Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Ethical Atheist Politician - Coalition Building

The rules are made by those who show up.

Depending if the quality of those who show up, the rules typically assign benefits to those who show up, while assigning the costs to those who are locked out.

It us no mystery why politically effective theists insist on showing up, while at the same time they insist on measures that effectively keep atheists locked out of the rooms in which decisions are made. It allows them to keep harvesting the benefits and assigning the costs.

My current project is that of looking at what it takes to be, or to support, an ethical atheist politician.

The ethical atheist politician is going to need to assemble a collection of labor, capital, and cash and direct those resources to certain ends - such as the end of getting one's name on the ballot. Another end will be that of winning the election.

In this project, anybody who has labor (an hour or two a week, perhaps), capital (a computer, a car, a knowledge of web design, a list of useful contacts), or cash has something that can be put to use supporting the ethical atheist politician. It would be useful to assemble this collection of labor, capital, and cash under the directorship of people who know how to effectively use them to get candidates onto ballots and to win elections.

In order to assemble this collection of resources and to use them efficiently to achieve a goal, we need to know what the goal is.

Ultimately, the final goal is this: On election day, enough people show up at the polls to assign the ethical atheist politician a seat at legislative table and . . . this is important, and defines an area where it seems the Obama administration has failed . . . that will continue to work with the candidate after the election to achieve its ends.

In most political environments that my readers are familiar with, this typically means putting together a coalition of the best 51% to vote a candidate into office. This assumes a two-person contest in a winner-taje-all political system. In the case of a three (or more) person contest, a winning coalition might be less than 50%. In a parliamentary system, one's party might need as little as 5% (and one needs one's candidate needs to be in a position to take one of he seats that the party assigns). In the case of an uncontested seat (something ethical atheist politicians and the organizations who support them should be looking for), it takes very little.

Looking at the races where a coalition is necessary, there are some important facts that the rational supporter of the ethical atheist politician should keep in mind.

The coalition of the best 51% will not be in universal agreement on all issues. Sometimes, to keep one segment of the coalition in place, the politician will have to do something that another group will not like.

Let's say that a particular politician has put together a coalition of 53% of voters. (Not coincidentally, Obama got 53% of the the in the last election.) An issue comes up where a subset equal to 4% of the coalition says, "If you support this measure, we are leaving the coalition." Another group equal to 4% asserts, "If you fail to support this measure, we are leaving the coalition."

Congratulations, your petty bickering has just handed the reigns of political power over to the other side.

Each member of the coalition must recognize that the politician may need to do things they do not like to keep other members of the coalition in place. The idea that one can be a member of a majority coalition before an election, and not have to compromise with other members of the coalition after the election, is politically naive.

Ideally, the ethical atheist politician would have set reasonable expectations. "I will support your struggle for X and Y. However, on Z, I will not support you. I need to give up that option to keep others in the coalition. "

Unfortunately, at this point, the ethical atheist politician has a dilemma. If he tells this group the truth, there will be some fraction of that organization that will say, "No. You must give us X, Y, and Z, or we will not support you." At the same time, the ethical atheist politician has to deal with the political fact that, "If I give you X, Y, and Z I may get your support, but I cannot put together a coalition of the best 51%. The result is that the seat of power will go to the group that will not only deny and Z, but will also deny X and Y"

This is what happened in the 2000 election with Ralph Nader running on a third party ticket. Because a lot of uncompromising people were unwilling to accept X, Y, and not Z, we ended up with 8 years of a political movement that gave us not-X, not-Y, and not-Z - and were made much worse off because of it.

This is one of the points at which it may be impossible to say whether the ethical atheist politician is even a possibility. To make it possible we must come down hard against those uncompromising brutes who effectively hold positions that make it impossible for them to join a coalition of the best 51%, even though they would otherwise qualify for membership in that club.

In my blog, I argue repeatedly for repeal of "In God We Trust" and "under God". At the same time, I recognize that no candidate can come out in support of this position and win an election. So, I would not demand that any candidate support this policy. The coalition of the best 51% - currently - has no place for such a person.

Which, by the way, is one of the reasons why I would make a poor candidate. My position on some issues where, even if I am right, currently has no place in a coalition of the best 51%, are well known or easy to discover.

While it would be irrational for me to demand that any candidate currently support my position, I can continue to argue to the coalition of the best 51% that the fact that such a candidate supports my position would not be a reason to leave the coalition. If I can do that, then I create a political climate in which some future politician can endorse my position without fear.

However, the burden is not on the candidate to push my position. The burden is on the candidate to keep the coalition of the best 51% together, while the burden is on me to continue to work on making it possible for some future candidate to support my position without destroying the coalition of the best 51%.

These, then, are some of the principles of coalition building. For effective coalition building, we really must come down hard on those people who demand too much from the ethical atheist politician - or any politician for that matter. Reason dictates that we demand from our politicians whatever it takes to keep the coalition of the best 51% together.

At the same time, we should constantly be working on improving the quality of the positions that the ethical atheist politician cand defend and still keep the coalition together. Where the coalition is wrong, our task is to correct the other members of the coalition. Our task is NOT to demand that the politician take a position that would tear the coalition apart.

Here is a hint: A coalition of the best 51% will currently consist of a majority of members who believe in God.

It is okay to go ahead and continue to work on changing the minds of other members of the best 51% - to show them that it would be wrong for them to leave the coalition if the candidate decided to support and Z. In fact, this is to be encouraged. If one believes in and Z then one might have an obligation to convince other members of the coalition that it would be wrong for them to leave if the politican were to endorse and Z.

In making this case, the defenders of this position are working to create a political climate in which a future candidate might even be able to promise X, Y, and Z, while respecting the real-world fact that the present candidate can make no such promise and live. A decent respect for reality might demand that the candidate not promise and Z just yet.

No comments: