Not Really About Economics

Economic prosperity and likewise economic distress are both very complex issues with a considerable number of variables sharing responsibility for the economy’s health. To blame any one political party and/or politician for our economic troubles is disingenuous. Knowing that people like simple solutions to complex problems Republicans cleverly apply Occam’s Razor to their campaigning. They frame both our problems and their solutions in the simplest terms possible. Democrats have an unfortunate tendency to endlessly debate, then partially address, each of the numerous variables responsible for our most significant problems, leaving people confused and suspicious.

Republicans are aware that people approach life and its problems emotionally rather than mentally. They use emotional persuasion based in such things as fear, revulsion, and scorn to get their point across. They use emotional ad hominem attacks and sensational prevarication to vilify their enemies (read opponents). They avoid issues primarily because there are no easy solutions to complex problems. Thus they don’t spend a lot of time on policy and problem solving. They do spend in inordinate amount of time disseminating emotionally charged attacks and simple solutions to as many people as possible through their cleverly purchased and easily accessible information sources. They use glib and charismatic talking heads to sell their framing to the masses. These tactics are often successful given peoples’ tendencies to get their information from just one source without taking time out of their manufactured busy day to investigate issues.

On the other hand, assuming we have two hands, Democrats rely on the overrated fact that life is practical and ordered, based on truth and knowledge. They have a different concept of simplicity than Republicans. They feel (over)confident that if they simply and clearly reveal all the factors that influence public policy and problem solving that the people will magically absorb it all into their heads. Voters will obviously recognize and embrace the truth, facts, and irrefutable policy conclusions of the nearly infinite research and careful considerations of the hard working, honest and empathic clerks of the Democratic Party. What a crock. Most people fall asleep before the end of the first paragraph. Luckily for the Democrats, the country, contrary to expansive marketing, is mostly a center/left nation. Philosophically there are more Democrats and sympathetic independents than Republicans. If the Democrats can somehow motivate, logically of course, their base and likely allies to forego chatting over their weak lattes long enough to vote they can usually win. These outcomes hold up for both major parties unless one of the frequently incompetent candidates is vastly more incompetent than the other. Herschel Walker this means you.

It is relatively easy for Republicans to proudly and loudly shout out their simple and emotional views of our problems and their simple and emotional solutions while attacking the Democrat’s complex, mental, and issues oriented assessment of problems and their complex and mentally oriented policy solutions. Democrat’s tough but convoluted solutions are normally more effective but Republican’s easy and understandable solutions are more popular. It is so much easier to convince someone that you are correct in one or two sentences than in a white paper.

Tangentially I rest partial blame for the incredibly short attention span of the modern American squarely on the head of MTV, even though they essentially no longer play music. The accepted metric for editing a music video states there should never be a continuous scene of more than four seconds. For a generation raised on music videos and their progeny and progeny’s progeny this style of editing has conditioned and normalized the average American’s attention span to that very four seconds. Well, perhaps as much as 10 seconds. Barely enough to get in a sentence, or maybe two if they’re short.

Enough of my tangential hypothesis.

Frankly, this very essay is too long and complex. There is a reason many modern opinion pieces, news articles, essays, social media comments, and actual conversations are passed over by ultra busy people. They haven’t the time to read anything longer than a tweet. In the 21st century time is money and you don’t get paid for the 10 minutes it takes to read something that actually covers the subject. With the acronym TLDR: Too Long, Didn’t Read (these days everything seems to be an acronym ) writers apologize for their verbosity, warning the reader, and targeted readers apologize for choosing to avoid reading the piece regardless of it’s relevance.

Here’s my attempt at something succinct. Not easy for this Irish Italian. The Democrats suck but the Republicans suck more. A fender bender sucks but totaling your car sucks more. Do you wanna vote for a fender bender or a totaled car? No brainer if you ask me. Don’t wanna vote for either one? That kinda makes sense but it means you probably don’t have a car.

A final thought. Control of the government roughly resembles a sine wave, with the GOP ruling above the axis and the Democrats below. Once the public elects a party that controls government they eventually become disillusioned with that party’s inability to do much for the people and subsequently vote them out of office. They figure out that the Democrats have such a complex plan they can never really effectuate it and the Republicans have no plan and can only fool people for so long.

So yeah, both parties suck but one party has no plan and the other party has a flawed plan. For my money flawed beats none by a nose.

And if you choose not to vote you’re riding the bus.

A bit of simple framing and communication for forward thinking activists and candidates: A Long Title

In the interests of transparency, I have chosen to refer to those folks commonly known as conservatives as Backwards, which is a noun. Conversely, I refer to those who have been called progressives or liberals as Forwards. I do this because both the words liberal and progressive, and the word conservative, have been co-opted by any number of people claiming to be one or the other. Forwards are forward-looking thinkers who frame looking forward. Backwards are those whose framing moves backward or simply treads water.

I have no interest in merging these categories with political parties, although that would be tempting. I know Republicans who are forward thinkers and Democrats who are hopelessly looking backward. That is not the issue. For me, the idea is to live in the present moment, where we can reflect on and learn from the past and plan for and look to the future, together. This is, or should be, the goal of Forwards’ framing. They should start by talking about values before issues. This might seem unusual. Bear with me.

Framing requires we stay in the moment. The past has already happened and the future has not. We stay in the present because it is the only place that allows us to move someone’s consciousness from the past into the future. It is the anchor that lets us move from the dead values of the past to the possibilities of the future. As Richard Alpert once said “Be Here Now”. Only if we are in the moment can we really be with the people (or person) we are persuading. You have to be with them. They won’t go by themselves.

Staying in the moment means that we don’t talk about values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. We understand, respect and learn from the past but we don’t need to go and go and keep going there. We connect with people in the present to move them to a future you know will improve their lives. This means we must do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. That’s a given. However, when speaking to anyone, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we might share with each other. It is those universal, shared values that will move people.

Although we should respect Backwards’ values there is no reason to mention the values we do not share. Backwards already know their values. There is no need to remind them, as they will remind themselves quite easily and efficiently. It is also true that Forwards sometimes, actually often, well, to be honest, always, need to be reminded of their own values, as they tend to think their issues are values and they need to keep on topic. We must talk about our values as well as our shared values. The values we do not share, that is, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned, except perhaps to acknowledge they exist.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are.

Once again, please don’t start with values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. I cannot emphasize this enough, although I am trying. Of course, we should do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. However, when speaking to people, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we share with each other. Sometimes we need to persuade people to look deep enough inside themselves to realize that yes, verily we share those values. People won’t realize they share your values if you don’t tell them what your values are.

We need to articulate our values. This can be tricky for Forwards. Forwards often confuse issues with values. They assume their values are universal. Their issues reflect those ‘universal’ values, which they think everyone does or should accept as universal. This is part of the reason many Forwards cannot fathom how Backwards can disagree with their issues. They don’t understand the first thing about how Backwards values, how they think, and speak. They often don’t even understand how they think and speak themselves.

What are values? Values are the reasons why we promote issues. They are why we care about the issues. The issues themselves are not the reasons. They are not the why. Issues illuminate and identify problems. They lay the groundwork for how to solve them. They are the how. Policies are the proposed solutions to the problems. We only talk about policy at the very end of the conversation. Policies are the what. To reiterate, values are the why, issues are the how, and policy is the what. Never start with the what. Start with the why followed by the how. We are not talking about policy here. Policy is flexible, malleable. We start with the concrete, the firm., our values. Above all, don’t confuse the why. Issues are not the why.

So how do we distinguish values from issues? And what are some Forwards’ values? Consider the reason we care about an issue. Consider the why. Why is this issue important to us? For example, many Forwards have issue with the wide and widening income gap in America. Why? Because they feel all work is valuable and every worker should be able to support a family and have the stability of owning a home and the ability to do more than just survive. Notice that the only one of those things that could be considered a moral issue (and all issues are moral in nature) is the income gap. That is a thing, a problem to be addressed. Saying all work is valuable is not a thing. It is a concept, an idea, It is a reason for being concerned about the issue.

Politicians spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about issues. And Forward politicians don’t often talk about why they try to solve problems. They assume their audience knows why. The audience usually does know why but they would like to know the politician knows why too. Otherwise they tune out. They have heard politicians say they are going to do something many times but it rarely ever gets done. Other politicians answer a question by asking another question. People want to hear what you think. They already know what they think.

When a politician answers that ‘this is important and here’s why’ the audience might be inclined to think this person actually cares about my issue. They will listen. They will listen to how the candidate thinks the issue should be approached. When they say what they are doing or will do to solve the problem the audience is likely to think that if anyone can get this done maybe this person can. They might actually get something done.

To summarize, the values we do not share, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are. To persuade start with the why to pique people’s interest and keep their attention. Modern people have been watching too many music videos. They have short attention spans. Then, address how the issue is should be dealt with. Is it feasible, does it have support, how can we can get it done? Only then should you say what you think we should do about it. People might think that you might actually care about them, that you aren’t just looking for their vote. They might even want to support you in some way, even if they don’t agree with everything you say. Why? Because you had the courage to say it.

Is that confusing enough?

Use It or Lose It

Most people, whether they are religious or not, believe in a power outside themselves that influences our existence and over which we have no or at best limited control. Call that power what you will, we understand that it is beyond any one individual’s needs, or desires, or imagination. 

Our founders knew this and sought to create a governmental power greater than one individual person, a power which we as a people might control. They strove to establish a model for governance that took everyone’s needs into account while giving us structure to accomplish it. They did not succeed.

They were imperfect, as are we all, and thus their creation was imperfect. But it shone with light, enough light to guide a people toward a new way of looking at and organizing government. It was a grand experiment that men of learning and toiling alike felt in their souls to be the best way they could imagine to “form a more perfect union”.

‘The people must rule’ was their mantra. But they knew when individual people themselves chose what they should do, for their benefit only, as individuals, there would be anarchy. After intense discussion they fashioned a heretofore unknown system, the American Democratic Republic. It featured representatives from a number of sovereign states, working together under a federal umbrella of common purpose.

Federally, its foundation was three distinct branches of government. Each branch tempered the power of the other branches and each had exclusive power over certain procedures, creating a system of checks and balances. No one branch would dominate. Returning to their original premise, they gave the people the ultimate power of choosing those of us who would represent the people in that government. They gave all citizens the right and responsibility of voting for those representatives.

State governments had a significant amount of freedom to govern in whatever fashion their voters chose. They retained control over many of their governmental functions. The people also democratically elected their state representatives as well as local and regional government officials, each having their own jurisdictions. 

To put this agreement in writing, after intense deliberation they forged a document, a Constitution, which codified federal law as the ultimate arbiter of how power should be wielded in these united states to provide both liberty and protection to the people of the union. It also addressed which aspects of government the states retained. This document, the Constitution, is the definitive law of the land to this day. Americans in power, and those they serve, accept this Constitution as the benchmark against which all American law is measured. When the elected representatives of the people’s power are sworn in they take a vow to protect and defend that Constitution.

The Constitution has held up as our organizing document for nearly 250 years. It is the true source of the unique American way of life, of both our freedoms and our limitations. It is the real thing all Americans should revere, not symbols or institutions. Symbols, like our flag and institutions like our military help us remember what is good about America, but the constitution itself is what we are to uphold and treasure. Our freedoms originate in the Constitution, not in the flag or the national anthem. These symbols simply remind us of how to honor our unique American experiment. There is no one way to honor the Constitution. That right to choose is protected by the words of the first amendment.

Americans are called, as are their representatives, to honor and respect the Constitution. The symbols of America, the flag, the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance, exist to focus our hearts and minds on the promise enshrined in the Constitution. The institution of the military, protectors of the people’s power, do so to uphold America against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, as is directed by the Constitution. There is no one way to honor those who volunteer to protect American interests around the globe. This right is also constitutionally protected.

It is our founding document, our Constitution, which deserves our reverence. The symbols, the flag and anthem, as well as the uniforms of our cherished military protectors, are to be honored only in so much as they reflect the people’s power as written in the Constitution. They are not the people’s power itself. They are not America. The Constitution is America. The people are America. Those other things are symbols, signs and signals that point us alway, to the real idea of the rule of the people. They are institutions, means created in the Constitution to serve the people. They are worthy of our respect but nowhere in the Constitution is that respect demanded. We give it freely through our liberty. The symbols’ and institutions’ value is given to them by the Constitution and not the other way around.

The founders’ means of balancing power was unique in its wisdom. There were formed three branches of government, each separate but equal contributors. The Legislative branch, Congress, is elected to represent the people, measured by population, the House of Representatives, and also by the equal representation of each sovereign state, the Senate. Its purpose is to create laws based on the designs of the Constitution. The Executive branch is headed by the President, who is elected and appoints an administration of leaders for the primary departments of government, his Cabinet. This branch’s vitally and necessary function is to execute those laws. The Judicial branch consists of the federal legal system, federal judges, appellate judges, and the Supreme Court. They act act as arbiters of the law. They determine a law’s relevance to the Constitution. They are not elected but appointed by the President, who is given advice by and with the consent of the Senate. It is the Senate that holds this specific power because of its equal representation from each united state. The purpose of the court is to determine if the laws created and passed by Congress and signed into law by the President follow the Constitution’s edicts.

The judiciary is specifically designed to not be elected, so as not to be subjected to the whims and desires of politics. We elect the President and Senate to appoint judges for us. The founders were insistent that the court not be politicized. The reason for the Court’s impartiality is significant. The Judicial branch exists as a check on the people. Even the people’s power must be balanced and regulated. The people or their representatives can sometimes make laws that do not clearly follow the Constitution, out of neglect or by design. The Supreme Court protects us from this “tyranny of the majority” through impartially adjudicating conflicts between a law and the Constitution. This requires impartial justices. 

For most of our history an unwritten law was honored by our elected officials that justices should be chosen and appointed only through an appraisal of their suitability for this incredible honor and responsibility. Their knowledge of the law and their non partisan dedication to the Constitution were to be the only considerations used to select them for nomination. Over time this honor has deteriorated. A flaw exists in the process of appointing judges, in particular Supreme Court justices, and is now being exploited more than ever.

Justices are meant to be non partisan, impartial, using only the Constitution as their guide, and not a political ideology. Presidents, who nominate Federal judges and Supreme Court justices for appointment, slowly began to appoint them using the criterion that a justice must practice a political philosophy in line with the president who nominated them.

Application of this partisan plan relies on there being one political party which controls both the Presidency and the Senate. In this situation a Supreme Court justice, who is appointed for life, becomes not a politically neutral advocate of the law but a tool of that party, giving that party a better chance of seeing Constitutional law decisions on cases that come before the court determined from a partisan political standpoint. Their standpoint.

This politicization has slowly deteriorated the Judicial branch’s ability to check and balance the power of lawmakers and the executive from a non partisan position. One political party could ‘stack’ the court with justices who have a political bias toward interpreting the constitution. By appointing comparatively young justices, that party’s philosophy could dominate the Court’s decisions for a generation or more, even after those politicians lose the elected power of their offices. 

Perhaps the primary partisan division of judicial interpretation rests in the competing philosophies of perceiving the document as ‘living’ versus ‘dead’. A more liberal interpretation of the Constitution says the document was wisely designed to account for the inevitable changes in the evolution of society and continued advancements in technology and knowledge of the world. The document is living. The meaning of its words can change with the times. 

For example, the addition of the Bill of Rights and the opportunity for the people to amend the document gave us the power to reflect in the Constitution changes in the will of society such as ending slavery and giving women the right to vote. This more liberal philosophy also allows for new interpretations of the language of the original document as it pertains to modern times and the evolution of our citizens.  

Conversely, a more conservative bias sees the document as being strictly interpreted, literal and rigid, unchanging. These literalist constructionists see the Constitution as, in essence, dead. It can only be interpreted using what they consider to be the original intent of the founders. But who is to determine what was their original intent? That is still interpretation.

Interestingly enough we see a similar division in interpretation of religious law between conservative, fundamentalist Christians and more progressive denominations. Thankfully, it is no longer legal to stone to death an adulterer or force a widow to marry her husband’s brother. Human values change with time. Regardless, the Constitution will be interpreted according to the philosophy of Constitutional jurisprudence of a predominance of justices.

The politicization of the Supreme court is, in my estimation, the most significant factor in the slow but substantial movement of American government toward a place that looks less like a democracy and more like an authoritarian state. The grooming of vulnerable Americans by advocates for the theft of power from the people into the hands of moneyed interests, has been facilitated by their hand picked, bought and sold politicians. Mesmerized  Americans, like the frog in the boiling pot, have given away their power and freedoms, slowly, over time, almost invisibly. It has been accomplished through psychologically powerful propaganda, pandering to our most selfish interests. This deliberate erosion of our power through the efforts of these same moneyed oligarchs serves their ultimate goal, retaining their power at all costs.

It is interesting to me that as in physics the two opposing ends of the political continuum have come, in the eyes of their most radical liberal and ultra conservative factions, to the same conclusion. They posit that the country is being dominated by a somewhat secret and financially powerful cabal. The only difference being each side blames a different complex of culprits. It’s as though the strategies and tactics behind the goals of both sides are exactly the same and only the names have been changed.

In all of this it is easy for the individual common citizen to despair of having any power at all, unable to exert any influence over the decisions that critically affect their lives. But despite the machinations of those who think their vast wealth gives them license to run roughshod over the people, we still have one, and only one, power remaining to us which we can use to regain the ruling power granted to us by our founding document. That is the power of the vote. 

For any of us who think that our vote doesn’t count, or that all politicians are crooks and liars, or that both parties are the same, or that certain of our particular pet policies and issues are more important than the failing health of our democratic republic, I have this to say. Those are all illusions dreamt up in the backrooms of think tanks and the secret meetings of powerful white men designed to disillusion us and trick us into giving up our power, begrudgingly or willingly. They know our power, as given to us clearly in our sacred founding document, is the poison that can bring them, choking, to their knees, foiling their corrupt, degenerate plans for dominance. They will do anything, illegal and immoral, to diminish the real power of the American citizen that they fear. 

Our only remaining power lies in the accumulated will of our individual votes, in concert with what we know to be good for all peoples and not for only those few white men, rich in wealth but poor in spirit, desperate to hold on to their last gasp of dominance in a changing, evolving world.

Our only remaining power is in our vote. If we abrogate our responsibility to govern, a responsibility the founders intended we wield, we will deserve the dire fate we will so clearly suffer. One of my great fears is to know that many of my fellows stayed home, feeling proud of upholding their principles and not voting for either of the “corrupt corporate parties” they despise only to find out that one party IS actually worse, and has won, and is taking away their freedoms daily, one by one. Their pride lasted only until they realized the American experiment, the government they are privileged to live under, is being destroyed before their eyes, and they can do nothing to stop it. 

This fate can be diverted if only we can gather with single minded courage to ‘citizen’ and defeat those we know in our hearts to be the destroyers. It is said that the destroyers come to destroy that which is rotted and create a space in time for new ideas to flourish and new grown to thrive. That may be so. But I am not ready to give up American Democracy to rot.  To ‘citizen’ is a verb. (Thanks Aric) It means taking one’s civic responsibilities seriously. It means taking action, taking one for the the team, the team being the real idea of the America envisioned by the founders, through that still viable tool of the Constitution, our right to vote. It means doing absolutely everything we can to save our democracy, including dragging our friends, family and neighbors to the polls if we must. 

We don’t need to ’unite’. It is a sad and myopic concept. There are too many and diverse factions extant to come together singing Kumbaya. But we all have single minded purpose. We can go our separate ways and do our hard work after we have removed the cancer from the body politic; the rot that threatens us existentially. Only if we, all of us, citizen, will we fulfill that clear and true vision of our founders.

Know your power. Feel your power. Use your power.

It’s all we have.

Freedoms and Liberty

Let’s have a chat about freedom and liberty. Are they the same thing? No, they aren’t.
A freedom is a right that everybody has, something that everybody wants. For example, we all want to be able to speak our minds, and in America we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights freedom of speech. We can say what we want, free from persecution, unless our speech directly and imminently threatens someone, like in the common example of shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Liberty, on the other hand, is a right everyone has, only it’s about what an individual wants. Each of us has their own wants and desires. For example, I might want to rob your house but you probably don’t want your house to be robbed. Liberty creates conflicts of desire.
Where freedoms and liberty come from and what we can legally do about them is somewhat counterintuitive.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that we all have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights are considered to be given, by God, at birth, to everyone. Most people take this to mean that these are rights that can never be taken away, which is true. These rights cannot be legally taken away. But, because they cannot be taken away they must be regulated by law. This is because one person’s liberty may conflict with another person’s liberty. It is one reason that we have laws. Disputes about people’s liberty happen all the time and limits to our behavior are established by law. The rights to life and the pursuit of happiness also lead to conflicts between citizens, and also must be limited by laws.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are not inalienable. They are granted, by government, in their governing documents, through laws, or by the courts. For example, the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution, after the fact, because people realized there were freedoms all Americans should have that, unlike liberty, were not God-given and had to be granted by government.
Freedoms cannot be limited except by strict judicial examination and interpretation of the Constitution or through other governmental means. Our constitutional rights and freedoms have limitations that are written into the constitution, or are limited by law, or through judicial rule. And, because they are granted by government and not given by God, they can be taken away by government. Granted, it is difficult to take away a constitutional freedom. It can only be done by amending the constitution or by the edict of a dictator. But it can be done.
The constitution has been amended only 27 times with the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, having been ratified in 1791. That there have only been 17 amendments since then shows how hard it is to amend the constitution. The United States has never had a dictator, elected or otherwise. Our rights have yet to be taken away by force.
The ninth amendment in the Bill of Rights states that there are other rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Those rights are determined through legislation and ultimately by the courts. Because of their non-constitutional status, these rights can be much easier to take away.
A common misconception about both freedoms and liberty is that they confer upon the individual carte blanche to do anything they want and be protected by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is not true. Both our freedoms and our liberty can, have, and will be limited and regulated by law and through the courts. It is often overlooked that along with each right we have a corresponding responsibility. It is an important part of being a citizen that we not only know our rights but also our responsibilities. All too often I hear angry citizens complaining that their rights are being trampled on without understanding that limitations on those rights are in force. They had not considered, consciously or otherwise, that they had responsibilities associated with those rights.
This is a significant issue in today’s America. There are individuals and organizations that present very serious threats to the survival of our democracy, based on false and/or skewed interpretations of our founding documents. Many Americans misinterpret the intentions of our founding fathers, through ignorance, by succumbing to propaganda, or on purpose. There is an assumption that they have rights that cannot be limited by anyone, especially government. The threats these forces present to the nation, to our unique philosophy of governance, both from outside and inside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are tangible and powerful. We are right to fear them. We are also right to believe in our power as citizens.
Some tell us that the power and strength of the American way of life lie in our capitalist, free-market economy, which has accumulated the vast wealth required to bend the world’s nations to our will. This is not true. America’s strength resides in her people, now and always. Perhaps our most important right, the right to vote, is still ours. We can use it to guide the path of American life, economically, socially, politically, and with equity of race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, etc. To do so we must be mindful of our differences and develop the skills of listening and humility. We must remember that our freedoms, which include the right to vote, can be taken away, if not through the vote, through the whim of a tyrant.
We can no longer take it for granted in America that we are free from evil in our government, that we are still protected by the checks and balances built into our constitution. We are no longer safe from military action against our citizens or false imprisonment or any of the other horrors of totalitarian rule. Think long and hard before you assume that those who promise prosperity and glory are saviors. Make certain they are not leading us off the cliff and into the abyss of total subservience. This audit of America takes time and active discernment. We have need to start right now. It is by no means easy. It takes eyes and ears and tongues, hearts and souls, and brains. We will not survive if we remain frogs in the slowly heating pot. I can see the steam rising. I don’t pray often, but I pray we can save our democracy.
We have precious little time.

Selecting A Candidate

Let’s take a closer look at the politics of issues activism versus the electoral process of selecting candidates. They are both quite similar and significantly different. It has always been my contention that we can’t do both, at least at the same time, without solid compartmentalizing and a clear understanding of the essentials of how to do both.

When involved in issues activism it behooves one to focus on the issue that you can devote your entire energy to. You immerse yourself totally, 100%, into moving the needle on the issue that you give an ‘A’ grade.  Even the A-minus and B-plus issues, though critically important to you, will dilute your ability to effectuate your A grade activism. You support that highest grade issue and give it your full attention and strength. Only in that way do your policy goals have any chance of being realized.

In electoral politics, on the other hand, one deals with numerous issues simultaneously. When discerning which candidate is the best option for one to support and ultimately for the party to support not only must we look at the candidate’s position on any number of issues but also numerous non-policy factors. We grade all of these factors, issues and non-issues. Then, all grades must, or should, be actively considered  together when choosing a candidate to support and possibly work or volunteer for. Herein lies the major difference between issues politics and electoral politics.

In issues politics, it is your highest graded issue that is supported on all levels. Politicians given A grades on an issue are supported and those given F grades are actively opposed. Grades in between distract and aren’t worth spending time and energy on. This is how one does issues politics. When we approach electoral politics in the same way as we do issues politics we wind up with skewed situations. One candidate is supported and campaigned for because they score an A on the prime issue, or, they are rejected and attacked because they score an F on your favorite issue.

Once elected, because of our firmly entrenched two-party system, any representative’s vote will grade out to the issues activist as either an A or an F dependent on their vote. This causes them to determine the issues part of a candidate’s worthiness with a binary A or F being the only possible grades. Of course, they can display more variety in assessing a legislator’s non-issue-based qualities. But, even though such things as astute political instincts or media-savvy should be as important to constituents as policy, they are often not actively considered.

Regardless of how complex an issue is and how subtle and nuanced the proposed policy and legislation addressing it is, when in office a legislator can only vote up or down, yes or no, A or F.  As we know, binary logic works fine for computers but is outdated for addressing the complexity of modern law and society. This dualist nature of modern politics has influenced the current rampant partisanship we see everywhere, which in itself reinforces the dualism. A rather vicious circle.

To put this in a nutshell, in issues politics, to succeed one may work solely on their highest graded issue. But in electoral politics, the best results are achieved by working with the ‘student’ with the highest GPA.

Let me repeat that. In electoral politics, it is wise to use the grade point average of a candidate to measure their value to the voter and not simply the one who grades the highest on an important issue. Likewise, it can be unfair to reject out of hand a candidate whose grade on your main issue is ‘unacceptable’. If we aren’t careful our policy biases can tarnish the candidate best positioned to win the election based solely on their positions on select issues. Once again, because of our two-party system, it is difficult, read impossible, to find a party and/or candidate who satisfies all our policy desires. To insist on issues purity in a candidate is a recipe for disaster.

Many voters will take the apparent high road and vote for a candidate that has no chance of winning simply because that candidate more closely reflects their values. They do this because ‘it’s a free country’ where ’I can vote for whomever I want’ and ‘stand up for my principles’. These choices are noble and in keeping with the best philosophy of the American way of life. Unfortunately, as long as the two-party system dominates our elections this manner of voting will only result in more decisions based on either a single issue or a grade point average, between two divisively partisan candidates. One party’s candidate might only support your issues 40% of the time but the other only 5%.

If you choose not to vote for the 40% candidate, which your logic says you shouldn’t, there is the possibility that you get the 5% candidate. You might walk out of the voting booth proud of voting your values but one month later you’re gnashing your teeth at a vote taken by the 5 percenter we elected. I should say here that it is right and good to vote your conscience. We just need to be aware of the potential for unintended consequences and consider our choices accordingly.

Yes, this ‘ F**k, I have to vote for the lesser of two evils again’ scenario is patently unfair. It sucks. We shouldn’t have to hold our nose and vote for somebody we can barely stand. Our current system paints us into frustrating corners filled with anger. Having only two parties we sadly have only two basic philosophies of governance in the U.S.. The opposing parties must need to create coalitions of voters with varied interests. There are many more than two philosophies of government to cram into one or the other.

For candidates to appeal to the entire spectrum of different philosophies in one party we often find that it is the candidate who best tempers their candidacy with alleged ‘moderate’ rhetoric that delegates think will appeal to the most voters. These candidates will fake or hide their true politics in order to get nominated. Candidates want to win. Obviously, they can’t win without being nominated. Parties want to win. They choose who they think can win. Many of us find this incredibly distasteful and foolish, and rightfully so. But it is a political reality and a maddening one.

Counter to how things truly work, parties will cautiously nominate who they imagine is the ‘right’ candidate instead of boldly choosing the ‘best’ candidate. Most often the right candidate turns out to be the one with A’s on the popular issues. The party then develops selective amnesia about their nominee’s possibly numerous and critical F’s and their often suspect, vulnerable character flaws. It is not this candidate that will win. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the candidate who scores well across the board, who may not be ‘right’ but certainly ‘best’ can win. Maybe they don’t get so many A’s but not so many F’s either and a goodly number of B’s.

The candidate’s grades must be earned not because they got the test ahead of time and answered the way they thought the teacher wanted but rather truthfully answered with courage and conviction. Only in this way will the party nominate the person who best represents the essential values of the party. This is the candidate that inspires. This is the candidate who can actually win.

Having the better GPA is not to be confused with ‘electability’, that scourge of cautious and lukewarm centrists. The elusive quality of electability is considered to be vital in selecting a candidate. Not only the rank and file but respected pundits and influential party leaders often insist that this is the gold standard of candidate selection. Nothing could be further from the truth. The two party system certainly gives the impression that because of the diverse coalitions both parties form, their right candidate is the one who appeals to everyone in their ‘base’.

This is the seemingly safe ‘centrist’ candidate. But in trying to appeal to everyone this candidate moderates their stance on many issues they either do not support or support more vociferously. This not only lowers their GPA accross the board but can only increase the perception of them as a phony and liar. Then, in the general election, they are more likely to not only lose appeal with the ever-decreasing number of moderate voters but also cause issues voters to look away from them and toward the vote my principles candidates.

Another spurious means of selecting a candidate is the ‘next up’ method. Here we find the candidate who has paid their dues. They have been around seemingly forever. They are visible, high ranking elected public officials who have accomplished just enough to have some name recognition and popularity. They have been considered serious contenders for a long time. Why in god’s name do these qualities make someone a good candidate much less the best candidate? It’s beyond me. This is this nepotism that is not genetic but seems to be designed to motivate career politicians to consistently do the party’s bidding over the long term. What a foolish practice.

Both parties claim to have a plan based on candidate selection and the corresponding policy positions. They both claim to be appealing to young voters and non-voters in an effort to find more supporters. But these are the very voters that vote for the person who best exemplifies their philosophy of existence, and not the measured and overthought offerings of the major parties. Our current President ‘got it’ before his rivals and appealed to the populist mindset of the non-voter, helping him eke out a victory in 2016. And disillusioned milennial voters, who have been shown to be more progressive than not, largely became third party or non voters.

That the current occupant wasn’t honest about what he offered did not matter. He sold his brand of populism well. He convinced, falsely, that his care for the fed-up non-voters was genuine. As his presidency has advanced these facts have become more clear. Some of his less virulent followers have become disillusioned. He, as well as his party, are vulnerable to candidates who are wisely chosen. Currently, there are a plethora of Democrats seeking the opportunity to run against him in 2020. We will see what criteria rise to the top of the delegate’s selection process and what sort of candidate emerges.

If a safe, electable, centrist presidential candidate is nominated by the Democrats there will be a struggle that will have the most influential existential impact on American democracy, and thus the planet, as any preceding it. However, outside of the perception that the candidate has to be everything to all people there exists a basic, simpler philosophy of progress. Of the wide variety of people who tend to identify with the Democratic party nearly all embrace it. It is not issues-based, nor personality or identity dependent, but value and feeling based. If a candidate emerges that best represents that basic philosophy we could see a Democratic landslide of historic dimensions.

The centrists tell us in strongly-worded diatribes that a ‘far-left’ candidate cannot win. They present numerous examples of leftist candidates who have failed over the last half-century. Could it be that the electorate has changed enough to reverse that trend? Could disillusioned millennials and non-voting liberals turn the tide for a progressive candidate who more closely projects their values.? Can the centrists support a candidate they see as a Democratic Socialist, one they feel the country is not ready for? The jury is out. The result of the 2020 presidential election, regardless of the nature of the Democrat’s candidate, is up for grabs. This is for all the marbles. And, vastly more serious, for the future of the planet.

To summarize, all of this is to say that when fighting for a cause it is imperative to give it 100% of your power. Stay focused, don’t ever give up and don’t take any prisoners. But in discerning elections and politicians, in the beginning of the process, you must hedge your bets. Never stop looking at the big picture, the overarching values you share with diverse but like-minded compatriots. Remember that compromise and the language of confluence is not your enemy but your friend.

And everyone, everyone, always keep mindful of that GPA.