Politics 102: Why You Need Politics 101

In my previous posts, I’ve covered some of the aspects of “basic politics.”   Over the past three years, I’ve realized that many of the so-called “Left,”  including many media pundits, don’t really seem to grasp basic  politics, let alone the more advanced aspects.  They’re the equivalent of people trying to explain a game in terms of  three-dimensional chess, without knowing the rules of three-dimensional chess, and  not recognizing that the game being played is checkers.   It may be fascinating to read, but it isn’t going to help you that much.   So I thought I’d continue on with some of the reasons for the points in my previous post.

My point #2 was “if you don’t vote, you don’t count.”  Now, I’ve seen a number of people elsewhere say that politicians do need to address their concerns in order to get them into the voting booth.  After all, they need the votes!  How could politicians consider them “unreliable,” or “nice to have, but not necessary?”  Here’s how:

I used to belong to an organization that put on a big event every year.  It required a lot of organizing to put it on, in terms of arranging for speakers, the venue, the set-up,  and everything else.  It was our major fundraiser for the year as well.  We also had a number of other “social events”  throughout the year, like summer picnics, a Christmas party,  operating booths at fairs, and so on, besides our regular meetings  We had one member who we knew was a member because she was on our membership rolls and paid her dues every year.  She’d show up at the big event, circulate around, and leave before the end.  That was the only time we ever saw her.  She never appeared for anything else we did, and lord knows, she never showed up for any of the work.

Then came the year we had an invitation.  We were asked to combine our event with a group of other organizations, to make one big weekend.   Honestly?  It was a good idea.  We didn’t have to worry about the venue, we only had to worry about our particular speakers, and lend a hand with a much bigger group for set-up and breakdown.  We’d cut our costs, and have a lot less work.  Everyone was in favor, except that member.   She showed up at the meeting where we were voting on accepting it, proceeded to spend 20 minutes ranting against it, and threatened to leave the organization if we didn’t keep our separate event.   We  said we were sorry to hear that,  voted to accept the offer, and waved goodbye to her.  Why wouldn’t she be listened to?  Why the hell should we have?  Yes, great she paid her annual dues, but in terms of being a “valued member,” she wasn’t.

That’s the category “not voting” or “not voting regularly” puts you in with a political party or politician.   Nice that you’re registered, and hey, nice that you showed up to vote in a Presidential election, but they’re not depending on you.    I vote in primaries.  I vote in local elections.  I vote in off-year elections.   I don’t “sit out” an election just because I’m angry at a politician or something (or someone) in the party.  No politician knows how I voted, but they know that I voted.  Which makes me much more likely to get their attention, because they know that the next time there’s an election or primary, I may not vote for them.  But I will be voting.   You, on the other hand, by “sitting it out” to “send a message,” simply become yet another occasional voter who probably wouldn’t have shown up anyways.

My last point in the previous post was #6 – You don’t win by losing. I saw a lot of gloating on the part of the Left when Democrats lost the House.  Yes, it was going to be “better” for the Party, it was going to make it “purer,” and “more Progressive.”  🙄   The reason for the eye roll?  Let me give you Milt Shook’s  Lesson #3: Until there are 218 or more progressive districts in this country, ousting “Blue Dogs” is not a source of pride; it’s actually dumb.

Nancy Pelosi was replaced by an orange Boner, and that all committee chairs all went from being progressive Democrats to being right wing Republicans. We went from having a House of Representatives that passed hundreds of relatively progressive bills to one that has repeatedly tried to kill Medicare and damage Social Security.

And do you know WHY this happened? In part, it’s because several dozen “Blue Dogs,” almost all of whom voted with Democrats at least 80% of the time, were replaced by right wing Republicans and teabaggers.

Here’ some more to think about.  Remember the “Progressive Caucus?”  The members of Congress who were identified as “progressives,” the ones progressives counted on to push their agenda in the House?  Here’s why you didn’t win by losing:

Of the 20 standing committees of the House in the 111th Congress, 10 were chaired by members of the CPC. Those chairmen were replaced when the Republicans took control of the House in the 112th Congress. (bolding mine)

In case you’ve forgotten, every piece of legislation introduced has to go through a committee.  The committee chair has a lot of power, in determining whether those bills get moved forward,  whether they’ll be modified, or whether they’ll be allowed to die.  By losing, that was handed over to the Republicans.   Which, if you hadn’t noticed, means that there’s an absence of progressive legislation in this session.   The old phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” is applicable.   Yes, there might a “purer” House (doubtful, but for the sake of argument), but it was at the cost of being able to do anything.

The only time a “win by losing” strategy “works,” is if you have those 218 districts locked up for progressives.  Then, yes, you can afford to lose the Blue Dogs, as long as you keep control of the House.  If you don’t, you lose.  In reality, the Progressive Caucus amounts to 77 voting members right now.  35% of the necessary 218.  So, no, you couldn’t afford it. Failure to recognize that very simple fact means that you didn’t win anything – you just lost.  Celebrating just makes you look dumb.

Failure to learn Politics 101 just makes you failures.  Great, fine, dandy, you’ve got ideals.  I’ve got news for you:  So do the rest of us.  The difference is that we understand that “ideals” are not “action,” and “action” means knowing how to do it in the first place – while not shooting ourselves in the foot in the process.



Filed under Politics

27 responses to “Politics 102: Why You Need Politics 101

  1. I’m closing in on my 100th voter registration this go round.
    (aside…. finally ran into a lady who was a Dem and re-registered as an R. We had this exchange before. I still agree with you that re-registering as an R is unlikely. But not voting, or staying Dem and voting GOP are possibilities.)
    I’m registering people who are not part of the twitterverse or blogosphere and who tilt R unless someone gets to them through a communication channel they tune in to. Where is the proverbial ‘choir’ on this?

    • People don’t often re-register to another party, except when they feel the “other party” is far-and-away more in tune with their beliefs. More often than not, they’ll register as “independent.” What I’ve found with many of “The Left” is that they’re insulated. They live in reliably Democratic areas, with a strong liberal bent. They, in their personal lives and on the Internet, don’t really interact – as you do – with people who aren’t like-minded. Just to make a point for them, here’s what the Progressive Caucus represents: Here

      • I had a good example of the ‘choir factor’ over the weekend. On twitter I introduced the notion of a split young vote (those following Obama and those who’ve fallen away.) There was significant disbelief that the young aren’t still supporting POTUS in the face of evidence to the contrary. Those in the 18-35 age range whom I’ve registered are not solid supporters by any stretch. Work needs to be done and making assumptions about their support is risky. What are others seeing?

        • I think the younger group are more technically aware in that they’re getting a lot of information from social networks and online news. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, since they’re also more influenced by people like Arianna Huffington and some of the other “internet pundits,” many of whom are among the detractors.

          At the same time, young voters are the least likely to vote. Despite massive “get out the vote” efforts over the years aimed at that demographic, the actual number who show up at the polls and cast a vote is really pathetic. Any politician who relies on it is placing their hopes on a thin reed.

          • I’m just guessing but I hope there are target numbers and percentages for each battleground state for selected demographics.
            I know my observations are not representative of young voters in general but here’s a comment that seems to catch the attention of those I approach to register. I comment that one day they’re going to be running the show. If you vote the world is more likely to represent your interests and not voting leads to a world that represents the interests of someone else – those who did vote. I remind them they can NOT vote if they choose. However, if they want to vote and they’re not registered they’re SOL.
            (aside…. I figured out how to add specific articles to Paper.Li’s curation procedure and added your article so that regardless of their algorithms, it will be placed in the next edition.)

  2. A certain Orange Lettered Blog has recently declared that their goal now is to elect “better Democrats” instead of “more and better Democrats”. It is too bad that they are arithmetically challenged.

    “Better” is a luxury we can’t afford when the “fewer” is killing us … literally.

    • Given their record to date, they’ll fail anyways. 🙄

      That place, along with FDL, DU, and others, is on a path to be irrelevant in Democratic politics after 2012. If the Democrats win the White House and return to control of the House, it won’t be because of their actions. If the Democrats lose, they’ll get the blame.

      • Nathan Katungi

        Once again, Norbrook, Bravo for your post which is deeply grounded in reality. You are absolutely right: “You don’t win by losing.”

        • There’s also their scant knowledge of history. The Democratic Party has consistently swung back towards the middle following major congressional losses. Even more, all I have to do is look at the map, and think “OK, how many of those districts do “pure progressive” candidates stand a chance in?” Quick answer? Not enough to get to 218.

          • Its nice to be pure and idealistic…great fun to sit out and stick your nose in the air. Its nice, but then you have a Gingrich as president..or Mitt. Watching a Republican round table poll, from 12 people..not one liked Mitt, a few were uneasy about Gingrich, but the rest would vote for him.

            We either vote for the President and as many Democrats as we can, or we end up with a poison pill that we will be forced to swallow because not enough of us voted and too many voted their angst.

          • I was reading some commentary recently that was making the point that the demographics in the coming election are different though (I’m not sure but I think it was in ‘Millenial Momentum.’ – could be wrong though.) their point was that the youth vote could remain significant because the current millenials are different in their outlook and pragmatism.
            Apologies for the weak memory; it is finals week and grading is taking its toll.

          • their point was that the youth vote could remain significant because the current millenials are different in their outlook and pragmatism.

            The demographics are going to change anyways. We’re losing the group that went through the Depression and WW-2, along with the early part of the boomers. At the same time, we’re getting more and more ethnically diverse, to the point at which there won’t be a “majority” group.

    • fleetadmiralj

      What does electing 190 fantastic Democrats to the House get you?

      absolutely nothing.

      The fact that they can’t grasp this is rather disconcerting.

  3. Voting is a tough issue because at base voting is not rational. If you take the cost (time, gas, effort, opportunity costs) and compare it to benefits (the chance your vote will make a difference) the probability is very low that your vote will alter an election result meaning that the cost is not worth the expected utility of voting. And since voting is secret one can always claim to have voted even if one hasn’t. THAT is a bigger barrier to voting turnout than anger at a candidate. The way to counter that, I think, is to really push the notion of civic responsibility. You vote because that is something one does in a Democratic society to support and maintain it. It is an ethical issue, just as it might be rational to not return a billfold you find (the probability that the person will know you find it is low, the money in there will bring you gain), most people see it as an ethical responsibility. It needs to be that way with voting.

    As for voting third party out of protest — one could argue that in states or districts where elections are not contested, a protest vote could be safer than in “swing” states. Of course, in France the protest voters once managed to create a run off between the conservative and a neo-Nazi for the Presidency so that can be risky too!

    • I agree that we should stress civic responsibility, and really start that long before voting age begins. One of the things that saddens me is that NY had the lowest voter turn-out in 2010 – and that was a year when there was a governor’s race.

      While claiming to have voted – while not actually voting – may work in interpersonal discussions, or discussions on sites like this, it doesn’t really work when trying to influence an elected official or party. They do know if you showed up at the polls or not. Most of them regularly get “voter lists,” which they break down into “who voted and who didn’t.”

      Even in uncontested races, there’s such a thing as a write-in ballot, hence Mickey Mouse receiving a number of votes in every election.

      • Here in Maine we have the highest turn out, competing with Minnesota where I used to live. We have same day registration plus a lot of emphasis on the ease and importance of voting. It actually is rational for me too, since I enjoy going to the local polling place, chatting with some of the local candidates (they can stand outside, but can’t solicit votes — they just make pleasant conversation) and be part of the community event.

        • My particular area always has a high turn out, but then again, we’re rural, sparsely populated, and mostly older. My “showing identification” when I walk into the polling place is to exchange greetings with the poll workers, trade a little local gossip, and sign in. 😆 Mostly, we tend towards a frighteningly pragmatic point of view.

    • Deal with enough close races and you begin to learn that yes, one vote DOES count.

      • Exactly. This year was for local elections in this state. Quite a number of the races came down to just a few votes, and the outcome depended on the absentee ballot count – and even then it was close. In 2010, two of the House races went to recounts: NY-1 and NY-25. Congressman Bishop won his, Congressman Maffei lost his. It was that close.

    • I live in an area that is 70 people vote its a busy day. In that case…one vote makes a difference in a big way.

      As to third parties..arguably it could be said that Bush made it because of Nader..and in 1980 Reagan got it because of Ted Kennedy against Carter.

      With Third parties, Democrats never win.

      • With Third parties, Democrats never win.

        Well, that’s not quite true. 🙂 In 1992, Ross Perot took almost 19% of the vote, and in 1996, 8.4%. Clinton won both times. If anything, Perot may have hurt Bush and Dole more than he hurt Clinton. In the more recent elections, in my congressional district, a “tea party favorite” ran on the Conservative line, and did seriously damage the Republican candidate’s chances. It’s why we’re now represented by a Democrat. 😀

        Where I see a third-party candidate hurting any party is when it’s a close election, and the third-party candidate draws off one of the normal ‘bases’ of a Party, along with suppressing voting for that party. This is what I call the “Nader effect,” where Nader got 2.74% of the vote, and rather successfully pushed the idea that there was “no difference” between the parties.

    • fleetadmiralj

      Tell that to state Democrats here in Virginia who lost control of the State Senate – our only remaining barrier to stopping Governor McDonnell – by about 250 votes or so.

      • Selling the notion that your vote doesn’t count is an important part of the GOP strategy for sure. You can increase your odds by talking to friends family and others about their vote.

        The cost benefit needs to take into account the loss value that comes about from not voting, e.g. Juliet Schor points out that Americans have added nearly 200 hours of work a year (5 40-hr weeks) to their burden. Voting for pro-labor candidates might have changed that outcome.

  4. Voting is one of the most important things we do as adults. I can’t imagine not voting and will never understand people who think not voting is some kind of “statement.” Imo, the only statement not voting makes is about a person’s lack of intelligence. I always vote every election from local to national. My Mama did not raise stupid children!

    I do admit that I walked out of a local town meeting during the debate once so I wouldn’t do serious bodily harm to a few people but I did return for the final vote.

    In the US, third party candidates may be viable in small local elections but by and large, third party voters might as well wipe their butts with their ballots. The kind of message that vote sends is to usually elect someone they really don’t want, like the nasty little shrub from Texas.

    • One of the things I wish we could require in schools is a course on civics, or more properly, “rights and responsibilities of citizenship.” Considering the concerted effort by various conservatives to limit voting, you’d think that more people would wake up. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve asked chronic complainers if they voted. If the answer is “no,” then I tell them “You have no right to complain then. You lost that when you failed to vote.”

      • This member of the choir says a big AMEN to that!

        Recently, a friend of mine contacted me about some of the problems up on our reservations with voting. Polls have been moved miles away so people may have to drive over 120 miles round trip to vote. This happened in 2010. For some it meant taking their children out of school and spending most of the day just getting to vote.

        Various groups mostly connected to Dems provided food & so forth to the adults and especially the children at polling places. Now, Repugnants are saying this is “buying votes” Lying, shit headed, slime suckers want folks to use scarce money for gas to drive all the way to the polls and then go home hungry.

        We have vote by mail here but a lot of Native people can’t qualify because they don’t have a ” proper home address”

        It just makes me furious and I know I am venting here but I had to get it out. We will be working on this. Every vote counts!

        • I don’t blame you for being infuriated. Having worked out there – a lot of my business took me over to Shiprock or Teec Nos Pos – I’m quite aware of the distances and “lack of a proper home address.” As in “I don’t think the road has a name” sort of thing. 🙄