Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Great Rebate 

I've been quiet through this election season so far because there's really nothing to add to the lack of discourse. The mainstream media has long since become too irrelevant to comment upon. The blogosphere is keeping up its end of the political coverage.

But, on this eve of the Great Democratic Debate between the Last Two Contenders -- held at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and attended by those rich and famous enough to afford the thousand dollar tickets -- another of my modest proposals for fixing this broken political system came to mind, and an old one came back. I present them here as free suggestions. Any Congresscritters who seriously want to pursue passing the laws to enable them, please feel free to do so.

First -- what's wrong with this picture: Two Democratic Candidates debate on the stage of one of LA's more exclusive venues, with the audience packed with stars, directors and other wealthy patrons. The questions are fielded only by selected pundits (selected by the network) and the whole thing is packed into a TV safe time period.

What's wrong? Everything. And counting all the past debates, of this and many past elections, more than everything is wrong. The questions are controlled, the selection of who's important and who isn't is stage managed, the crowds are cherry picked. In short, these are not debates. They are frauds.

Solution? Take control of the debates away from the media and the parties. Require the media to carry them, as part of their license agreement in owning part of the public airwaves -- but that's all the involvement they have. Allow the candidates to identify themselves by party in the debates, but that's as close as the party machinery is allowed.

Here's how the system should be revised, by law.
1) For partisan debates, all qualified candidates currently on the ballot for that party within the range of the broadcast must be allowed to participate. It doesn't matter if it's The Great Party Hope who's polling at 56% or Joe Whacko who managed to get onto the Rhode Island ballot and got five votes. If a candidate can qualify to get on the ballot, they've qualified to be in the debate. Period.

2) Tickets for partisan debates are made available, at no cost, to all registered members of that party, again within the broadcast area. Tickets are given away by lottery -- no one gets special treatment and no one can be banned or barred for any reason, provided their voter registration is valid.

3) The debate questions come from the audience. The moderator does not ask questions or, indeed, do anything but watch the clock. It's open mic night for the electorate, questioners selected by random drawing of seat numbers among the attendees (although reluctant attendees are free to pass their question off to someone else.) The order in which the candidates are questioned is also determined by random draw, but then continues in that order, round-robin, for the duration of the evening. In other words, if candidates Joe, Jack and John are placed in that order, then the questions proceed, 1-2-3, for the entire evening. The number of questioners may be pre-determined, but there can be no set time limit on the entire event, only a limit on candidate's answers. It takes as long as it takes, and every candidate gets the same number of questions.

4) This isn't a question-and-answer session between candidates. There are no rebuttals or crosstalk. The candidates are answering the electorate, and no one else. If a candidate choses to squander their time by attacking an opponent, that's their problem.

5) No questions or topics are prohibited. If a candidate balks at a question or refuses to take their alloted time, the question passes to the next candidate in rotation.

6) Each questioner has the option to make a brief response or ask for a point of clarification.

7) For national, multi-party debates, the rules are similar to the above, except that:
a) All qualified candidates from all parties currently on the ballot within range of the broadcast must be allowed to participate.

b) Debate attendees are selected from all registered voters, under the conditions noted above.
8) The network(s) that broadcast the debate are barred by law from broadcasting any analysis, critique or scoring of the event. It must pass without any editorial comment whatsoever.
Part Two: the two-party system must go. In fact, the entire current party system must go, to be replaced by the Truth in Advertising Party System.

Face it, the labels "Democrat" and "Republican" are meaningless. The Democratic party spans the range from Stalin to Barry Goldwater, and the Republican Party spans the range from Hitler to Barry Goldwater. Both are plagued by their extremes and meet in an uncomfortable middle that neither can embrace. As for the other parties -- which should not, but are, considered minor, how many Americans can explain where each of them fall on the political spectrum? Okay, arrange from left to right: Green, Peace and Freedom, Libertarian, Constitution, Communist.

So, that's it. The current parties are abolished, and are replaced with these six : Far Right, Moderate Right, Centrist, Moderate Left, Far Left and Independent. (In reality, the distinctions fall along the poles of Socially Liberal/Conservative and Economically Liberal/Conservative, but consider liberal on both to be far left, conservative on both to be far right, etc.)

From there, to refill the blank slate, each candidate takes a test, like the World's Smallest Political Quiz, which is then used to determine their party membership. In the case of sitting officials, their voting record determines their placement. Think of it as the salting ritual in Harry Potter -- the hat (or test) sniffs out each person, then puts them in their proper house.

Now, once this is done, a candidate once elected is bound to vote by the precepts of that party. They get one exception, provided they give an adequate explanation. But, the second time they deviate, they are kicked out of the party and out of office.

In other words, no surprises from your elected officials. If you vote for a Far Right candidate, you know what you'll get. Likewise, if you vote for a Far Left candidate, you know what you'll get. If the candidate, now elected, betrays that trust, their ass is out.

It would certainly avoid walking abortions like Joe Lieberman or George Bush, both of whom have betrayed the ideals of the parties they purport to represent. And it would put candidates like Clinton and McCain in slots more fitting to their beliefs, rather than trying to one-size-fits-all two major parties that are not quite rightwing enough for the former, not quite leftwing enough for the latter. More importantly, it would end the marginalization of the Third Parties, which should have equal voice in this election but which do not, not for lack of money or supporters, but for lack of interest by the Gatekeepers of Power, the so-called mainstream media and their corporate overlords.

Democracy belongs in the hands of the people. Combine the above reforms with the abolition of the electoral college and a tamper-proof, verifiable, publicly counted voting system, we might get somewhere.

Stick with what we've got, then I'm afraid that, far from freeing ourselves from the scourge that has been 8 years of W, we're just going to trade it all in for another evil, and the motto of 2009 is going to be, "Welcome to America -- We're Still Fucked".

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