This one’s for keeps.

In a healthy republic, losing an election is an acceptable outcome for either side. After all, there’s another election coming. We do not currently live in a healthy republic.

What Tom Levenson said. In a healthy republic, losing an election is an acceptable outcome for either side. After all, there’s another election coming. We do not currently live in a healthy republic.

A Romney Presidency, and the Supreme Court appointments that come with it, could successfully cement semi-permanent plutocrat/theocrat rule via campaign finance, voter suppression, and the destruction of labor unions and other sources of Democratic campaign support.  Karl Rove might have gotten there if W hadn’t been such a doofus and Iraq such a FUBAR. Romney’s sharper than W, and would have a unified party – and a terrified plutocracy – behind him. Be very afraid.

Richard Nixon would not have become President in 1968 nor George W. Bush in 2000 were it not for the useful-idiot “progressives” and “leftists” who decided not to sully the purity of their moral essences by voting for the Democrat.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

44 thoughts on “This one’s for keeps.”

  1. But don’t we ALWAYS say this? I’m old enough to have been through quite a few presidential elections and we really do say this every time. And suppose Obama does get re-elected. How is his “grand bargain” with the republicans (which we know he is chomping at the bit to do) going to be qualitatively different than what Millard would do?

    1. Even if you put aside the $200B/yr. in downward income redistribution built into Obamacare – which will go away if Romney wins – I have two words to say: Supreme Court.

      1. A supreme court that would be worse than the one we have now? Really?

        I think that the reason so many people are afraid of the republicans these days is the tea party. They hold republicans accountable. Whether you like it or not, they do. There’s nothing like them on the left. But there needs to be. Too many dems cross the aisles and vote with the republicans. The president invites the republicans to lunch and enacts their healthcare law. People don’t think there’s a difference between the two parties. And why should they. When people on the left stop enabling this sort of behaviour then maybe it will stop.

          1. The Supreme Court has a 3-vote block of retrograde hard-right-wingers who would have been vociferous advocates of fascism in Mussolini’s Italy or Peron’s Argentina – Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. It has one corporate tool who does whatever is best for the 0.01 percent – Roberts – and one country-club conservative who has some degree of commitment to precedent and legal reasoning but mainly wants to do whatever makes his colleagues happy with him – Kennedy. In Citizens United, Roberts demonstrated that he is willing to manipulate the court docket, the law, and the Constitution in order to increase the power of monied interests in the political system and the odds of success for the Republicans.

            The remaining four justices are political moderates with some degree of commitment to liberal goals on social issues such as gay and immigrant rights but no interest in the law as a protector of ordinary persons against the power of capital – so little sympathy for unions or investor’s rights – and little understanding of the need to curb the police power of the state.

            The most liberal of the bunch is Ginsburg, and she is old and ill (she has had cancer twice). If she were to be replaced by another Alito, there would be a solid 4-vote fascist minority that would be able to pick up either Roberts or Kennedy or both on virtually every issue.

          2. This, I’ll second. Pottifar, have you actually paid even scant attention to the Supreme Court in the last decade or two (or three)?

          3. How could it get much worse than Citizens United? And Bloix makes the case that the supposed “liberal” appointees aren’t much of an improvement. I can see Scalia leaving for whatever reason and Obama being bullied into appointing someone to replace him who is mushy at best. We’ll NEVER see him nominate someone like Harold Hongju Koh or Pamela S. Karlan. In short, although I will vote for Obama as the lesser of two evils, I just don’t see how it would be all THAT different with Romney.

    2. Pottifar has a good point about the policies, but Mark is right. It’s not really about policy differences. It is about Constitutional order. Think of the Constitution in the British sense–not the 6000 words interpreted by nine oracles, but rather the set of institutions and understandings under which we live. This includes a lot of extraconstitutional (US sense) but constitutive things such as political parties or a universal franchise. The Republicans want to fundamentally alter our Constitution (Brit sense); the Democrats want to preserve it.

      The Republicans have a point here: our legal structure is that of a republic, not a democracy. The democracy parts are mostly extraconstitutional (US sense, again.) There is no Constitutional (US sense) reason that the franchise cannot be limited to plutocrats, without regard to their race, gender, or disposition to pay a poll tax. And that’s what the Republicans ultimately want to do.

      1. Did you ever read Federalist 10, where Madison defines what a Republic and a Democracy are? Madison wrote:

        “The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first the delegation of the government in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens and greater sphere of country over which the latter may be extended.” That’s it.

        During the constitutional convention the issue of property qualifications was raised, and defeated. Every state is guaranteed in the constitution with a republican form of government.Post Civil War amendments make the point even more explicit.

        The term ‘representative democracy’ did not exist then. It was first applied, a few years later, to the new US – by Madison’s longest time political ally, Thomas Jefferson, in translating a French book about us by A, V. C. Destutt Tracy, who described us as a representative democracy. Jefferson said the book should be required reading for American students. Madison said he never had a serious political disagreement with Jefferson.

        Today “democracy” almost 100% of the time is short hand for “representative democracy” which itself is what Madison meant by “Republic” which has no real clear meaning. Ask some right wing know it all to define a “republic” some time and see what you get.

        The right wing treats the Federalist Papers and the constitution the way right wing Christians treat the Bible. They carefully pick and choose, ignoring what they disagree with, and so give us a portrait of their withered souls that they confuse with either patriotism and love of country, or the will of God.

    3. I’m old enough to have been through a number of presidential elections. I remember very few elections where even modestly serious folks (those bounded on the Left inside Lyndon LaRouche and on the Right somewhere inside the John Birch Society) made this sort of claim. One is Johnson/Goldwater, another is Nixon/McGovern. After that, it’s 2004 and 2008 before I recall these tropes being sung (other than by nutjobs) again.

      I’m agree with our host on this one. Electing Romney will be the end of democracy in the United States of America. Democracy will be replaced by overt plutocracy.

      1. How exactly do you define “overt plutocracy”? Or “end of democracy”? Are you predicting there won’t be a presidential election in 2016 because President R-Money will proclaim himself C-in-C-for-life?

        1. One way to define it is the establishment of a hereditary tax-free aristocracy.

          Romney proposes to eliminate the estate tax, and keep investment tax rates at their current rates – 15% on dividends and capital gains. Paul Ryan goes further. He wants to eliminate taxes on investment income entirely. Either one would go a long way to establishing such a class, which will of course be free to spend its wealth to buy elections, disenfranchise low-incoem voters, etc. Is this a scaer story? I don’t think so. That’s what the GOP is doing and advocating today. Why wouldn’t it keep that up?

          1. Overt plutocracy, Seth, is when the people buying the elections (using money obtained from Chinese casinos and prostitution)no longer bother to hide the fact that they are buying them. Citizens United took us a long stride nearer to that goal.

          2. These replies describe the status quo plutocracy, not some grim reality which starts Jan 20, 2013 with President R-Money.

        2. To expand on Byomtov’s response:

          The arc of history in the United States has been towards universal adult suffrage. We no longer allow property qualifications, although they are consistent with the Constitution. We no longer allow poll taxes (a slightly different form of property requirement) or literacy tests: both were used to keep non-Whites from voting. Women were explicitly given the vote in a Constitutional amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that reapportionment of the House through the Census requires a one-person = one vote system in State redistricting.

          The antidemocratic systems in our voting now are in the Senate and our gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the Senate, the combination of equal apportionment and direct election allow Senators to represent sagebrush instead of people’s interest (or State’s interests, depending on how you like to read that aspect of the Great Compromise.) Our general lack of overtly stated principles in districting allows politicians to pick their constituents. Computers have a mockery of the idea of a district as a geographically coherent entity.

          Combine these elements with unlimited campaign donations, the idea that corporations are people and the idea that money is speech and you have an overt plutocracy and the end of democracy.

          1. “In the Senate, the combination of equal apportionment and direct election allow Senators to represent sagebrush instead of people’s interest (or State’s interests, depending on how you like to read that aspect of the Great Compromise.)”

            I agree with the rest of your statement, but the idea of direct election being less democratic than election by the state governments is simply not true. The latter allows for the governor to restrict the candidates, or the leader of the appropriate state legislative house, and for people with sacks of money to have a far easier job of bribery.

          2. @ Barry

            I’m not trying to claim that allowing the State Lege to select Senators is more democratic. I am claiming that direct election combined with equal apportionment is antidemocratic.

            Actually, if I were running things, I would allow States and Territories to have their statuses change according to population. If the population drops below that needed for two seats in Congress, the entity reverts to Territory: their seats in the Senate are lost (or reduced to one) and they get a single Member of Congress. I’d modify the rules of Congress in that Amendment to allow that Representative a vote. Once the population again reaches the level needed for two seats in Congress it regains Statehood.

            While I was at it, I’d also enlarge the House dramatically, with a target ratio of 1 Congress critter per 100,000 population (or even less). I’d then reduce the staffing of the House: with more Members available they can do their jobs of drafting, reading and amending legislation. Most of that work is currently pushed down onto staff.

        3. Bush went a long way toward ending free elections in the US, but he was blocked because the Senate went Democratic in 2006, thus giving the subpoena power to the head of the Judiciary Committee, Sen Leahy. His hearings and the documents he subpoenaed exposed the Bush-Rove plan to politicize the US Attorney offices by forcing top prosecutors out and replacing them with appointees who, under a prvision that had been slipped into the PATRIOT Actg without debate, would not need Senate approval. The new prosecutors would then use the criminal law to undercut and disrupt political adversaries, gin up phony investigations of “voter fraud,” and protect Republican candidates and office-holders. Ten or more US Attorneys had been dismissed in order to be replaced by hacks before the Senate investigations led to a public scandal and the resignation of Alberto Gonzales. A key element in the scandal was the testimony of David Iglesias, US attorney for New Mexico (and a registered Republican), who told the Senate committee that he had been pressured by NM Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson to indict a Democratic officeholder before the election, and when he refused to do so he was fired.

          If the Senate had not gone Democratic in 2008, the hearings never would have been held, Gonzales would not have resigned, and the full force of the criminal justice system would have been used to swing elections to Republicans. Once that process had been rolled out and institutionalized, free elections would have been over forever.

          And there’s no reason that something very like it can’t be tried again in the Romney administration.

    4. Well, it’s an approach that’s been getting us things such as universal healthcare and abolition of DADT. Somehow I suspect that this might not continue under a President Romney.

      On a practical level, the Republicans won a genuine majority in the House in the last election, clearly representing the will of the voters and have sufficient representation in the Senate to filibuster legislation. That makes it somewhat difficult for the president to implement policy that Republicans strongly disagree with. See also: “How a bill becomes law.”

      Notwithstanding that, I think it is indeed good to reach out to Republicans even when you have a majority in Congress (leaving aside the fact that between blue dog Democrats and the likes of Ben Nelson, Democratic majorities in Congress may not be quite that firm even when in theory the numbers are there). Responding to Republican escalation with more escalation yourself is not a long-term strategy that is going to fix our constitutional issues; in the long term, in our system, Republicans have to learn to work with Democrats again, and burning bridges is not going to help that.

      My biggest beef with Obama is his casual abrogation of civil liberties for the sake of national security, but I don’t think that this is a practice that would stop by electing Mitt Romney instead (most likely, it’d become worse).

      1. On a practical level, the Republicans won a genuine majority in the House in the last election, clearly representing the will of the voters

        It is sad – and maddening – to explore exactly what that “will” was.

        Nevertheless, it is clear we are in decline, and neither party is willing to stop the decline. One party increases the negative slope, one tilts it a bit toward zero. Can the citizenry wake up and change it, or are we locked into our phones and constant distraction via Angry Birds?

  2. “….successfully cement semi-permanent plutocrat/theocrat rule via campaign finance, voter suppression, and the destruction of labor unions and other sources of Democratic campaign support.”

    Sixty million voting Americans call this ‘restoring legitimate government’.

    1. Or “taking back the country” which is their property to dispose of as they see fit.

  3. The Democratic Party is a centre-right organization saddled with a centre-left constituency. Neither is happy with the other, but at the end-of-the-day, moral responsibility lies with the politicians, like Obama, who advertise themselves, simultaneously, as the lesser evil, and the more effective evil. It’s that latter promise, on which Obama has delivered (as Clinton did before him), which Mark Kleiman refuses to acknowledge, and which has had, and is having huge consequences, bad consequences for the country and the world. The strain of populism, which once redeemed the Democratic Party, has evaporated. Romney isn’t the candidate of the rich; he’s a candidate of the rich. This is the least consequential election in my lifetime. The consequential elections occurred in 2006 and 2008, and the failure of this administration to reverse the policies of the Bush Administration created the consequence.

    1. No, the Democratic Party is not a center-right organization. The Democratic Party spans a broad political spectrum, from hardcore progressives (such as Dave Obey) to blue dog Democrats.

      That’s because it does not have a center-left constituency. The American electorate has a strong center-right slant. And the Democratic Party has to go where the votes are if they want to be able to pass laws.

      Part of the problem is admittedly one of labeling. “Liberal” having become synonymous with “commie mutant traitor” in some circles did not help, but I doubt we’d see a major shift if we used different terms, such as “progressive”. And the American electorate constantly rewards presidents for conducting successful wars; and while in practice social-democratic policies can be fairly popular, the average American does not want to pay a single dollar of tax for those. And let’s not talk about the lack of popularity of unions …

      This is not a case of the Democratic Party imposing center-right policy on an unwilling electorate. This is an electorate that has consistently preferred center-right policy making to the alternatives, and the Democratic Party had the choice to adjust or become a permanent minority. Remember that the American electorate voted for George W. Bush in 2004 with both eyes open, and regardless of the questionable 2000 results, he also had about half of the popular vote, while openly running as a very conservative presidential candidate. The median American voter does not secretly yearn for a social-democratic president.

      1. The electorate votes for center-right (and more recently hard-right) policymakers even as polls strongly suggest that the policies they want are center-left.

        One reason, of course, is that so many americans have been taught that we have a moderate-left social/policy structure when it’s actually center/right to moderate-right. So their attempts to turn things back to the middle push policy away from what they claim to want.

        1. I think a lot of it is misinformation, yes, but not in that regard.

          One particular American myth, for example, is the common belief that income is largely meritocratic. Meaning that wealthy people deserve their wealth and poor people deserve to be poor. (Which is presumably why the term “middle class” has been stretched to include income strata that would traditionally have been defined as “low income” — noone wants to be described as poor, because being poor is some sort of failure.)

          In practice, of course, your income and wealth in modern America are largely determined at birth; our social mobility is among the lowest in the developed world these days. But, hey, people still believe in the American dream that if you just work hard enough, you can achieve about anything (and conversely, if you struck out, you probably didn’t work hard).

          1. IIRC, people think that the distribution of income is far less skewed than it really is, and would prefer that it be far less skewed than they think that it is.

            In the end, people want liberal to leftist policies, but are scared of the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘leftist’.

      2. Katja,

        The source you cite indicates that the electorate is mostly moderate and liberal, around 55%, against 40% or so “conservative.”

      3. The idea that the majority of people actively want, as a matter of political ideology, the plutocrats to take their jobs, their homes, their pensions, their children’s opportunity for a college education, their social security and to plunge them into bankruptcy or debtor’s prison, with every vicissitude of their health or employment — the idea that some poll indicates that a majority of the American People want that is absurd. It is true that the stressors asssoicated with bad governance and the absense of trustworthy leadership tends to push the population toward more authoritarian political attitudes, and authoritarian political attitudes usually read as “conservative” on the right-left spectrum of ideology. Coincidentally, the claim of the 1% on more than 20% of income cannot be sustained without the protection of a corrupt police state.

        My point is not that Democrats, or Americans generally, are secret wholly-minded socialists. My point is that they are frustrated. Forget the labels of the ideological spectrum. Most people do not pay enough attention to politics to have elaborate political philosophies. People on the nominal “right” as well as the “left” by virtue of cultural markers of political ideology can be frustrated by the inability of the competing factions serving the plutocracy, to govern in the national and public interest.

        Obama’s performance in office is not redeemed by Romney giving every promise of being worse; together, they are not an argument for holding your nose in the voting booth, and muddling on — that’s not an act of courage, it is act of denial.

    2. Bruce, I think you’re dead wrong about this. Perhaps in the circles you and I travel in (upper-middle class, white, largely academic) Democrats are center-left. But a good swath of Democrats are what you might call blue-collar values voters, who tend to vote based on issues of faith and a clear (if simple) distinction between right and wrong. Many center-left Democrats don’t have any daily interaction with these center-right Democrats, to the party’s detriment.

      1. “But a good swath of Democrats are what you might call blue-collar values voters, who tend to vote based on issues of faith and a clear (if simple) distinction between right and wrong. ”

        I really doubt if half of those ‘Blue Dog’ and GOP voters have the slightest f-ing clue as to economics.

  4. What they have in mind this time *is* different. For examples, see Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida: political history since 2010. It has been widely noted that given current trends the existing gop has no chance of remaining a viable national party, neither as opinion majority nor electoral majority. This is nothing to be complacent about, because the coming election represents one of the last chances for the current republican party to win power.

    If it does, these people will move blindingly quickly on such a breathtakingly broad scale that no one will believe American politicians would actually do what they’re going to do. Isn’t that what Walker did, what Scott did, what Kasich did, what Corbett did– with legislative accomplices– in their own states? Those who disagree with what these guys did ignore this pattern at our own peril. Their intention is to use the power gained in one election to fundamentally change the nature of our political and electoral system so they won’t need to pay any attention at all to building what we’d conventionally call a “viable electoral majority” going forward. They will essentially negate the 20th century and make the conventional obsolete.

    Methodologically they’ve been lurching toward this since at least Lee Atwater’s day, and this path seems to me the only logical outcome of their current demographics combined with the ideological bent of their current big-money influences. Call me Cassandra, but I don’t think anyone who values the slightest thing about our current political system can afford to take this one lightly.

    1. Altoid sums it up. The worst mistake would be to think ‘the GOP wouldn’t go THAT far’. They have been going THAT far and will go much farther. They have been calling it war for years and are now playng a desperate game for all the marbles.

      1. And when they temporarily lose some power for having gone too far, they regroup and immediately go too far again, and profit handsomely.

    2. Their intention is to use the power gained in one election to fundamentally change the nature of our political and electoral system

      Isn’t that exactly what FDR and LBJ did?

      1. Not so much, or at least in a rather different way. It’s one thing to put together a majority voting bloc by causing a bunch of people to want to vote for you; it’s another to put together a majority bloc by preventing people who want to vote against you from voting.

        1. That’s *exactly* the difference. This time, they want to make all that political science language about “voting blocs” and “putting together a governing majority” so much obsolete museum language, at least as far as it’s supposed to refer to what we (quaintly?) think of as broad-based public opinion. It worked in Britain before 1833, why can’t it work again?

      2. SamChevre, you can argue that X did Y about anything – if you are prepared to be vague enough. See: comparisons of Obama to Hitler etc.

  5. Mark: “Richard Nixon would not have become President in 1968 nor George W. Bush in 2000 were it not for the useful-idiot “progressives” and “leftists” who decided not to sully the purity of their moral essences by voting for the Democrat.”

    Mark, we’ve been through this before, and I’m getting sick and tired of your ‘oh I’m so brave look at me bash hippies’ stance. Go publicly confront John Taylor, or heckle some right-wing maggots when they are invited to give talks at UCLA, then you’ll have the right to b*tch.

    Actually, just to be cruel, what did you tell the liars, hacks and wh*res at AEI when you were there? I’ll bet that you didn’t act the politically incorrect brave man there, even though there probably wasn’t a person in your audience who’d tell the truth when their pimps jerked on their leashes.

  6. Another reason for defeating Romney is climate change. As on many other issues, Obama’s record as leader is spotty and his policy achievements modest, but at least he’s on the right side. Romney just proposes to allow the Kochs, Exxon and Peabody to kill my grandchildren.

    Several countries – the Netherlands, Bangladesh, the Maldives – would already have casus belli against the USA and China for climatic aggression, if war were for them a remotely practical solution. Eco-violence by green militants against property is more likely. I’d find it hard to condemn the hypothetical perpetrators out of hand, and they could make some case for just rebellion, though I suspect they would fail the standard efficacy test.

  7. Nominate a better candidate and I will vote him. Also, as long as we are playing the blame game, it is the short sighted lesser of two evil voters who have caused this mess by compromising on almost everything for a few remaining scraps. If I am responsible for Republican wins because I don’t vote Democrat then Mark is responsible for Republican wins because he supports Democrats! So what shall we call your type, Mark? Tools, methinks.

    1. Our electoral rules make third parties almost impossible. Our financing rules make plutocratic dominance of both parties almost inevitable. Politics is the art of the possible, and Obama is better than Romney because, surprise, the plutocrats are not homogeneous and some are relatively humane within the limits of their maintaining power. Those who cannot see that demonstrate their own lack of humanity towards others, in my opinion.

      So-called Progressives need to prove they have brains by understanding these realities, and working for the basic changes that will provide lasting relief while taking such political aspirin as are available until that happens. One glaringly obvious change is to work for state initiatives establishing majority vote elections to replace plurality ones. That would do more than any other single change to weaken plutocratic dominance and the two party oligopoly. despite what ‘conservatives’ say, corporations like centralization and after war have been its biggest promoters.

      Instead of intelligent action such as that I hear perpetual whining about campaign finance reform (to be adopted by the people from the parties that benefit from the status quo, after Hell freezes over) or self-indulgent wallowing in purer-than-though self-righteousness.

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