We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes

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Tucked inside an(other) entertaining rant about exorcising Hillary Clinton from the presidential race, Jonathan Chait makes a point about the increasingly silly "democracy" arguments rolled out to keep the contest going.

In an editorial bolstering Clinton's prerogative to stay in the race, The Washington Post insisted, "No doubt the Democrats have gotten themselves into a fix with rules that may leave the final decision to unelected superdelegates–but why is the answer to that less democracy?"

Anyone who tried to talk sense into a Ralph Nader supporter in 2000 probably heard some version of this rationale. Giving the voters more candidates is democracy, man. The decision to run is an act of civic virtue that may not be analyzed for its real-world effects. Nader himself dismissed Leahy's call for Clinton to withdraw as "political bigotry." He urged, "Listen to your own inner citizen First Amendment voice. This is America. Just like every other citizen, you have a right to run."

As Chait argued a little bit earlier in the piece:

The persistent weakness of American liberalism is its fixation with rights and procedures at any cost to efficiency and common sense.

Of course, the Clintons don't actually care about rights and procedures, and are using these arguments to browbeat a bunch of unelected superdelegates into giving Hillary the nomination by diktat. It was a mere two months ago that Lanny Davis put this out there, that if the smoke-filled rooms gave us great presidents like Adlai Stevenson (he really said this), they were good enough for the Year of Our Lord 2008. So what's actually happening is liberal saps being bamboozled by totally senseless arguments about democracy. You can't blame them: They've been told for years that "election day is the one day we're all equal," and they're wiped away tears at stories of Freedom Riders registering blacks to vote in the South (stories that Clinton is exploiting to cudgel the first black presidential frontrunner).

But this is getting everything backwards. The power of the vote in an established democracy is the power to pressure and replace the elected. There's a role for protest candidates, but it's to, again, exert pressure on the elected: To clearly state "I am withholding my support from you for reason X" and get them trembling about their vote margins. Since Clinton is trying to survive by convincing liberal voters she's as liberal on the war as Obama and as liberal on economics–trying to muddy the ideological choice and run on personality and resentment politics–voters are really saying nothing by supporting her.

Chait's right to mention Nader, because this is the central fallacy of his campaign. He's running, basically, on a platform of being able to run for president. He's getting on ballots because he thinks people should have the right to get on ballots. It's a childish view of what elections are for.

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  1. I like Hillary more and more every day, because she is turning the Democrat Party into a circular firing squad. Watching these douchebag journalists snipe, piss, and moan about people they normally agree with lockstep is great stuff.

    The whole Romney/McCain/Thompson thing was like this too, and watching National Review do about-faces rocked, but unfortunately that sideshow is over.

  2. Hillary is entitled to be President.

    And if you can explain to me just why that is so, please do, because I am completely unable to comprehend it. Her obsessed, Joan-of-Arc certitude frightens me.

    (And I, as a general rule, am braver than Dick Tracy)

  3. stupid tags

  4. -Let’s see if this works better-

    Hillary is entitled to be President.

    And if you can explain to me just why that is so, please do, because I am completely unable to comprehend it. Her obsessed, Joan-of-Arc certitude frightens me.

    (And I, as a general rule, am braver than Dick Tracy)

  5. He’s running, basically, on a platform of being able to run for president. He’s getting on ballots because he thinks people should have the right to get on ballots. It’s a childish view of what elections are for.

    Nothing wrong with running for the sole purpose of promoting ballot access. One of the greatest problems we have now is the efforts by the Big 2 to limit ballot access to some “preferred” short list of candidates.

    However, it’s sort of equivalent to putting bullet holes in your own feet to demonstrate that even a jackass has a fundamental right to own a gun.

  6. He’s getting on ballots because he thinks people should have the right to get on ballots. It’s a childish view of what elections are for.

    So you feel that the current relationship between the two major political parties and the government is good for democracy?

    Really?

    Nadar may be a single issue candidate, but I don’t see how you can see his wish for systemic change in how candidates qualify to run is a childish single issue.

  7. she is turning the Democrat Party into a circular firing squad.

    I wish!

    From where I sit, it looks like most of the damage she’s doing is to herself, and when the general election rolls around, most of the things that the republicans toss at Obama will be pretty easy to dismiss as old news.

    -jcr

  8. From where I sit, it looks like most of the damage she’s doing is to herself,

    That works, too.

  9. OR…

    What Kinnath said.

    It seems the parties should have whatever rules they want for you to put their stamp of approval by your name, but getting your name on the ballot should be a pretty easy matter that the parties should have no say in.

  10. Are we there yet?

  11. “Since Clinton is trying to survive by convincing liberal voters she’s as liberal on the war as Obama and as liberal on economics–trying to muddy the ideological choice and run on personality and resentment politics–voters are really saying nothing by supporting her.”

    Or they are saying that they think she’d make a better candidate than Obama. Despite the more and more shrill screaming for her to drop out she is well within her rights to keep on keeping on. The argument for her to leave is one of convenience, not principle.

    “The persistent weakness of American liberalism is its fixation with rights and procedures at any cost to efficiency and common sense.”

    Does that quote chill anyone else?

  12. Chait’s right to mention Nader, because this is the central fallacy of his campaign. He’s running, basically, on a platform of being able to run for president. He’s getting on ballots because he thinks people should have the right to get on ballots.

    No, he’s running because he thinks that the ballot should present a genuine choice between truly different alternatives. There’s a difference. That said, I wish he wouldn’t run.

  13. Saying Nader shouldn’t run is almost the same thing as saying Barr shouldn’t run, isn’t it?

  14. Wow, very muddled thinking here Weigel.

    Surprising, for a libertarian.

    Yes, elections have real-world consequences. But the issue isn’t one of merely identifying the consequences, it’s one of handing out moral blame for those consequences.

    Say 3 candidates run for an office.

    Candidate A holds “perfect” positions.

    Candidate B holds “slightly less than perfect” positions.

    Candidate C holds “atrocious” positions.

    [We’ll leave aside the issue of whose positions are whose. It’s not really relevant.]

    Candidates B and C are major party candidates and Candidate A is a minor party candidate.

    The election comes and Candidate A takes away votes from Candidate B, with the effect of Candidate C winning the election.

    You appear to be saying that this makes it Candidate A’s “fault” than Candidate C won. You’re assigning moral blame to Candidate A for dividing the vote and allowing the candidate with atrocious positions to win.

    That’s complete balderdash. The moral blame lies with the voters who supported the other candidates, in particular the voters who supported Candidate C.

    Had the voters voted for the proper candidate, Candidate C would not have won.

    If you’re saying that everyone who can anticipate that the voters will act immorally is obligated to take that knowledge into account when making their decision to run, I disagree. In fact, it’s morally absurd to claim that, and tantamount to saying that rape victims ask for it, because they should have taken into account the existence of rapists before they went outside at night.

  15. Saying Nader shouldn’t run is almost the same thing as saying Barr shouldn’t run, isn’t it?

    No, Nader is running on a platform of “it should be easier to get onto ballots.”

    You appear to be saying that this makes it Candidate A’s “fault” than Candidate C won.

    I’m not assigning value judgments like that. I’m all for having protest candidates who apply some kind of policy pressure. I’m saying elections are not about giving people a bunch of guiltless choices. They’re primarily about empowering people to run the bureaucracy. They’re secondarily about applying pressure on those people to keep them honest.

  16. Wow, very muddled thinking here Weigel.

    Surprising, for a libertarian.

    A truly beautify irony in the juxtaposition here.

    I believe you are saying his thinking is surprising for a libertarian, but it comes across as if you feel muddled thinking is surprising to see in a libertarian, as if they have some inherently clear thinking on issues as a rule.

    Beautiful.

    I agree, however, with your point.

    Of course, if you want to blame A losing on a collusion between the parties putting forth B & C that limits A’s ability to make her case, then it may not be the voters who are to blame, since they may not have been able to accurately assess the merits of the 3 candidates.

  17. http://www.votenader.org/issues/

    ? Saying Nader shouldn’t run is almost the same thing as saying Barr shouldn’t run, isn’t it?

    No, Nader is running on a platform of “it should be easier to get onto ballots.”

    Sorry Dave, but you’re being highly disingenuous here.

    Nadar is running on a platform which includes 12 issues…and at least as developed a plan for governance as Barr has.

    So, yeah, it is exactly the same as saying Barr shouldn’t run.

  18. No, Nader is running on a platform of “it should be easier to get onto ballots.”

    And I say, that is a worthy cause on its own.

  19. Since Clinton is trying to survive by convincing liberal voters she’s as liberal on the war as Obama and as liberal on economics–trying to muddy the ideological choice and run on personality and resentment politics–voters are really saying nothing by supporting her.

    David, I think you are confused about that proper reasons for the making a choice. Ideology and leadership have nothing to do with it. As Maureen Dowd says, Democratic voters “…will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater, and which stain will have to be removed first. Is misogyny worse than racism, or is racism worse than misogyny?

  20. A faction of Democrats just can’t stand to see a tall, well-spoken black man look so weak.

    Reall though, I can’t see why Democrats have their underwear in such a bunch. They must think McCain has some kind of head start or something, but Republicans might very well be in the same position if they didn’t have winner-take-all primaries. Democrats come off as ashamed of their primary rules. The country could use a little self-hatred as an antidote to the last decade or so of arrogance, but Gore, then Kerry, and now Obama are overdoing it.

  21. So is Weigel agreeing with the criticism that we shouldn’t worry about rights to the point of ignoring commonsense? Cuz…that sounds pretty much like every argument for the welfare state I’ve ever heard.

  22. it comes across as if you feel muddled thinking is surprising to see in a libertarian, as if they have some inherently clear thinking on issues as a rule.

    Well, I guess I could say that, and probably be right, but that’s not precisely what I meant.

    It’s just that libertarians tend to be skeptical about assigning moral blame to individuals for second-hand or indirect “consequences” of their actions, and tend to reject the justice of doing so. That being the case, it’s strange to see Weigel doing that here.

    It’s really easy for a libertarian to say that it’s absurd to claim that atheletes shouldn’t do steroids “because kids might want to imitate them”. To me that means it should be really easy for a libertarian to see that it’s absurd to claim that one candidate shouldn’t run for office “because that might indirectly allow a bad candidate to win”.

    I’m not assigning value judgments like that.

    You’re avoiding the language of a value judgment, but if you say, “Candidate A should not run because of Consequence X” that’s a value judgment.

  23. I believe you are saying his thinking is surprising for a libertarian, but it comes across as if you feel muddled thinking is surprising to see in a libertarian, as if they have some inherently clear thinking on issues as a rule.

    Beautiful.

    I agree, however, with your point.

    Be kind, NM.

    Some accountants are bad at engineering. Some engineers are bad at engineering. I’ll still take the engineer in a pinch if I want something built. I think Fluffy was in a fairly crude way trying to point out that since Libertarianism tends to be an ideology that is (somewhat) rationally based, to find a Libertarian being irrational, while not right out, is rather odder than finding, say, a dominionist being irrational.

    p.s., you see the BSG season premiere?

  24. Wow, very muddled thinking here Weigel.

    Surprising, for a libertarian.

    Close enough – Drink!

  25. Nader’s running on a platform of “Democrats are Republicans in sheep’s clothing.” Have the Democrats even tried extending an olive branch to Nader or are they enjoying their pity party?

    One can dismiss Nader as a wingnut, but that wingnut takes just enough votes from the Democrats to make them nervous. Republicans would be quaking the same about Ron Paul, but the GOP seems to give just enough party ground to Paul that he’s not a scary threat anymore.

  26. Fluffy,

    Well, I guess I could say that, and probably be right, but that’s not precisely what I meant.

    That’s comedy gold*.
    Thanks. Now I can get may ass to work with a chuckle fresh in mind.

    *libertarians are, on average, no more nor less susceptible to muddled thinking than the rest of humanity. Libertarianism is no more nor less founded upon clear reasoning than any other major school of political thought. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  27. LMNOP,

    BSG may pull it off.
    I admit to being worried about the way they left things at the end of the last season.

    Any bets on who the last Cylon is?

    My money is on Starbuck, but that is probably too obvious.

  28. LMNOP,

    In other words, yes, watched it.
    Liked it.

  29. Top three guesses:

    1. Gaeta
    2. Lampkin
    3. Zarek

    I dunno, Starbuck just doesn’t *feel* right, if you know what I mean. And yeah, too obvious.

  30. Dave,
    You’re putting way too much into this. If elections are about anything, they’re about creating the illusion of empowering the citizenry while anointing the establishment’s successor. Sure there’s a horse race and the electorate can be volatile and fickle, but all the candidates represent the establishment. The only question comes down to whether CEOs or trial lawyers are the biggest beneficiaries of government corruption.

  31. As Maureen Dowd says, Democratic voters “…will have to choose which of America’s sins are greater,

    And Republicans are supposed to be the prudes who want to use the state to impose moral uplift?

  32. Top three guesses:

    1. Gaeta
    2. Lampkin
    3. Zarek

    I dunno, Starbuck just doesn’t *feel* right, if you know what I mean. And yeah, too obvious.

    It’s tough. In theory, it can’t be Adama (either of them) because they have a long and famous family and so can’t be Cylons.

    Can’t be Helo or what was the point of his Cylon-human hybrid baby.

    Too obvious: Starbuck, Baltar.

    Possible: Laura Roslin?

    My thought is that they will either be really, really obvious because in a way we’ll be surprised at that obviousness, or they’ll do something really interesting and unexpected. I doubt they will have someone totally unimportant that makes people groan.

    Maybe Starbuck is half Cylon?

  33. Re: The A, B, C thing, it’s more like this in this election:

    Candidates L1-L9 are all reasonably good, and will get a miniscule chunk of the vote, and have a 0.0% chance of getting elected.

    Candidate D1 is a charming sack of shite who will do bad things.

    Candidate D2 is an annoying sack of shite who will do bad things.

    Candidate R1 is an fairly likeable sack of shite who will do bad things.

    Candidate R2 is pretty good, though not as good as many of the L candidates, and can get far more votes than candidates L1-L9, and has a 0.0% chance of winning.

    So, is it evil to support candidates L1-L9 or R2, because not voting for D1 or D2 or R1 might result in a person who will do slightly more evil things getting elected?

  34. It’s tough. In theory, it can’t be Adama (either of them) because they have a long and famous family and so can’t be Cylons.

    After Tigh, I’m not sure about this logic.

  35. libertarians are, on average, no more nor less susceptible to muddled thinking than the rest of humanity. Libertarianism is no more nor less founded upon clear reasoning than any other major school of political thought.

    Neu, I know what you are trying to say, but you’re off base here.

    Consider a person who announces that they are a feminist ethicist and a polylogist [but says those labels don’t capture the full nuance of their position]. Wouldn’t it make sense that this person, who finds multiple ways of telegraphing to you that they won’t commit to reasoning in a straight line, will be more likely to have “muddled thinking” than someone who does the opposite? When people announce that they consider murky thinking to be desirable or good, doesn’t it make it more likely that they will think that way?

    Libertarians are more likely to commit to the logical outcome of any particular train of thought, if only by virtue of the fact that they announce in advance that they’re comfortable with extreme conclusions. That makes it less likely that they will engage in murky, contradictory, nebulous thinking. It’s not a question of superiority or inferiority. It’s a question of method of approach.

  36. Gun Owner, the Adamas also fall under the “too obvious” logic. I’m not saying no way, I’m just trying to speculate using some sort of logic. The truth is we have no idea what they are going to do.

  37. Sorry, Dave, but this article’s a load of hooey. Right now Obama is short of the cigar by about 400 delegates (regular, oldfangled delegates), and Clinton is short by about 500 delegates. Neither of them will win the necessary number by the time of the convention. This is not some suppressing-the-vote hanky panky. They’re in a dead heat. Neither candidate has won, and both have every reason to keep fighting, no matter how many judicious-sounding pundits keep telling you Hillary is toast. She may well end up as toast, but right now she has absolutely zero reason to withdraw from the race. And I say that as somebody who loathes Barack Obama slightly less than I loathe Hillary Clinton.

    The tipoff should have been the claim that liberals care too much about rights. I’ll believe that line of crap when they pry it from my cold, dead, crap-filled hand. Or something like that.

  38. The tipoff should have been the claim that liberals care too much about rights.

    Yeah, nothing says “reverence for democracy” like reserving the final decision to a bunch of party hacks.

  39. “…no matter how many judicious-sounding pundits keep telling you Hillary is toast.”

    She _is_ toast, at least with regard to her chances of becoming president. If she ends up getting the Democratic nomination, it will almost certainly be in spite of having lost the popular vote and the “regular” (as opposed to constipated) delegate count. That will create a very strong perception, valid or not, that she stole the Dem primary, and that will turn off more than enough people to keep her from having a legit shot in November.

    However much of a longshot she is to be the Democratic nominee, she’s a lot more of a longshot to be prez if that happens because of _how_ it will almost certainly have to happen. Yeah, a whole lot of stuff can happen between September 1 and November 4, it’s never over til it’s over, etc. But even if she’s not totally toast she’s really, really toasty. That may not be reason enough for her to drop out, but it’s more than reason enough for Dems to try to “convince” her to drop out.

    PS: toast

  40. The case of the Hillary supporters – that Obama has won mainly states that the Dems won’t win in November – is not dispositive, but it is pretty compelling. I think Obama’s a much better candidate for the Dems to run, but who cares what I think? There are real, Democratic-party-centric reasons to argue that Hillary is a better bet in the general election, and Obama’s substantial-but-not-huge lead in delegates (again, combined with his apparent relative weakness in large states) is not sufficient evidence that she needs to drop out. If there were real numerical evidence that he’s trouncing her in the primaries, that would be sufficient. But the quit-Hillary campaign is mostly a case of buzz taking on a life of its own. Or nothing being inevitable but thinking makes it so. Or something like that…

  41. Zarek works best from plot development POV.

    But from a continuity POV it has to be Cally. Otherwise her child would also be a holy halfbreed

  42. I have to confess I really don’t understand the logic of the pro-Hillary argument about the states she and Obama have won. It’s not like all, or even a significant number, of those Hillary primary voters are going to turn to McCain if Obama gets the nomination. The big Dem states that Hillary won are still going to be big Dem states if Obama’s the candidate. Except in rare cases, I don’t see how success in the primary in a given state really tells us much about success in the general against the other party’s candidate.

    As Hillary’s people began pushing this argument more, a number of pundits offered a list of states where John Kerry won the primary handily then got his ass kicked by Bush. That argument didn’t seem to apply very well to him.

  43. I know there have been polls saying some percentage of Clinton supporters won’t vote for Obama, and vice versa. But the ones I’ve seen actually have a higher percentage of Obama supporters not voting for Clinton in the general than the reverse. And I’m sure a lot of those people will re-think their positions by November anyway.

  44. I think the idea is that Hillary is stronger in big-electoral-vote states, and that those are the ones that will really matter in November.

    As you note, there are reasons to be skeptical of that argument. Among other things, a strong primary showing in a given state only helps you to the extent that it indicates you can motivate party members in that state to get out and vote in November, and there’s plenty of historical and numerical reason to believe that advantage is negligible.

    Still, I don’t think the big-states argument is any less valid than the total-delegate-count argument. Neither is a good predicter of how things will go in the general election, and in any event Obama’s total delegate lead is not overwhelming.

    I just don’t see that the case for Hillary’s withdrawal has been made.

  45. “They’re in a dead heat.”

    No they aren’t. Even assuming that Clinton miraculously ends the campaign with just 100 more pledged delegates than Obama (best case scenario), she’d still have to win 2/3 of the remaining undeclared superdelegates to get the nomination. This will not happen unless Obama gets caught with a prostitute.

  46. Correction: should have said “100 fewer pledged delegates than Obama.”

  47. Fluffy,

    It’s not a question of superiority or inferiority. It’s a question of method of approach.

    Not buying, sorry.

    Just no evidence to support it.

    None.

    Sorry.

  48. Possible: Laura Roslin?

    My wife and I discussed that one too.

    Would make sense given her past close relationship with the President.

    And she is leading them away from Earth if you believe Starbuck.

  49. Neu Mejican,
    In terms of establishing what might be called “first principles”, such as ideas of property, it is true that libertarians do not always use clear thinking. However, most others don’t, either, and a lot of their ideas are logically absurd. Case in point: the so called “right to *insert name of thing that is either a basic necessity or something that lots of people really, really, really want*”. Most of these things (food, water, healthcare) are limited, and in some situations it is impossible for everyone to have those things. How, then, are those things universal rights? At least, while there’s holes in the references to Locke and co., libertarian ideas aren’t quite so absurd as the above.

  50. economist:

    However, most others don’t, either, and a lot of their ideas are logically absurd.

    Exactly my point. I did not say libertarians were more muddled in their thinking, just that they do not, in any way, avoid the muddled thinking that plagues other “isms.”

    If you see libertarians as less muddled, it is probably because their muddle agrees with your own muddle.

    Me, I see pragmatic utilitarian moderates as having less muddled thinking than others, because they, of course, agree with my crystal clear thinking on issues (most of the time).

    Fluffy sees people who agree with him as more likely to be clear thinkers.

    Human nature.

    But sometimes ironic and funny.

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