- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

Ach, again it happens: A guy runs for office sounding right, then governs left. A few more election cycles like this and we'll all be living in re-education/forced labor camps instead of a free society.
Why do such bad politics happen to good people? In the American case, one of the major reasons is our winner-take-all electoral system. Because, in order to get any seats at the table of power, your party must win an absolute majority, even if that's only 50.0001 percent, there's a strong disincentive to "waste your vote on a party that can't win," even if it stands for everything your heart believes.
So time and again people throw up their hands and vote for the lesser evil, preferring to take political death on the installment plan rather than all at once.
Many smart people have argued for proportional representation (PR) to overthrow the antidemocratic bias of winner-take-all (WTA), but like most smart ideas in latter-day America, they've gone nowhere. Among the arguments is this statement from the Center for Voting and Democracy's Robert Richie and Steven Hill, posted at https://www.fairvote.org:
"Winner-take-all elections prop up our two-party monopoly. Since 1960, new parties have formed at comparable rates in the United States and in European democracies using PR. But new parties in the United States are almost completely shut out of representation, whereas half the new parties in the European systems eventually have won seats. Polls show most Americans would like to see a third party electing candidates at every level of government, but only three of our nearly 8,000 state and congressional legislators were elected on a minor party ticket all of them in Burlington, Vt.
" As [John Stuart] Mill observed, any particular majority is a collection of minorities, not a monolithic bloc, so once some voters are excluded from representation, policy can be passed without the support of a majority of the electorate."
Hendrik Hertzberg explains the poll-anxiety of American politics in the New Yorker, pointing out that "most of the other countries of the democratic world, from Poland to New Zealand, have national political institutions whose representational legitimacy is taken for granted. Most citizens vote in such countries, and (thanks to proportional seat allocation) almost everyone who votes gets to help elect a legislator he or she actually supports, so the government more or less mirrors the electorate. There's little need for taking the temperature of 'the people' every 5 minutes, because the electoral thermometer works."
Unlike in the U.S., where not only Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Reformers, independents and the growing millions who are too fed up to vote were shut out in November 2000, but also great swaths of the "victorious" Republican Party itself, all those who felt compelled to vote for George W. Bush just to keep Al Gore from taking power.
A sterling example of how PR forces government to heed minority (which are very often "silent majority") concerns is the recent Seville summit of European Union (EU) leaders to thrash out a common asylum/immigration policy. Tony Blair has to care what voters other than orthodox Laborites and Tories think, or else he won't have the coalition support to govern.
Agence France-Presse on June 21 captured his genuine alarm:"If we don't get it on issues like asylum and street crime, then we create the space for the extremists to operate." The EU must "tackle the underlying issues that the extremists are exploiting. My fear is that we leave the field open to extremists. The populists and extremists them again gain a purchase on the political system when the moderate politicians fail to deal with the issues properly."
Yet these frightful "extremists" (i.e., people worried about their children's future in nations being flooded with hostile foreigners) never gain a purchase here in America, because the Republocrats can promise boldly at election time, then dither for two or four or six years, safe from ever having to change the status quo because there's nowhere else for the electorate to go.
On issues of critical importance to the nation, you might call the GOP "straight" globalists and the Democrats "queer" globalists that's about it. Which one baits and which one switches gets all mixed up after awhile.
Proportional representation as an idea, of course, has suffered from its association with Lani Guinier, whose racial monomania "only blacks can represent blacks" naturally repels most Americans.
But while it may be untrue that only blacks can effectively and soulfully represent the interests of black constituents, it is for sure true that only flat-tax, America-first, states-rights, God-fearing, gun-carrying, authority-questioning candidates are able to represent that faction of the public.
The Voters' Choice Act (HR 3068) would allow states to use proportional representation systems to elect representatives to the House. Only trouble is, the same officeholders who now benefit from the two-party monopoly are the ones who would have to vote to amend the process and that'll happen the day pigs take wing.
Therefore the only practical way to defeat winner-take-all is to forge a coalition of all opposition groups and parties big enough to start winning elections. To get there, we need at least three breakthroughs:
(1) Invite all tendencies to strategy sessions to reconceptualize and synthesize their positions on a higher level. This means compromise in the interest of unity. The higher synthesis mustn't compromise essential philosophies, of course, but rather creatively explore what apparent contradictions have in common.
One potential synthesis that leaps to mind is the Greens' thirst for environmental preservation plus the Libertarians' thirst for individual freedom of action plus the Reform Party's distrust of mass immigration and globalization. A party that seriously cares about the North American environment must recognize that uncontrolled immigration is an unfolding ecological disaster. A party that truly cares about civil liberties must recognize that the more poor, uneducated, dependent, racially "entitled" people who come here, the bigger the state will inevitably grow. And a party that really cares about America's tradition of quirky freedom must recognize that on some things, like chemical abortion, risque TV shows, and no Lord's Prayer in school, the old morality is not likely to be enforceable.
(2) The alpha males who currently run a lot of these groups must focus on ways to win political power instead of just defending their own turf against "intruders." This may be the toughest breakthrough of all. Look for example (if you have a strong stomach) at the dog's breakfast the Reform Party has made of its once-promising insurgency. There is no Big Man at hand to save us, and there is no call for one anyhow.
(3) It must be understood that an ounce of actual reform is worth a pound of revolutionary purity. So what if Tony Blair (or George Bush) only reluctantly moves to restore the people's sovereignty over their own land, that he won't do a proper job, or that he complains "The extremists made me do it" all the time? All that matters is getting movement in a direction the nation wants. It's our role to keep the pressure on; the more our program is "co-opted," the better.
Voter apathy, refusal to participate in the system, has been condemned as ignorant and blind, and can now be seen as sad wisdom. But if united opposition to the status quo can come up with a strategy to win power and a program to govern instead of just another skit of guerrilla theater, we could be glad as well as wise.

Marian Kester Coombs is a freelance writer.

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