Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gary Johnson, Debater

I see that Gary Johnson is going to be invited to the next debate, this one in Florida on Thursday. Good for him, I suppose.

It occurs to me as part of my position that there's no particular reason for debate sponsors to be "fair" to candidates -- what they should be is responsive to party actors and fair, if you call it that, to party actors and party voters -- that the current use of polling to determine who is invited is pretty much a bad idea, but one that we're stuck with for understandable, even good, reasons.

What should happen is that the political parties choose who gets to be invited to the debates, using any criteria they believe is appropriate. But there's a paradox involved, because the nomination process is in part all about choosing who gets to make party decisions -- so at this point, no one really has the uncontested authority to do so. That's presumably a piece of any party nomination process, but it's especially problematic for American political parties because the formal party structure isn't necessarily central to what "the party" actually is. Nor are there formal party members, who could then elect party officials and give them some legitimacy. Instead, there's an odd situation in which formal parties set some of the ground rules, but are otherwise often unimportant to party governance, all of which makes whatever they do contested when candidates believe they have been wronged. Which also means that those formal party officials themselves are on precarious ground. All of this, of course, applies not just to relatively trivial stuff such as whether Gary Johnson gets to debate, but also to things such as the timing and rules of the various primaries and caucuses. The debates are relatively easy; turn it over to the network sponsor and hope no one makes a fuss. The schedule of primaries and caucuses is a lot harder.

At any's clearly unfair to Johnson as a fairly recent former governor that he hasn't been included in the last four of these things, but there's no reason for the party to be fair to Johnson or the rest of them.


  1. When we discuss fairness in the context of a primary debate, we mean in terms of getting one's message out. But what if we think of debates as competitions, opportunities to build a candidate's equity with party actors?

    In the context of competition, its somewhat unfair to a frontrunner like Romney or Perry to have a guy like Johnson at the debate. Obviously the roads to the nomination for Johnson are exceedingly few; correspondingly it makes sense for Johnson to try for a Hail Mary in a debate, to attempt to connect on a "You're no John Kennedy!" moment. If it works, he might find himself on one of those extremely scarce roads to the nomination. If it fails, he loses nothing.

    As much as Johnson is motivated to try to pull off a long-shot "you're no Kennedy" moment in the debate, it equally behooves a Perry/Romney to avoid it. I could very much buy the argument that Perry/Romney, by virtue of having done a much better job than Johnson building their equity with party actors behind-the-scenes, have earned the right to avoid being on the receiving end of what would be a perfectly understandable long-shot attempt from Johnson.

  2. Of course the GOP should be fair to Gary Johnson. The parties effectively act as gatekeepers in our electoral system. The public has every right to expect that process to be conducted in an open and democratic way. If they don’t, then we should reform the system.

    Remember, a plurality of voters are not members of either political party. If the parties will only act in their own narrow interests, then that's a serious structural failing that needs to be addressed.

  3. O/T, but relevant to the Republican primary: as we receive word that the state of Georgia successfully murdered Troy Davis, I can't help but think about what impact the Cameron Willingham case will have on Perry's campaign.

    First, an aside: one interesting thing about discussing politics with the other side is noticing the extent to which liberals perceive conservatives as hating government, hating taxes, hating poor people, etc. Conservative media seems to support such an idea, but I suspect that may be in part reactionary, or possibly, goading liberals.

    I doubt much that many conservatives prefer the tragic scope of elderly poverty pre-SS. That's probably why so many conservatives support SS. We aren't - I think - opposed to collective action to ameliorate things like widespread elderly poverty, its just that unlike progressives, who seem to look fondly at systems that achieve collective objectives, conservatives focus on the inevitably bureaucratic, horrid, selfish motives of the fallen, petty people running such programs. (Just a quick aside: whatever your personal religious connotation, consider the unprecedented reach of Christianity, basically on the meme that we are all hopeless but for salvation through Christ's sacrifice. Obviously, we're all pretty f***** up. Some of us are running government programs).

    So I suspect that 'real' conservatives don't oppose collective action, we are just deeply suspicious of the motives of those who are responsible for such things. Not because they are bad or liberal, but because they are human. Bureaucratic, selfish, horrid, perhaps soulless bastards.

    Like Rick Perry in the murder of Cameron Willingham.

    Will conservatives make him pay? Could be something of a litmus test for the 21st century GOP.

  4. Two quick clarifications away from the heat of the moment of the Davis abomination last night: first, its not the people that are "running" SS that are suspicious, its those "responsible" for it, e.g. congresscritters. As several folks here have noted, SS is not particularly badly run relative to other enterprises of comparable intent. Second, Perry might still get the nomination, and the WH, in spite of the Willingham murder. We can't avoid indulgent stupidity from national politicians anymore, whatever the party. The question is whether he will have some 'splaining to do, whether we'll force him to give the pound of flesh over Willingham. Probably not, which somewhat explains why the TP gets so exercised about politicians on both sides of the aisle.

  5. " I could very much buy the argument that Perry/Romney, by virtue of having done a much better job than Johnson building their equity with party actors behind-the-scenes, have earned the right to avoid being on the receiving end of what would be a perfectly understandable long-shot attempt from Johnson."

    Then they should set up a debate against each other. Nothing compels them to enter these debates.

    But as long as a party is the entity organizing a debates, I agree with Couves... let there be open standards, openly considered and enforced. Too much is at stake for the parties, anyway, since if they act to constrain debate too narrowly, they open themselves to electoral organization outside the party, which is bad for November.


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