Politics: More Than Primaries

on Thursday, Jan. 12th

If you’ve been following the GOP primaries closely, you might think the battle to see who will take on Barack Obama in the fall is the only thing going on in American politics.

In fact there is a lot happening at the edges of national politics right now, even beyond the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Those two forces have been shoehorned into the traditional adversarial metaphors that the mainstream press uses as their chief analytical tool. The intricacies of reform movements are outside the scope of soundbite journalism.

Thank the stars we have the Internet.

Yet there is so much going on at the margins that it’s hard to keep track of who the players are. So we’re starting our exploration of the various reform movements with this primer. We won’t pretend it’s an exhaustive list, rather a touchstone for the very vibrant and potentially nation-changing “metamovement” that is currently at play here at home and around the world.

We begin our efforts with a brief look at four loci of change in American politics. These are movements and phenomenon that we’ll be coming back to over the course of this year.

Campaign Finance Reform

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizen’s United case, which has opened the door to unlimited corporate money in the Presidential campaign, a lot of attention is being paid to campaign finance reform. Lawrence Lessig, the legal mind who invented Creative Commons, is one major voice in this arena. His book Republic, Lost has earned him appearances on The Daily Show, and he’s looking to build momentum for a Constitutional Convention that could address what he sees as a systemic form of corruption in Congress.

He’s not alone amongst those who are looking to get the money out of politics. MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan– whose rant on how our financial woes are tied to political funds went viral– has a new book out just this week “Greedy Bastards”, about the relationship between money and politics.

The Move to Amend group has managed to get municipalities– like Los Angeles — to back a call for a constitutional amendment that would nullify the ability of corporations to take a direct financial roll in the election process.

Nation Builder
Not every bit of campaign reform is about strife. In the case of the Nation Builder tool from 3dna, the reform isn’t a legal remedy but a technological one. The company, led by technologist Jim Gilliam (whose own personal story is mesmerizing) has gotten into the business of building the equivalent of WordPress for political and issue campaigns. Simple, off the shelf organizing tools that anyone can use, backed by solid tech and access to the kind of campaign tools that usually costs thousands of dollars to acquire.

Specifically the voter file — the database of registered voters that campaigns have jealously guarded. While this reads as a ho-hum wonky piece of the puzzle to the uninitiated, the core reality is this: ho-hum wonky puzzle pieces are what win elections. Just ask Karl Rove.

Fusion Voting/Working Families Party

Once upon a time in America, as writer David Sirota told us in his 2008 book “The Uprising”, political parties were free to endorse the candidates of other parties. This meant that smaller parties could push their political agendas while still delivering votes to the candidates most likely to win.

In New York fusion voting still exists, and the Working Families Party has been using this tactic to keep down ballot candidates in play while usually throwing their support for governor to the Democratic candidate. This past year saw New Mexico state senator Eric G. Griego (D) introduce a fusion voting bill, which died in committee.

Americans Elect

This effort to field a “centrist” third party candidate for President by way of an online nominating convention has been getting some buzz amongst the pundit class. If there’s one thing that the media loves, it’s a potential spoiler in November.

While the organization has embraced some of the Internet’s love of direct participation in democracy with their idea of an online convention, there have been serious objections raised in the political press by election law observers like UC Irvine law professor and Election Law Blog author Rich Hasen.

As noted above, this is not intended as a definitive post on the subject, but rather the beginning of our quest to map the alternate currents in the nation’s political stream. The weeks and months ahead will tell us whether the electorate– and indeed the population at large– have the stomach left for the usual horserace of Presidential politics, or whether the economic woes of the nation have become enough of a rallying point to make major changes in the way American government works.


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