Who Needs Elections, Anyway?

Whenever I see that someone has said something insanely stupid, I often check the source and try to dig deeper to make sure there’s not more to the story than meets the eyes.  So I was initially skeptical when I heard that Governor Bev Purdue said the following:

“You have to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things. I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. The one good thing about Raleigh is that for so many years we worked across party lines. It’s a little bit more contentious now but it’s not impossible to try to do what’s right in this state. You want people who don’t worry about the next election.”

Surely she can’t be serious.  A sitting governor could not possibly be advocating the suspension of elections, could she?

Well her team went into immediate spin mode and claimed that she was just exaggerating.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Perdue’s office clarified the remarks: ”Come on,” said spokeswoman Chris Mackey in a statement. “Gov. Perdue was obviously using hyperbole to highlight what we can all agree is a serious problem: Washington politicians who focus on their own election instead of what’s best for the people they serve.”

Only she wasn’t exaggerating, she was being sarcastic.

“My point was one of sarcasm,” Perdue told reporters in Thomasville. “We really just need to encourage our leaders who are elected to work together and solve America’s problems.”

Only she wasn’t being sarcastic, she was actually just taken out of context.

She added: “It was taken out of context from my perspective. But honest to goodness, who would think something like that would be said seriously. It’s ridiculous to have this kind of discussion about it.”

Only she wasn’t taken out of context, she was under the mind control of an alien from the Xorgon Galaxy.

Okay, I made the last part up, but then again Governor Purdue seems to be making up excuses as we go along here.

Whether we believe that she was joking, was being sarcastic, or had been taken out of context – and for the record I would suggest: not really, kind of, and are you kidding me? – this is one of those gaffes that could be a career killer.  As the saying goes, a gaffe is when a politician speaks the truth, or in the case when a politician speaks the truth it’s a gaffe.  I’m sure Purdue isn’t dumb enough to think that anyone would go along with a suggestion to suspend elections next year, but she obviously believes that something like that is what we need to get the country going.  Damn the people and their desire to hold elected leaders accountable.

I’m the last person to get behind political populism, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to tolerate people who want to disregard the burdens of republican government.  Sure it would be nice to live in a fantasy world where our enlightened leaders nobly guide us out of the darkness after months if not years of serious contemplation.  But we dwell in the real world, and we need to have some mechanism to hold elected officials accountable.  Sure the people can be fickle, but that doesn’t mean we remove the citizenry from the process.

At the heart of this comment – sarcastic or not – is the believe that Governor Purdue and her ilk know better than you poor proles.  If they can just have the freedom to ignore the rabble, then surely they’d be able to compromise and all would be well.  I’m sure life in Governor Purdue’s imaginary world is very pleasant, what with the dancing unicorns and people gathered together in the lush meadows, holding hands and singing melodiously.  But here on planet Earth we have a political class busy tweeting pictures of their private parts.  Excuse me if I don’t think the solution to our woes is to blindly hand off the keys and let the kiddies in Congress cruise around unsupervised.  They got us into this mess, and something tells me that without adult supervision they don’t have the means to get us out.

10 Responses to Who Needs Elections, Anyway?

  • Art Deco says:

    Gov. Perdue has a point: our political cycles have a periodicity that is too short. There is one other thing: there comes a point in the life of nations where the dynamics that operate among the political class render constitutional processes less likely to secure order and justice than an authoritarian arrangement. (The history of Uruguay between 1955 and 1973 is sadly relevant). I think we are closer to such a state than you appreciate.

  • The only point Governor Perdue has is doubtless at the top of her skull. We had elections during the American Revolution, all the economic upheavals of the nineteenth century, during both World Wars and throughout the Cold War. During our Civil War, when the nation was engaged in an immense struggle with itself, both sides held regular elections. When the heroes of Flight 93 had to decide whether to rush the hijackers they took a vote. Voting is essential to the way we Americans view the world; it is built into our political DNA as a people. In the truest sense of the word, Governor Perdue’s proposal was deeply un-American.

  • Art Deco says:

    I understand that elections have been held in inclement circumstances, but critiquing that practice is not my point nor is it hers. (N.B. Britain postponed parliamentary elections during the 2d World War).

    Incorporated in the Governor’s comments is the notion that the balance of time and attention between making public policy and electioneering is severely out of whack as we speak. We hold federal elections every two years in this country rather than the three year cycle that is about normal in Canada and New Zealand or the four year cycle in Britain. The internal structure of our political parties puts a heavy fund-raising burden on our legislators as well. Quadrennial federal elections and a transfer of fund-raising duties to the political party apparat would be helpful.

  • (N.B. Britain postponed parliamentary elections during the 2d World War).

    Yes and they have had National Unity Governments of all parties during times of crisis and various other bad ideas that make me say for at least the thousandth time, “Thank God for 1776!”

    Elections are not the problem Art, and calling politicians to account at frequent elections is a feature and not a bug of our system. If anything gerrymandering and making too many seats safe for one party so elections are not a serious contest greatly contribute to the poor leadership from our political class. Postponing elections or amending the Constitution to elect House members for four year terms would exacerbate, rather than solve, this problem.

  • T. Shaw says:

    There is little hope, either way. They keep voting for baboons and idiots that promise something for nothing.

    Our only hope is to limit guvmint’s power to inadvertently destroy we the people.

    It’s prtobably too late.

  • Croakers have always been with us T.Shaw from the earliest days of the Republic. In spite of them a fair amount of good has been accomplished by the American people since the foundation of the Republic, and quite a bit of good remains to be accomplished.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Mark Twain: “If you don’t read the papers, you are uninformed. If you read the papers, you are misinformed.”

    “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
    - Mark Twain, a Biography

    Agreed: a fair amount of good has been accomplished by we the people . . . Not much by big guvmint.

    Gibbon “Decline and Fall . . . “ paraphrased: “An educated, well-informed populous, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against the enterprises of an aspiring prince (despotism).”

    “ . . the people of Rome, viewing with a secret pleasure the humiliation of the aristocracy demanded only bread and public shows.” Augustus had destroyed the aristocracy, the Praetorian Guards ran rampant; people were reduced to wards of the state. The army was professional and not made up of the citizenry, which was dependent, disarmed and disenfranchised.

    Does any of that sound familair?

  • Actually T.Shaw, some of the Founding Fathers in their older and crankier years quoted Gibbon when lamenting that the Republic they had created was going to Hell in a handbasket. Such laments are timeless. Sometimes they are also timely, but not usually.

  • Art Deco says:

    Elections are not the problem Art

    To some extent, they are. The following problems are manifest:

    1. Barnacles and fried circuits:

    There was a great multiplication in the number and variety of offices subject to election during the Jacksonian period. The ballots we get here in New York are just hopeless. Regularity of scheduling and a reduction in the number of offices so subject would expand the capacity of the electorate to make informed choices. That in and of itself suggests quadrennial scheduling.

    2. Rapid cycling of offices may promote ‘accountability’, but only if you assume the effects of policies are fully manifest on two-year intervals. The restoration of price stability in 1979-82 is an example of a salutary public policy that it took more than two years to implement.

    3. Rapid cycling of offices also changes the recruitment patterns in political life. Right now, our system has given an escalating advantage to politicians talented at fund-raising and striking poses, because that is what they do half the time. (The current president is a fairly pure example of this tendency).

    —-

    Containing the effects of gerrymandering is going to require innovations in the architecture of electoral systems. Refusal to consider any sort of constitutional innovation is an ingrained element of the political culture we have.

    I understand there were antecedent arguments for the various aspects of our constitutional architecture and that there are post hoc apologetics for it. The wrecked and dysfunctional quality of it remain no matter what is said about it.

  • “The ballots we get here in New York are just hopeless.”

    I think that pretty well sums up the view of much of the country about New York Art! :) (The joke would be funnier to me if I were not in Illinois.) Not having voted in New York I cannot judge the state of the ballot, but I do not think multiplicity of offices or frequency of balloting, at least on a two year schedule, would be daunting to an informed citizenry. Of course that last is a large part of the problem, not only in New York, but around the country.

    In the 19th century Art, radical and routine shifts in control of Congress were the norm, a result of voters paying close attention to what their reps were up to in Washington and making their displeasure known frequently. It ensured that when one party had control they enacted their agenda as rapidly as possible, which I think is preferable to the eternal grid lock that is now the norm. When a new party came to power they could repeal laws previously enacted that had proven to be failures or unpopular with the voters.

    We do not have rapid cycling of offices Art. Until very recently the re-election numbers for most members of Congress were obscenely high. I hope we are beginning to enter a new era when a substantial number of Congressional seats will be true contests each elections.

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