A Conscientious Objection to Political "Science"

Judging from their comments and commentaries in the mainstream media, it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that political scientists are among the most reliable and reactionary supporters of the Republican-Democrat party establishment and ruling political class in the United States today.  Except, perhaps, for those deluded pundits who naively believe that political science is both non-political and "scientific."  Consider a recent op-ed in the LA Times by Seth Masket and Hans Noel, two political "scientists" from the University of Denver and Georgetown University, respectively.  Entitled "Don't Look to a Third Party Candidate," Masket and Noel argue against the very idea that a third party or independent candidate could win the presidency, and furthermore assert that even if one did, he or she would be stymied by a partisan Congress.

Their argument against advocacy for a third party presidential candidate boils down to one simple point: it's too hard.  It may be difficult for some to believe, but the position of these political "scientists" is literally that no one should support alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans in any presidential election because it's too difficult.  One need not wonder how specimens such as these might have counseled the leaders of the American revolution.  They begin thusly:
Why wouldn't the solution to our nation's problems be a moderate president, without ties to the usual suspects, who is free to simply do what is right?  The problem is, it's not going to happen. What's more, we really don't want it to.  It's not going to happen because the major party candidates have three huge advantages. They are already organized. They have built-in supporters. And our electoral institutions favor the largest two parties.
First of all, there is no substantive difference between "being organized" and "having built-in supporters." So their three huge advantages can be reduced to just two right off the bat.  Secondly, the fact that our electoral institutions favor the Democrats and Republicans is neither a coincidence nor a simple stroke of fate or luck.  The Democrats and Republicans have rigged our institutions to consolidate and maintain their grip on power.  The fact that our electoral institutions favor them is therefore conditional upon the fact that they are organized, thereby eroding the distinction between the two remaining advantages distinguished in the screed.   They continue:
To win the presidency, you have to campaign across the country. You have to build a campaign in state after state — from scratch. You have to assemble lists of donors and databases of voters to contact, and you have to develop a base of volunteers who can carry out the vital tasks of organizing and campaigning precinct by precinct.
This is meant as an argument against a third party or independent presidential campaign, but it should be noted that the same holds for any Democratic or Republican presidential campaign as well.  Taking this point to its logical conclusion, we'd have to conclude that no one should ever run for president because it's difficult, even with the huge advantages conferred by a supportive party apparatus.  And yet people do run for president, even though it is difficult. Indeed, people do things that are difficult all the time, despite the fact that they are difficult.  If everyone allowed the possibility of failure to deter them from doing anything, nothing would ever get done.  Failure is always an option.  But success is always a possibility.  They continue: 
Keep in mind that about 40% of the country votes Republican and about 40% votes Democratic in a presidential election no matter who the candidates are. Even if you could win over some of the less committed voters in the middle, it would be very hard to pull away those committed partisans. At best, an independent candidate could win 20% to 30% of the vote. 
The assertion here is demonstrably false.  Over 40% of the country doesn't even vote in presidential elections.  Less than 30% of the country votes Republican and less than 30% of the country votes Democrat.  Democrats and Republicans rarely obtain support from a majority of eligible voters even when you tally their votes together.  In most elections it's considerably less than that.  The political scientists then go on to reference Duverger's "law," to make the institutional or procedural argument against third party presidential candidates, and their abject cynicism shines through.  Excerpt:
Duverger's Law, named after Maurice Duverger, the French scholar who most explicitly articulated it, boils down to the idea that voters are strategic. In a winner-take-all election, they know there's virtually no chance of the third-most-popular candidate winning. Better to help determine which of the top two candidates wins. So they vote for the least objectionable of the candidates with a real shot at winning.
So the ideal candidate for these two political scientists is not the best candidate, or the most representative candidate, but rather the major party candidate who is not as objectionable as the other major party candidate.  This is nothing more than the old lesser evil argument dressed up in academic jargon.

Masket and Noel then argue that even if a third party candidate were elected president, it would be difficult for him to accomplish anything in his program because he would have no allies in a Congress dominated by professional partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties.  Here they essentially return to their initial argument that if something is difficult it is not worth doing.  Finally, they conclude by asserting the metaphysical claim that the two-party state is a "natural" phenomenon, and urging readers to work within the two-party state.  Excerpt:
All of this seems unfair. Why should these two parties have such an advantage? That's the wrong way to look at it. The Democrats and the Republicans are not our overlords. They are us. They are the natural creations of politically concerned citizens who want to make a difference . . . If you're not content with the way this country is being governed, one of the best ways to change it is to get involved with one of the existing parties and work to nominate and elect candidates at all levels of government who will fight for the things you care about. . . . Pining for an independent, third-party dictator is not only a waste of your time, but if you somehow got what you wanted, you'd quickly find it wasn't what you wanted at all.  [Emphases added.]
Of course, there is nothing "natural" about the dictatorship of the two-party state.  It is a wholly artificial construct created and maintained by self-interested lawmakers whose loyalty lies, first and foremost, with the Democratic and Republican parties themselves.  The assertion that the ruling two-party state is a "natural" or "organic" phenomenon is nothing more than obscurantist, metaphysical nonsense.

For some reason, these "scientists" furthermore fail to observe one of the most self-evident political phenomena in the United States today: the Democratic and Republican parties no longer represent the people of the United States and the people of the United States increasingly no longer support the Democratic and Republican parties.  If you wanted to end abortion, would you get a job performing abortions?  If you wanted to end the death penalty, would you sign up to be the state's executioner?  If you want alternatives to the dictatorship of the Democrat-Republican two-party state, why would you join the Democratic or Republican party?

No comments: