Lessons Learned: Election 2006

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Both parties seem to be pathologically incapable of ever admitting that they lose on the issues, but after the 2006 election the denial games by both sides escalated to the point of full blown psychosis.

Denial Games: Conservative

In the case of Republicans, there are two common rationalizations for their loss of control of Congress in 2006:

The evidence is overwhelming that the Republicans lost credibility for three main reasons, and those three reasons are precisely the ones outlined by the pollsters. First, the war in Iraq. Second, their persistent failure to rein in corporate corruption, and third, their own pervasive personal corruption. The first one may not be under a candidate's control if he or she is seriously convinced the war was necessary or has to be seen through. The other two, however, were eminently controllable.

As for the corporate corruption issue, of course voters with middle class incomes can see the necessity of allowing CEO's to make tens of millions a year. And then there are all the measures by media and software companies to place malware on personal electronic equipment to guard against piracy. That's right - they demand the right to right to control electronic equipment owned outright by other people. Property rights? What's that? (Of course I also can't believe people are stupid enough to pay for cable TV and still get commercials, so who knows? Maybe the public is stupid enough to let this happen). Orrin Hatch may have been untouchable in Utah, but his outright prostitution to corporate interests seeking to gain control of the Internet may very well have cost Republicans elsewhere.

But the economic issues are rationality themselves compared to the moral ones. If you don't claim to have the moral high ground, like Bill Clinton, your hanky panky will alienate voters who don't like you much anyway. But if you define yourself in terms of family values and get caught sending sexually suggestive e-mails to male pages, or doing drugs, or getting your inconveniently pregnant mistress an abortion so your wife doesn't find out, well, the Greek word hubris was invented just for you. Hubris doesn't just mean hypocrisy on steroids, it means arrogance so extreme it cries out to the gods for an Olympian smack-down. Like the captain of the Titanic saying "God himself could not sink this ship."

It's The Bell Curve, Stupid

Not the infamous book, but the well known statistical fact that for many types of phenomena, the great mass of data points cluster near the average, and the farther away from the average, out on the fringes, the fewer data points there are. People who want to be secure from crime outnumber people who view criminals as political prisoners. People who support public schools outnumber people who don't. And to gain a majority in an election, you have to capture the central mass plus people on the other side of the bell curve.

In the wake of their defeat in 2006, lots of Republican pundits are calling for a purge of RINO's (Republicans in Name Only). Yup, that'll fix things - for the Democrats.

The curse of American politics is that voters cluster near the middle of the ideological distribution, but party activists occupy the fringes. Third parties are made up of people too fringy for even the fringes of the major parties. The bad news is that both parties regularly defeat themselves by deluding themselves into believing that some lunatic fringe position is what voters really want. Of course middle class voters want to see CEO's getting $100 million a year. Of course consumers who pay $15 for a CD containing five cents worth of plastic and a dollar's worth of content want to see the RIAA and MPAA gain control of the Internet. Of course people who triple lock their doors at night oppose mandatory sentencing and the death penalty, and people with crack houses on their block want to see drugs legalized. The good news is that both parties regularly defeat themselves and clear the way toward repudiating one wing of the lunatic fringe for a while.

And Now A Word To The Religious Right

Do you believe God was in control of the 2006 election? Did you, or anyone you know, pray for a Republican victory? Do you believe God answers prayers? Do you believe God was capable of steering the election the other way?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, answer this: why did the Democrats win in 2006? There can be only one possible answer: God permitted it to happen. Now why would he do that?

Now there are a host of rationalizations out there for those determined to evade reality until the Rapture. Maybe God is setting up America for future punishment. Maybe he allowed voters to pick the wrong side to show the corruption of the society.

Maybe. Or is it possible that God hates hypocrisy more than homosexuality? Maybe he hates fags, but he hates Phred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church far more? Is it possible that he gets angrier at corporate greed than abortion? When he said "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," is it barely possible he also meant not lying about evolution or circulating bogus e-mails about the FCC planning to ban religious broadcasting? If you can commit adultery without actually touching somebody, is it possible to steal even if you don't actually take someone else's property? If you, say, deny someone a job or housing for no good reason? Or eliminate jobs to beef up the bottom line? Or bar access across your property to public lands? Or degrade everyone else's air and water? Is it vaguely possible that "subdue the earth" doesn't mean "beat it to a bloody pulp?" Maybe stewardship applies to the environment as well as to money?

Denial Games: Liberal

Beginning with the 2000 elections, liberals began grooming an all-purpose rationalization for every electoral loss: the election was stolen. Since paper ballots fell into disfavor in 2000, electronic voting has come into widespread use, fueling fears of possible hacking and election fraud. Conspicuously missing from the debate is any mention that the drive to replace paper ballots with "more accurate" electronic voting was inaugurated by liberals angry over the 2000 election in Florida. In 2006, they suddenly realized that the electronic voting machines were not lovingly hand crafted in home handicraft industries out of organically grown products but were made by - prepare to be utterly horrified here - corporations. The logic circuits were made from the brains of still living baby seals.

In the 2006 election, the widespread hacking of voting machines resulted in massive fraud, a landslide victory for Republicans and catastrophic losses for Democratic candidates - wait, what's that? The Democrats won big time, and took control of both houses of Congress? Well, then, all that talk about election fraud was hot air?

Or, as somebody posted on the Wichita, Kansas Opinion Line:

Those blasted voting machines were supposed to be rigged so Republicans would keep Congress. I demand an audit.

How naive is that? No, liberal pundits are claiming the Democratic margin would be even bigger if Republicans hadn't rigged so many elections. One blogger claimed that the machines had been hacked before the election to the tune of 3-4 million votes, but that turned out not to be enough. Tragic how nobody takes pride in their work any more. People go to the trouble of rigging thousands of voting machines and then forget to track the polls to see if they had engineered a big enough margin of victory. It's like those warnings from the Post Office about packages with loose wires, inaccurate addresses, excessive postage, and so on. Complete lack of craftsmanship.

Somewhat related is the complaint by Democratic strategist James Carville that the Democrats could have won an even bigger victory by targeting some of the lower profile and less glamorous races.

If you're a conservative, the good news is that many liberals will never face up to the fact that they lost because the public rejected them. Political corruption and immorality are, to some extent, self limiting. The opportunities for corruption and illicit affairs dry up once you lose power. But rationalizing any lost election as due to electoral fraud can be a permanent cul-de-sac.

Does Anyone Want Real Reform?

Among the reforms suggested by incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are laws that would:

These are all good reforms, so if you're really serious about them, send them to the States as Constitutional amendments. In 1994, the Republican Contract With America called for a Presidential line-item veto. So Congress passed one, except that it was (a) pathetically anemic and (b) overturned by the Supreme Court, which is, of course, what they really wanted all along. If they had really been serious, they would have sent it out as a Constitutional amendment.

There's another remedy as well. Article III.2 of the Constitution states:

In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make. (emphasis added).

In other words, Congress can (and has) put certain subjects off limits for the Federal Courts. That's why the Alaska Pipeline wasn't tied up in the courts forever before it was built. If you're really serious about campaign finance reform, or abortion, or banning gay marriage, just invoke Article III. Proposals to limit Court jurisdiction are usually denounced in nearly apocalyptic, or apoplectic, or both, terms by opponents as mortal threats to the Constitution. It is a bit curious how a power specifically granted by the Constitution can be a threat to it. However, despite heroic efforts at times to convince us otherwise, people on the Supreme Court aren't stupid. When they see their role in politics being reduced to interpreting obscure clauses in fishing treaties, they will figure out a new paradigm for interpreting the Constitution. (If it's that easy, you really have to wonder why the Republicans controlled Congress for 12 years and never put abortion outside the reach of the courts. Or maybe not?)

The single greatest reform we could make would be to change Article V of the Constitution. Right now an amendment can be proposed without Congressional action if two thirds of the states pass a resolution calling for one. That's never happened, but the few times it's even been proposed, the mere prospect of it has sent defenders of the status quo into a frenzy. Change it so that only, say, ten states need to pass a resolution. Better let, let amendments be launched by popular petition using a high threshold, maybe five or ten million signatures, to weed out the fruitcakes. This won't open the floodgates, since it will still take three fourths of the states (38) to ratify the amendment, and that's a very high bar, but it will definitely make it easier to bypass interest groups, and generate some real national debate about reforms.


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Created 30 November 2006, Last Update 02 June 2010

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