The Washington Paradox is a short essay published by the political organization known as “Get Out of Our House” (aka GOOOH). Their primary focus appears to be “firing congress” and replacing current elected representatives with others who will be more inclined to serve the American people.
The essay centers on one critical fact; that approval of Congress is at an all time low, as is trust in government, and polls indicate that people are not optimistic about the future. However, despite their apparent failure to perform in a manner that generates trust and satisfaction, the incumbents continue to be elected, at a 94% clip. It makes no sense that this should be so, although polls also indicate that voters generally tend to fault people other than their personal district or state representatives, which may account for a large part of the problem.
The unnamed author indicates that it is paradoxical for the public to continue voting for representatives that they don’t trust, and they are correct in asserting so. But there is something else that is operative here. Consider that the people in government continue to perform as the have, regardless of the public reaction. The assumption might logically be that the representatives are behaving illogically, but this, in itself flies in the face of logic, unless we assume that the majority of people in office are insane. (Readers should note that it is possible to assume that they are insane, in any event, but that is another topic.)
So, proceeding under the assumption that the majority of representatives are operating with full possession of their faculties, then their apparent self-destructive behavior must be based on something that is logical within all of the surrounding facts and information that is not always subject to examination. The only logical assumption appears to be that if the representatives are not crazy, then they must, in fact, be operating in their own best interests, regardless of the public opinion polls. Thus, their interests must not coincide with the public’s interest, regardless of what they may pretend.
The GOOOH response to the incumbency issue rests on a simple and logical fact. If we are dissatisfied with someone with whom we do business, then we change. This is reasonable and rational behavior. But there always is another bank, another doctor, and another plumber or car dealer we can go to. There frequently isn’t another politician. There isn’t always another candidate we can go to. And this appears to be the central issue of incumbent retention. People may vote for an incumbent because that person “generally votes the way I want him to” but one also has to factor in whether or not there is an alternative to “Brand X.” We aren’t buying peanut butter here.
The last time I was at the market there must have been five rows of salad dressing, extending at least thirty feet down the aisle. I lost count of the brands that the customer could choose from. When you go to vote there may be only a couple of choices with, perhaps one or two challenging the incumbent. In many there maybe on challenger because the incumbent is too strongly supported by the electorate. Anyone who challenges Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco is wasting their time and money because, while they will be lucky to get 25% of the general election vote.
At the same time, having too many choices may well play into the hands of the incumbent (or party “favorite”) as well. Witness the election of Mitt Romney as the Republican candidate for President in 2012. He did not get a majority of the vote, but still got enough of it to prevail over people who might have run a superior campaign, and were also more likely to be more “conservative” than Romney. Dissatisfaction in Texas with Senator John Cornyn has led to primary challenges for the 2014 election, but there may be as many as three people on the ballot, none of which is well known. It is expected that Cornyn will win on name recognition alone, in a statewide race. Thus, a dearth of candidates may lead to the same result as having too many.
This phenomenon takes on more important considerations when you look to the 2016 presidential election. If Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and a generic, well-known Republican squish were all on the primary ballot, what would result? The prospect of a split conservative vote resulting in the squish being nominated falls right into line behind what happened in 2008 and 2012.
And there is an additional problem. The present order in the Democrat Party has taken the position that the ends (winning the election and getting to push their agenda) justifies the means, which includes voter fraud, stuffing the ballot box, lying, obscuring information, and so on. Thus, if a squish candidate is nominated, the result is a likely win for the Democrat for failure of the Republican to draw bright lines instead of pale pastels. On the other hand, the Conservative candidate is likely to be slandered mercilessly in the press because there is essentially no bar to publishing outright lies concerning an electoral candidate.
Finally, putting this at the local level, depending on the office and the location where the race is run, it is possible that any of the above problems might occur to prevent a candidate representing the true public interest from being elected. Thus, the issue isn’t simply that they public aren’t voting to elect new people who are more in line with popular sentiment. They are not always presented with a real, viable choice to vote for, or when Election Day comes around enough tend to believe the propaganda and vote against their own interests because they don’t know the truth. Or still further, they may be presented with too many choices to be able to create a viable consensus that will replace the incumbent.
Because the elections are to a large extent controlled by party apparatus, there appear to be two choices available to the voter looking to fire the incumbent. Firstly, they must go outside of the party organization, but at the same time, they must expect to be frozen out of traditional party means to money and publicity. They must be prepared to go it alone. However, if they have sufficient money to obtain the publicity they will need, and the ability to gain support from grass roots organizations they may, as Ted Cruz did, upset the favorite or incumbent and win the general election.
The Paradoxical behavior of the electorate is the result of business as usual; following the same old paradigm. They only way to change it is to change the rules and subvert the existing structure sufficiently that it must change as well, or be replaced by something new and better.