Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For

2016’s presidential election has brought the fissures of American politics inside the political parties, and some are speculating on the possibility of an eventual independent run by either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, or both, should they not receive their respective party nominations. That would certainly make things interesting from the spectator standpoint, but would not likely have the result that many anticipate. In fact, should such a thing happen, the result would most certainly be a victory for the Republican candidate.

Sanders and Trump have demonstrated such levels of popularity that either of those men could, if they ran as independents, prevent any presidential candidate from winning a majority of the Electoral College. If that were to happen, the election would be decided by the House of Representatives, and the entire delegation from each state would have one collective vote.

Now it would be reasonable to expect that the vote would follow party lines. For example, the State of Michigan has fourteen representatives. Nine of them are Republicans, and five are Democrats. Since the Republicans would outnumber the Democrats, the Michigan delegation would cast its vote for the Republican candidate.

As it stands now, thirty-three states have majority Republican delegations, fourteen are majority Democrat, and three are evenly split. So Republicans have a clear majority in terms of state delegations, and the Republican candidate can be expected to win if the 2016 presidential election ends up with the House of Representatives.

Here we may have arrived at some insight as to why Bernie Sanders has dismissed the idea of running as an independent if he doesn’t get the Democratic nomination. If he has a relatively successful independent campaign, he will likely only succeed in sending the election to the House of Representatives, which will result in the Republican candidate being elected. Here, also, is some insight into why Trump is less reticent about an independent run. His success would also result in the election of the Republican candidate.

This might also be why we hear rumblings of the Republican establishment running an independent candidate if Trump wins the nomination. They might be calculating that the Republican members of the House of Representatives would decline to resist the party leadership and would, therefore, vote for the establishment candidate. Now it doesn’t seem likely that members of the House of Representatives, who have to run for office every two years, would act contrary to the expressed will of their constituencies in this particular matter. But the limits to the hubris of people in power have yet to be discovered.

A source for the strength of the two-party system is here discovered. In any presidential election where there are more than two strong candidates, the president being chosen by the House of Representatives is a likely outcome. But the gasps of displeasure being voiced nationwide about the strong possibility of a general election with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the major candidates show that the two-party system inadequately reflects the sentiments of the electorate.

A better solution would be a nationwide primary election in, say, June of every presidential election year. Every state would vote on the same day. Candidates would run as non-partisans, and electoral votes would be awarded in the same manner as the general election (this is not about abolishing the Electoral College, which is an entirely different discussion). If a candidate were somehow to get a majority of the electoral votes, then he or she would be elected president. If no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes in the primary, which would be, by far, the most likely result, then the two candidates receiving the most votes would run against each other in the general election in November. 

In any event, the method of selecting a president by a vote in the House of Representatives needs to be replaced. It is an antiquated system, developed in a time when there were far fewer resources in terms of travel and information. Moreover, it entrenches the two-party system, which, it ought to be plain by now, places an unwarranted barrier between the people and those they elect to office.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Time Has Come

The time has come to fire up this blog again, and while that is not likely to be earth-shaking news to the world at large, it is a critical moment of self-expression for your humble servant. My projects of late have been tailored to specific paradigms that are not appropriate places for saying things that must be said on certain topics of political interest. Noteworthy among those is the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, which has made more obvious than ever the damage political parties have done to our constitutional republic.

True, both of the major parties are showing a level of fragility that has not been seen in some time. Bernie Sanders has managed to inject a significant disruption into the efforts of the Democratic Party to crown Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee, and Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump, for those of you who have just arrived in a time machine from more than a couple of years ago) has the Republican establishment scurrying to thwart his very likely nomination as the Republican standard-bearer.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
But it is how the parties have reacted to these chinks in their respective armors that have made it all too clear how inimical they truly are to the distinctive American republicanism that was designed in the Constitution. The Democratic system of superdelegates has emerged as a topic of conversation, once again, as marked differences are noted between the size of Clinton’s lead over Sanders when the superdelegates are counted versus when they are not. The clumsy and transparent attempt of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, to limit the number of debates so as to advantage the more widely known Clinton is also worthy of mention here. Meanwhile, the Republican machinations to thwart the will of its own electorate, while it might gain sympathy from those of us who oppose such things as racism and violence in connection with campaigning, is making it plain for all to see that the party leadership considers the popular vote a mere formality.

That’s the problem with political parties. They are instruments of special interests, and this is so to the extent that we often see party-line votes in Congress and in our state legislatures. How likely is it, really, that there would be such ideological conformity in our governmental representation? This seeming miracle is only achieved because party leaders in our legislatures pass the word down to the rank-and-file that such and such will be the party line on a given piece of legislation. Thus, our senators and representatives turn out to represent their political parties rather than their actual constituents in their respective states and districts, and the political parties thereby usurp the operation of republican government at its very root.

Of course, getting rid of political parties would be a gargantuan task, and it would have to begin on the state level. What’s more, it would have to begin in those states that allow for legislation to be passed by way of ballot measures, since the politicians now sitting aren’t likely to cast away the water dish from which they drink. But political change of this magnitude isn’t unheard of, and there are specific steps that can be taken.

One necessary step is to make all elections non-partisan. This would mean that party nominations for a particular office would become irrelevant for the purpose of gaining access to the ballot. Another step would be the abolition of party distinctions in Congress and in the state legislatures. Under this plan there would be no more recognition of majority and minority parties, and such offices as majority leader or minority whip would be disallowed. 

The Founding Fathers did not anticipate the development of political parties when they drafted the Constitution. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the parties have a stultifying effect on the effectiveness of the influence of the popular will on legislation. The present campaign season has made it clear, if it never was before, that something must be done about it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Check out my article on Yahoo here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Christian Democracy

I hope to get back here and blog sometime. Lately, I've been working on Christian Democracy, which you can find here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On to Christian Democracy

Mitt Romney’s naming of Paul Ryan as his running mate has brought renewed attention to the proposed budget that Mr. Ryan largely authored. Notable among the proposals are the replacement of Medicare with premium support payments, and the conversion of the federal share of Medicaid payments to block grants to the states. [1] According to the Congressional Budget Office these changes will result in a greater financial burden on Medicare beneficiaries, and a greater cost burden on the states for Medicaid which will be partially offset by eliminating certain Medicaid benefits for the elderly.

As perhaps should be expected, Mr. Ryan’s proposal doesn’t include cuts to defense spending. [2] At the same time, it reduces the top tax rate for individuals to 25%.

All of this is old news, and criticisms of Mr. Ryan’s plan abound. What deserves some focus, however, is Mr. Ryan’s claim that his proposal derives from Catholic social teaching. In particular, he says that his budget is in accord with Catholic teaching on subsidiarity. [3]

According to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, a major part of Catholic social teaching, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” [4] Mr. Ryan equates this with federalism, but, while federalism can certainly be administered in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the two are not synonymous.

Federalism is a political doctrine pertaining to the distribution of powers. Subsidiarity, on the other hand, looks to the distribution of function according to competency and humanity, with the underlying conviction that lower level entities will better perform functions that are, in fact, within their areas of competence. If something can be competently handled by a local community or private association, then doing so is preferable to having it handled by a larger and more distant community or government that will be more remote and less likely to have the ability to tailor its efforts to local or individual concerns. Moreover, a community of a higher order should never interfere with the function of a lower order community.

But the principle of subsidiarity does not stand for the proposition that matters should be pushed to communities of a lower order regardless of competence and ability. Some who deem themselves federalists will want to suggest that social welfare matters should be handled by the states and not the federal government. That is a constitutional interpretation, but it is only in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity if the states can handle social welfare better than can the federal government. There is a good reason for believing they cannot do so.

Social programs have to be supported with taxes, and that remains true whether the federal government administers them or if they are left entirely to the states. If all social programs are left to the states, then the states will have to levy all of the taxes to support them.

But states want businesses to locate within their borders. Higher taxes serve as a disincentive to that end. Yet the lower a state’s tax rates, the less it will be able to afford social programs. The competition between states will thus incentivize lower social welfare spending which could easily fall well below the level of need in such circumstances.

If Mr. Ryan wants to legitimately claim that his budget is in accord with the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, it is for him to demonstrate that the human needs currently covered by Medicare and Medicaid which will be eliminated under his plan will be better handled elsewhere. To date, he has not done so, and, indeed, seems to have no plan for how such needs will be dealt with if his budget is adopted. He cannot simply assert that the human need aspect of the question is irrelevant because the costs of Medicare and Medicaid have become impossible to bear, since he refuses any cuts to defense spending, even though the U.S. defense budget represents 41% of the world’s military expenditures [5], and he wants to lower the tax rates on the nation’s wealthiest individuals.

It is to be hoped that the misrepresentation of Catholic teaching will not become a habit with the politicians. One is reminded of Nancy Pelosi’s claim on Meet the Press in 2008 that historical Church teaching provides wiggle room on the question of abortion [6], a patently false assertion.

There is such a thing as Catholic social teaching, and it does not suffer from ambiguity. Unfortunately, it is to be observed that there are politicians and others who have the face to try and co-opt that teaching to the service of one or the other of the political parties, which necessarily results in the misrepresentation of that teaching. This is a problem that needs to be remedied.

On December 1, 2012, the first issue of the online magazine, Christian Democracy, will appear. There will be no cost for viewing it. The purpose of the magazine will be to examine current affairs in the light of Catholic social teaching as it is, and not in the service of any political party. You will find the magazine here.

Your humble servant will from this point forward devote most of his time to that endeavor in that I will be the editor of Christian Democracy, though it is planned for other writers to be involved. Postings here will of necessity diminish, though it is not planned that they will disappear completely. But I trust that I legitimately suppose that Catholic social teaching will generate a wider interest than the mere musings of your humble servant, delusions of grandeur notwithstanding.

I hope you will visit to agree, disagree, or simply observe.