If you look back to close to when I started writing this blog (January 10, 2007), you will see the enthusiasm I felt for the city council campaign of Pat Dowd. A secondary school history teacher with a PhD, he said (what I thought) were all the right things. Somewhere along the way I remember expressing caveats (what I think of as usual caveats) of the sort that all politicians break your heart at some point. I should mention Barack Obama as practically the perfect example of this.
Pat Dowd of course is now on city council, has taken some strange positions but surely is no worse than the rest of city council and probably better than many. My point in referencing him is to point out the risk of choosing to support a candidate or a specific cause, particularly a candidate. Reading Glenn Greenwald on Salon dot com is enough to convince one Obama should be impeached, but I am still convinced that the Republicans are a worse alternative for the nation as a whole, that they would do nothing for the unemployed and in fact make things worse. But make no mistake, President Obama has had American citizens killed without due process, and (for me, perhaps more serious) had civilians killed in the Middle East; there is no reason to think he won't do more of that unless stopped. Plus Obama has not shown a strong enough willingness to oppose Republicans in Congress. Maybe doing so would not accomplish any more than what has been accomplished and achieving a symbolic victory would not put one more person to work.
So supporting Pat Dowd was not an unambiguous good (no surprise) and supporting Barack Obama is only just barely justifiable. But I still think supporting Len Bodack (who? look it up) and/or Mitt Romney would have been at least slightly worse, barring unforeseen yada yada.
What about supporting specific causes or legislation. Not quite as risky, since legislation can't change its mind once it passed, but the "law of unintended consequences" (not a real law) often rears its head. Student loans and tax credits have probably contributed heavily to the huge rise in higher education tuition, for example. A (larger) Keynesian sort of stimulus could jump start the economy and revitalize our infrastructure, but there is always the danger that the huge bump in debt might take a long time to grow our way out of, placing a huge burden on grand kids.
It is in this spirit that I refer you to this article from Drew Westen. Westen is the author of the Politcal Brain which I found compelling, despite its partisan leanings (OK, I have those same leanings, but I hope I redeem myself somewhat by mentioning those leanings). The New York Times article is an interesting proposal for publicly financed elections.
It is hard to see how we could get to publicly financed elections. But what is our alternative? Our politicians have become specialists in raising money, specifically from the wealthy. Even more important than the (diminishing) differences between the parties is the influence of the ultra rich.
We already have a system for publicly funded Presidential elections. The problem is that it is optional if the candidates can raise more. D'oh!
Check out the article, see what you think.