The End of Politics as Usual
US political parties have controlled Washington politics for a long time. But with the passage of the Wall Street bailout and Obamacare they are seen to increasingly bankrupt the country at the expense of the citizens. The rise of the Tea Party was the first widescale sign of citizen distaste for the agendas of special interests being promoted by the Republican and Democratic political parties. Republican presidential candidates Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul catapulted themselves to the top of Iowa straw poll by identifying with Tea Party concerns. Now we have another option: internet candidates.
Americans have been waiting a long time for a way to get around party politics. George Washington lamented the formation of political parties in his Farewell Address. In Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0, I traced the history of legal reforms that have allowed special interests to control Washington through the political parties and constitutional amendments. Now the internet, which has been a great equalizer by bringing a vast array of knowledge to citizens’ fingertips, is being seen as a method of going around the party system by getting large numbers of internet “signatures” for non-party candidates to go on the ballot.
The first such system I encountered via a Facebook friend is “Get Out of Our House” (GOOOH). This organization is described as “a non-partisan plan to evict the career politicians from the House of Representatives.” They would like to place 435 citizen representatives on the ballot in 2012. Citizen candidates can fill out an online questionnaire and pay $100 membership fee. Members of each voting district will select candidates by internet votes in online primaries after the candidates are allowed to promote their views online. The winners of these primaries will be placed on the ballot.
I went online and took the candidate questionnaire, which has 118 questions, many with items that Tea Party members might support. Popular issues were included like: “Will you support the Fair Tax?,” “Will you vote for or against a national health care system?” “Will you vote for or against changing the retirement age?” “Will you support the Kyoto Protocol?” and “Will you vote against opening borders?” However, there were also a number of issues listed that average people may have never heard about.
While GOOOH is not a political party, it appears to have a political agenda of undoing the damage that the legal system has done to the country over the years, making lawyers part of an elite class that controls the government. The questions reminded me of things I read in Judge Molloy’s book The Fraternity: Lawyers and Judges in Collusion where the former judge tells about how lawyers and judges have conspired to change laws to gain great benefits for members of the legal profession at the expense of citizens and corporations. Questions included things like: “Will you vote for or against amending the Constitution to exclude people with a law degree from serving in the House of Representatives?” “Will you vote for or against excluding a plaintiff’s legal representative from receiving any portion of a punitive award, splitting the payment between the plaintiff and charity?” “Will you vote for or against limiting the fees a plaintiff’s legal representative can receive to one hundred times the amount a plaintiff in the case receives?” “Will you vote for or against providing government funds to the ACLU?” “Will you vote for or against a cap of $5,000,000 (indexed) on medical malpractice lawsuits (amounts greater than the cap will be directed to charity)?”
Another organization seeking to create a new slate of candidates through the internet is Americans Elect. I first learned of this organization on a PBS evening news broadcast. Its home page asks “Are politics as usual working for you.?” They are focused on putting forward a presidential nominee for 2012. They already have 1.75 million signatures and plan to put the candidate they select through a convention in June 2012 on the ballot.
Americans Elect does not yet have any discussions online and is so far focused on the process. However, the representatives for the organization who appeared on PBS stated that “citizens are interested in compromise.” So, to me that indicated the organizers are more distant from the Tea party and a balanced budget amendment than GOOOH. They could be wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The Party is Over for the Parties
The party finally seems to be over for America’s political parties. The party could only last as long as there was enough money in government coffers and available to borrow to support the special interests of both political parties. The current stalemate that brought my own state of Minnesota to a shutdown and created a showdown in Washington and many other states is a result of governments that have tapped out citizens and brought about a downward economic spiral.
Despite the rhetoric of the establishment, party politics are unable to continue as usual. Already the Republicans are being divided between the big government Bush era Republicans and Tea Party candidates. Democrats failed to pass recent budgets when they controlled houses and appear incapable of doing anything but driving the country off of a cliff because they are unable to control spending and the tax base is tapped out.
The political advertising by the two parties on national television has cost millions. In 1989 the League of Women Voters stopped organizing debates because the two main parties used their financial power to get the television stations to exclude third-party candidates from their traditional nationally televised debates. Since then the negative rhetoric in political ads has turned off intelligent voters who want to know what candidates stand for. Then the recent pairing of Fox News with the Republican Party and MSNBC with the Democrats has further discredited the idea that large media corporations are capable of providing objective news. Some programs like CBS 60 Minutes work hard to reveal corruption, however even they are stopped when a revelation would affect CBS corporate interests.
But national television, like the music industry, the movie industry, national newspapers, and the publishing industry, is being radically altered and democratized by the internet. Traditional news giants are being forced to compete with internet upstarts. No longer can the national media control political knowledge and shape elections with half truths, other points of view can be found on internet media and in the blogosphere. No longer can big concentrations of money from party war-chests guarantee election outcomes.
Are Internet Candidates a Sign of the Future?
The opportunity to put forward citizen-candidates through internet organization like GOOOH and Americans Elect provide an exciting alternative to politics as usual. How successful they are, and how much they will affect the 2012 election is uncertain. Whether these two organizations will be followed by many others and whether we have a slate of 50 presidential candidates is uncertain.
Will internet citizen election groups be free from biases, or will they discriminate against groups like lawyers? Will the traditional parties find ways to put forth their own internet election groups masquerading as true citizen groups? These are always the dangers that follow new technologies.
However, one thing is for certain, the internet has changed the political world. Just as the internet has changed shopping, banking, book reading, and movies, so it will change the process of electing political candidates. The party is over for the parties, and I’m not disappointed. In fact, I think George Washington might be smiling.