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The News That Isn’t News, Exhibit #426

Via Meadia has steered clear of the various ephemera dominating news coverage of the campaign season (such as the current hubbub over Ann Romney’s alleged Hitlerian overtones on motherhood). Over at BuzzFeed, Rebecca Elliot, writing about Americans Elect, reminds us why we feel so comfortable ignoring the punditocracy.

Americans Elect bills itself as a grass-roots organization that aims to promote a third-party candidacy. After spending $35 million and signing up more than 420,000 “online delegates,” however, the group has a slight problem: it still has no candidate and doesn’t look likely to field one. (Over at Slate, Dave Weigel has a witty recap of the all-too-predictable meltdown.)

In “7 Very Bad Predictions About Americans Elect,” Elliot chronicles just how wrong some of the fashionable media elites were on this one. A sampling:

Thomas Friedman (NY Times)

Write it down: Americans Elect. What did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life—remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out.

Matt Miller (Washington Post)

The structure of the presidential selection process matters because the constituencies it empowers, and the incentives it creates, shape the debate.

This is why the Americans Elect process has so much potential power. The idea that we could be freed from having candidates chosen by a handful of zealots in either party and, instead, have millions of Americans pick candidates directly via a secure online process would be transformative. And this year is just the test run.

All one can say at this point is HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. It’s one of the oldest lessons of American politics: when you see a worthy and earnest effort supported by high minded centrist intellectuals and pundits — get ready for a big belly laugh when it flops. Americans hate most politicians and despise party establishments, but we like our Barnum and Bailey, three ring circus style of politics. We kind of like the idea that our political process works more like “American Idol” than like the College of Cardinals. We might not like John Edwards and Newt Gingrich very much, but we prefer a political process that features people like them to something more worthy — but less human. Don’t give us a college civics textbook: Give us “Tippeecanoe and Tyler Too!” or “Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?”

We don’t want to disintermediate the political process any more than we have; it is too much fun laughing at its absurdities. And we have the sneaking suspicion that the earnest reformers are wrong. Our problems aren’t difficult because, as they so piously and so earnestly tell us, our politics are polarized. Our politics are polarized because our problems are hard.

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  • Brett

    These idiotic groups pop every few years or so, make noise and get the attention of gullible columnists like Thomas Friedman*, and then disappear. Before there was Americans Elect, there was No Labels and Third Way.

    Personally, I think people need to stop fearing the Party System. It actually does work, at least when you have a government that allows for one of the two parties to lead the government when it’s in power.

    * Speaking of which, what is it with Thomas Friedman and stupid, gullible columns like the ones he writes? It’s like he just absorbs the shallow, centrist intellectual fads of the moment.

  • Jim.

    There’s at least one blog I like to read daily that aspired to be a “middle way”, according to its founding essays, at least. It had a vaguely Latin name, if I recall correctly, and its proprietor regularly posts material critical of the philosphy and strategy of the party he claims not-particularly-partisan membership in.

    So far, though, he seems to be having a little trouble getting behind the moderate in the presidential race; a man completely anathema to the “wingers” who had “taken over” the GOP.

    What to make of this? It is most uncertain. Perhaps, mockery of less successful centrists is much easier than actually coming out and supporting the most centrist candidate in the race.

    Hard or not, our problems still need to be solved. Anyone who is so critical of Obama’s policies yet not inclined to give full-throated support to the TEA Party should be jumping at the chance to elect the likes of Romney, and using every means of persuasion at their disposal to persuade other people to do so as well.

  • Anthony

    Satirically speaking WRM, you imply “Tippeecanoe and Tyler Too! or Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?” rather than science or reason are the tools of the political apparatus – what the average citizen prefers from its politico-economic system. Further, are you also implying satirically that the cause of our American insufficiency (problems) runs through our polarized politics?

    Someone once told me that serious problems (the news that isn’t news) cannot be solved on the basis of a consensus of value-disoriented…

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Compare the success of the leftist American Elect or OWS, with the heads of establishment Republicans the (right wing, fiscally conservative, limited government, supposedly defunct) TEA Party has been mounting this primary season on their trophy wall. The fact is that the Leftists have no ideas beyond supporting the failed Blue Model; while the TEA Party’s ideas are succeeding brilliantly everywhere they get implemented. Compare the failed Democrat Blue states of California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, to the going Republican Red states of Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Indiana.

    I read a recent article that compared the stark contrast between California’s Democrat Governor Jerry Brown and his $16 Billion deficit, up from $9 Billion, and his plan to raise taxes, with New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie and how he handled his $10 billion deficit and how he is now planning to cut taxes, having already cut spending and balanced New Jersey’s budget.

  • Corlyss

    Tom Friedman has been suffering from columentia. That’s an early on-set dementia brought on by the pressure to sound smarter than the average bear to meet a precise publishing schedule dictated by columns. More often than not, it results in premature senility and irrelevance. A once smart guy who has long since eroded to the status of smart-aleck excessively fond of his own voice.

  • thibaud

    @WRM – “Our politics are polarized because our problems are hard.”

    Huh? How so?

    Where’s the evidence that our problems today are harder than they were in 1979 or 1981, or in the late 1960s, or during FDR’s day? All the evidence we have is that polarization at the Congressional level is today far more polarized than it was in the O’Neill-Reagan era, or the LBJ or FDR eras.

    “we prefer a political process that features people like them to something more worthy — but less human”

    Coming after the rolling freakshow that was the Bachmann-Perry-Cain-Gingrich-Santorum challenge to the GOP frontrunner this year, and the continuing circus that is the Palin family, this statement is bizarre.

    Do you have any colleagues or friends who spout as much nonsense as Sarah Palin?

    Or who routinely flub or fall on their face when asked a simple question, as does Rick Perry?

    Or who like Santorum chastises his colleagues or neighbors about their use of contraception?

    Where are these “normal” people?

    This is the ninth presidential election cycle I’ve participated in. I have never seen such a procession of clowns and charlatans as we saw among the leading challengers in the GOP primaries this year.

    Aside from the occasional marginal flake who has his 15 seconds of fame before exiting a la Kucinich or Sharpton, the Dems have not shown anything like this tendency. This is a GOP problem. (I met John Edwards at a fundraiser in 2008, pegged him immediately for a fool and a liar – I left the room after listening to him blather about “Halliburton!” and “Blackwater!” in response to my q about 2-parent working families’ preference for Republicans – but Edwards was quickly washed out of the Democratic process).

    Also, the “get the government out of my Medicare!” Tea partiers are a joke. Even the smartest of them, like Paul Ryan, have not put forth anything remotely realistic in terms of reducing the deficit without devastating the normal functions of government – including defense, which Panetta correctly argues will be shredded if the know-nothing TP’ers have their way.

  • Corlyss

    “when you see a worthy and earnest effort supported by high minded centrist intellectuals and pundits — get ready for a big belly laugh when it flops.”

    Amen. NPR did a and earnest piece on America Elect as though nobody ever thought of a 3rd party before. When the Tea Party movement broke out, NPR dismissed as did all the MSM, calling it fascist, racist, massing of angry white men and other Obama-haters. When 3rd party was mentioned in conjunction with Tea Party, it was with a snort. But America Elect was spoken of with awe and reverence as though Klaatu had returned again to earth to instruct us benighted humans.

  • Kris

    I’m not sure what the point of that blockquote was. You could have skipped directly from “Thomas Friedman” to “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA”.

  • Kris

    By the way, the ephemera is useful in its own way. For example, I now know I can safely ignore anything Michelle Goldberg has to say.

  • Say Amen

    Americans Elect is a defective concept. They expected to attract a stellar politician to win millions of disaffected voters. Instead, they attracted political failures and unknowns who obtained a mere few thousand votes. Of course!

    Stellar politicians today are either Republican or Democrat. A stellar politician would know that it is politically impossible to win the presidency as a third party candidate. The most a third party candidate could do would be to act as a spoiler, splitting the vote of his own party, Republican or Democrat, so the other party’s candidate would win. No stellar politician would want to be the cause of that “treachery” to his party compatriots.

    If, by some miracle the AE candidate won, how could he/she ever accomplish anything as president? He would have no AE members in Congress to work with. Every member of Congress would be in the opposition party, with his former party members hating him the most. There would be increased gridlock as all of Congress would want the AE president to fail, proving the AE idea does not work.

    AE should start at winning seats in state offices and in Congress, before aiming at the presidency. No athlete runs his first race at the Olympics. Why did the AE donors think they could start first at the highest political office?

    Buddy Roemer is one of the few politicians seeking the AE nomination, but he lacked supporters to qualify as a potential nominee. Roemer had a failed political career and no party wants him.

    He was one of the worst governors in Louisiana history. He could not get along with people, put together a competent staff, or pass legislation. He did not work hard and had no ability to govern. Read this history of LA governors, pages 259-268:,%22+Roemer&source=bl&ots=GXt38E_jVv&sig=poXJMn9QbCUESjDIP2-foOb3YLY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=n-xjT7CXDOORiQL8n_SiDw&ved=0CGMQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=%22Often%20wrong%2C%20but%20never%20in%20doubt%22%20Roemer&f=false

    Even today, he is LA’s most UNfavorite son. A recent PPP poll rated him the most unpopular presidential candidate, with a 2:1 unfavorable rating in his home state!

    As a LA commentator quipped, in bayou style:
    “Buddy Roemer, who has been out of politics for 19 years, couldn’t win an election as a dogcatcher in Louisiana, much less the Presidency of the United States.”

  • Andrew Allison

    Punditocracy seems to me to be a bit, dare I say, pundity. Might I propose “Punditariat” as an alternative with good antecedents?
    On a more serious note, it seems clear that both the dominant parties have ossified. A breath of fresh air such as that provided to the GOP by the Tea Party seems to me to something to be welcomed.

  • Jim.

    Our current problems are so difficult, and so polarized, because the old compromise — Reps get tax cuts and Dems get boosts in social spending — has run its course. Indeed, the old compromise has caused the problems we’re seeing now. In many ways, the old comity was bought at the expense of today’s potential for unity. The bills have come due.

    A new compromise — raise taxes and cut social spending — requires a 100% about-face on the part of every aspect of the previous compromise. This is hard enough. It also requires agreement on the ratio of tax increases to budget cuts, as well as prioritization of what programs to cut; these will be all-out war, rather than a roll-up-your-sleeves midnight-oil work session imagined by the Bunny Basket.

    The GOP movement to stock the houses of Congress with politicians philosophically equipped to accept the new program-cutting reality has outstripped the Democrats’ ability to elect officials who can eloquently defend any but the tiniest and most ineffective tax hikes. The TEA Party succeeded; OWS has failed.

    This is probably because effective program-cutting hurts previously-favored interest groups, while tax hikes (ones big enough to be effective, at any rate) are far more likely to hit any given individual voter.

    Watch for special interest groups — AARP and Medicaid recipients in particular, since they have the largest uncut chunks of the budget left, and the only chunks big enough to provide any significant deficit relief — to be steamrolled by a slowly-building majority.

    The turning point probably won’t happen this year, but it could happen by mid-decade, particularly as Boomers retire into their free-ride years, and those of us who follow realize that we’re getting [worked over] three ways — 1) we have to sacrifice for their retirements now, 2) we have to save more than they ever did to pay for our own retirements, and 3) our own retirements are going to have to be significantly later, even though Boomers are healthier now than their forebears.

    America’s future budgets will look like Paul Ryan’s, only farther to the Right (less generous) when it comes to Social Security and Medicare.

    This is not political. This is inevitable.

  • thibaud

    “America’s future budgets will look like Paul Ryan’s, only farther to the Right (less generous) when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. This is not political. This is inevitable”

    I disagree. While means-testing of benefits seems likely, I think tax increases are much more likely than are significant cuts to SS and Medicare for elderly people of limited means.

    This is the largest demographic among the electorate, by a large margin – larger by 4x or 5x than upper tax-bracket old folks, and larger by 2x than young voters because a) there are more elderly to begin with and 2) older citizens vote at levels 30-40% higher than the young.

    Aside from maybe the NRA or the realtor mafia, there is no more powerful constituency in this nation than older Americans of modest means.

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