The lesser of two evils is a commonly used idiom. Ryne Bolick recently (Vote for lesser of 2 evils, Opinion, September 11, 2020) applied it to Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the two “evils” who will be on the November ballot. He further accuses the two major parties of colluding to prevent his preferred candidate, Libertarian Dr. Joanne “Jo” Jorgensen, from appearing as a choice for voters. His label is unfortunate – his accusation is painfully accurate.
The “duopoly,” describing this two-party double whammy on voter choice, foist many points of disagreement on each other (the understatement of the century), but they concur in keeping the debate stage and the ballot to themselves. Others need not apply. We, the people, are the losers in this dynamic. Parties arbitrarily prevent us from hearing ideas that might just trigger a change in how we view our choices in leadership.
Sadly, Mr. Bolick is right about the dominant parties’ collusion on this and many other aspects of exclusively serving only their “base.” What distinguishes parties’ current behavior from the distant past I recall (I am 86) is that they are now dedicated to explicitly leaving certain people, interests, and considerations out completely. Smaller parties don’t have the political weight to be heard in the system. That is a disservice to all of us, not just “minor” party adherents.
My problem with his use of evil is that it sounds too much like the mentality major party campaigns manifest: if you don’t agree with us, you are evil — or worse.
Being labeled evil seldom motivates productive dialogue – most people bristle at that accusation. But shutting down productive dialogue is exactly what parties do. It is less universal among the increasingly numerous (now about 45% of registered voters) independent voters, of which I am one, but painfully common there, too. If it is any consolation to Mr. Bolick, independents are even further out on the party extortion limb than he is. Welcome to the world of political outcasts.
The games played by the Commission on Presidential Debates are, indeed, reprehensible. Other voices would be a welcome stimulus to real debate instead of warmed over stump speeches. It should include voices Mr. Bolick might also consider evil, but I suspect he might be open to that if we could hear him, too. The parties generally, on the other hand, morbidly fear any perspective that does not comport to their carefully scripted mindset. Even so, a few modest cracks in that facade may be emerging in a few states.
What do we do about this sad situation? We spend an estimated $2 billion a year to support the operation of Congress. It is a breathtakingly poor return on investment. Congress is interested in re-election, not governance, and most members get rewarded time after time by overwhelmingly getting re-elected! What?
A refreshing approach lies in a new book co-authored by Katherine Gehl and Michael E. Porter that applies the concept of real — not fake — competition in the election process for selecting members of Congress. The strategies focus on what is doable and can also produce positive results (don’t do now what won’t be effective; don’t go for effective if it cannot now reasonably be accomplished). It would change the rules of the game in favor of the voter. Our Constitution enables states to do exactly that: change the process. We need not wait for national closure. As they point out, the movement has begun. The experiment to rescue the republic from its death dance with our misguided notion of party rule is underway. We can actually do this.
Mr. Bolick would benefit from reading, “The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy.” With its insights, we have a chance to end-run the Debate Commission and, not so incidentally, the similarly dystopian Federal Election Commission. The duopoly abhors such a path. Power, ego, and arrogance remain in play.
Full disclosure: I am not an agent for the book. My financial proceeds from its sales equal zero. My civic profit as an American is unlimited. So is Mr. Bolick’s.
Not being affiliated with a party, I am labeled an independent. A far more accurate term is interdependent — much closer to reality. Believers in the Great American Experiment need to do as Katherine and Michael urge: actively engage in changing the rules and enjoy better outcomes. Break the system that is now intentionally designed to deny our real potential as a democratic republic.
That would be anything but evil, Mr. Bolick.
Al Bell is a resident of Peoria.