Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tri-angulation need not result in strangulation

We're finally in full-up presidential campaign mode. Once again we are being treated to the reality so honestly acknowledged and exploited by Bill Clinton and his long-time political guru Dick Morris, tri-angulation. This political strategy consists, tactically, of running to the right or to the left, depending on your political party, in order to capture your party's nomination. Once the nomination is assured, you begin to move in the opposite direction, toward the center.

We see this with Obama's evolving stance on withdrawal from Iraq, a timetable for which is now being insisted on by the Iraqi government as part of a Status of Forces Agreement. We also see this by McCain on the issue of immigration. To my mind, tri-angulation is one very good argument against a two party system in which neither party is really representative of the majority of citizens.

I have long been a fan of parliamentary systems, particularly the Canadian and German systems, which are quite stable, unlike the Italian system. Given that we will never have a parliamentary system, can we at least add some new parties to our existing system, parties that do not pander to the lunatic fringe, like the Libertarians and Greens? Such a development would expose tri-angulation, which is a necessary to win in our current system, for the sham that it is by having parties really seek the democratic consensus.

Another thing we need, which McCain has shown support for in his Senate career, is comprehensive campaign finance reform, which forces all candidates to accept public funding and all licensed broadcasters to give allotted time for political advertisements, which is doled out fairly and without charge to all candidates based on a set of objective criteria. Also, campaigning needs to be limited in duration, both primary seasons and general elections. It is ridiculous to run for president for a year-and-a-half.
Nonetheless, we have a moral obligation to participate by voting, using our best judgment. We are fortunate that being Christians and celini aids us in forming prudential judgments based the fundamental fact of our lives, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our bishops have also given us a great gift in their quadrennial Faithful Citizenship document. I urge everyone to spend some time looking at the great resources available on the Faithful Citizenship website.

In their statement, released last November, the Catholic bishops of the United States address four main questions:

"(1)Why does the Church teach about issues affecting public policy?
(2) Who in the Church should participate in political life?
(3) How does the Church help the Catholic faithful to speak about political and social questions?
(4) What does the Church say about Catholic social teaching in the public square?"
In number nineteen of Faithful Citizenship we read,
"The Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral
truth but also by encouraging its members to develop the virtue of prudence.
Prudence enables us 'to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose
the right means of achieving it' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806).
Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to
determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace."


JACK said...

setting aside the unconstitutionality of campaign finance reform (notwithstanding current case rulings), I think there's a potential flaw to that logic. And it is namely this: it is premised on the notion that it will lead to less money in politics and shorter campaigns because those things will be set by statute. Except that they will be set by statute by politicians. Who no longer have to actually raise money, they just have to raise the allocation of government revenues to campaigns. We've seen how shy they are to give themselves pay raises. So while I am intrigued by the possible role public financing could play in reform of our political landscape, I think too many people are overly optimistic about its effects.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Such limits work well in the English and Canadian systems.

Apart from right wingers de-crying the constitutionality of said reforms, which makes the "it is unconstitutional" argument all the more dubious, there is no reason to believe that such reforms are unconstitutional. After all, our current system, which severly limits what individuals, companies, and organizations can donate to a campaign, is not unconstitutional. It just leads to the creation of more and more loopholes to exploit. In this way, it is much like our broken income tax system, which, while having the appearance of being progressive taxation, in reality is quite regressive, especially after the great Bush giveaway. McCain, who intitially had the guts and common sense to oppose these cuts, in a tri-angular move, now supports making them permanent which, for me, is almost reason enough to vote against him all by itself.

I certainly don't think that I can be classified as overly optimistic, especially when it comes to politics. While I favor such dramatic reforms, I do not foresee them ever happening for the reason you mention- they hurt those who benefit most from our cuurent, borderline oligarchic, system of unrepresentative incumbent dominance. As a result, we will continue to elect either the ultra-rich, who can finance their own campaigns, or those who are wholly owned subsidiaries of entrenched interests.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

I also want to add that I am not naive enough to believe:
a) Such a reform would magically resolve every problem, nor
b) That it would not create other problems, even unintended ones.

What matters, however, is that we have better, that is, a more democratic system that seeks to overcome the alienation felt by more than half of the electorate. In this regard, anyone who would defend the status quo has a lot to account for.