Vote “Dead Cat” in 2012

Vote “Dead Cat” in 2012

Why you should vote for a dead cat instead of a Republican if you support OWS.

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other night and was asked why should they support Obama despite the fact that he’s ordered drone strikes killing thousands, among them a US citizen. I had to go to bed, but in the morning promised to actually post something here to address their concerns.

There have been a number of blog posts and websites devoted to this and I think I may even write on myself, but I think we’re making this too easy on ourselves and should start with why a dead cat would be preferable to a Republican in the White House.

To understand why this is the case we need to look at the differences between our presidential system and parliamentary democracies, the somewhat recent history of partypolitics in the US and the rise of neoconservatism.

First, in a system with a strong presidency you typically vest much power in the executive branch. This is generally supposed to be checked by courts and the legislature, and we do see a great deal of that today, but even with that you’ve got a huge amount of power that can be directed by one person.

In the case of a Republican, we’ll be looking at someone beholden to a party that has no interest in facts, uses foreign policy as a bludgeon in the culture war and wants tooccupy large swaths of the globe for decades, regardless of the cost.

Going back to the dead cat, presumably the body count will be lower. Excluding the cat, which was already dead to begin with.

You also have supreme court nominations that start at the executive level, and given the large amount of 5-4 rulings that progressives have decried over the past couple years, getting that moved just one seat or the other will make a huge difference.

Our Republican will nominate people that think that money is free speech, that abortion is murder, that the government doesn’t have the authority to require people to get health insurance, and so on.

The dead cat won’t nominate anyone, because they’re dead. However it’s possible one of their staffers will pretend that they’re the dead cat and nominate a moderate or two for the bench.

Next, the executive branch has significant control over federal drug law enforcement, air quality laws, reports on climate change, food and drug safety enforcement, etc.

Our theoretical Republican will likely work towards the goals of various corporations for the issues. The dead cat won’t do anything, but staffers may decide to be just as harsh as the Republican might be on the drug war to help keep up a good image with suburban voters.

Why do we put so much power into the executive branch? Again, presidential system. They suck, we’re one of the few stable ones around. Our current slide toward political gridlock is par for the course, it isn’t an aberration. You generally have a party that is focused on business and social conservatives, and a party that has everyone else. Our “everyone else” party isn’t progressive because Democrats aren’t progressive. When you have many competitive parties everything breaks down and eventually the government collapses if someone can’t get a working majority.

Parliamentary democracies typically offer a larger number of parties to voters, and the parties tend to form into coalitions that we can recognize, even if the spectrum is frequently way further to the left than what we’re used to. Even without proportional representation you can make a dent in the system in a far left green or red party, or in a far right party if you can convince a few hardcore supporters.

What’s more, in a parliamentary system the government is frequently the coalition. You can exercise influence from the sides on some issues you care about, and generally play ball with everything else because you can always break off and get new elections if the issue is big enough. Coalition votes are typically very coherent when it comes to voting, and this helps the government to pass laws.

In our presidential system we’ve put in a large number of veto points, spread out the time in-between elections, created even more veto points that aren’t required by the constitution, and have two parties, one that is ideologically coherent and another that is not. When the coherent party is out of power they veto everything they can, and the incoherent party gives up a few votes and stuff passes when they are out of power.

With a Republican in office you have a chance for stuff you like to end or be modified. With a dead cat in office you at least won’t see the veto pen come out as regularly when you can get something passed through both houses of congress.

Next, let’s go back to 1912, when around 70% of the country voted for a progressive candidate for president. This was the result of a decades long fight, one that resulted in both parties spending several decades frequently fighting to give the most goodies to their constituents. This wasn’t something that happened overnight, it took the blood, sweat and tears of activists and politicians. You can’t expect that we’ll be able to move the pendulum back overnight when 40% of the country is self described as conservative while around 20% is self described as liberal or progressive.

Neoconservatism got it’s start with academics in the 50s. It spent the better part of two decades fighting for relevance in the Republican party, and it wasn’t until 1980 that Reagan finally got elected as the first neocon president. This ideological apparatus didn’t stop there, it kept building alternative think tanks, media outlets, books and conferences. And it marches in near lock step for the majority of important issues to conservatives at the speed of the Internet. Today we can easily say that Republicans have a different set of facts than everyone else because they have created an industry to produce exactly that.

Now, just because Reagan was elected didn’t mean that he didn’t do many things that conservatives didn’t like. However, he was in office for eight years, and was followed by another Republican for another four, and the result was a large amount of the federal government that was stamped with neoconservatism.

What about Clinton you might ask, why didn’t he clean up things in the 8 years he was in office? Because the debate had changed, and Clinton was successful because of his commitment to technocratic, “middle of the road” policies that were to the right of Carter and previous Democratic presidents, but in line with both Democrats in large part and independent voters who’s worldview was filtered through the idea that the rich have generally earned and deserve what they have.

Progressives haven’t won the political battles they want because half of the Democratic voters in this country *aren’t progressive*. Their minds have to be changed the same way that Rockefeller Republicans were through the 50s and 60s and there is a large road ahead to convincing them that redistribution is the solution.

Our dead cat won’t care about redistribution because he’s dead. On the other hand the Republican certainly will, and it will be easier to win more political battles with politicians who aren’t sure who to support than politicians that are.

In the meantime we have a very long road ahead. On tons of stuff we can diverge greatly on how we think things should be run. Nevertheless it’s the case that our common interests are with each other, not the 1%. We have to reach out to our communities to talk about why we believe what we believe. We don’t all have to agree, even with the people we’re trying to convince. We have to reach out to people we aren’t comfortable with. People that look and think and live differently than we do. We have to stop fighting the culture war and start working together.