Tag Archives: multiparty democracy

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: EVERY NEW BEGINNING

It’s not often that a rock song nails a deep philosophical truth in a single pithy lyric… but that’s just what the band Semisonic did back in 1998, with their anthemic hit “Closing Time,” which includes this great line:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

In this case, 2009 was that “other beginning.” Barack Obama’s Inauguration was the crest of a wave, a flowering of post-Bush “si, se puede” optimism that unfortunately was quickly squelched (let us not say “betrayed”) by his own centrist pragmatism and the Republicans’ petty, partisan obstreperousness.

So now here we are, at that beginning’s end – and a new beginning. On January 20, we will see what I am calling the “Dysauguration” of Donald J. Trump – as massive a perversion of the democratic process as the planet has seen since the emperor Caligula supposedly named his horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate.

I plan to see this event from a different perspective. By the time Mr. Trump intones the words “So help me God,” I’ll be across the border, in Canada. (You might want to join me, even if just in spirit, or just for the day. See the article “Vote With Your Feet?” on my website, skipmendler.wordpress.com.)

I’m taking advantage of this “new beginning” to stage a new beginning of my own. I am headed to Europe for an indefinite period, with two goals in mind.

One is to get involved with refugee assistance over there. I am aiming for the Greek Isles, but I might find that I can be useful elsewhere along the route. Ideally, I’ll be able to use my performing experience by hooking up with one of the groups like Clowns Without Borders that has been doing shows to entertain the kids in the camps, but I’m willing to do whatever. (Look up “refugee clown circus” for a raft of articles about what some folks have been doing already, and why.)

The other is to get some opinions and suggestions from activists and academics over there regarding what can be done to fix our broken system, and our fractured society. I am particularly interested in how they make multiparty democracy work, and how we might bring the American system more in line with European democracies in this regard. (See my September column, “Two Parties Are Too Damn Few.”) I also plan to attend the 2017 Global Greens Congress in Liverpool at the end of March.

At present, I’m thinking I should be away for six months to a year, maybe more, depending on what happens (and how long the money holds out). In the meantime, I intend to continue this column, but I’ll be focusing primarily on my experiences along the way.

I remain an “apocaloptimist”: I believe that things are about to get quite rough, but I also believe they will work themselves out in the long run. This particular “new beginning,” this onslaught called Trumpism, will run its course and eventually end, hopefully sooner rather than later, but end it will.

And then there will be more – and better – new beginnings on the way.

 

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: TWO PARTIES ARE TOO DAMN FEW

Next time you’re in your favorite local grocery store, take a little stroll down the breakfast cereal aisle. Plant yourself in front of the Cheerios section – and start counting.  How many different varieties of “toasted oat cereal” do you find? Seven? Twelve?

According to Wikipedia, there are actually SEVENTEEN – including, of course, the inevitable limited-edition “Pumpkin Spice.” (There were 7 others that have been discontinued.)

Similar scenarios play out across the store, of course, in the interest of gaining shelf space and squeezing out smaller competitors. There are at least sixteen flavors of Lay’s Potato Chips, including regional variations – not counting the “Wavy” and “Kettle Cooked” sub-brands. THIRTY-EIGHT different dental hygiene products – toothpaste, that is – sport the Crest brand, including one with the catchy title of  “CREST PRO-HEALTH ADVANCED EXTRA WHITENING POWER + FRESHNESS TOOTHPASTE.”

As Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “What a country!”

Now imagine this: what would happen if one day we suddenly found that we were restricted to only two different kinds of Cheerios? And what if those choices were not, shall we say, the most popular or palatable –  Liver’n’Onions, say, or Crunchy Kale?

Consumers would be outraged! There would be chaos, riots in the aisles, cars burning in the parking lots! General Mills’ stock price would plummet! Congressional hearings would be called!

But this is pretty much the situation that most Americans settle for, each and every general election. Two parties. Two choices. Period.

(You folks in New York State have it better than most – the “fusion voting” system used in NY and a few other states at least allows you to vote for different brands, even if sometimes it’s the same product.)

How is it that in the United States of America – bastion of free enterprise, champion of consumer choice, empire of innovation – we should find ourselves in such a limited predicament?

The historical reasons are long and complex, of course, but the short answer has to do with the way we conduct our elections. In “first past the post” or “winner-take-all” systems like ours, a two-party system becomes almost inevitable, as political groups form coalitions to gain majority advantage. (The political science folks call it “Duverger’s Law.”)

There are other reasons, too. A two-party system makes it much easier to manage the range of acceptable political discourse (the so-called “Overton Window”). Outliers, innovators, and those who question basic beliefs are easily dismissed and ridiculed. Party leaders only have to say, “Vote for us, or else – THEY win!!” to avoid any serious reexaminations of their policies, or accountability to their followers.

So how many parties should we have?

The existing Democrats have at least two factions: the centrist, technocratic “Third Way” Democrats, like Hillary and Bill Clinton, and the more left-leaning Progressives (sometimes called “Wellstone Democrats”), who rallied to the cause of Bernie Sanders. (There are also conservative “Blue Dogs,” but I think they’re almost extinct.) The present, unwieldy Republican coalition – theocratic, conservative Christians, small-government Libertarians, and the Plutocrats who represent Big Business and Wall Street finance – is about to shatter under the onslaught of Trumpism, which is itself a resurgence of “America-First” Populism. Add the Green Party – postcapitalist, ecologically minded, and community-focused – and I think there’s room for at least seven, maybe more.

I believe that a true, multiparty democracy would encourage more citizens to get involved in politics, as they would be more likely to find political homes they can believe in and support wholeheartedly. It wouldn’t be a panacea – just look at Italy, or Israel – but it would be a big improvement.

And there would still be plenty of Cheerios – and granola, and even Frosted Flakes – to go around.

 

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: HOW MANY NATIONS ARE WE, ANYWAY?

(My column for April 2012…)

While Bill Clinton was in the White House, you might recall, some members of the conservative gun-enthusiast community took to sporting bumperstickers that defiantly declared “MY PRESIDENT IS CHARLTON HESTON” (Heston, of course, being the president of the National Rifle Association at the time). During the Bush Regime, I toyed with making a similar bumper sticker myself – though mine would have said “MY PRESIDENT IS RALPH NADER.” (However, I realized that might have put me in danger of severe reprisal – not so much from gung-ho nationalists as from unforgiving Al Gore supporters…!)

We seem to have contradictory expectations regarding our Chief Executives. On the one hand, we want “a President for All Americans” – someone able to bridge divisions, forge consensus, and bring some sense of unity to this great straggling herd of cats that is the American populace.

On the other hand, we also want a President that will be “our” guy, not “theirs” – that will fight, whitened tooth and manicured nail, to make sure that our particular priorities and values prevail, and that will generally kick the butts of the benighted opposition from the Potomac to Prudhoe Bay.

But maybe what we really want is a President of a different kind entirely, a President on a smaller scale – many “presidents,” in fact. Maybe our various communities, interest groups, classes – our disparate, self-identified, internal “nations” – should each be able to democratically select leaders to serve as primary torchbearers and spokespeople for their particular set of interests for a given length of time. These people would then be authorized to participate in national dialogues about issues of relevance and import on behalf of their constituencies – and each American would be able to feel that they have someone standing up in the public eye representing them and their values.

Take, for example, conservative Christians. There are, of course, many individuals who are recognized as “leaders” of that section of society, from Pat Robertson to Rick Santorum, but none of them can claim to have any kind of recognized mandate from that community as a whole. So it may be no wonder that despite the huge numbers of churches, religious broadcasters, and “family-oriented” organizations that exist, these people still seem to see themselves as marginalized, even persecuted, and without influence in society – and so they rally behind someone who could never be a “President for all the people,” because they so desperately desire someone who could be a “president” for them.

When unionized workers were a more prevalent part of the workforce, the head of the AFL-CIO was generally seen as the kind of leader that I am talking about, someone who represented the interests of working-class Americans… but now, who could claim any hold on such a mantle? Who represents our interests as workers now, or for that matter as consumers, within the halls of power?

You probably see where this is going: I am dancing around the outline of a different kind of democracy, of a multiparty, parliamentary state, such as is seen in most of the other industrial democracies around the world. In such a state, there might well be a party, and a duly-elected party leader, explicitly and unapologetically dedicated to representing the needs and desires of the wealthy – but there might also also be one doing the same for the poor – and one for the middle class.

So, as we prepare for the upcoming contests, I would ask you to consider these questions: With which “nation” do you primarily identify? Whom would you consider a potential “leader” for that nation? And who actually would make the best President to serve, not just your “nation,” but all the American people?

Meghan McCain: “Old School” Republicans Are “Scared Sh*tless”

Read the Article (Meghan McCain: “Old School” Republicans Are “Scared Sh*tless”) at HuffingtonPost


OK, imagine this scenario:

1.Arlen Specter splits from the Republicans, gets together with folks like Lincoln Chaffee of RI and Chris Shays of CT and Mesdames Senators Snow & Collins from Maine and other moderate Republicans and forms a new centrist party.

2. Remaining Republicans split between Theocrats and big-gov Plutocrats when evangelicals finally realize that Mammon’s been playing them for suckers for years.

3. Ron Paul and small-government Libertarian Republicans go to their natural home, the Libertarian Party. Constitution Party sees gains from pro-defense “peace thru strength” voters.

4. Blue Dog and DLC Democrats – and probably Barack Obama, for that matter – join new centrist coalition…

5. …leaving the Democratic Party to the “Wellstone wing” left-liberals like Kucinich.

6. Labor folks expand Working Families Party beyond NY State.

7. Greenish Democrats (for whom even Kucinich is still too “establishment”) can finally rejoin their kin in the Green Party without worrying about the “spoiler” effect.

Yeah, I know, but I can dream, can’t I?