Americans Love Elections. Why Not Have More?

An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008
An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008 (Caren Litherland)

The number of things Americans can vote on is bewildering to a European. From county coroners to judges to the head of state, there’s scarcely an office that’s not elected in the United States. Their counterparts in Europe are more often appointed by whichever government happens to be in power.

In contrast to their proliferation of elections, Americans don’t usually have much choice. In most places, most of the time, they can only pick between a Democrat and a Republican. That’s not something Europeans would put up with!

This year’s presidential election is even less of a contest. With the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, so unfit for high office, sensible Americans really don’t have a choice at all.

A switch to European-style proportional representation, which would open up the political sphere to more parties, is unlikely. But there is room for reform inside the current American system. The trick is adding another layer of elections: runoffs. Read more “Americans Love Elections. Why Not Have More?”

Hillary Clinton and America’s Need for a Female Victory

Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks with New Jersey senator Cory Booker in Newark, June 1
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks with New Jersey senator Cory Booker in Newark, June 1 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

John Marshall has been writing at Talking Points Memo about how this year’s election in the United States is a particularly gendered one. It’s not just that one of the two major political parties has for the first time nominated a woman for the presidency; it’s that the other party is about the nominate a caricature of an alpha male whose promise, at a deep level, is to put women and other minorities in their place.

It is within this context that you need to read Ezra Klein’s feature about Hillary Clinton in Vox.

Klein determined to find out why the former first lady and secretary of state is perceived so differently by those who know her personally than by the wider public and believes he has found the answer: Every single person he talked to brought up, in one way or another, the exact same quality they feel leads Clinton to excel in governance and struggle in campaigns. “Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens.”

That sets her apart from Donald Trump in a way that will decide not only the outcome of this election but what sort of a country America is going to be. Read more “Hillary Clinton and America’s Need for a Female Victory”

Let’s Stop with the Referendums

Athens Greece protest
Greeks demonstrate outside parliament in Athens, February 16, 2015 (Lefteris Heretakis)

Britain’s accidental withdrawal from the European Union should give other countries pause before consulting their own voters directly in a referendum again.

The problem with referendums is that complicated political questions don’t usually lend simple “yes” or “no” answers.

The whole point of parliamentary democracy is that we can elect people to make such choices for us; to weigh the costs and benefits, to think through the long-term consequences, to make sure one group isn’t disproportionately affected over another. Most voters don’t have the time nor the interest to be part-time politicians themselves. Read more “Let’s Stop with the Referendums”

Let’s Lower the Stakes: Our Politics Are Not Worth Dying For

Dutch right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn before his death in 2002
Dutch right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn before his death in 2002 (ANP/Robin Utrecht)

Alex Massie has a thoughtful column in The Spectator following the murder of Labour parliamentarian Jo Cox in the town of Birstall, near Leeds.

It is too early to know for certain what motivated her killer. Some media report the man yelled “Britain first!” as he attacked Cox, who was campaigning to persuade Britons to vote to stay in the European Union in a referendum next week.

If the vote had anything to do with it, it should give the leave campaign pause. They are certainly not to blame, as Massie rightly emphasizes. The killer and the killer alone is responsible.

But when you present politics as a matter of life and death, he suggests — as some of the leading proponents for an exit from the EU have — there is a risk some will take you at your word. Read more “Let’s Lower the Stakes: Our Politics Are Not Worth Dying For”

Looking for Solutions After the Orlando Shooting

Fifty people were killed this weekend at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people, who were partying and socializing in a place that is supposed to be safe for LGBTs. Who were no threat to anyone. Who were targeted because of who and where they were.

We don’t need to speculate about the killer’s motives to understand what this was. Whether Omar Mateen was motivated by religious fanaticism or anti-gay bigotry; this was a hate crime.

Events like these inspire fear and anger. We’re afraid it might happen to us next. We’re angry that it could happen in the first place. We are emotional and we all want to make sure it never happens again.

Some will argue now is not a time for politics. But what’s the point if we don’t learn from the massacre of fifty innocent people to reduce the chances of more people being killed? Read more “Looking for Solutions After the Orlando Shooting”

What Liberals Can Learn from Donald Trump

Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015 (Joshua M. Hoover)

Some Republicans in the United States have tried to make the case that Donald Trump, their party’s likely presidential nominee, is somehow the left’s fault.

Bobby Jindal, the former Louisiana governor and a failed presidential candidate, blamed Trump’s popularity on Barack Obama in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. After eight years of the Democrat’s cool and nuance, it was little wonder, Jindal argued, that voters longed for bluntness and “strength”.

That was followed by an article in The Daily Beast that said “political correctness” had created Trump. Britain’s The Spectator published something similar. At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum rejecting this thesis, but recognized it was not entirely without merit.

Before blaming others, conservatives should take a long, hard look in the mirror. There is more right- than left-wing complicity in Trump’s rise. I argued back in December that mainstream Republicans had for too long ignored or tried to co-opt the crazies among them. Conor Friedersdorf has made a similar argument in The Atlantic. Jonathan Bernstein argued much the same at Bloomberg View not long after Trump launched his presidential bid.

Even so, we can see that Trump is a reaction to liberal pressures in several ways. That’s not to say the left is to blame. But liberals can learn from this. Read more “What Liberals Can Learn from Donald Trump”

Not Just the Lesser of Two Evils: The Case for Clinton

Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton talks to voters in Iowa, November 22
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton talks to voters in Iowa, November 22 (Hillary for America/Adam Schultz)

Millions of Americans will probably vote for Hillary Clinton in November because the alternative is worse.

There is no shame in that. Candidate who exhilarate their followers tend to either raise unreasonable expectations, as Barack Obama did, or all the wrong expectations, as Donald Trump is doing.

A two-party system can never satisfy everyone anyway and voting for the lesser of two evils is a perfectly rational choice. As Vice President Joe Biden once again, “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.”

But there is still a case to be made for Clinton — not just against Trump — that speaks to the mood in the country and her long career in government. Read more “Not Just the Lesser of Two Evils: The Case for Clinton”

Middle-Class Americans Need a New Deal

A street in Brooklyn, New York, February 3, 2013
A street in Brooklyn, New York, February 3, 2013 (Thomas Hawk)

When the presidential primary campaign got underway in the United States last year, the Atlantic Sentinel was heartened that Democrats and Republicans were finally talking about the same problem. “Both parties recognize that life has become too hard for Middle America,” we reported at the time.

That was progress from the last presidential election when Republican Mitt Romney infamously dismissed the “47 percent” of Americans who pay no federal income tax as moochers while Democrats spent more time complaining what an out-of-touch plutocrat he was than challenging his laissez-faire policies.

“Whether it is the lack of job security, unaffordable higher education, a health care system that is similarly more expensive than it needs to be or the absence of real wage growth,” we wrote that “the defining question of the next election will likely be how to make life a little easier for those tens of millions of Americans who identify as middle class.”

That was before Donald Trump made the defining question of the next election whether or not America will surrender itself to an ignorant demagogue.

But even Trump, in his own, unhelpful way, is channeling the desperation of millions of Americans who grew up believing they could reach the middle class and didn’t. Read more “Middle-Class Americans Need a New Deal”

What If America Had a Multiparty Democracy?

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Leonid Bershidsky raises an interesting question at Bloomberg View: What if America had a multiparty democracy like most countries in Europe?

Based on the outcome of the first presidential voting contest in Iowa this week, Bershidsky imagines the country could five parties: a center-left one led by Hillary Clinton, a far-left one led by Bernie Sanders, a Christian right one led by Ted Cruz, a populist one led by Donald Trump and a center-right, pro-business party led by Marco Rubio.

The two left-wing parties would have a majority, at least in Iowa. Clinton, placing first, would head the government. Sanders, as leader of the second largest party, would get an important cabinet post: say, minister of the economy.

The right-wing parties would go into opposition, but with a reasonable prospect of returning to government in four years. They could either win a majority between the three of them or perhaps Clinton’s and Rubio’s parties would get enough support to form a government of two parties, like the left-right coalitions that rule in Germany and the Netherlands.

As it is, Clinton will probably win the Democratic nomination as well as the presidency. Both Sanders’ supporters and the entire right of the country will feel left out. The latter “will express their discontent in Congress,” writes Bershidsky, “resulting in continued gridlock.” The former won’t have any power at all. Read more “What If America Had a Multiparty Democracy?”

Political Change Takes More Than a Charismatic Leader

Barack Obama
American president Barack Obama looks out a window during the G8 summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 18, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Paul Krugman, who often conflates his political beliefs with economic theory, makes a good argument in The New York Times about political change.

There is a persistent delusion in the United States on both ends of the political spectrum, he writes, that a “hidden majority” of voters either supports or can be persuaded to support radical policies, “if only the right person were to make the case with sufficient fervor.” Read more “Political Change Takes More Than a Charismatic Leader”