When George W. Bush began beating the drums of war, in the lead up to our regrettable invasion of Iraq, Marcia and I joined with the Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice, and marched with them in protest. As with many at FVCPJ, we also got involved with the 2004 election.
In the many internal debates that we had at various Meetups (remember how Meetup.com transformed Howard Dean’s campaign?), the ones I remember most were the ones about whether to support the “true progressive”, peace advocate Kucinich, “putting principle above politics”.
My argument then and now is to “remember Nader 2000”, where the grand stand, “on principle”, of a sufficient number of dedicated supporters of the Green Party gave us 8 years of George W. Bush (who, for all his flaws, personally took seriously the notion of “compassionate conservatism”, so absent with Romney/Ryan).
Anyway, ever the hyper-optimist, I firmly believe that Democrats can win every single Republican held Congressional district in 2014, simply by standing on a different principle. It is a principle implicit in the party name, a principle that proclaims that, in a representative democracy, the representatives of any given constituency should represent their constituency. All of it, not just the 25th percentile primary voter who determines the winning candidate of the Republican primary, trumping the 25th percentile primary voter who determined the losing candidate of the Democratic primary, and leaving the median voter in that congressional district almost without voice.
Under conditions of civil dialogue among a representative sample of citizens, deliberating over any contentious public policy issue, we can surely agree that the stance of the median voter will reflect a more nuanced and complete understanding of the best arguments from both sides, than an adamant ideologue who does not engage in deliberation with an ideologue in the other camp.
Coming together in a transpartisan quest to find common ground is impossible if we refuse to give credence to the very meaning of democracy, in which the majority (and hence the median voter) is given power (so long as that power does not involve trampling the rights of a minority).
To all of my Democratic friends who are share my “unfortunate” situation of being in a congressional district that is center right, I would impore you to all adopt a different principle in 2014, and to select in the primaries Democratic contenders who are committed to representing their entire constuency, even though the median voters of those constituencies all align themselves more with the Republican platform than with the Democratic platform.
Pick a Democratic candidate who also is committed to participatory democracy (implicit in the notion of deliberative democracy), who promises to “query” representative samples from their constituency on every contentious public policy, in full knowledge that the median voter in those samples will not be quite as progressive as you are on climate change; on defending Roe v. Wade; or on securing sustenance and genuinely equal opportunity for the least advantaged; but who will assuredly be more progressive than the candidate that the Republican party will most likely put forth, whose commitments are to something far short of their entire constituency.
Of course, be sure to select a candidate with sufficient charisma and character to win against the Republican contender in the general election.
In publishing this post, I’m allowing the Republican party to steal that secret and table their own candidate with a similar commitment to their entire constituency, and with a similar commitment to deliberative democracy. And it is conceivable that they will field the better candidate, and win the general election. Wouldn’t that be horrible?
[If I had anything to wager, I’d wager it all on the proposition that we won’t be faced with such a horrifying prospect in a single congressional district where the current incumbent is a Republican, given the nature of our deeply flawed primary process, and the voting psychology and theology of the median voter in any given Republican primary. I should be so lucky and thrilled if my tiny readership is multiplied millions of times, and among readers who align themselves with the Republican party, who are persuaded to back a candidate committed to deliberative democracy.]
I do not personally believe in either party or any party (although my personal convictions align overwhelmingly with the Green Party, which is rather to the left of the Democratic party), insofar as those parties operate oppositionally, through a primary process that elevates personal conviction to a political stance that would trump the notion of political equality implicit in the idea of democracy.
As an advocate of almost every principle in the platform of the Green party, I was deeply dismayed at Ralph Nader’s decision to run in 2000, because it divided the left just enough to guarantee their loss of that election (when coupled with the anti-democratic travesty that transpired in Florida). So long as we have our broken political system, I’d rather support the candidate selected by the median Democratic voter, and that meant Al Gore in 2000.
I’m rather hypocritical in my prescription for the 2014 midterm elections, because I have no desire to spend even a minute convincing voters in Congressional districts held by Democrats to adopt my strategy. Until the system is fundamentally fixed, I’ll advocate for a Progressive counterweight to the gerrymandered usurpation of power in the U.S. House of Representatives (nationwide, a majority of American voters voted for Democratic representation in 2012). My slightly undemocratic goal is to win the House back in 2014, by advocating for truer democracy only in Republican held districts, which would hopefully catalyze a sea change, as both parties move towards the “radical middle”. As commitment to representing one’s entire constituency becomes the cultural norm, it will lead to our abandonment of a primary system that continually tears us apart. Our current system ensures a quite anti-democratic version of “representation”, whereby 26% of voters at the far end of the left-right spectrum dictate our public policy.
What I really want, and the primary point of this blog, is to win the U.S. House of Representatives back for democracy — for the “informed and transformed Will of the People”. I am convinced that dialogue among representative samples of citizens will transform (and therefore move) many voters on the Right to adopt a more nuanced view on poverty; on the use of armed force abroad and the issue of gun violence at home; on women’s views about reproductive rights; and on the imperative of addressing climate change. But I also believe that, by engaging deliberatively with the right, many voters on the Left will adopt a more nuanced view on the positive attributes of the “invisible hand of the free market”; on the transformative potential of business that is committed to the “triple bottom line”; on the deeper meaning of religious tolerance towards those who believe that life begins at conception; and on the tradeoff between personal responsibility and our communitarian impulse to provide a social safety net to the truly needy.
Collaboratively and creatively, we can build a much better world. But only when we have effected transpartisan reform can we fully tap the enormous but latent public wisdom that can illuminate our path to that better world.