What’s Wrong with this Picture?

If this chart accurately depicts the makeup of American voters, why are we yet again faced with such deeply disappointing choices as we contemplate the coming elections?

The sharp increase in polarization in recent years is well known, but is it naturally occurring or intentionally created?

There is a political observer called Hal Gershowitz who has been around Washington forever. He is both thoughtful and insightful. You can get a weekly newsletter from him by going to Of Thee I Sing 1776.

If you are susceptible to dark moods about our political situation, you might actually want to avoid him because his ideas will simply remind you of the uselessness of other observers.

Recently, he suggested that Joe Biden consider Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. When Biden clinched the nomination, he promised to name a woman to that role. Following the recent Black Lives Matter police protests, he has moved toward an African American woman.

You might have observed that Condoleezza Rice is both of those. Unfortunately, what she is not is a Democrat and, for that reason, it won’t happen.

Many believe the presidency is an important job and, especially this year with older candidates, the vice presidency deserves the best person available.

Here is the gist of Gershowitz’s reasoning.

“I remember my dear friend and business partner, former conservative Republican Representative from Maryland’s 5th congressional district, Larry Hogan (Md. Governor Hogan’s dad), telling me back in 2007 that he wished Condi Rice would run for President.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she’s so damn smart and so damn decent,” he replied.

How’s that for radical thinking these days, choosing someone who is both smart and decent?”

He then goes on to make his case: Hey Joe! Think About Condoleezza Rice. When you click on the link you will get to the most recent of his weekly missives and you will have to scroll down to June 20. It’s worth it.

Unfortunately, we don’t generally choose Vice Presidents for their skills in office. The real skills of Biden’s designee will be shown over the next three months rather than in the ensuing four years. As always, we favor getting the job over doing it.

There is an even more Pollyanna scheme called Articles of Unity that won’t happen either. It involves drafting two candidates, one from the center left and the other from the center right to govern together. Of the seven groups in the chart, the middle three constitute 56% of voters, enough for a landslide win. Here is a link to the idea.

It won’t happen because neither party wants it to happen. Polarization is good for the political consulting business because it attracts attention and the fear-driven contributions that pay the salaries of the consultants who have outsize influence over the affairs of both parties. Consensus candidates are harder to demonize; no fear, no anxious check writing.

In another recent article, Washington Post columnist Paul Kane wrote about the Congressional approval rating.  It is down to 18%. Of course, he shook his head in despair, but he had it backward.

If 18% of Americans still approves of Congress, the fund raising has clearly not been completed. Only when the entire country hates the United States Congress will the political fund-raising machinery grind to a halt.

Like the selection of Vice President (or President for that matter) where the ability to do the job takes a back seat to the ability to get the job, legislating in Congress takes a back seat to fund-raising. The election industry beast must be fed.

There is much hand wringing about malign foreign influence over our elections but what about malign domestic influence? All Russia or China can do is fuel dissent and pit us against each other. The parties and their webs of profit-driven political consultants can actually guide the choice of candidates. Are they choosing the best people to do the jobs or the people who will attract the largest amount of money to their campaigns?

Many believe that polarization today is a naturally occurring phenomenon, if only because of the differing interests of rural and urban voters; but, at the very least, that divide is being intentionally exploited.

In 1976, Herb Stein, an economist described as the liberal’s conservative and the conservative’s liberal, propounded what came to be known as Stein’s law. “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.”

I am rooting for Stein’s Law to prevail, preferably soon. I am not optimistic.




8 Responses to “What’s Wrong with this Picture?”

Richard Meyer, August 07, 2020 at 6:09 pm said:

I believe that the process has become part of show business. Why, for instance, are the presidential “ debates” held in front of audiences?
Check out the JFK / Nixon debates vs. the Trump/ Clinton “ debates” re: both substance and demeanor
BTW, a real debate is : “ Resolved That” with pro and con


Haven Pell, August 07, 2020 at 6:15 pm said:

I agree. The ultimate reality TV.
The Presidential Debate Commission is a significant part of the problem.


Garrard Glenn, August 07, 2020 at 6:23 pm said:

Yes. Show business is one model. Another is professional sports. A great many people are very passionate about professional sports. They want their team to win. if their team wins, they will be happy. Until the next contest. But, do these zealous fans gain anything in particular when their team or political party wins? Only the satisfaction of winning. The real gainers are the owners of the teams, and the players. They make vast millions, by selling high-priced tickets to the fans/voters.


Haven Pell, August 07, 2020 at 6:28 pm said:

Fortunately, neither the team owners nor the players are required to engage in either post-game running of large expensive governments or in international relations.


Charlie Atkinson, August 07, 2020 at 6:47 pm said:

Hi Haven

Here in smart and decent Cambridge where on January 31 in 2012 we participated in a three person Cambridge Caucus with Dr Dan Hogan (no MD relationship) and chose Bloomberg unanimously, I completely agree with your 2020 despair

The Whole System is broken. Now with Social Media and Digital Technology are failing, its time for a whole new mind conceptual framework that can help the world think from multiple perspectives. Not just simplistic binary and polarizing single dimensional choices.

Time to flip the dilemma and let we the people create the job description and resolve to demand what we the people want.

Candidates should present their personalities, policies and plans for the same common denominator set of requirements.

Actually I have invented such a new political tool.

Be happy to share this novel creation through you from my COVID-19 quarters.

Charles Atkinson, EdD
Cambridge Massachusetts


Haven Pell, August 07, 2020 at 7:01 pm said:

Thank you for the comment Charlie. Imagine a job description accurately setting out the skills required of a President, Senator or Congressman. We might be forced to ask whether a candidate actually had the skills to meet those requirements. That might even resemble the process of selecting CEOs and others in important roles.

Oh dear, perhaps my cynicism is showing.

I’d like to see the political tool you have developed to do so.


Jim Schutze, August 08, 2020 at 11:34 am said:

There’s a fat, sweaty, cigar and booze consuming political consultant from New Hampshire who helped an idiot named Rick Perry defeat a smart, decent conservative named Kay Bailey Hutchison for Governor of Texas by persuading Perry to vow he would 1) secede from the union and, 2) invade Mexico, neither of which he had the slightest intention of doing, thank God. He couldn’t protect Perry from his own stupidity forever, so now Perry is toast and the fat, sweaty, cigar and booze consuming political consultant works for current Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, who used to be a smart, decent conservative but now talks like an idiot. And gets reelected by huge margins.


Haven Pell, August 08, 2020 at 4:01 pm said:

Sounds like we are zeroing in on the problem with governance today. The consultants inject stupidity into hyper vulnerable candidates and elected officials, then hang around throughout their terms in office (when the elected officials are supposed to revert to sanity) telling them to say (or worse, do) even more stupid things, all in the name of the next election, or playing to the base, or some other nonsense that supports the cigar and booze habits.


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