Politics 101: Knowing When To Hold ‘Em, When To Fold ‘Em

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Press your preference, hold back your hate. Don’t damage the duck until you know which duck is yours. We all do better when we all do better, even those you disagree with. There is an endless list of rhetorically clever utterances to make the same point: express your passion inside the Party, but then, get in line and vote blue. (Or red if you are for some strange reason a Republican interested in my advice, which is highly unlikely).

Here is the argument for not hating on candidates that you don’t like, and for NEVER claiming that you will NEVER vote for that one candidate you can’t stand even if they are selected by your party to wear the mantle. If I suggested that you read this as part of some online conversation, then yes, this is me referencing myself. That’s what blog posts are for.

If there is a position of power, even a little power, some of those interested in power may try to move into it. The power-hungry gravitate to the power places.

If there is a way to increase the power of that position, the power-hungry will likely try to do so, and over time, that position will become more and more power-containing.

An illustration of the phenomenon is the US Presidency. Originally conceived as being powerful but not too powerful, the Presidency was given additional power at the time of America’s first war, temporarily, for the purposes of effectively conducting the war. But when that war was over, some of the power stuck and the Presidency was more powerful after he war of 1812 than before it.

Every war after that had a similar effect, up to the point that war-related changes in policy and procedure as a pathway to power became saturated, probably in the mid 20th century. (See Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss for an analysis of this.)

It is possible that a positive feedback loop could emerge, where the more power-hungry vie for being in the increasingly powerful positions, and they are more equipped to increase the power held in that position, and on and on.

Article One, Section 5 of the Constitution states that “Each House [of Congress] may determine the rules of its proceedings.” Over time, these rules can be changed. The process is overseen by a hierarchy of elected individuals with different levels of power, consisting mainly of two categories: Overall leadership (such as the “Speaker” in the House) and committee leadership. How the rules work in detail is ultimately determined by negotiations and decisions among these leaders.

Rarely do leaders of the two chambers, or of committees, take action to reduce power. Rather, they increase the power of the chair, and of the committee.

Over time, the rules, created or amended entirely within, among, and by, the elected participants — not by passing laws or amending the Constitution — conferred more and more power to committee chairs, and the committees they chair.

And, over time, more and more power was absorbed by the partisan leadership in each chamber.

We are now at the point that the party in charge of a chamber (House or Senate) determines who is in charge of each committee or subcommittee, and those committee chairs determine almost 100% of the time what bills are considered, and which of those bills are ever brought to the floor for a vote.

If a particular political party is not in charge of BOTH houses of Congress, it is very unlikely to be able to carry out actual change by introducing and passing bills. If one of the parties is in the minority but only barely, in the Senate, it may have the power to sometimes interfere with the leading party’s efforts, and thus could have a small degree of fleeting relevance. At best. But hardly so.

For this reason, each of the two chambers of Congress (House and Senate) can be divided into two parts. Those in the majority party, including chamber wide leadership and committee leadership, and those not. The former have power, the latter not.

This is why, in a general election, citizens should vote for party and not individuals.

The greatest power we as citizens have is to influence which party is in power in each chamber (and the Executive, the President). We can also try to influence, often to measurable effect, the behavior of individuals in the party-in-charge once they are elected. Influencing those not in charge has little actual effect.

This means that voting to support individuals who happen to agree with our own positions is an ineffective strategy in general elections. Finding a member of Party A who we like and supporting them is a waste of time if Party B is in charge. If we like, more or less, the policies of Party A and dislike Party B’s policies overall, we should work to support any individual who is a member of Party A over any individual who is a member of Party B, in a general election.

People who say to me “I’m not a partisan” or “I’m independent” might as well be saying “I don’t really understand the system, please tread on me.”

The part of our political power manipulation, as voters or volunteers, that influences the finer detail of our preference happens within the party itself. We should be working hard to support individuals who feel like we do about the various issues, or whom for some other reason we would prefer to be eventually elected. But once the party has finished that decision making process, we should then fully support whom the party has chosen. There is no other procedure that is rational or that moves us as individuals towards more power.

It is logical, then, that while we are busy fighting for Mary over Albert for our party’s nomination, because we like Mary better, we should avoid doing material damage to Albert, just in case Albert ends up being the party-wide choice. The reason for this is blindingly obvious yet seems to be often missed, so I’ll state it. Damage we do to Albert now may weaken Albert in the general election, causing him to lose, and thus, causing all of us of (more or less) like mind to lose power in government.

The level of passion in our dislike of the candidates perceived as flawed, the ones that are imperfect, can be astonishingly strong. This passion is reflective of peronsal conceit. One’s own opinions are, in the realm of politics, one’s very self. Those that differ in policy from one’s own can rightfully be seen as different, but they are often also seen as inferior. It is with the utmost sense of self-supremacy that we strongly disdain politicians tho do not think, feel, and act, exactly as we think they should.

People need to learn to not treat others of the same party with that sense of self-supremacy.

It is understandable that there would be a certain degree of disdain, especially for politicians that are far, far away from ourselves in their positions on key issues. There is nothing wrong with rhetorically punching Nazis. But when a member of a certain political party disdains a politician enough to effectively support a candidate from the opposing party who stands against nearly everything we all believe in, that is the ultimate selfishness. It is a nearly unforgivable hubris, to believe that someone who is modestly different from oneself — even critically different in one issue but not likely in most issues — is worthy of sufficient disdain that one must punish one’s friends, family, fellow partisans, and all the future children over that difference.

So, please, don’t do that.

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In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback
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2 thoughts on “Politics 101: Knowing When To Hold ‘Em, When To Fold ‘Em

  1. As an example of the phenomenon, consider the Republicans holding their noses and getting behind Donald Trump. The results of their decision are with the U. S. now and some of them will continue to poison the future.

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