Forget the Rules and the Rhetoric, the
Reality Is That Americans Elect Is All
About the Duopoly
The telltale signs have been telling the tale for
some time now.
A big caption on the Americans Elect home page proclaims, in bold caps: A BIPARTISAN CHOICE
IN 2012. Just beneath that, the explanation
(emphasis mine): "Finalists must choose a running
mate from a different party."
To clear up any doubts about which "parties" Americans Elect has in mind, there is a helpful graphic of a handshake, and the two hands are festooned with cufflinks — an elephant on the left, a donkey on
the right. Crossing the aisle. Get it?
Dig a little deeper, and Section 2.1.2 of the corporate Rules of Americans Elect stipulates that every "Declared Candidate" is to submit a signed "Candidate Pledge," according to which, "as a condition of candidacy for Americans Elect nomination for President of the United States, I agree to accept the nomination and I pledge to" (emphasis mine):
Build the first coalition of my Presidency by selecting a Vice Presidential running mate who will help me forge the essential coalitions of members of the major parties to meet the crucial issues identified by the Americans Elect Delegates....
In Section 3.1.2 of the Rules, a corollary "Draft Committee Pledge" obligates draft committees to
"urge the Drafted Candidate" to make the same pledge.
Then, a little further down the scroll, there is Section 8
of the Rules, the "Balanced Ticket Obligation," under which (emphases mine)
The Presidential and Vice Presidential ticket nominated by Americans Elect shall, as nearly as practicable, consist of persons of differing ideological perspective or positions...to result
in a balanced coalition ticket responsive to
the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of special interests and the partisan interests of either major political party. Subject to reversal by majority vote
of all registered Delegates, the Candidate Certification Committee shall determine whether any proposed ticket is balanced...."
And what is the basic, automatic threshold of "balance"? Two sentences down (emphasis mine)...
A ticket with two persons consisting of
a Democrat and a Republican shall be
deemed to be balanced.
No other ticket configuration is mentioned as being "deemed to be balanced."
:: :: ::
ALL OF THIS would seem to suggest a stacked deck.
And yet, just six weeks ago, on 9 February, Americans Elect COO Elliot Ackerman, appearing with Americans Elect advisory board member Mark McKinnon, told Dylan Ratigan (video starting at 4:56) that (emphases mine):
You know, the problem we see at Americans Elect is, we have two minority parties in
this country. The plurality of Americans are independent, and they are shut out of what is a closed process. So, at Americans Elect, we're offering every registered voter in this country the opportunity to participate in a nominating process to put an independent ticket on the ballot in all 50 states, for the presidency.
Ackerman continued (emphases mine):
The problem that we have right now is
that we have a political system that's rigged. And all the ideas have to be funneled into
two separate and narrow ideologies,
and that doesn't leave enough room for
true solutions-based policies to emerge.
So what we're doing is opening the process
up, by having a spot on the ballot for an independent candidate to emerge.
And (emphases mine):
What we take so much heart in is, nearly
half a million Americans [more like 400,000,
at that point] have signed up to participate through Americans Elect. These are people
who don't want to quit. These are people who reject the idea that it has to be a binary choice in 2012. And they are people who want to see an independent candidate emerge who can put forth some real, credible solutions outside of the two major parties.
A couple of weeks later, on 21 February, Ackerman
and McKinnon were back on MSNBC, this time with
Chuck Todd, who introduced the segment (video)
this way (emphases mine):
Well it was twenty years ago, this month,
that three was the company in the Presidential race. Ross Perot jumped in against George Bush and Bill Clinton, becoming the last serious candidate to run as an independent and make an impact. Could this be the year we see another third-party candidate get a real shot...?
Shortly into the segment (starting at 1:56), Ackerman notes (emphases mine):
We've seen hundreds of thousands of
people show up. They're very interested in
the idea that they could have a voice that doesn't have to modulate between the
two major parties....By the end of June,
there'll be a ticket that emerges — it'll
be an independent ticket....
On the same day, 21 February, Americans Elect sent
out an actual press release promoting former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, one of the newest members of its Leadership team. Just a couple of days before that, Thomas Friedman, Americans Elect's own John the Baptist, had devoted an entire column to why he thought Walker should run for President.
Walker is registered as — you guessed it — an independent.
A week earlier, another member of the Americans Elect Leadership team, Doug Schoen — who also is a paid consultant to Americans Elect — was up on the Daily Beast with a piece speculating on what would happen "if a new candidate enters as an independent through the Americans Elect process" (emphasis mine).
Schoen hammered the word "independent" seventeen times, in this op-ed-length piece.
:: :: ::
SO WHAT WAS UP with all this "independent" talk?
Was Americans Elect just trying to show how
maverick-y it was?
Was it pandering to independent voters, in an effort
to boost its low delegate numbers?
Almost certainly, all of these dynamics were at play.
But the other possibility, however remote, was that Americans Elect actually was starting to play by its
own corporate Rules.
After all: Apart from the presumption in favor of a D-R
or an R-D ticket — remember that, in Section 8 of the Rules, only these two configurations "shall be deemed to be balanced" — the only explicit prohibition, in the Rules or the By-Laws, comes in the next sentence of Rule 8, which says that "a ticket with two persons of the same political party shall be deemed to be imbalanced."
There is one sentence in the Overview to the Rules which specifies that "any Independent Presidential candidate must select a Vice Presidential candidate who balances the Presidential candidate’s positions...."
But, based on Rule 8, this is the case for any Presidential candidate — so the specific injunction to Independent candidates seems redundant.
Assuming that it is Rule 8 that governs, there are a multitude of possible ticket configurations. Indeed, according to a strict reading of the Rules and By-Laws of Americans Elect, each of the following configurations could be legitimate. Of course, substituting for "'Minor' Party" the specifics of "Green," "Libertarian," "Reform," or what have you, grows the possibilities even further.
Could this have been part of what Americans Elect leader and consultant Doug Schoen meant, when he wrote "independent" 17 times in one op-ed?
Was it what Americans Elect COO Elliot Ackerman meant, when he told Dylan Ratigan last month that "what we're doing is opening the process up"?
:: :: ::
Indeed, the clear takeaway from this past week's media (self-) outings by Americans Elect is that Ackerman
the Younger was overplaying "independent."
If you want to know what Americans Elect really means by "independent," you have to pay attention to the paid consultant, Schoen, who, in his Daily Beast column, consistently links "independent" to "centrist" and — at least as important — to "bipartisan" (emphases mine):
In 1992, when Ross Perot ran for president — the last centrist candidate to make a serious run as an independent....
Twenty-four percent said they would vote for an independent, bipartisan unity ticket....
[S]upport for an independent was still at
25 percent, as one quarter said they would
vote for “an alternative unity ticket with a Democrat and a Republican as president and vice president....
In this view, "independent" means "not the Democratic Party ticket and not the Republican Party ticket, but still using D and R as the basic building blocks."
In other words: Not really independent, at all.
:: :: ::
AMERICANS ELECT couldn't have made this message
any clearer than it did when it dispatched two former governors, over the course of the last week — director Christie Todd Whitman and advisory board member David Boren — for a carefully curated "one-two," with one news organization whose orientation, to the extent that one can specify these things, is center-right and another that leans center-left.
First up, last Friday, Whitman and Boren were joined by former defense secretary Bill Cohen in a Politico op-ed in which the authors frame Americans Elect as an effort to reform the Democratic and Republican parties by way of an ultimatum:
The American people should challenge the
two parties and their presidential candidates
to make three ironclad commitments:
First, candidates of both parties should endorse the main principles contained in the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan budget proposal....
Second, [they] should create a national unity government by including leaders from both parties in the Cabinet....
Third, [they] should commit to support
a statutory approach or, if required, a constitutional amendment which permits
a limit on campaign spending and allows
only individual citizens eligible to vote in
each election to contribute....
If the party leaders ignore these serious challenges, then it is time for the voters to consider another alternative...Americans Elect.
But, as the writers quickly reassure, this "alternative" isn't meant to be that much of a threat to the donkeys and the elephants. Pay careful attention to the words they use. You can be sure that they and Americans Elect have (emphases mine):
[Americans Elect] has set up a process...to select the first bipartisan presidential ticket in U.S. history. The ticket candidates for president and vice president would be required to be from different parties.
For example, a Democrat and Republican would run as a team. If elected, they could form a truly bipartisan cabinet and administration.
Americans Elect will likely obtain the petition signatures needed to place a bipartisan ticket on the ballot in all 50 states this November. Millions of Americans have already signed the petitions. A victory by this ticket with this approach could be the “shock therapy” needed to get the two party system working again.
An alternative ticket may help get America’s leaders back to their greatest responsibility — “governing.” Voters must also, of course, carefully evaluate the Americans Elect ticket, with a Republican and a Democrat, to determine whether it merits endorsement and support.
Yes, "a Democrat and Republican" — "for example." The conventionally bipartisan vision of the Establishmentariat, as channeled by three of its scions.
A couple of days later, on Monday evening, Whitman
and Boren reinforced this message in a PBS Newshour segment that had been taped a few days earlier.
Unfortunately (from a journalistic perspective), segment anchor Judy Woodruff seeded the message both in her promotional tweet on Monday
and in her lead-in to the segment itself, which Woodfruff framed this way (emphases mine):
With rhetoric heating up and calls for bipartisanship growing across the country, a new group called Americans Elect is pushing
a new way. The nonprofit says it will secure ballot access for a unity ticket — one Democrat, one Republican — in all 50
states in November.
In the segment, Boren closes the loophole of the Politico op-ed's more general call to "include leaders from both parties in the Cabinet." Here, he has specific numbers in mind: "half Democrat, half Republican." Like the FEC. No other representation required.
Even the suggestion that he might be supporting an independent draws from Boren's lips a pitched "No!"
In a brief video chat the next day, Judy Woodruff asked Americans Elect Chief Technology Officer Josh Levine:
Are you saying there's just no point of view whatsoever, on the part of Americans Elect? I mean, just the fact that you're staying within the two major parties, having a Republican and a Democrat on the ticket, says something about where you are in the mainstream of American politics, right?
To which, Levine gamely responded:
You know, our only methodology that's different about Americans Elect is that the outcome cannot be aligned. That's the only thing about Americans Elect that is in any way, shape or form an "agenda," so to speak — that you can't pick the same ideology as your running mate. But which one you are, we don't care. It's completely using the American people to decide the outcome — and, at that point, the American people are gonna decide on the bipartisan spirit of the outcome and whether it meets the goal of the whole thought process.
But there can be no serious doubt that, unless you are Michael Bloomberg — who, in any case, is an "independent" in name only (yes, IINO) — or, perhaps, one of a tiny handful of other self-styled independents who conform to the Americans Elect "type," there is room at the Americans Elect table for two registrations only: Republican and Democrat.
Americans Elect COO Elliot Ackerman told Chuck Todd that those who have registered at AmericansElect.org are "very interested in the idea that they could have a voice that doesn't have to modulate between the two major parties."
But that is exactly what Americans Elect is positioning itself to do, is it not?
This project is not about creating access for independent and "minor" party candidates. And it's not about challenging the power of the so-called "major" parties,
as represented by the Democrats and the Republicans.
It is about shoring up the power of certain kinds of Democrats and Republicans.
Americans Elect: A Duopoly Joint.