of American policy. Issues that do not directly conflict with the economic and imperial objectives of the elite have occasionally seen progress, the rest not so much. This trend will not change until the oligarchs and the legacy parties are removed from power. If you have any ideas about how to make this happen please share them with all of us. If you do not, then please consider supporting this movement.
Q. Would this really send the intended message? Wouldn't people just see a few votes going to lots of unknown candidates?
A. It would certainly be possible to spin the results on election day many ways. The very existence of the need for spin would be a clear sign that our message was received by the legacy parties and mainstream media. Spin is a sign of fear and an attempt at regaining control.
The strategy of building a grassroots / viral campaign and collecting pledges throughout the election cycle would reduce the effectiveness of that spin. If we are able to raise general awareness of our coalition and our campaign it will be hard to explain why an unprecedented number of votes went to the "other" category without referencing our efforts. People who are paying attention will understood what has happened and will understand that we do have the power to make change happen if we stand together.
Q. You don't really think mainstream media would ever cover something like this do you? And if they did cover it wouldn't they just ridicule it?
A. Ghandi once said "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". If we build enough support for this campaign it will place the media in a very tough spot. Their preference is certainly be to ignore any electoral effort outside the mainstream parties. However, with enough support their their credibility (I know... what credibility!) will begin to be challenged unless they cover it. If we were to gather a million or more pledges and many Americans are aware of this they will notice and wonder when the media is not talking about it. Either we get coverage or mainstream media loses credibility. Either way we see progress. As for the second question, I will again reference Ghandi and point out that ridicule is a step in the right direction when you're coming from the place of being ignored. The old saying is "any news is good news".
Q. American voters are increasingly apathetic. Cynicism usually leads to staying home. What makes you think significant numbers who are ready for this idea will actually go to the polls and vote?
A. This makes a very good point and it is certainly right that many will simply stay home. I think it is important to notice however that voters have never before been offered the choice of an organized vote of no confidence. Since this actually mirrors how they feel and is not simply the lesser of two evils I believe many will be more motivated to vote than in previous election cycles. There simply isn't a good historical precedent to compare to.
Young voters more than any other age group often want to see real change and not just tinkering. This is how Obama tricked them. He subsequently betrayed them and they will not be fooled so easily next time. We have never before seen an election cycle where so many young voters got their hopes up, supported a candidate, and were then betrayed. I believe an option of no confidence they will turnout again to send the message that our system is severely broken when there can be such a dramatic difference between what a candidate says and promises on the campaign trail (and in the occasional presidential speech) and the policies actually adopted as president. Many, many youth voters are ready to say "no more!".
Q. Can we really expect an accurate count of the votes in this age of electronic voting machines?
A. I won't pretend to have a good answer here. What I can say is that an accurate counting of the votes is the very foundation of the legitimacy of government. If you do not believe votes will be counted accurately enough to at least produce results in the right ballpark you are more cynical than I am and change is needed even more badly than many of us already believe. In any case, if this campaign were to be successful enough to really have an impact it may be big enough to coordinate election monitors to help address this issue.
Regardless of the official vote count, we would be tracking pledges ourselves. These pledges will give us early and continuous insight into the success of the campaign. These results will begin speaking well before election day. In the event that official results diverge quite significantly from our expected results (based on pledges) we could develop contingency strategies of various kinds. I'm sure many of you may have ideas about what could be done here.
Q. Wouldn't it be better to focus on electoral reform issues (campaign finance reform being the leading issue here, with alternate electoral systems such as IRV and Approval Voting also making a good show)?
A. The current electoral system strongly benefits the empire, the oligarchs, and the legacy parties. Nobody with real power in America has any incentive to change this. If you are passionate about these issues I encourage you to do what you can, but consider also supporting our campaign. It will work inside the rules but outside the box. This seems to me to have the best chance of success, certainly a much better chance than trying to change the rules in a way that takes power away from the oligarchs.
Q. Change doesn't seem to come through elections. Shouldn't we focus on non-electoral strategies of change?
A. It is possible that non-electoral strategies may indeed be better. If you have ideas please share them. In my opinion there are several paths to the significant kind of change that is necessary in American political structures. The least disruptive of these paths is through electoral strategies and thus electoral strategies have the best chance for success. What is necessary is an electoral strategy specifically designed to break the duopoly of the oligarchy that is the legacy Republican and Democratic parties. That is what I have presented. Additional strategies and ideas in this direction are very welcome.
Q. Your strategy aims to tear down rather than build up. Why don't you present solutions and work to implement them instead?
A. This is a matter of perspective. In physics there is a law of conservation of energy. Capitalists often speak of creative destruction. Often times it is simply not possible to create something new without simultaneously breaking down the old structures. While the No Confidence Protest Vote 2012 strategy is superficially a destructive one that protests against the status quo it is more substantially a creative one. It is creative in the sense that it's primary goal is to create the space for new ideas and facilitate a new discussion about the direction our country should go in.
The feeling that America in 10 or 20 years will look dramatically different than it does today is palpable. There is a sense that we are at a turning point and the question is what direction do we go. The space for an honest discussion is sorely needed. Without this space and this discussion I fear that change may not come in a civil manner nor lead us in a desirable direction. Creating this space and fostering this discussion is one of the most optimistic and hopeful acts we could undertake. My sense is that party busting is the only way to make this possible. Maybe I am wrong, but I really don't think so (and if I am, please prove me wrong - I would be very happy to see this space open up by any just and moral means possible).
Finally, I will say that it is easy to ask for solutions and much more difficult to offer the right ones. We have only just begun debating the serious fundamental and structural issues facing us as Americans. It will take time for the best answers to emerge. In the meantime, facilitating and fostering this discussion will move us in the right direction. We are facing unique and daunting challenges as a country. Anybody claiming to have all the answers probably doesn't have any that would serve us well in the long run.