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KevenSeven On January - 10 - 2010

As I review the comments over at other “liberal” blogs, I see a pattern of commentary from those that I think of as Puritans.

There is a prescriptive trifecta to “cure all our ills” in the body politic:

1) More parties.   (We have discussed this in some depth, but will return to it.   For now it is not the topic of discussion.)

2) Campaign Finance Reform

3) Term Limits

I can add a fourth, but we will not discuss it in this seminar, but rather save it for a future discussion: Primary reform.

This conversation will also exclude as obviously a non-starter a suggestion pushed at me recently; direct democracy at the Federal level.   Ballot initiatives to write law for a nation of a third of a billion people.   If anyone really wants to discuss that as if it were a serious proposal, I welcome you to write a separate column about it.

Now, I think most of you know me now to be a grumpy old grump, and I embrace that.   I would like to keep this discussion on some sort of serious track.    There is a meme of conversation that I don’t much respect: “If only all the good people would get together and do the right thing”.   Please, no hanky-wringing.   Let us have a conversation about reforms that can actually be implemented without scrapping the Constitution.   Likewise, if a proposal is utterly politically untenable, then please have the courtesy to at least acknowledge that reality as you argue for it.

I have been giving the Puritans a pretty hard time.   Whenever one of them declares that all could be resolved with Campaign Finance Reform, I ask them to explain how that is possible without repealing the First Amendment?

So if you are aware of serious, considered proposals for Campaign Finance Reform that have even a ghost of a chance of being implemented and not struck down by the Supreme Court, then please tell us about it.   A synopsis or outline of the proposal is what I’m looking for, and of course as many links to original source material as you can find.

Likewise term limits.   Now, it is my considered opinion that term limits are a horrific idea.   California has enacted pretty strict term limits, and is rapidly becoming ungovernable.   Possibly the two are not connected, but I’d like to see a reasoned argument to that effect if anyone wants to make that argument.

And I will note that Mexico has utterly draconian term limits.   Mexican legislators are limited to a single term, and we all know what a fine example of effective governance is Mexico.

So if anyone would care to participate, I’d like to kick this around for a few days and review toward the end of the week, when I’ll try to summarize and refocus the discussion for a second round.

25 Responses so far.

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  1. Khirad says:

    Well, I can be a curmudgeon too, but can’t engage you when I agree with you. And to the term limits thing, it may be a tired clich

  2. Chernynkaya says:

    I am obviously no constitutional scholar, by any means. But the first amendment argument seems to rest of the rulings that money constitutes free speech. Yes, but there were also rulings in the past that have been overturned-- ‘separate but equal’ comes to mind. To me, the ruling that money equals speech is every bit as wrong and truly imperils democracy. So while it would take a lot of work, it is not impossible and speech = money can be-- and to my mind-- must be revisited. Probably not in our lifetimes, however.

    As to third and more Parties, that’s a very interesting debate. My position is that they will always remain a spoiler and never garner enough votes to win an election, barring a major event. What they can do is change the metrics in the long term. For example, if a significant number of people voted socialist they might successfully move the Democratic Party more left after a couple of election cycles. Same for the Reptilians. We have already seen the Dems move to the Right over many years and the Reptilians have moved to the Right off the charts. But they didn’t need a Third party to do that. To me, Third Parties do serve a limited purpose of sending a message, but they are not electable, IMO.

  3. jan4insight says:

    HI, I’m just back on after a weekend mixed media art workshop, which is to say I’m still functioning in the inuitive/symbolic side of my brain (and I can’t even remember whether that’s right or left brain) so I won’t be commenting at length for just now. But I want to say the first thing that struck mw when I read Keven’s opening post, is that the lefties “trifecta” being repeated ad nauseum is very like the righties with their mantra of tax cuts, “small” government, and let’s go bomb somebody.

    All of which is more confirming evidence that extremes have more similarities than they’d care to admit!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I do not see the Left as extreme as the Right, Jan. In fact, I think that is a false equivalency. They may be as frustrated as the extreme Right, but I do not see them as equally as extreme in their positions. To me, in order for the two to be equal would be for the Left to be Marxists and the Right to be what they are-- fascists. I don’t see that.

      • jan4insight says:

        What I meant, Cher, was that there is a similarity in the way the same three talking points from each side get repeated (by their respective sides) without a lot of critical thinking or examination of the validity of the talking points. I wasn’t saying that the talking points themselves were equivalent. And I do think the left’s talking points should be examined! Which Keven is doing in this OP.

    • KevenSeven says:

      Oh, I understand the frustration of the armchair Puritans who are all upset at not getting their pony.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        That’s funny, and I hope it was meant to be. If you really did “understand”, you wouldn’t call them “armchair Puritans who are all upset at not getting their pony”.

        Good one, K7!

        • KevenSeven says:

          Yawn. No, I was being ironic in my disdain for Puritans.

          Who indeed are all pissed off at not getting their pony. I find them very tiresome. I find everybody too pure to find the way forward to be very tiresome.

          Here is a test I offer and never get a response to: Describe the elements of a HCR bill that would satisfy you and gain 60 votes in the Senate.

      • jan4insight says:

        Yes, indeed. It seems like half the comments I post on that other site are my attempts to counteract the relentless whining of the fair-weather Prog’s (or quislings, as I’ve taken to calling them, which probably doesn’t win me a lot of readers).

        In addition to their childish impatience, as a whole they seem to display an appalling lack of knowledge about how our government basically works. They seem to think Obama can just put on his magic cape, whip out his Jedi sword, and beat the offending parties and persons into submission. After 8 years of top-down, authoritarian, imperial presidency coming from the previous admin, why any one of us would want to see that repeated -- even if it comes from “our” side -- is beyond me.

  4. kesmarn says:

    Like both of you, nellie and K7, I’m opposed to term limits. What’s the advantage to having a perpetual class of rookies in Congress? The only one I can suppose is that they’re that much easier for lobbyists to manipulate! If we threw out employees in any other type of institution as soon as they’d gotten some experience under their belts, people would think we had taken leave of our senses.

    I even have reservations about the limitation of the Presidential terms to two. If the voters want a president to serve longer, why not? Just because the Repubs despised FDR, it’s no reason to deprive the country of the leadership it wants. I’ve wondered if some of the decisions made now by foreign nations are influenced by the fact that they know full well that whoever’s in the White House now most definitely won’t be there in ten years. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

    I also would love to see the length of time campaigns could run seriously shortened--as in, down to six weeks of ad time before the election. This alone would indirectly ease the pressure to raise enormous amounts of money and to take money from dubious sources. I know it’s not a cure-all, but it could only help. And who wouldn’t be grateful to be delivered from 18-24 months of perpetual political commercials on radio, TV and print?

    More parties, I think is a tough sell. Americans are so used to the status quo that I think enormous confusion would accompany any major movement in that direction. And, as nellie mentioned, IRV would have to come first, making it even a tougher sell. It’s hard to see viable 3d, 4th, 5th parties in the near future.

    • KevenSeven says:

      I am not utterly closed to term limits, say a maximum of 24 years in Congress?

      It was an easy sell to limit the president to ten years, max, as that one person is always very powerful compared to the rest of the govt. I would not want to see that change.

      One idea I have had for a while is that an incumbent would need to win by better than 50% at some point. Say a senator standing for a third term or a congressman for a fifth term?

      Say needing to win by 52%? Call it a handicap.

      • kesmarn says:

        Oy! My congresswoman has been in over 24 years and she is a total liberal powerhouse! (Remember, during the TARP debates, the woman who was urging everyone to slow down, breathe, and THINK? That was her. Remember the woman rep who spoke the unvarnished truth in Michael Moore’s “Capitalism”? She was the one.) I’d hate to see her go. And she’s on the banking committee where she may be able to kick some serious butt later on. But maybe a mandatory retirement age is something to consider. When they get to be over 80…well, things can get a little dicey.

        And presidential term limits did come in handy twice, at least: with Reagan and Dubya. On the other hand, if Obama does as well as he potentially could, he’s so young that another four years could be SUCH a benefit to the country. It’s a shame it’s not an option. Who knows if he’d want it, though…

        Interesting notion about the “handicap.” Our congresswoman so consistently gets numbers in the 75-80% range, though, it wouldn’t have much impact on her status. In other areas, however, it might weed out some of the borderline types.

      • nellie says:

        I’d like to replace the idea of term limits with consideration of a mandatory retirement age. Seventy sounds good. I could go for that with the presidency as well.

        • kesmarn says:

          I’m afraid Joe Biden would have to bail in 2012, then, nellie. He still seems to be chugging along pretty well…I’d hate to lose him. And Ted Kennedy would have had to throw in the towel over eight years ago.

          • nellie says:

            I love Biden. But governance needs to keep up w the culture. Look at Harry Reid’s comment, what a kerfuffle it has caused. Not to forget Biden and his “clean and articulate” gaffe.

            I’m okay w losing excellent older folks to make way for younger folks. In fact, I’d like to see the entire congress have a younger face on it.

          • KevenSeven says:

            Examples that prove the rule.

        • KevenSeven says:


  5. nellie says:

    I’m in complete agreement with you on just about everything.

    I detest term limits — I think we already have term limits. They’re called elections. The problem is not that people are serving to long, it’s that the electorate isn’t paying attention. And the cure for that has more to do with the media than anything else.

    I disagree somewhat that campaign finance reform is impossible. I do think it’s an uphill battle in terms of the Supreme Court, but I think there are ways of regulating the way money is donated. We already cap individual donations. I think we can rein in lobbyists considerably. They are filling candidate campaign coffers constantly, not only with cash, but with gifts. I also think that money from donors can be countered with publicly financed ad space, media space that is mandated as part of public service — as our news programs used to be designated. Again, it would take a lot of work and a lot of legislating, but it’s not impossible.

    The idea of more parties is simply not viable until we have instant runoff voting. There’s hardly any point in discussing it before that happens. Once in a while we will get an independent, such as Bernie Sanders, who can stand on his own without support from one of the national parties — but that is a rare event. He had strong name recognition from his time as a congressman, and the House does seem to be a little more forgiving when it comes to candidates who don’t align themselves with the two major parties. But as a sea change? Not until IRV.

    I would broaden the discussion by asking why these impracticable methods are so popular. And how we can get progressive energies focused on more realistic goals.

    I look forward to the piece on primary reform — I think that could bring a major shift to American politics.

    • KevenSeven says:

      Well, why is the trifecta so popular?

      Because the reality of politics is so goddam ugly and frustrating. To actually make progress is damned difficult. To obstruct progress is easy as shelling peas.

      I don’t hold that campaign finance reform is impossible. I’m looking for a discussion of what is remotely feasible and what its implications would be.

      I had someone here come at me with the suggestion that the Dems should hold a national primary on a single day or over a week. What a perfect way to ensure that only the richest campaign prevails and that no dark horse could ever emerge.

      It seems to me that lots of people fail to think one step further down the road.

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