American Political Praxis

[The following was originally posted via Disqus regarding a political segment aired on the Forum program with Michael Krasny that originates from KQED-FM in San Francisco. I no longer use the Disqus platform so I am including an excerpt of the portion of the thread relevant to my thoughts here.]

Christine Bush: Lawrence Lessig makes a compelling case that the election happens long before Election Day because of the corruption inherent to the process which determines who winds up on the ballot in the first place (http://lesterland.lessig.org). The enemies of our democracy are not the candidates, but the DNC and the RNC. If you want to make a difference, if you want to see real change, you have to focus your time and resources on changing the self-serving party infrastructure. The candidates, whoever they might be, are only symptoms.

“JQ”: I disagree. Organizations don’t exist independently of people. They are made up of people. Your explanation takes agency and responsibility away from the participants. Hillary and Obama embrace the corruption of their party, feed on it, lie about it, and have no interest in changing it in any fundamental way. After Obama had sewn up the nomination after benefitting from a truly populist surge, he nonetheless unnecessarily sucked up to wall street for more money and dutifully served them rather than serving the public. And the corruption is not simply in the election process but in the toxic congressional-lobbiest complex. All these corrupt individuals end up starting or joining lobbying firms (essentially access peddlers) and make far more money than they made as politicians (which is already too much). The candidates are not automatons or hapless victims of a corrupt system, they are the very elements of corruption that makes a corrupt whole. Lessig just wants to be able to justify railing against a corrupt process while nevertheless voting for Hillary, who is herself corrupt.

Christine Bush: Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment. I welcome your disagreement.

It seems to me, however, that you are only disagreeing with yourself. I did not write nor imply that organizations exist independently of people. Your words, not mine. To the contrary, I advocate for change from within as the logical path to affecting candidate selection.

Here’s why.

I am aware that not everyone may agree with Professor Lessig’s premises or conclusions, but most will agree about this: he neither rants nor rails. His arguments are more often than not sound and almost always valid. If you want to pick a fight with his mind, good luck with that.

[“JQ” would go on to dispute my assertion that Lessig does not “rail” and points out he never used the word “rant.” In retrospect, I concede both of these points. Lessig does rail from time to time. But I stand by my belief that he is generally perspicuous and I doubt he will be voting for Hillary as he has since announced his own token bid for presidency.]

End of excerpted thread.


We are encouraged by most news coverage to conflate the party affiliation of a candidate with a belief system or an expected set of behaviors. In fact, all a party affiliation on a ballot indicates is that the candidate is the product of a nomination process. If the party affiliation actually corresponded to a set of beliefs and behaviors, we would not experience feelings of betrayal or corruption when elected officials fail to act in accordance with the messaging of their campaigns. And yet they disappoint us over and over again.

This is all by design. Political parties work tirelessly to reinforce, mainly through the media, voter self-identification with a party. In this way, when voters are given a ballot with party candidates listed, voters believe they are voting to protect their own self interests, either by voting for a candidate of the party with whom they identify or (more commonly) against a candidate from a party with whom they do not identify (see research from ScienceDaily.com below). Unless we/they summon the means and the will to coordinate and organize a successful write-in campaign, candidates with political party affiliation are the majority of options available.

Contrary to “conventional” (as in: a political party convention where candidates are nominated) wisdom, making use of the ballot itself (i.e. voting) is not usually a mechanism for change. Often it is the mechanism for stasis. I think part of the reason voter participation is so low is because people, at some level, know this but can’t find options or do not have the resources to engage in meaningful participation.

Rather, it is the nomination process which is the mechanism of change and which is kept behind the curtain for the most part. And it is the nomination process which has been corrupted.

I think there are a lot of savvy, intelligent, successful people who would serve the public good brilliantly. But because they are bright and savvy, they never run because they understand getting elected and holding office provides precious little opportunity for critical and creative thinking. That’s why I describe candidates as “symptoms”: the American political process itself generates the “electable,” not the laudable or the exceptional or the imaginative. The reward for being elected to public office is not public service, it is party service.

Also see:

Most partisans treat politics like sports rivalries, instead of focusing on issuesLesterland.Lessig.org

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