NERDY PROVOCATION OF THE DAY

With just under a month to election day, below is a ranking of how important each of the competitive statewide races is to me. My cut-off for “competitive” is that the top two candidates are within single digits of each other (in the 538 polling average); among the 30 races that made that cut, I tried to rank without regard to how likely I think the more progressive candidate is to win or lose – only based on how much I want them to win. I tried not to be decide based on which states I live in/ have lived in.

Factors I considered (totally unscientifically) were:
– Population of the state in Governor’s races – the bigger, the more important the race is
– Ideological range between the two candidates most likely to win – the more liberal the candidate I want and the more conservative the one I don’t, the more important the race is
– My guess at how effective each of the candidates would be (at getting legislation passed, defeated, or blocked; at making legislation more or less progressive; and at shifting public debate) – the more effective the candidate I support would be, and the more effective the candidate I oppose would me, the more important the race is

Here’s the ranking I came up with – from most important to least. Where do you agree? Disagree?

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DODD 2012!

As of this afternoon, Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal is officially running for Senate. Folks who’ve spent time in Connecticut may remember that Blumenthal was famous until today for almost running for higher office every cycle but never pulling the trigger. For comparison’s sake, Elliot Spitzer used to be mentioned in the same breath as Blumenthal as a rising star Attorney General destined for bigger things. In the time Blumenthal’s been Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer went from government attorney to private attorney to Attorney General to Governor to Slate Columnist.

It’s good to see Blumenthal step in to run for Chris Dodd’s now-open seat. It does raise the question though of who will run against Joe Lieberman if Joementum tries to test his luck again in 2012 (there was a rumor Blumenthal would run against Lieberman in ’12, although then again they said the same thing in ’06). I suspect Ned Lamont will take another go at it, assuming he doesn’t become the Governor of Connecticut first. That would be fun. More outlandish: A restless Chris Dodd, figuring the sheen of scandal has faded, unretires himself to run for the other Nutmeg State Senate seat. After all, Joe Lieberman makes most anybody look good. Even if Joe ran as an Indy and not a GOPer, I think he’d pull more GOP than Dem votes. An outlandish scenario I guess, but a fun one to ponder.

ELECTION PREDICTIONS FOR TOMORROW

Just for fun, here’s how I’d rank tomorrow’s banner elections in descending order of likelihood the good (or at least better) guys win:

New Jersey Governor (Corzine)
Maine LD 1020 (Keep Equal Marriage)
New York Congress (Owens)
Virginia Governor (Deeds)
New York Mayor (Thompson)

I’m guessing one of these five (Corzine) will turn out well. If two do, count me happy (not counting the safe Democratic House seat in CA). But whatever happens, I won’t conclude anything big about the national climate from it.

STOP STEPPING ON MY BREAKTHROUGH

Doing his best to sweet-talk electorally-ascendent liberals into hitching their wagon to the libertarian rickshaw, Brink Lindsey offers a list of shared victories in which liberals and libertarians can revel together:

an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends. Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era–the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration–were championed by the political left.

If these are victories for libertarians, then this is a better argument for why libertarians should support liberals and leftists – the people who actually won each of these victories – than for why the left should turn libertarian. But it’s worth asking whether these markers of social progress even qualify as “libertarian breakthroughs” or “libertarian ends.”

The Jim Crow regime was undone in part by the elimination of the poll tax, a nasty law which restricts access to a government function to those able to pay for it and rewards those with more money to spend on their politics with more voice in them. What about undoing those laws qualifies as libertarian? The Jim Crow regime was undone in part by anti-discrimination laws that empower government to use regulation to limit the freedom of employers to employ a workforce that looks like themselves. Inflicting government intervention on market transactions is not exactly the libertarian m.o. Neither is government-mandated busing to integrate a public school system that if libertarians had their way wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Many libertarians no doubt break with Barry Goldwater and support the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. But their support for good progressive law doesn’t demonstrate a fundamental affinity between liberalism and libertarianism. It simply demonstrates that even its devotees sometimes reject the maxim that “the government is best which governs least” when faced with the liberty-denying consequences of the “free market” whose “relentless dynamism” Lindsey urges liberals to recognize.

Libertarians may support freedom of the press from censorship, but they’re more likely to fret over how to sell off our publically-owned airwaves than how to ensure airtime for grassroots candidates. They may support a woman’s right to choose, but I wouldn’t count on their assistance in ensuring that women have the economic means to choose abortion or childbirth, or the educational resources to make informed choices. They may support the rights of the accused to a trial, but they’re not the first to line up to be taxed to pay for decent lawyers to represent them (then there are the ones who would like to replace the criminal justice system with a system of private torts). They may support allowing more immigrants into this country, but if you expect them to face down employers who exploit the fear of deportation to suppress the right to organize, you’ve got another think coming.

And though the Cato Institute won’t be joining Rick Santorum’s crusade against no-fault divorce any time soon, there’s no need for an earnest Ayn Rand devotee to support a right to divorce at all. After all, isn’t marriage a binding contract that the parties should know better than to get into lightly? Aside from the reality that it presides over marriage in the first place, why should government have any more right to stop consenting adults from entering contracts for lifelong marriage than it does to bar contracts for human organ sales or pennies-an-hour employment?

MONEY, IT’S A HIT

Something else about Lieberman-Lamont: Their race brings together two of the less popular archetypes in American public life: the incumbent creature of Washington and the guy with more money than God.

That’s not a coincidence.

Under the “one dollar, one vote” system undergirded by the “money is speech” regime set forth in Buckley, the ability to raise and spend money ranks high on the already frightful list of institutional advantages held by incumbents. The ability to raise money is the first mark of legitimacy in the eyes of the media and political establishments who too often serve as gatekeepers between would-be challengers and the attention of the electorate. Ostensibly liberal people pledge fealty to the doctrine that serious candidates should be able to raise serious money.

Some millionaire candidates, of course, fail spectacularly. Some spend enough of their dough to leave the incumbent at a significant spending disadvantage. Some do both.

But wherever one comes down on what we should or shouldn’t assume about millionaires’ character and suitability to represent us, the difficulty of unseating an incumbent without being one should concern us.

FROM RECOUNTS TO RUN-OFFS

The latest turn in the Mexican election drama only confirms that it’s too soon to tell who will lead the country into the next decade. But barring a demonstration of truly massive fraud, it’s safe to say that Mexico will be led by a man who little more than a third of Mexican voters marked on their ballots on Sunday. The next President of Mexico will be the winner of what was ultimately a contest between Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Felipe Calderon, a contest which a third of Mexico’s voters gave up the chance to weigh in on when they chose to vote for one of the three other candidates instead.

Some will no doubt respond that democratic elections are full of tough choices, and it’s on each voter to weigh whether it’s more important to pull the result towards one of the two foreseeable results (the first face of power, if you will), or to shift the sense of the politically feasible (the second face). But it’s worth asking whether that sort of calculation, scintillating as it may be – the same sort of calculation many Connecticut Democrats will have to make if faced with a three-way ticket come November – is good for democracy in the broader sense of how much control individuals have over the decisions that determine the conditions of their lives (a greater problem, by that standard – David Held’s – is the long shadow global capital casts over contests like this week’s).

Because it isn’t necessary that that sort of calculation be necessary.

Mexicans have far less cause than Americans to worry about throwing their votes away in congressional elections because Mexico has proportional representation. Both countries could take a further step towards reducing the centrality of cynical calculation from presidential voting by implementing instant run-off voting.

Instant run-off voting forces politicians to pitch themselves as ideal elected officials if they hope to be viewed in victory as something other than everyone’s second choice. And in elections like the one in Connecticut, and the one in Mexico, where critical, ideological choices are laid out more starkly than we ususally get to see them, it facilitates voters following Paul Wellstone’s imperative to vote for what you believe in – and observers judging better from the results what kind of leadership those voters want.

The LA Daily News reports that a few more congressmen have joined up with a bid to repeal the 22nd Amendment’s two-term limit for presidents. Doesn’t seem to have a chance, and it’s hard to get worked up over one way or the other, but I do think the country would be a hair more democratic without the amendment. I generally think it’s a good thing for us to have social norms against third terms of the kind that already existed before 1947, but that’s a decision for primary and general election voters to make for themselves (or, in the case of FDR, not to) in each election year, not one for another generation to make for us. And it’s a norm individual voters should each decide to uphold or reject in their own selections, not grounds for a current or past majority to deny members of a minority or future majority the chance to vote for the candidate of their choice (same goes for the far less sympathetic ban on foreign candidates, especially in an era when the ostensible threat some English prince using his wealth and residual pro-British-empire sympathies as a springboard to the Presidency is that much less of a reasonable concern…). As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, when the system works, “we have term limits in this country: they’re called elections.”

The real implications of term limits are far greater here in Mexico, where elected officials at all levels are government are limited to single terms. I heard a convincing lecture here at UDLA last week echoing what some political scientists in the US have warned about term limits: they shatter the already-fragile subject-agent relationship between voters and candidates, in which voters do their best to evaluate the performance of their representatives and reward or punish them at the voting booth. That’s why the conventional wisdom we’ve heard repeated non-stop recently is that your first term as President is for re-election, and the second is for history – a charming idea, maybe, but not a very democratic one. And it becomes much worse when no one’s term at anything is concerned with getting elected again. Defenders of the term limits I spoken to here argue that in a parliamentary system where voters are choosing parties rather than candidates (a set-up the lecturer is opposed to as well, though I’m not), this makes little difference, even holding voting based on parties constant, in a scenario without term limits voters have the chance in party elections to reward or punish incumbents, and if those incumbents make it to the top of the party’s list, then all voters get the chance to take performance into account. This professor isn’t the only Mexican I’ve spoken to here who identifies term limits as one of the reasons they feel ignored by their elected leaders, who are looking ahead not to re-election but to currying favor with party elites to make it onto the ballot for a different office (Mexico also seems to provide support, incidentally, for another hypothesis about term limits: that they reduce institutional conflict between different branches of government as you see more of the same people cycling through different offices). Of course that concern is also heightened by the overwhelming perception of party corruption, which is itself the main argument I’ve heard from Mexicans for keeping term limits in place. So earning faith that the system works seems the first step here towards convincing voters here that elections are term limits enough.

From Alyssa

I have to admit that Howard Dean’s email today about the pace of fundraising, and what the DNC is doing with that money, got me more excited than I expected. Hearing that the priority is hiring organizers and getting them on the ground in states like Kansas is tremendously encouraging. I don’t recall ever hearing anything like this from Terry McAuliffe, which doesn’t really surprise me, but it’s the right direction to be going. Building power on the ground, and making a long-term committment to organizing is the only way the party is going to recover, and it recognizes a central problem that we had in the last election. The Republicans had people in neighborhoods, and we had MoveOn-organized phoneathons from solid blue states to swing states. I’ve become progressively disillusioned with MoveOn, partially because of the way they spin things (I was especially frustrated with their perception of the fillibuster “victory,” and the lame Star Wars-based ad), and because I thought, even at the time, that it was glaringly obvious that wasting a lot of time, energy, and money on phonebanks was not a winning strategy. As sincere as all of those efforts were, scripts do not convince people to get out and vote particularly well, and can never be subtle enough to make people switch their votes in large numbers.

What organizers can do is far different. There are, and will continue to be, huge limitations to organizers who come in from the outside to organize communities they aren’t from. But they can identify people who have power or contacts and aren’t using them, or aren’t using them effectively enough. They can encourage people who want to get involved to make the jump by providing them with opportunities. There’s a notable passage in Grassroots, a pretty good book about the ’88 New Hampshire primary, where one veteran of ’84 talks about how she considers her box of file cards on her contacts the treasure she can bring to a campaign. The first priority of organizers should be to find people like these, whether they are leaders in quilting and book clubs or in local party organizations, and train them to be leaders. The Democrats will succeed if our new organizers make themselves obsolete. I’d like to think that this can happen; I am wary of what happened to Dean’s “Perfect Storm” in Iowa. In any case, this is an approach very different than purly raising money for ad buys and long distance phonebanks. I’m glad that something different is happening in the party; we needed both the fresh air and the reality check.

From Alyssa

Hey, I’m Alyssa. I’m a veteran of a whole bunch of different blogs; Josh is right that I can’t hold on to one of my own, at least not with school and work, and a life, so I’m thrilled that he’s invited me back. I’m a junior at Yale, and a Humanities major, which means I enjoy geeking out over things like obscure Inquisitorial tribunals and Florentine artistic and political movements. When I reemerge into the real world, I like indie rock, social justice movements of a bunch of different stripes, big American cities and their problems, and writing.

To get started…The New Yorker is bad about keeping their articles online (although with the New York Times taking much of the good stuff electronic, who am I to complain), but Hendrik Hertzberg, who writes the always excellent lead political piece in the beginning of the Talk of Town section, delivers a trenchant analysis of the latest British election in the May 23 issue. He takes on the perception among American liberals that the British system is a lot more democratic (participation, though much higher, slipped in this election). I’m not voicing agreement or disagreement-I simply don’t know enough to do that. But Hertzberg is always worth taking a look at; I think he gets too little attention among bloggers for how good he is. Making sure that people like him, and the New York Times commentators, get excerpted on the net despite not being widely available online (especially in archived form) is going to be important. I think the sentiment that so much is happening on the internet that anything not available online is replacable is sadly mistaken, if only because it sacrifices much of the challenging and interesting style out there.

Last night, the Ward One Democratic Committee, a group of exceptionally committed and informed students, endorsed Rebecca Livengood’s candidacy for Alderwoman and her vision for progressive partnership and broadened citizenship. It’s unfortunate that so much of the news of this campaign over the past few weeks has been dominated by an organized campaign to discredit the integrity of the committee and its members; hopefully we can have a more issue-oriented campaign going forward. Whether or not her opponent, Dan Weeks, or others choose to run in the primary or general election, there’s a great deal of work ahead in registering and mobilizing students and engaging a broader and deeper conversation about how all of us in Ward One can better realize our values in our city. Rebecca’s experience organizing students to take part in the decisions which affect them, building coalitions which unite citizens from across campus and across the city around issues of common concern, and leveraging pressure on entrenched power to achieve progressive change make her uniquely qualified to take on the work ahead.