July 10, 2010
Bob Franken: Can we vote for "none of the above"?
Proposition 14 is an idea whose time would seem to have come.
Prop 14, California's just-passed referendum, would mostly remove political parties from the primaries and set up a general election between the two highest primary election vote-getters, regardless of their affiliation.
It sounds radical, but it doesn't go anywhere near far enough. We're still left with a Tweedle Dee Dee and Tweedle Dee Dum choice between least undesirable candidates.
There is another possibility: "Vote No." Over time there have been a few attempts to make that happen. One proposal that's rattled around would offer a "None of the Above" option. And if that won, there would be a new election.
Of course, the problem is that "None of the Above" would almost always win, so we'd never be able to form a government. That just won't cut it—no matter what the Tea Partiers think.
So what are we to do? How about trying some astounding new approaches? How about a political process that values honest discussions about our limitations and the muck that we're in?
That mess has been caused by those with little regard for the damage they do when they raise high expectations and then expediently drop them.
In the process, they shatter what few illusions remain. Our entire system can only work if the citizens believe it can. Cynicism is like acid. It's not much of a leap to the conclusion that "Of the People, By the People and For the People" has been replaced by "For the Wealthy, For the Powerful, For the Corrupt."
Every couple of years, somebody promises to change all that. And every time people start feeling suckered when their latest hope gets swallowed by entrenched reality. Think of Charlie Brown who annually would let Lucy convince him that this time she would hold the football. Sure enough, though, when he'd make a run at it, she would pull it away at the last minute and he'd fall flat on his back.
But government is not peanuts. It's trillions of dollars that so many believe is wasted and our sense of community gets frittered away.
When somebody talks about sacrifice, or teamwork, he is laughed out of the room, or eaten up by the sound-bite yappers and pundit demagogues who have taken over the agenda.
There are some issues out there that are genuine crises. If nobody is willing to make some hard choices they will become black holes to oblivion.
Example: Social Security. The common wisdom is that it's a "third rail," meaning that it kills anyone who touches it. The problem is the rail is collapsing as it ages, along with our population. If someone doesn't boldly step up with major repairs—difficult ones—we are talking about a national train wreck. The generation that fights to retain every last cent it can will bequeath a system that is out of money—unable to provide anything to anybody.
It's even more insidious when it comes to regulating commerce. It's obvious that private enterprise needs some public control. Even so, we can't seem to come up with meaningful protections.
Both health care and financial reform just nibble at the edges. That's because we never really reform lobbying. We end up with a lot of people talking a good game. The rest of us lose.
Come to think of it, the opponents of regulation make a compelling point, which is that the regulators are ineffective. The bureaucrats are often lethargic, easily manipulated by the corporate puppeteers.
We know the problems, and we know the solutions. Sad to say, that doesn't mean we can succeed. If we don't, people more and more will continue with the current way they "Vote No." They don't vote.