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Truer words

Maureen Tkacik in the New York Observer quotes a former senior House aide:

"You can't blame the voters. In 2006 they voted out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts. In 2008 they voted out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts. And in 2010 they voted out the party of endless war and corporate bailouts."


Remind me why we think that the legacy parties are responsive to the electorate?

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Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

"Remind me why we think that the legacy parties are responsive to the electorate?"

Uhh, because they're supposed to be?

Not that that changes the power of the observation.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Charles Ferguson worked first as an academic at MIT after earning his political science Ph.D. there before making his $100 million as a software entrepreneur. More recently, Ferguson has produced and directed two films; No End In Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq, which came out in 2007, and Inside Job, a film about the financial system meltdown, which was released in 2010.

Yves Smith recommends everyone see that second film and she posted the video of a talk Ferguson gave at MIT on the politics of finance. His delivery made sitting through the entire hour and a half presentation a bit of a slog but the following parts from it are worth considering:

[1:01:35] I would not pretend to have a complete explanation for what has occurred but it does seem clear that something very deeply has changed in the United States and that change began around the time the United States began to experience productivity and competitiveness difficulties in the 1970s. And it seems to have been a relatively uninterrupted process in the sense it has not been particularly sensitive to which party was in power or to which part of the business cycle the United States economy was in. It's been relatively continuous.

And, in particular, let me -- this which you can't see [a graphic on a screen in the lecture hall] is the share of U.S. total national wealth held by the top one percent of the population. It's gone from nine percent to twenty-three percent in the last quarter century. This is hours worked per year for the average American which has been going up sharply. This is U.S. household indebtedness [which has been going up].

[1:02:53] Now I will conclude by giving you, to the extent that I think I have a partial explanation for what's been going on, my best stab at it. And here is what it is: that there has evolved a political duopoly in the United States in which the two political parties agree to agree on certain things and agree to disagree on others. And, in particular, they agree to agree on things related to finance and money. And they disagree on social policy.

And this has, potentially, quite powerful consequences relative to their ability to retain legitimacy in the United States because the disagreements on social policy are very real and very important and what you see is both political parties and their candidates and people soliciting money, contributions from the base of either of the parties, using those social policy issues in order to retain allegiance from the base even in the face of their, the two parties', shared agreement to leave the economic and financial issues alone.

[1:04:33] Now, that sustainable duopoly depends on the absence both of internal challenges from within the party and also the absence of competitive entry. And I've been speaking about this with people who specialize in the study of political systems and democratic systems, Larry Diamond for instance at Standford, who's probably America's leading expert on democracy. And Larry, in particular, thinks that the lack of a parliamentary system and the lack of ranked order voting are very important necessary conditions to the sustainability of this political duopoly. So, why in the face of this, is there not a more organized response, either independent of political parties or an attempt to create a third political party?

And the answer is, if you look at the recent history of political parties in the United States, and particularly those on the left, the last reasonably clean example would be Ralph Nader, what you see is that, because of a lack of a parliamentary system and because of a lack ranked order voting, the effect of a small fraction of the population going to a third party is to defeat the neighboring party in political terms. And so that also serves as a reinforcement to political duopoly. And my sense in talking with senior -- I don't have much contact with, I have some with senior people in the Republican party, I have a fair amount of contact with senior people in the Democratic party -- my quite strong sense is that this is something that is now explicitly understood.

[1:06:45] And, I think that, though it's removed several levels from the immediate forces that affected the financial crisis and the de-regulatory impulses, lack of law enforcement, that allowed the behavior that led to the crisis. I think that, ultimately, it's some sort of explanation like that we have to rely on. So with that I will conclude.

[1:12:54] Question: I'm from a country which has adapted a parliamentary system, namely Germany, and we haven't been able to do much against what you've described as these financial mechanisms that led to a crisis and I just want to put that forth as an example of how, I think, a parliamentary system may not be the solution since there is all kinds of other problems coming up with entries, of barriers, as well.

[1:13: 17] I'd rather -- from my view of American history, I think what has worked very well in the American system in certain periods was the strong executive which comes with the presidential system. I think that's something that's definitely worth preserving. If I look at the period under Franklin Roosevelt, I think that would be a great precedence on how an alliance had been established between the political class and the population against those kinds of interests. I think that should be the focus rather than trying to mingle -- trying to tinker with the system and introducing a parliamentary system, or not, and things like that.

[1:13:59] Answer: Your point is extremely well taken. And in fact, the other countries that suffered most severely in the financial crisis and whose behavior was the most extreme and egregious, Iceland and the United Kingdom, both have parliamentary systems. So you're absolutely right that a parliamentary system is not by itself a guarantee at all against this kind of behavior. It may well be that the desirability or lack of desirability of a particular electoral system is extremely historically contingent. So yeah, you have a very good point.<<<<<

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

That's the quote I like best from the article. Maybe the professional left is finally getting some dim glimmer of the truth?

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

that is the funniest and best quote so far