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“Delusional In A Deeply Flattering Way”: Time To Elect The Worst Idea?

Our topic today is picking the worst new trend of the political season.

Not including putting the dog on the car roof.

I was thinking more along the lines of candidates who twitter. Or robo-calls from Donald Trump. Or candidates who build home additions with car elevators.

Or “super PACs” funded by billionaires who appear so demented you cannot figure out how in the world they got to be so rich. Actually, the super PACs are the worst trend, hands down.

But since I still have some space here, let me throw in a plug for the terribleness of the idea of Americans Elect.

Perhaps you have not yet focused on Americans Elect. It’s a new-generation political movement that aims to rise above the petty forces of partisan bickering and choose a presidential candidate, along with a running mate from a different party, at an online convention in June.

As a reward, the winning team will receive a presidential ballot line in every state, along with some very cool online technology with which to run their campaign. It’s similar to “Project Runway” except for the most-powerful-job-on-the-globe part.

“This is about change. This is about disruption for good,” said Sarah Malm, Americans Elect’s chief communications officer.

Nobody who has been paying attention for the last several months could possibly object to the idea of disruption. Really, I’d be tempted to throw Americans Elect a vote just to get rid of the Iowa caucuses.

But it’s too dangerous. History suggests that this election could be decided by a small number of votes in a few closely contested states. You do not want it to turn on a bunch of citizens who decide to express their purity of heart by tossing a vote to Fred Website.

Plus, the whole Americans Elect concept is delusional, in a deeply flattering way: We the people are good and pure, and if only we were allowed to just pick the best person, everything else would fall into place. And, of course, the best person cannot be the choice of one of the parties, since the parties are … the problem.

“The process has become so toxic and ugly that people don’t even come to the game. We want to open up space for people to come,” said Kahlil Byrd, the chief executive officer of Americans Elect. The group’s leadership seems to be a mix of technology people, financial industry people, and political moderates like Christine Todd Whitman. After trying to run the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush, you can see why Whitman would be looking for a soothing spot to curl up in.

So far, the greatest achievement by Americans Elect seems to be smashing the fantasy that there are all sorts of people out there who would make great presidents if only the parties didn’t stand in the way. The most popular names in the mix are Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Buddy Roemer, the former governor of Louisiana whose candidacy was so deeply unsuccessful that he couldn’t even qualify for the debates.

Roemer, the only one of the trio who actually has expressed interest in being the nominee, now appears to be running on a platform that centers on opening up future debates to Buddy Roemer.

Malm thinks other people will raise their hand as the nominating convention gets closer. “We have ballot access,” she said. “Having ballot access is too much of a jewel for someone serious not to try to make the run.”

Getting a presidential ballot line in 50 states is really, really difficult. To do so, Americans Elect has already collected nearly 2.5 million signatures around the country, using the deeply American tactic of paying people to do it.

The source of the money is a little murky. Some names have been made public. Some haven’t. Byrd says that’s not a problem because “the candidates don’t know who the donors are and the donors don’t know who the candidate is going to be.”

If the Americans Elect candidate does make a big splash in November, we will have discovered yet another part of the presidential elections process that loopy billionaires could purchase out of their petty cash. Tired of financing right-wing contenders for the Republican nomination? Buy your own ballot line.

So that’s the down side. On the plus side, there is the opportunity to create a presidential nominee who will promise to bring us all together in a postpartisan Washington.

Which was exactly what Barack Obama said in 2008. You’ll remember how well that worked out.

The thing that makes our current politics particularly awful isn’t procedural. It’s that the Republican Party has become over-the-top extreme. You can try to fix that by working from within to groom a more sensible pack of future candidates, or from without by voting against the Republicans’ nominees until they agree to shape up.

Otherwise, no Web site in the world will cure what ails us.

By: Gail Collins, Op Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 30, 2012

March 31, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Americans Elect: Goo-Goo Mischief-Makers

I’ve been ignoring the whole Americans Elect phenomenon in the hopes that it would somehow go away, like many earlier do-gooder efforts aimed at creating a third party that avoids the messy process of actually believing in something other than its own nobility. But now that the group is using its hedge-fund donations to buy ballot access in a significant number of states, it’s probably time to pay attention. It’s been generally assumed that the whole enterprise was created to give Michael Bloomberg the option of running for president if that strikes his fancy, but Americans Elect’s ballot lines could become a tempting target for other billionaires or for crazy people. Indeed, as Ruth Marcus recently pointed out, the “democratic” internet-based process Americans Elect says it will use for choosing a presidential ticket seems tailor-made for exploitation by, say, the Ron Paul Revolution or somebody like Donald Trump.

That, of course, is that rationalization for the anti-democratic measures built into Americans Elect’s structure: the power of a board to set aside (subject to a veto override from “voters”) the People’s Choice in order to create a legitimately “balanced, centrist” ticket, whatever that means.

As Jon Chait notes today, it’s all a recipe for mischief, and perhaps multiple third-party candidacies:

[T]he picture is that you could have any of Trump, Paul, or [Gary] Johnson, running on the Americans Elect line, or possibly in addition to an Americans Elect candidate. All these decisions will be heavily influenced by behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Americans Elect may not have only a struggle between its voters and its elites. Surely the Republican and Democratic Parties will try to get involved. Since third parties tend to hurt major party candidates most ideologically similar to themselves, the GOP will try to push liberal alternatives, like Bloomberg, into the race, while the Democrats will try to get right-wingers like Trump or Paul to run. Obama’s aides are warning loudly against the undemocratic nature of Americans Elect’s leadership. They don’t care about transparency, they care about letting Americans Elect help their candidate rather than hurt him. The outcome of these maneuverings could have a far larger impact than many of the stories the media is obsessively covering.

Yep. Sinister or simply naive, the organizers of Americans Elect could be opening a real-life Pandora’s Box.

By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 29, 2011

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Voters | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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