Is Americans Elect the Real Deal?

Americans ElectIn a very well written post over at The Atlantic, Lawrence Lessig argues that Americans Elect, a self-purported “2nd way” of nominating a Presidential ticket–carefully avoiding even the numerical mention of three or third so as not to not be labeled a third party–is the best hope that the United States has to rid itself of the corrupting influence of money on our political system.

But we who believe with Uygur (who believes that campaign finance reform is the largest issue facing American politics) must recognize that waiting is not costless either. The nature of campaign spending in the two elections since Citizens United has changed American politics fundamentally. After this election, that change will seem normal. The outrage that now courses through this Republic — on the left and at least the silenced right (squashed by four to one spending) — will fade. The idea that 196 Americans — the .0000063 percent — can contribute close to 80 percent of super PAC expenditures will seem ordinary. The tiniest slice of the 1 percent will then gladly accept the role of funding America’s elections, in exchange for the continued acquiescence by the rest of us — acquiescence in its dominant role in American politics, and because that role has been privately, not publicly focused, the continued plundering of our children’s futures.

If we let this issue go unremarked now, we could well pass a point of no return. The new normal is too profitable for those who control our government. Lobbyists can now promise clients triple digit returns on lobbying investments — what rational CEO would invest in a better mousetrap when more lobbyists on Capitol Hill promise more profit? And when the average salary increase for moving from the Hill to K St. is 1,452 percent, what rational congressperson is going to make it her cause to end the corruption that is this system?

We cannot afford this silence now. We can’t afford to wait. We must find a way to put this issue into the center of this presidential campaign. And the only way to do that just now is the most misunderstood movement in this election cycle so far — Americans Elect. (emphasis added, content not in original)

But the right answer here is not easy. And it begins with a recognition that we all must accept: America has lost the capacity to govern. By handing over the funding of elections to the tiniest slice of the 1 percent, we have guaranteed that any important policy choice can be blocked by a fraction of that tiny slice of the 1 percent. There will be no climate change legislation. There will be no simplification of the tax code. Health-care costs will not go down. Wall Street will be bailed out again. You pick your issue. Here is the fact: Our government hasn’t the ability to decide any important question of governance sensibly. And it will remain that way until we find the will to end this pervasive system of corruption.

Americans Elect claims:

Americans Elect is a “2nd way” to nominate a President, not a traditional 3rd party. Our process is open to any qualified candidate and any registered voter—no matter their party. We have no ties to any political group—left, right, or center. We don’t promote any issues, ideology or candidates. None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists. Our only goal is to put a directly-nominated ticket on the ballot in 2012.

I am certainly tempted to entertain the notion that because no other third party or so-called “alternative” movement has been able challenge the status-quo in the United States and our two-party system, that I should support Americans Elect on grounds of principle alone. I have in fact registered on the site, completed the questionnaire, and made my opinion clear. I have done the same with the Justice Party. I have not shied away from the possibility that Americans Elect could somehow grow into a serious challenge to the Democratic and Republican machines. However, I share many of the concerns highlighted by the Lessig piece. I also have independent concerns of my own. But all things considered, I support Americans Elect and its efforts to at the very least scare the pants off of the two major parties.

My first major concern is the requirement that the Americans Elect nominee nominate a candidate for Vice President from a party not affiliated with the Presidential candidate. Americans Elect is fond of its claims that its process will produce a “nonpartisan” ticket. The requirement that a candidate choose a running mate from another party is not in any fashion nonpartisan, but rather bipartisan. The idea that Americans Elect has removed itself from partisan politics is simply not believable. It makes very clear that it is not a third party, but rather an alternative nominating method within our current system. Moreover, The strongest candidates currently declared and willing to accept the nomination of Americans Elect, with the exception of Rocky Anderson, are quite obviously members of the two major political parties. For example, The Americans Elect front-runner Buddy Roemer served in the House of Representatives and the Louisiana Governors mansion as a Democrat. Only Rocky Anderson has declared himself not to be a member of either of the two major parties. On the draft side of Americans Elect, Ron Paul, who has long since abandoned any desire to break from the Republican Party, leads the way. He is followed by Jon Huntsman and Bernie Sanders. Huntsman has no intentions of leaving the Republican Party. Bernie Sanders has to his credit been elected more than once to the United States Senate as a Independent.

So, what we have at Americans Elect is essentially a cast of characters who, if ultimately elected, would have close ties to one party or the other. This does absolutely nothing to reform the corrupting influence of money on our system, rather it places an individual who did not receive a major party’s nomination in the position to be corrupted once elected. Furthermore, the ridiculous requirement that the nominee of Americans Elect hand-pick a Vice Presidential candidate from a competing “party” is inherently anathema to its purpose. If a majority of caucus members vote to have a progressive or conservative candidate as the Presidential nominee, why would those same caucus members be forced to accept an individual who does not represent the views of the majority? I defy any Americans Elect proponent to explain the efficaciousness of this to me.

Americans Elect also lacks the functionality of a political party. It has no local committees, or state boards. It functions completely in cyberspace, shutting out millions of Americans from the process. It has no platform, meaning the nominee for President in 2012 could advocate expanding Social Security while the nominee in 2016 could advocate destroying the program. The entire movement lends itself to the political winds, and that is indeed dangerous. A conventional political party functions efficiently for the same reason here in the United States as it does around the world–It offeres a consistent belief system and set of ideals for like-minded people to rally around. It is relatively static over time, and it works well that way. It greatly reduces the likelihood that short term events will blow politics and policy completely off course.

Much of the criticisms of third parties, and short term Ross-Perot-Ralph-Nader patterned candidacies, from the journalistic elites are similar to mine. The arguments generally flow from an idea that any problem conceivably addressed through a third party could and should be properly addressed through one of the two competing parties through direct involvement of its members. There are no magic bullets or panaceas. This argument certainly has some merit. However, when, as is true now, we find ourselves with two parties that nearly mirror each other on important issues, notwithstanding millions of members standing in disagreement, the system is broken. I agree with Americans Elect and Lessig that the reason the system is broken is money and influence. Money contributed to elections, and powerful moneyed interests threatening to wreak havoc upon the economy if they don’t get what they want. Also, I agree with Lessig that any concerns of stealing votes from a Presidential nominee of a major party and handing the candidate of the other party the win is a not a concern worth entertaining if doing so means continuing the status-quo. Further, any misgivings regarding any potential damage inflicted upon the two major parties as a result of this or other alternative efforts should not force folks back into the loving arms of the major parties. The lesser of two evils remains evil.

I do applaud the efforts of the Americans Elect founders and board for carving out a new and admittedly exciting element in the American Presidential election process. It stirs the pot and I like that. However, Americans Elect is a half-hearted solution to a larger problem. The predicament of the corrupting influence of money is pervasive in American politics. It is not difficult to understand, nor is the methodology needed to dismantle it difficult to grasp. The American people must demand that remedial legislation be passed by the Untied States Congress and sent on to the President, be he or she Democrat, Republican, or other. If Buddy Roemer or Jon Huntsman were somehow elected President on the Americans Elect ticket, without support of the people, Congress will continue to click click along as it always has. The President has nearly nil ability to influence the legislative process.

However, if a true third party or grass roots movement worked to elect alternative and independent candidates in Congress and in state houses across the land, real change could take place. The timing could not be more ripe for this type of change. In recent polling, nearly 80% of Americans were willing to entertain the idea of casting their ballot for a third party. Americans Elect is not a third party, and it lacks any mechanism to organize and communicate with the 80% of Americans that could potentially support its efforts. Americans Elect seeks only to drive a different car to the same location. Sending a Republican or Democrat to the White House via the sponsorship of a movement not willing to clearly define its mission is a fools errand and will ultimately change nothing. I wish them luck, but Americans Elect certainly smacks more of a clever idea hatched by a few wealthy individuals frustrated with the current system than a carefully researched and planned political movement. I share their frustration, but without organization and messaging, it’s nothing more than money influencing the system under a contradistinct justification.