A Philosopher's Blog

Voter Fraud Prevention or Voter Suppression

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 15, 2014
English: map of voter ID laws in US

English: map of voter ID laws in US (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One essential aspect of a democracy is the right of each citizen to vote. This also includes the right to have her vote count. One aspect of protecting this right is to ensure that voter fraud does not occur. After all, voter fraud can rob legitimate voters of their right to properly decide the election. Another aspect of protecting this right is to ensure that voter suppression does not occur. This is because voter suppression can unjustly rob people of their votes.

Many Republicans have expressed concerns about voter fraud and have worked to enact laws aimed, they claim, at reducing such fraud. In response, many Democrats have countered that these laws are, they claim, aimed at voter suppression. Naturally, each side accuses the other of having wicked political motives. Many Democrats see the Republicans as trying to disenfranchise voters who tend to vote for Democrats (the young and minorities). The Republicans counter that the Democrats are supporting voter fraud because the fraud is in their favor. In many cases, these beliefs are no doubt quite sincere. However, the sincerity of a belief has no relevance to its truth. What matters are the reasons and evidence that support the belief. As such, I will look at the available evidence and endeavor to sort out the matter.

One point of contention is the extent of voter fraud. One Republican talking point is that voter fraud is widespread. For example, on April 7, 2014 Dick Morris claimed that over 1 million people voted twice in 2012. If this was true, then it would obviously be a serious matter: widespread voter fraud could change the results of elections and rob the legitimate voters of their right to decide. Democrats claim that voting fraud does occur, but occurs at such a miniscule level that it has no effect on election outcomes and thus does not warrant the measures favored by the Republicans.

Settling this matter requires looking at the available facts. In regards to Dick Morris’ claim (which made the rounds as a conservative talking point), the facts show that it is false. But the fact that Morris was astoundingly wrong does not prove that voter fraud is not widespread. However, the facts do. For example, in ten years Texas had 616 cases of allegations of voter fraud and only one conviction for double voting. In Kansas, 84 million voter records were analyzed for fraud. Of these, 14 cases were referred to prosecution with, as of this writing, zero convictions.

Republicans have argued for voter ID laws by contending that they will prevent fraud. However, investigation of voter fraud has shown only 31 credible cases out of one billion ballots. As such, this sort of fraud does occur—but only at an incredibly low rate.

In general, significant (let alone widespread) voter fraud does not occur although the myth is widespread. As such, the Republican claims about voter fraud are based on a myth and this would seem to remove the foundation for their claims and proposals regarding the matter.

It could be countered that while voter fraud is insignificant, it must still be countered by laws and policy changes, such as requiring voter IDs and eliminating early voting. This does have some appeal. To use an analogy, even if only a fraction of 1% of students cheated, then professors should still take steps to counter that cheating for the sake of academic integrity. Unless, of course, the measures used to counter that cheating did more damage than the cheating. The same would seem to apply to measures to counter voter fraud.

One rather important matter is the moral issue of whether it is more important to prevent fraud or to prevent disenfranchisement. This is analogous to the moral concern about guilt in the legal system. In the United States, there is a presumption of innocence on the moral grounds that it is better that a guilty person goes free than an innocent person is unjustly punished. In the case of voting, should it be accepted that it is better that a legitimate voter be denied her vote rather than an illegitimate voter be allowed to get away with fraud? Or is it better that an illegitimate voter gets away with fraud then for a legitimate voter to be denied her right to vote?

My own moral conviction is that it is more important to prevent disenfranchisement. Obviously I am against fraud and favor safeguards against fraud. However, given the minuscule rates of fraud if attempts to reduce it result in disenfranchisement, then I would oppose such attempts on moral grounds. Naturally, another person might take a different view and contend that it is worth disenfranchising voters in an attempt to reduce the minuscule rates of fraud to even more miniscule levels.

Returning to the matter of facts, one rather important concern is whether or not the laws and policies in question actually result in voter suppression. If they do not, even if they do nothing to counter voter fraud, then they would be tolerable (assuming they do not come with other costs).

Unfortunately, the evidence is that the laws that are allegedly aimed at preventing voter fraud actually serve as voter suppression measures, mostly aimed at minority voters. Keith Bentele and Erin E. O’Brien published a study entitled “Jim Crow 2.0? Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies.” Based on their analysis of the data, they concluded “the Republican Party has engaged in strategic demobilization efforts in response to changing demographics, shifting electoral fortunes, and an internal rightward ideological drift among the party faithful.” The full study, from the journal Perspectives on Politics, is available here. Since this is a factual matter, those who disagree with these findings can counter this by providing an analysis of equal or greater credibility based on supported facts.

Interestingly, it is a common talking point among Republicans that professors are tools of the Democrats and that academic experts should not be trusted. While this is a marvelous ad homimen, what is needed is actual evidence and arguments countering the claims. If professors are tools of the Democrats and academic experts are not to be trusted, then it should be rather easy to provide credible, objective evidence and analysis showing that they are in error. In terms of specifics regarding voter suppression, I offer the following evidence based discussion.

One of the best-known methods proposed to counter voter fraud is the voter ID law. While, as shown above, the sort of fraud that would be prevented by these laws seems to occur 31 times per 1 billion ballots, it serves to disenfranchise voters. In Texas 600,000-800,000 registered voters lack such IDs with Hispanics being 40-120% more likely to lack an ID than whites. In North Carolina 318,000 registered voters lack the required ID and one third of them are African-American (African-Americans make up about 13% of the US population).

Another approach is to make it harder for citizens to register. One example is restrictions on voter registration drives—Hispanics and African-Americans register to vote at twice the rate of whites via drives. It is not clear how these methods would reduce fraud. The restrictions mostly do not seem to be aimed at making it harder for people to register fraudulently—just to make it more inconvenient to register.

A third tactic is to reduce the available early voting times and eliminate weekend and evening voting. This would seem to have no effect whatsoever on fraud, but seems aimed at minority voting patterns. In 2008 70% of African-American voters in North Carolina cast their ballots early. Minority voters are more likely than white voters to vote on weekends and in the evening. For example, 56% of the 2008 weekend voters in Cuyahoga County in Ohio were black.

A fourth tactic is to make it harder for people with past convictions to regain their voting rights. This impacts African Americans the most: 7.7% of African-Americans and 1.8% of the rest of the population have lost their right to vote in this manner. This tactic does not prevent fraud—it merely denies people the right to vote.

It would seem that the laws and policies allegedly aimed at voter fraud would not reduced the existing fraud (which is already miniscule) and would have the effect of suppressing voters. As such, these laws and proposals fail to protect the rights of voters and instead are a violation of that basic right. In short, they are either a misguided and failed effort to prevent fraud or a wicked and potentially successful effort to suppress minority voters. Either way, these laws and policies are a violation of a fundamental right of the American democracy.

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Carlos Danger & Badness

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 29, 2013
, member of the United States House of Represe...

Carlos Danger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One longstanding philosophical concern is the matter of why people behave badly. One example of this that filled the American news in July of 2013 was the new chapter in the sordid tale of former congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner was previously best known for resigning from office after a scandal involving his internet activities and his failed campaign of deception regarding said activities. Weiner decided to make a return to politics by running for mayor of New York. However, his bid for office was overshadowed by revelations that he was sexting under the nom de sext “Carlos Danger” even after his resignation and promise to stop such behavior.

While his behavior has been more creepy and pathetic than evil, it does provide a context for discussion the matter of why people behave badly.

Socrates, famously, gave the answer that people do wrong out of ignorance. He did not mean that people elected to do wrong because they lacked factual knowledge (such as being unaware that stabbing people hurts them).  This is not to say that bad behavior cannot stem from mere factual knowledge. For example, a person might be unaware that his joke about a rabbit caused someone great pain because she had just lost her beloved Mr. Bunny to a tragic weed whacker accident. In the case of Weiner, there is some possibility that ignorance of facts played a role in his bad behavior. For example, it seems that Weiner was in error about his chances of getting caught again, despite the fact that he had been caught before. Interestingly, Weiner’s fellow New York politician and Democrat Elliot Spitzer was caught in his scandal using the exact methods he himself had previously used and even described on television.  In this case, the ignorance in question could be an arrogant overestimation of ability.

While such factual ignorance might play a role in a person’s decision to behave badly, there would presumably need to be much more in play in cases such as Weiner’s.  For him to act on his (alleged) ignorance he would also need an additional cause or causes to engage in that specific behavior. For Socrates, this cause would be a certain sort of ignorance, namely a lack of wisdom.

While Socrates’ view has been extensively criticized (Aristotle noted that it contradicted the facts), it does have a certain appeal.

One way to consider such ignorance is to focus on the possibility that Weiner is ignorant of certain values. To be specific, it could be contended that Weiner acted badly because he did not truly know that he was choosing something worse (engaging in sexting) over something better (being faithful to his wife). In such cases a person might claim that he knows that he has picked the lesser over the greater, but it could be replied that doing this repeatedly displays an ignorance of the proper hierarchy of values. That is, it could be claimed that Weiner acted badly because he did not have proper knowledge of the good. To use an analogy, a person who is offered a simple choice (that is, no bizarre philosophy counter-example conditions) between $5 and $100 and picks the $5 as greater than $100 would seem to show a failure to grasp that 100 is greater than 5.

Socrates presented the obvious solution to evil: if evil arises from ignorance, than knowledge of the good attained via philosophy is just what would be needed.

The easy and obvious reply is that knowledge of what is better and what is worse is consistent with a person choosing to behave badly rather than better. To use an analogy, people who eat poorly and do not exercise profess to value health while acting in ways that directly prevent them from being healthy. This is often explained not in terms of a defect in values but, rather, in a lack of will. The idea that a person could have or at least understand the proper values but fail to act consistently with them because of weakness is certainly intuitively appealing. As such, one plausible explanation for Weiner’s actions is that while he knows he is doing wrong, he lacks the strength to prevent himself from doing so. Going back to the money analogy, it is not that the person who picks the $5 over the $100 does not know that 100 is greater than 5. Rather, in this scenario the $5 is easy to get and the $100 requires a strength the person lacks: she wants the $100, but simply cannot jump high enough to reach it.

Assuming a person knows what is good, the solution to this cause of evil would be, as Aristotle argued, proper training to make people stronger (or, at least, to condition them to select the better out of fear of punishment) so they can act on their knowledge of the good properly.

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Obama’s Broken Promises

Posted in Business, Environment, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 15, 2012
Official photographic portrait of US President...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I am often accused of bashing Republicans while looking away from the sins of the Democrats, this is not the case. After all, I have written posts critical of Democrats. I will, of course, say that the Republicans generally seem to do more things that are in need of criticism-perhaps because the Democrats are known for being a bit weak and passive.

While I will most likely to continue to favor Obama over Romney, I do have serious concerns about some of the policies and actions of the Obama administration (such as the administration’s policy regarding assassination). Thanks to a recent leak, I now have concerns about Obama’s trade policy.

One concern that seems to be bipartisan in nature is that the administration seems to have provided corporations with more information than has been provided to congress. While Republicans are general pro-corporation, at least some of them seem dismayed by this approach. I agree with this concern. While the people who run the corporations are concerned parties, congress is still the legislative body in this country and hence should be at least as well informed by the administration as the corporations are.

A second concern that should also worry the left and the right is that the agreement being pushed by the Obama administration would allow foreign companies operating on US soil to appeal our laws to an international tribunal that could overrule our laws and impose sanctions on us.

For folks who are seen as left leaning, the obvious concerns are that foreign companies could be allowed to violate our labor and environmental laws in ways detrimental to Americans. Ironically, American corporations have often taken actions aimed at allowing them to be exempt from laws in other countries (or to simply see to it that the laws allow them to do as they wish). While corporations do see clear advantages in being able to operate without the burden of such regulations, the price of such freedom is invariably paid by the people impacted by this freedom. That is, the people who are economically exploited and subject to the environmental damages inflicted by said corporations. Since I have been consistently opposed to corporations using there power to the detriment of people overseas, I am opposed to the United States being treated as a third world country.

Folks who are not left leaning should also be concerned about this agreement. First, while the agreement will allow foreign corporations to potentially violate United States law and regulations, American corporations will not be exempt (unless, of course, they cease to be American corporations-and this new agreement would give them an incentive to do so). This could give foreign corporations an unfair advantage over American corporations. In addition to being unfair, it should also dismay those who are supporters of American corporations. Second, this agreement would allow an international tribunal to override the sovereignty of the United States. While folks on the right generally oppose regulation, they generally also rail against attempts to impose on United States sovereignty. Of course, the past criticism from the right on this matter has typically been in regards to more stringent environmental regulations and other things that might seem to be coming from the left side of the political spectrum. Some on the right might sing a different tune when the imposition is to allow foreign corporations to ignore the laws of the United States.

Given the above arguments, I have two main points. The first is that the administration needs to change its approach to dealing with foreign corporations. To be specific, as much as I dislike Congress, I contend that they need to be kept properly informed. They are, after all, a branch of the government. The second is that the proposed agreement is unacceptable.

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Two Conservatives

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 23, 2012

Karl Marx 1882 (edited)

Back in my undergraduate days, one of my political science professors semi-jokingly explained the difference between our  (the United States) political system and the Soviet system: “they have one political part, we have one more than that.” While this was obviously a oversimplification, he did make a very good point. After all, while we do get a choice, it is a rather limited choice between the Republican or the Democrat.

Because we just have two truly viable parties, this tends to create a political compression in which people are often forced to pick a party that does not, in fact, reflect their full range of beliefs. While this is true of the Democrats, it has really stood out for the Republicans as that party has gone through the process of selecting their 2012 candidate. To be specific, this process has made it rather clear that there are at least two distinct types of conservatives.

The first type is the fiscal conservative. Being a fiscal conservative is generally taken to involve being conservative about taxation and  government spending. To be more specific, fiscal conservatives favor keeping both of these at a minimum.

While I typically get branded as a liberal, I am actually a fiscal conservative: I favor lowering taxes and government expenditures to a minimal level consistent with the government fulfilling its legal and moral duties (such as defense). I am also against wasteful spending, corruption, and pork. As might be imagined, the disputes tend to get started when it comes to the matter of defining the legal and moral duties of the state.

The second type is the social conservative. Being a social conservative is generally taken to involve the idea that one should conserve (or preserve) “the way things were” and thus avoid change in social areas.  The social areas include things such as religion, morals, race-relations, gender roles and so on. As might be imagined, there are degrees of conservatism in this area. Some folks tend to regard almost any change in the social areas as suspicious and would prefer to keep everything as it was. Others are considerably more flexible and focus on conserving what they regard as good, but are willing to accept certain changes. Of course, a “conservative” who is too willing to accept change (even good change) runs the obvious risk of becoming a liberal or even a progressive.

In a limited sense, I am a conservative: I am quite willing to conserve what is good and I am against changing things without justification. This is, of course, a reasonable position: to infer that past idea, morals and values are incorrect simply because they are old is just as fallacious as assuming that they are correct just because they are old. The age of such things, at least by itself, has no bearing on their goodness or badness. As might be imagined, being a conservative in this sense is not what people usually think of when they think of what it is to be a conservative. After all, someone who thinks that something should be conserved on the basis of rational arguments for its goodness just seems to be, well, rational. As such, a mere willingness to conserve what is both old and good does not seem to be enough to count as a social conservative. The question is, of course, what more is needed.

While some might take the easy path and try to define conservatives against a straw man version of the liberal, that would be rather unfair and not exactly reasonable. It would, of course, be equally unfair to present a straw man version of the conservative. That said, given that the political vocabulary is so limited in this regard, it might be rather hard to avoid creating straw men.

The easy and obvious approach is to regard social conservatives as  people who regard the way things have been in the social areas as being correct. Naturally, if they claim that such things are good because they are old or traditional, they are committing the classic fallacy of appeal to tradition. If they prefer such things because of their psychology, then this says why they believe what they do, but does nothing to support the correctness of said beliefs. After all, if they just like the old and dislike the new, this does nothing to show that the old is good and the new is bad. It just says something about their mental states. To use the obvious analogy, the fact that I have some preference for music from my college days does not entail that the music of today is inferior or bad. Likewise, the fact that some folks prefer the music of today to the music of that time does not prove that the music of the 1980s is inferior.

To avoid falling into fallacies, a conservative would need to argue that the traditional value are better than the liberal alternatives based on grounds other than mere tradition. That is, they need to show that the traditional values (as they see them) are good, rather than saying that they are good because they are traditional. Of course, this would make such people contingent conservatives. After all, their commitment would be to what is good rather than what is merely traditional and this would leave open the possibility that they could accept “liberal” values as good. Unless, of course, it is a matter of necessity that traditional values are always better than the liberal values. The challenge then, obviously enough, is to account for the initial goodness of today’s conservative values-after all, there are various much older values that they replaced.

It is, of course, somewhat tempting to take “liberal” and “conservative” as being marketing and rhetorical terms rather than having much value in categorizing political views. After all, people who identify as liberals take being a liberal to involve the virtues of tolerance, acceptance and so on while regarding conservatives as clinging to an unjust past out of fear of change. In response, those who identify as conservatives often see themselves as defending what is good and holy from the depravity of the godless liberals and their agenda.

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Polls

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on November 11, 2010
Rasmussen Polls - results for sale
Image by Las Valley 702 via Flickr

While watching CNN’s State of the Nation recently, I saw some rather interesting comments on various polls. For example, while the Republicans seem to be claiming a mandate to undo what the Democrats have wrought, one poll found that 52% of Americans actually do not approve of the Republicans.  Of course, it is wise to not put too much faith in polls-this includes favorable polls as well.

Turning to a specific issue, that of health care, the poll results are rather interesting. One poll mentioned on CNN noted that 48% of those polled favored repealing the Democrat’s health care. However, 31% favored keeping it the same and 16% advocated expanding it. As such, 47% of those polled were opposed to repealing it.  This would, it seem, serve as evidence that most Americans do not, in fact, want to repeal the health care.

Not surprisingly, those who want to repeal health care need to respond to such polls. One obvious option is to question the poll. After all, even a properly taken poll has  margin of error and, as such, the majority of Americans might actually favor repealing it (assuming a margin of error of at least 3%).

Also, as I teach in my critical thinking class, polls can be manipulated by the sort of questions that are asked (they can be loaded, for example) and the order in which they are presented. As such, unless one can see the actual questions, there are reasonable grounds to be suspicious of polls-especially those on issues that involve interested parties. Of course, this skepticism needs to apply across the board and not just to polls that disagree with one’s position. So, for example, if a Democrat is critical of polls that do not favor his views, the he should be careful to apply the same critical eye to polls that favor his views. That said, polls (at least properly done polls conducted by neutral organizations)  can be useful sources of information.

Another option, which is far less critical, is to try to explain away polls that disagree with one’s position. For example, someone might assert that an unfavorable poll does not reflect what people really want or really think. To use  a specific example, someone who wants to roll back health care might assert that the poll results mentioned above do not reflect what most people believe. Rather, it might be asserted, most people are really against health care.

Of course, it might be wondered how someone would know what most Americans actually believes. After all, if polls are not to be trusted, then polls that support his views about what Americans really believe should not be trusted either. But, without polls it seems rather difficult to get an idea about what most Americans believe (or at least claim they believe). Naturally, a person might just assume that polls that agree with his views are accurate and those that disagree must be wrong. While this might be pleasing, it is hardly critical thinking or a path to truth.

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McCain vs. O’Donnell

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 19, 2010
Christine O'Donnell
Image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

While the Republicans are often accused of being rather lacking in diversity, Meghan McCain’s recent criticism of Christine O’Donnell showed that there are clearly differences of opinion present in the party. McCain made her opinion rather clear:

“I speak as a 26-year-old woman and my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O’Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office. She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business. And what that sends to my generation is, one day, you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how [much] lack of experience you have. It just turns people off, because she’s seen as a nutjob.”

It is, of course, risky to read to much into these remarks. After all, Rove was critical of O’Donnell and then did a quick reversal.  Perhaps Ms. McCain will have such a reversal as well. However, it is interesting to consider Ms. McCain’s criticism of Ms. O’Donnell.

On the face of it, her criticism seem to be dead on. Aside from an apparent gift for appearing on TV shows, O’Donnell does not seem to have had any real success until she managed to win the primary. Of course, this could be considered a significant success and perhaps O’Donnell has finally found her niche. As people will no doubt point out, Obama had a rather meteoric rise to the Presidency.  Also, of course, political offices have no requirement of competency, experience, or capacity to reason.  However, it is easy enough to dust off the Republican (and Democratic) attacks on Obama’s lack of experience and point them at Ms. O’Donnell. If they sting him, they should surely slaughter her.

Meghan McCain at UC Berkeley.
Image via Wikipedia

While “nutjob” is a rather harsh thing to say, it does seem to fit. After all, Ms. O’Donnell has made some rather nutty claims. For example, her infamous claim about mice having human brains. However, to be fair to her, there are mice that have human genes. As such, she was sort of close to almost being right and there are also legitimate ethical concerns about such research. However, someone who is going to be highly critical of something on TV should at least take a moment to check the facts. True, people can make errors and be caught up in the moment, but Ms. O’Donnell seems to have a consistent track record of nuttiness-as her fellow Republicans have claimed.

As a final point, it is interesting to contrast Ms. O’Donnell and Ms. McCain. While both Ms. O’Donnell  and Ms. McCain represent the increased role of women in Republican politics, they also can be seen as standing for a broader division in the Republican party, especially perhaps among women. Ms. O’Donnell can be seen as representing a younger (and lesser) Sarah Palin figure among women while Ms. McCain seems to stand for a more “sophisticated”, less fearful and less angry sort of Republican. She also, some might say, represent the “thinking woman’s Republican” and the Republicans who have a more liberated view of sex. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this conflict plays out. Or less interesting to see how it fades away into the necessities of politics.

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Blumenthal & Vietnam

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 21, 2010
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announces ...
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While there are people who lie about military service, these are usually not people who are running for a major office. After all, military service is rather easy to confirm or disprove.

Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, has made references to serving in Vietnam-despite the fact that he never did so. He did serve in the Marine reserves, but that is rather different from actually going to Vietnam during the war.

The New York Times, which is usually accused of being liberally biased, took Blumenthal to task over these claims. In response, Blumenthal claims that he “misspoke.”

While it is possible for someone to misspeak, the Blumenthal situation does not seem to be this sort of situation.  If he did not misspeak, then the question arises as to why he said such things. Perhaps, he was lying in the hopes of some sort of political gain. Or perhaps he somehow wants to think he did serve in Vietnam (just as Hilary Clinton claimed to have come under sniper fire).

One rather important question is what sort of impact this should have on a candidate. Although candidates are supposed to be candid, politicians tend to lie. As such, if candidates who lie should not run for office, there would be a rather limited pool of candidates (then again, maybe this would be a good thing).

Since most (all) people do lie, lying itself should not be a disqualifier. Rather, it would seem to be a matter of the nature and seriousness of the lie. Hillary Clinton’s “misremembering” of the “sniper incident” did not disqualify her, nor did her husband’s lies about not having sex.  Bush and his fellows were also not disqualified by their lies (or incidents of misspeaking) even when their mistaken claims were used to justify a war. As such, Blumernthal’s “erroneous claims” seem to be fairly minor.

Of course, such lying is of concern. After all, lying is morally questionable and this calls a person’s character into question. Laying aside ethics, there is also the concern about the competence of a person who lies (or misspeaks) when it is so very easy to check on the veracity of such claims.

Honesty is, as always, the best policy.

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Crist Goes Independent

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 2, 2010
A cropped version of :Image:Charlie Crist.
Image via Wikipedia

Being a resident of Florida, I have been following the saga of Charlie Crist. Crist is currently governor of the state but wants to be a senator. A while back it seemed likely that Crist would secure the Republican nomination. However, as the Republican party began steering across the hard line and towards the Kingdom of No Crist decided on a more moderate course. He even accepted federal bailout money for the state.

His moderate leanings (which some claim were the results of pure politics rather than an ideological commitment to being a moderate) prevented him from passing the purity test. This resulted in his failure to secure the Republican nomination and his decision to switch to being an independent. This has created that rare American political beast: a three way race. Michael Steele has expressed his dismay over this and his remarks seemed to indicate that the way elections are supposed to work is that there is a Democrat running against a Republican (with the Democrat losing). Crist claims, of course, that he is doing this for the good of the people of Florida. The more cynical seem to be inclined to say that he is doing this for the good of Charlie Crist.

While I am always suspicious of the motivations of politicians, perhaps Crist does have a good point. Some pundits have pointed out that while Crist could not win the primary, he actually stands a chance in the general election. If this is true, then it makes sense for him to leave the Republicans and run as an independent. After all, if a significant number of voters want to vote for him, then he should have the opportunity to run.  Otherwise, the primary system would seem to serve to deny people the chance to chose the person they want and to give those who dominate a party that choice. Actually, even if most people would vote against him, then he should still have that opportunity-this is supposed to be a democracy, after all.

This situation does raise questions about the primary system as well as the two party system. As I see it, the current system actually limits democracy. I infer that this is exactly what it is supposed to do. As noted above, Steele seems to think that the race should be limited to a Republican and a Democrat (“The voters out there should be given a chance to have a clean call between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee, Congressman [Kendrick] Meek”). However, I do not think that these two parties have the right to claim a joint monopoly on the election. That is, to say the least, against the very notion of how a democracy should work.

While I am not a major Crist supporter, I do think that he should run as an independent. I am not just saying this because I tend to be a Democrat. Rather, I am saying this because I think that the two party system restricts choice and impairs our democracy.

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Health Care

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 23, 2010
Health Care Town Hall September 2009 - America...
Image by congressman_honda via Flickr

The House passed the much debated health care bill 219-212 on Sunday. While this was a close vote, democracy (as Locke argued) is based on the decision of the majority and the majority (at least in the house and senate) decided in favor of the bill. What the American people think about the matter is somewhat unclear since some  polls show the majority as for it while other polls show the majority is against it.

Various positive and negative claims have been made about the bill. For example, the impact of the bill on the deficit is a matter of debate between the two parties. The Republicans’ claim is that it will be a  deficit disaster while the Democrats who support it allege that it will reduce the deficit. There are, of course, more dramatic claims about the doom that this bill will bring to America.

Since the bill has been passed, we will soon have the opportunity to get data about the impact of the bill. Naturally, the various sides will spin, massage and manipulate the data (and its interpretation) and these factors will need to be taken into account. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the upcoming elections and what impact the passage of this bill will have.

Since we know the bill has passed, we can set aside guessing about that. So the question now is this: what impact will this have on America? Doom? Salvation? Business as usual? Something else? Bonus points for using the most talking points, of course.

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Bunning’s Filibuster

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 7, 2010
Jim Bunning, member of the United States Senate.
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Jim Bunning recently became a villain by using a filibuster to delay legislation.  While claimed to be making a principled stand against deficit spending, he played the game rather badly. For example, he made the point that he was suffering by missing a game he wanted to see (easily remedied by a VCR or PVR). This made him seem selfish and lacking in empathy. As another example, when corned at an elevator he came across as an ass.

While I think Bunning earned his infamy, he actually did have a good point behind all his unfortunate antics. To be specific, Bunning seemed to be trying to make the following point: continued deficit spending will hurt the United States and if the folks in congress  cannot find the will to pay upfront for this sort of bill, then these folks will never be able to find the will to do what must be done to reign in spending.

While I would not play the game as Bunning did, if this was his point, then it is a good one. Unrelenting deficit spending is an excellent way to contribute to the ruin of America and, as such, is something that needs to be dealt with. If the folks in congress are unable to find a way to provide funds without simply creating more deficits, then there is clearly a need for real change in how congress does things.

However, Bunning’s clumsy and flawed attempts to make his point might have actually hurt attempts at such fiscal responsibility.  After all, anyone who attempts to require that funding be provided without deficit spending can now be accused of trying to pull a Bunning. While this is a minor point, it is a matter of some concern.

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