Americans Elect -- the Centrists' Hindenburg Goes Down
By Carl Bloice
May 23, 2012
In the beginning, Americans Elect said its purpose was
to "Break the gridlock and change politics as usual -
No special interest. No agenda. Country before party."
And now, two years and many post mortems later, there
is plenty on why, after spending $35 million and
getting all the fawning publicity money could buy, they
have called the whole thing off. I think most of obits
are off the mark
A couple of months ago I suggested that the third party
internet candidacy process being fostered by Americans
Elect might be called the Catfood Party because it
seemed to suggest the same approach to vital social
programs for seniors and people with disabilities as
the much ballyhooed Simpson Bowles scheme. Activists
had taken to calling the latter the Catfood Commission,
in reference to the fact that many seniors succumb to
eating pet food when their meager incomes are depleted.
My thinking was prompted by New York Times columnist
Thomas Friedman's nomination of former U.S. Comptroller
General David Walker, a former senior executive at PWC
auditing firm and currently the chief executive of
something called the "Comeback America Initiative," to
be Americans Elect's standard bearer. And what does
Walker propose to do to "get "America's fiscal house in
order"? You guess it - "entitlement reform."
Walker, apparently a willing candidate, accuses the
Democrats of being "still in denial about the need to
renegotiate our social insurance contract" and
complains that President Obama "is not talking about
the fundamental reforms in Medicare and Medicaid that
we need, and he is not ready to touch Social Security."
"We need to re-impose tough budget controls, constrain
federal spending, decide which Bush tax cuts will stay,
and engage in comprehensive reform of our entitlement,
healthcare and tax systems," Walker wrote in 2008. "A
bipartisan commission that would make recommendations
for an up-or-down vote by Congress would be a positive
step to making this a reality."
Since that time very little light has been thrown on
the true aims of Americans Elect. Reportage and
commentary has concentrated on the fact that some Wall
Street heavy hitters were financing the operation, that
the list of their names was being kept secret, and that
those running the show reserved the right to ultimately
overrule any choice the online voters might make.
One person is quite unhappy the Americans Elect gambit
failed. "As a Clinton White House veteran who has
touted the virtues of an independent candidacy to shake
up the system, I'd like to clear up some confusion,"
wrote Washington Post columnist Matt Miller last week.
"The reason I've wanted an independent candidacy has
nothing to do with faulting Democrats and Republicans
equally. It has to do with changing the boundaries of
What the Democrats are proposing "are not nearly equal
to the challenges we face," wrote Miller.
"The renewal agenda we need partly involves
reallocating public resources from outsized projected
spending on programs serving seniors to big investments
in the future - a reallocation Democrats won't pursue,
or won't pursue on anything like the scale required,
because they're afraid of how elderly voters will react
(and because they are reluctant to give up the
political club that protecting current arrangements
affords them)," wrote Miller.
"If you think we need to slow the growth of Medicare
and other health-care spending substantially (by
bringing it more in line with other advanced nations'
per capita health spending), and use some of the
savings to shrink tuition at public colleges to an
affordable level (and not just save ten bucks a month
on indebted students' interest costs, which is what
we're debating today) - who's your candidate?" asked
Walker, a co-host of public radio's "Left, Right &
"Even if Americans Elect had gotten traction, there was
no certainty that the ideas I'm sketching would have
been given voice," wrote Miller. "But the right kind of
independent candidacy could have been a platform to
start explaining and building a constituency for the
new policies and trade-offs that an aging America in a
global economy needs."
Miller says something he calls "the math of American
renewal" requires that we "reallocate resources from
projected outsized growth in programs serving seniors
to future investments."
Miller's statement about healthcare spending is
misleading to say the least. The problem is not the
cost of Medicare and Medicaid; it's the cost of health
care, which consistently increases faster than the cost
of everything else. He's right that this differs from
the situation in other "advanced" countries, but that
is primarily because all them have some form of
universal healthcare or a "single payer" Medicare type
system that the rightwing and the self-proclaimed
centrists oppose and which most Democrats are too
cowardly to even propose.
Of course, the notion that the choice we have is either
forcing people to work more years and cutting services
to the elderly and disabled or making education
affordable is both silly and outrageous.
One thing is becoming clear to me now. I have for some
time been perplexed as to who some centrists who
prattle on and on about the essential importance of
education - about which there can be no denial - remain
so quiet when school budgets are being slashed,
teachers laid off by the hundreds of thousands, and
college tuition costs skyrocket. It is because they wish
to hoodwink us into thinking that it's because
resources are being sopped up by people over 60 years
The people behind Americans Elect are claiming that
they folded their tent because the people they signed
up on the net wouldn't support any candidate. Of those
2.5 million people who visited their website, only 5
percent are said to have indicated support for any
candidate. Libertarian/Republican Ron Paul got the most
votes and former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer
reportedly came second. One report I saw said Lady Gaga
actually got the most "delegate" votes - but that's
probably an urban legend.
"So like many dreams, Americans Elect turned out to be
too good to be true," said the San Francisco Chronicle
in a rater sophomoric editorial last week. "Perhaps
voters were suspicious of an enterprise that would not
disclose the identity of all of its big donors," said
the paper. "Maybe some could not shake their fear that
the third-party nominee could not win, but only serve
as a spoiler. Or perhaps the group's many rules and
caucus schedule struck participants as too complicated
or too contrived."
Actually it was a faulty conception from the start.
It would take more information than I have to say
definitively why Americans Elect went up in smoke. But
my hunch is that people - especially the most motivated
to explore such an option - are not inclined to support
a party when they have no idea what is stands for, or
to name a candidate when they haven't the foggiest
notion what the campaign's platform would be. Did
anyone really think the supporters of Ron Paul would
turn around and vote for Michael Bloomberg if the New
York Mayor got the most votes in the Internet primary?
The best answer I found to the collapse of Americans
Elect came from Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the
liberal leaning Brookings Institution, and Norman J.
Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative
American Enterprise Institute.
"The third-party fantasy is of a courageous political
leader who could persuade Americans to support
enlightened policies to tax carbon; reform
entitlements; make critical investments in education,
energy and infrastructure; and eliminate tax loopholes
to raise needed revenue," they wrote in the Washington
Post May 17.
"But there is simply no evidence that voters would
flock to a straight-talking, independent, centrist
third-party candidate espousing the ideas favored by
most third-party enthusiasts. Consensus is not easily
built around such issues, and differences in values and
interests would not simply disappear in a nonpartisan,
The centrists have an idea they want to get across and,
while scribes like Friedman and Miller sometimes let the
cat out of the bag, the centrists usually don't want to
spell it out. They prefer working in back rooms on
some kind of "grand bargain" and presenting it to the
public as if there is no other choice. Flat earth
Friedman spelled it out the other day: "It's because
we're leaving an era of some 50 years' duration in
which to be a president, a governor, a mayor or a
college president was, on balance, to give things away
to people; and we're entering an era - no one knows for
how long - in which to be a president, a governor, a
mayor or a college president will be, on balance, to
take things away from people," he wrote.
Which is, of course, hogwash. But that's austerity,
U.S. style. And it won't fly.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He formerly
worked for a healthcare union.
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