THE GARDENER’S TALE OF POLITICAL PRIMARIES
- August 2, 2015
THE GARDENER’S TALE OF POLITICAL PRIMARIES
To be made to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee presented to them by the ruling few at polling time is not exactly the people’s idea of democracy: more work for the National Transformation Council
[Cum apologia to the writings on the subject by Josh Clark]
Before the turn of the 20th century, America was in dire straits. The country was slashed in two — expansionism ruled the West as the last of the indigenous American Indian peoples were wiped out or forced onto reservations, and urban strife dominated the established land east of the Mississippi. Amid all of these pains people looked to the government for help. But the political system was corrupt, necessarily reflecting “wild, wild” laissez faire capitalism. Only a handful of clever people influenced the direction of the country.
Present-day Philippines is not much different. The oligarchic structure of our society is the root cause of all our social problems. We live in a world of a few rich daily getting richer while the majority hardly make it out of the poverty trap. The Philippine economy may be growing fast – government does not tire of saying. But we are also experiencing one of the worst poverty situations ever, complete with new historic levels of hunger and unemployment. The Philippines gets richer – maybe – but Filipinos undoubtedly become poorer.
In that turn-of-the-century American setting, in response to the social ills that America endured, the Progressive Era was born. This nationwide movement produced the unions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other individual protections. Elite democracy, on account of strong social pressure from ever stronger social organizations, started to give way to some kind of social democracy. In the economic field, the power of regulation by the State got to be gradually accepted and was now slowly being felt. And in the political arena, the lack of a popular voice gave rise to, among other things, a more participative way of nominating (not just electing) candidates through the so-called presidential primary system.
This system was the inevitable people’s response against the backroom dealings of corrupt politicos that ensured a rule of the few against the many. To transfer the right to elect a presidential candidate from an elite few into the hands of the many voters was the primary system’s paramount aim.
To be made to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee presented to them by the ruling few at polling time was not exactly the people’s idea of democracy. Their desire, rather, was for voters in each state to have a choice among candidates, who now had to pay attention to the issues the public considered important. By enabling the relatively unknown to become known, and the already known to become better known the primary process alleviated corruption in national politics. The system was so effective that almost a hundred years later, it would still succeed in allowing a Jimmy who? (Carter) to become President, as later it would again work well for Bill who? (Clinton) and even lately bring to power a relative unknown like, believe the name or not – Barack Hussein Obama – who gave the more established Hillary Clinton a very hard time indeed. And, mind you, this happened in a population of about 300 million.
For one thing, by means of close-to-the-people debates and meetings, the primaries give people a chance to hear the prospective leaders – the wannabees – answer questions about the qualities they would bring to an office if elected. Then, closely resembling a general election — when voters choose between candidates from each party for office — primaries get voters to cast his or her vote to determine who will go onto the general election. That was the idea of the primary system in a nutshell. The application of the idea, however, differed greatly from place to place (state to state) so that a non-practitioner could find the whole thing so very convoluted indeed.
For example, in some places they followed the closed type where only registered voters affiliated with a given party have the chance to go to the polls to cast their vote for their chosen candidate within that party. In closed primaries, only Republicans can vote for Republicans, and Democrats for Democrats. Independent voters — those who have opted to choose neither party, but are registered voters — aren’t allowed to cast a ballot. However, in some other places closed primaries have been modified to allow independents to cast a vote for a candidate from one party or another. Such is the case of Democrats in many states.
In open primaries, a voter can cast his or her ballot for either party. In most cases, the voter must choose a party to vote for by making a public statement at the polling station. In this circumstance, the voter will tell the election volunteer which party he or she chooses to vote for. He or she will then receive a ballot containing the candidates for that party. In some open primaries, voters may choose which party’s candidate to vote for privately in the polling booth.
A third type of primary — the blanket primary — allowed voters to vote for whomever they pleased, without having to affiliate with one party or another, and without making any kind of declaration. California and Washington were both using blanket primaries at the end of the 20th century, but stopped after a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled them unconstitutional.
At the end of the day, what is the point of it all? In spirit, a primary consists of individuals casting a vote in favor of their preferred candidate. This only means that voters have something candidates want: votes. So primaries are a way of forcing candidates to interact with voters. But votes don’t go directly to a candidate; instead they come in the form of delegates.
In order for a candidate to receive the nomination, he or she has to win delegates. There are generally two ways to win delegates in primaries. In some cases candidates win by proportion. If a state has 100 delegates and a candidate wins 60 percent of the vote in the state’s primary, then that candidate will have 60 delegates from that state at the national convention — the party nomination night. Other states use the winner-takes-all method. This sounds exactly like what it is: a candidate who wins the majority of the vote in a primary — 51 percent — wins all of that state’s delegates.
Some favor the proportional method because it closely reflects the feelings of a state’s voters. Others favor winner-takes-all, because it keeps primaries competitive by allowing candidates to come from behind with huge gains in key states.
When a candidate wins delegates in a state — either by proportion of votes or winner-takes-all — those delegates are presumed to be committed to voting for that candidate at the convention. Each party has a finite number of delegates who are up for grabs in the primaries. In 2008, the Republican Party had around 2,308 delegates while Democrats had 4,364 in all [source: U.S. State Department].
Delegates are usually people who are involved in their state’s politics. They may be volunteers, local party chairs or other interested citizens. In addition to delegates, states also offer uncommitted delegates. These people — sometimes called superdelegates — are usually elected officials from the state.
Superdelegates can pledge their votes without regard to primaries or caucuses — for example, after being courted by a candidate — or they can remain uncommitted until voting begins at the national convention. While standard delegates chosen by votes from ordinary voters are important, superdelegates have a lot of influence as well. In the 2008 primaries, the Democrats had 800 superdelegates, a sizeable number considering that to win the nomination a Democratic candidate needed 2,183 delegates voting in their favor [source: CNN].
So, you see, even the primary system is not without problems. The use of delegates, as explained above, is problematic to some. While delegates are meant to be committed to a single candidate, they aren’t bound by law to do so since political parties are private organizations. So a vote cast by a citizen may not go to the chosen candidate at all, if the delegate breaks from his or her obligation. The presence of superdelegates in the primary system — delegates who possess a vote but are beholden to no voter — also make some critics nervous. A standard delegate represents a large amount of voters; superdelegates are equal to one massive vote for an individual.
In the Philippines, there used to be – effectively speaking – a two-party system, and up and down the length and width of the archipelago the small towns and bigger cities divided and drove prominent folk to belong to and be responsible for one or the other party. Today we have a multi-party system that may have been ideal for a parliamentary government form that was presumably going to happen but has effectively become a no-party system in the current presidential form. A no-party system means a perpetually ad hoc arrangement of prominent personalities backed up by big amounts of money. It can be quite tricky – as we are again seeing today.
The Hayop-Ten-Owned National Government (H-TONG) has hundreds of billions of pesos in DAP-PDAF form to spend as they wish. They don’t need Big Business in the immediate grand electoral expenses. At any rate, Big Business was quite happy with the H-TONG’s laissez-faire policies, chemically clean as these are of any real concern for worker and peasant and such majority but powerless objects of the society at large.
The little problem of H-TONG is their undue attachment to a candidate whom the people have no desire whatsoever to vote for. They were hoping that an allegedly popular running mate might do the trick of justifying massive electronic cheating for their ruling clique’s leader and candidate. Even that is not happening easily.
With only a few months before the next presidential elections, there is not one single dominant personality in the horizon – which is, indeed, most ironic considering that here is a political system that is personality-driven with mere lip service for ideological directions.
The truth is that people look at the wannabees and all they see are damaged goods. Again, for starters, there are no ideological directions to look at. The issues are “who is perceived to be less corrupt than the other?” “Who is more photogenic than the other?” “Who can outlast the other longer in senate investigative contests of vocal endurance?” and – most distressing of all, “Who has more dough to pass around so that vote-counters can use the winning math in their regard? Who has more dough to control the counting machines whose cheating capacity shown in 2010 and 2013 is quite unmatched in all Philippine electoral history?”
A Sincere Desire for Radical Change
This is why deep down in the people’s guts is a genuine and intense desire and need for change – real change. In sum, what the people are feeling is not all hopelessness and cynicism – although there is so much evidence of all that – not irrational anger either but sincerity – a sincere desire for the new, for radical change or transformation – if only there could be a sincere tenacious group that would reflect that desire in their action and being. Does not the National Transformation Council aim to be such a group?
In effect, the people are saying, “We cannot have ‘more of the same’ because ‘the same’ has been tried too many times and it was always found dysfunctional. It simply doesn’t work.”
And that is why people cannot get excited over ‘opposition’ posturing in any of the many given crises the nation is undergoing.
Long ago they had developed a natural aversion to false change, where they see that the more something changes the more it remains the same… the same poverty if not worse, the same corruption, the same insensitivity to both human and non-human rights, the same inadequate infrastructure, the same escape from misery to work in distant lands, the same Third World conditions. Is there any difference between administration and the little opposition that hardly exists? The people see none. And so, much as they want real change, they cannot get themselves to support either the administration or even a would-be opposition because they are already sure everything will only amount to false change.
Time, then, for something new and different…like, say, something analogously close to the presidential primary system that many are now getting to be familiar with, thanks to TV and the Internet. But this is the Philippines and many American conditions do not obtain here, obviously. Knowing, however, the essence of that system, there is no reason why the needed modifications cannot be made, and speedily.
Because the deepest desire of the people is the desire for authentic change, what we need to organize immediately is a movement of change agents – agents of transformation -across the Philippine archipelago, gathering together such people from small towns and big cities in their various clustered localities and tasking them with viewing, interacting with and really knowing prospective national leaders who can facilitate and lead the movement for real change and national transformation.
A movement for national transformation needs transformed agents – those who initiate or continue a process of critical awareness that leads to people’s action at all levels. If the moral leaders of the land, in conscience, truly support an idea like the National Transformation Council, let this be made manifest now.
Let them – let us all – identify the Primary Change-Agents – those living and working directly with small groups – among “C.O.’s” (community organizations) or “P.O’s (people’s organizations), or basic ecclesial communities or cells.
Secondly, let us recognize Intermediate Change-Agents – or those who are associated with the Primary level in broader functions as facilitators of action groups and projects, and, therefore, are likewise associated with more distant support groups whose working they understand and link with the needs of Primary.
Thirdly, let us bring in the Support Change-Agents – or those whose commitment to change-agent work is at the conceptual, bureaucratic, research, technological or communication levels. Some government agents and church leaders are able to cross to both the Primary and Intermediate levels as initiators and facilitators and enablers.
We all have our particular work– some of us are teachers, some of us are healers, some of us are soldiers, some of us are churchmen or women, some of us are in various professions, and some of us are farming. We have a variety of occupations. But besides the particular work we do and the particular lives we lead, we have an urgent task that everyone is involved in and no one is exempt from.
Our movement of change agents precisely addresses this task. It must consciously, deliberately and systematically be engaged in transforming Philippine society from its current status to that of a transformed nation before too long. And it must find the right national leaders for the purpose – known or unknown some of them might be right now. We must prepare the people’s minds to go beyond the massive temporary insanity of an electoral fever to the very real possibility of a non-violent revolution now.
1896 led ultimately to 1986 both of which left much to be desired. That people’s unfinished revolutionary effort demands continuation today.
1n Lipa last August a movement committed to continuing the unfinished Philippine revolution announced who they were: “Filipino citizens of different personal, professional, social and economic backgrounds and political persuasions and religious beliefs” – definitely a multi-sectoral movement with the bigger numbers coming from the peasant and worker sectors.
They said: “We reaffirm our deeply held convictions and beliefs about the common good and our highest national interests, in the face of the most pressing challenges .Unbridled and unpunished corruption and widespread misuse of political and economic power in all layers of society have not only destroyed our common conception of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, legal and illegal, but also put our people, especially the poor, at the mercy of those who have the power to dictate the course and conduct of our development for their own selfish ends.”
“A crisis of unprecedented proportions has befallen our nation,” they said. “The life of the nation is in grave peril from the very political forces that are primarily ordained to protect, promote and advance its well-being, but which are aggressively undermining its moral, religious, social, cultural, constitutional and legal foundations.”
Because there is no longer any doubt regarding the deceitful and fraudulent character of the 2010 and 2013 elections due to the “hocus-PCOS” electoral cheating machines, the movement declared at Lipa that “until we have a fraud-free electoral system, we should refrain from holding any farcical election. But once we have it, we should encourage the best qualified men and women in the country to participate in the open electoral process so that together we could put an end to the stranglehold exercised by the corrupt and incompetent political dynasties upon our elections.”
The immediate task is thus quite clear. Instead of rushing to join the insane electoral sport mindlessly we should rather gather the enlightened parts of our citizenry to step back and take stock. Do we really want this nonsense again? As usual, it always starts with a determined few. A few can “throw fire” to the many with the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s hear each other again and new and more voices to boot. Let’s get a real focus on the hocus-pcos and be undisturbed in what is to be done, exhausting all means, true enough, but ready to do everything else required to stop the nonsense.
The primaries are very important. We must make the primary moves now – soon, now.