Some thoughts on the process of democracy

On Facebook, a friend from high school, invited a number of his friends and me to join him in supporting Ralph Nader for president. This friend is disillusioned by Obama’s recent FISA vote, and maybe other things that I am not aware of.

Another friend from high school responded about the need to not cast a protest vote this election, and likes Obama, so disagreed with him.

This is my response to both of them:

Thank you for giving me hope for democracy.

This is what democracy is about, making your case, persuading your fellow citizens to your point of view and having a discussion about it.

Now I agree with both of you. Looking at the Supreme Court and the likely center-left judges that are going to retire, probably holding on to their seats until George W Bush’s term is over, in the next administration and the need to have the appointments come from someone that hasn’t lurched right to gain the nomination. So on that point, I will not vote for Ralph Nader. My preference was John Edwards, but I will vote for Obama, and would have voted for Clinton.

That being said, I do agree with what Naomi Klein said at the National Conference for Media Reform, that we need to hold Obama accountable and keep the pressure on for progressive and populist policy. That he will have corporate pressures trying to swing him to the supposed center, that is really right of a majority of Americans on a large number of topics, including universal health care, is a reality, the question is will we be pulling the other end of the rope in that tug-of-war for his position?

Yet, the need to break open our democracy, to give it a booster shot that will come with a larger (more than two) diversity of parties, is dire. The question, is voting for Ralph Nader the way to achieve this, personally I don’t think this is it. While, I don’t discredit the desire to vote for 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th parties, should you vote for him because you are tired of the existing system, as a protest vote? Well, that is your choice, and that is what is most important. But let me tell you about what I think is the best way to break open the system to more parties.

Instant Runoff Voting – this is the best way to give other parties a chance. That way you can vote for your first candidate, but not necessarily throw the election to a candidate that can’t garner over 50% of the vote. Remember, the DFL lost to Governor Tim Pawlenty twice because of other parties and he never garnered more than 50% (I thought his rap name should be “less than 50 cent”). This method is gaining popularity in many municipalities, including Minneapolis, and could lead the way for wider adoption at county or state level, if citizens like it.

Open Debates – in the post Ross Perot era, the presidential elections have been in the stranglehold of the Commission on Presidential Debates (est. 1987) which is a bipartisan organization that controls the process to the betterment of the main two parties. If you have ever seen the footage of Ralph Nader being threatened with arrest for attempting to enter a 2000 debate with a ticket, it will make you realize that democracy, the process is on life support in America.

Locally, I have to give great kudos to KSTP that had hour-long debates for the US Rep contests in 2006 that were open to all candidates (might have had some threshold, but low if they did). I am not sure if it was all MN, or just the 5 metro area elections. Regardless it was a great public service, which is sadly lacking in broadcast media these days.

At the national level, the 2004-other party candidates, Libertarian, Green, Independent and Constitution did get time on NOW. I will never vote Libertarian or Constitution party, but I think it is vital for our truly functioning and healthy democracy that they get the same opportunity to share their ideas with America.

Those are my two cents on democracy the process.

-Josh

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