Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The "Smart" Democratic Candidate

A member of the studio audience asked:

In your opinion, who would be the "smart" candidate for the Democratic party to select (and the smart running mate, for that matter)?

I want to start by claiming that I have no special affection for Democratic candidates. I do not view the differences between Democrats and Republicans to be as stark as the difference between good and evil. There are two factions of the Republican Party that I strongly dislike – one faction fighting for theocracy and another fighting for corporate feudalism. However, there are other Republican factions, such as the principled free-market faction, that I would side with over most Democrats.

However, I was asked about the ‘smart’ Democratic candidate, and a person does not need to be a devoted Party loyalist to answer such a question.

I take the term ‘smart’ in this context to refer to means-ends rationality. This means that, before we can select the best route to take, we need to think about the destination. What is the goal in this case?

I suspect that the goal - at least from a Party point of view - is to have total control of government – executive, legislative, and judicial. Whereas one-party control over all branches of government seems to coincide with the elimination of a system of checks and balances, and an unchecked executive branch is already a serious problem, I am not looking forward to having the Democrats in control of both the legislative and executive branches.

Of course, the Democratic leadership in Congress has proved itself to be inept even when it comes to checking and balancing a Republican executive.

Still, in its quest for unchecked political power, the ‘smart’ thing for the Democrats to do is to take market surveys and opinion polls, testing out different strategies, choosing that strategy that will gain their Presidential candidate a majority of the electoral votes, and a majority in the Senate and House. Since I do not have the resources to conduct those polls and to collect that information, I can only guess at what they say. My guess is of no particular value. In fact, I tend to write in condemnation of those who pretend to know more than they do when there are experts who spend their libes trying to answer these questions. I would rather leave those answers up to the experts.

However, I will offer this prediction. If a Democrat becomes President, he or she will expand upon, rather than curtail, unchecked executive power. This is because the Republicans will still be pressing the fear button. Any and every sign of risk to the American people will be followed up by charges that the administration is not doing enough to protect us. Any attempt to check executive authority will be ‘framed’ as handcuffing those who are protecting us from terrorists.

Most importantly, in this conflict, the people will side with the Republicans over the Democrats. In other words, this will be an effective strategy, and the ‘smart’ Democratic president will do what it takes to minimize its power by refusing to ‘handcuff’ those who are defending us from terrorists.

Besides, every President wants unchecked power. Nothing bothers a President more than a bunch of political opportunists preventing him or her from doing what he or she knows to be right and good. An individual has to have a certain amount of arrogance to run for President, and that arrogance tends to be intolerant of dissent – particularly dissent with power. It is just too tempting to simply silence the dissenters and do what one wants to do.

The ‘smart’ Democrat is also going to pander to the religious right. They have power, and they have money, so they will be listened to. I wrote in an earlier post on The Reason Caucus that political power comes from forming a political organization that focuses on maximizing the amount of money and the number of votes that flows through it to the various candidates. There is no “Reason Caucus” in either political party at this tine (that I am aware of – which itself testifies to the power of any Reason Caucus that does exist). So, candidates have absolutely no incentive (other thIt dan a desire to avoid the harms that come from pursuing irrational policies based on myth and superstition) to pursue a Reason agenda.

Some atheist bloggers have condemned elected Democrats for professing faith over reason. They want to demand that Democrats profess reason over faith. Yet, demanding that a Democrat do this in the current climate is virtually the same as demanding that the Democrat give up his or her opportunity to actually win the election, and to hand that position over to somebody else who is willing to profess faith over reason.

The only way to make it ‘smart’ for a Democrat to profess reason over faith is to form an organization that channels money and votes to candidates that profess reason over faith.

I have seen articles in which atheists bragged that some atheist organizations have jumped in membership to over 10,000 people. Any ‘smart’ Democratic candidate who reads this bost in the paper knows from this fact alone that professing a ‘reason-based’ agenda is political suicide. Reason-based agendas have no political legs until and unless reason-based voters are capable of filling whole football stadiums when the Reason Caucus decides to hold an event in a given city. Until then, they are politically insignificant.

If somebody wants a ‘smart’ candidate to do something else – to restore a system of checks and balances, to pursue reason-based policies – then one has to create an environment where it is politically advantageous to do so. It has to be an environment that channels money and votes to candidates who prove that they are eager defenders checks and balances and reason-based policy.

This takes time and money. An unwillingness to spend time and money in this particular challenge is pretty good testimony that one does not actually care about the potential consequences one way or the other. A person will act so as to fulfill the more and stronger of his desires, given his beliefs. If he does not act to promote reason-based policies or a system of checks and balances, this tells us that he does not care very much about the establishment of reason-based policies and a system of checks and balances.

That, itself, is not very smart. It is just a matter of time until unchecked executive power ends up in the hands of somebody who cares only to use it to enslave the people to the interests of a few wealthy and powerful friends. Faith-based policies, a lack of concern over whether the claims that others make are true or well-founded, a willingness to accept lies and sophist arguments because the person speaking is saying what one wants to hear (and one does not care if what one wants to hear is actually true) means the adoption of poor policies that make all lives worse than they would otherwise be.

The ‘smart’ population will always tell the people what they want to hear. The question is whether the people want to hear the truth, or pleasant lies.

I am amused by candidates who assert, “I am willing to tell people what I believe. My opponent, however, only tells the people what they want to hear.” However, if the candidate in question is not telling people what they want to hear, then he will not get elected. Even the claim, “I am not inclined to tell the voters what they want to hear,” is something that a candidate says, and makes into a campaign slogan, only because (and to the degree that) polls tell the candidate that this is what the people want to hear.

Certainly, no candidate can please all of the voters. So, every candidate has an opportunity to tell some voters what they do not want to hear. After choosing which candidates he is willing to alienate (because those voters do not carry weight – since they are already lost to the candidate anyway or because they are politically impotent), then the candidate can use this as an example of saying what some people do not want to hear. None of this is inconsistent with telling people what they want to hear – regardless of the candidate’s claim to the contrary.

So, the ‘smart’ thing to do is to put some effort into creating body of voters willing to contribute time and money into wanting to hear reason and truth. When people wanting to hear reason and truth are willing to throw their coordinated weight around, and when they want to hear reason and truth so badly that they will outspend and outwork those who want to hear faith and superstition, then the ‘smart’ politicians will change how they conduct their campaigns.


Anonymous said...

Would you consider either the Secular Coalition for America (http://www.secular.org/) or Freedom From Religion Foundation (http://www.ffrf.org/) as fulfilling this function?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Actually, I would not. Neither organization is focused on simply keeping candidates honest and their claims well defended.

For example: neither organization would (or did) interest itself in Representative Dana Rohrabacher's sophistry on global warming Sophistry: Engineering False Beliefs

Or in yesterday's Democratic misrepresentation of the cost if the Iraq War.

The rationalist caucus would have much broader concerns than with an organization focused specifically on church-state issues.