Preserving the Kakistocracy


Libertarian Party of Ohio Suit Against SB 193 to Gain Allies (
Senate Bill 193 places undemocratic restrictions on third parties: Letter to the Editor (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Ottawa Hills is the name of the suburb for the ultra-rich here in the greater Toledo area. As their high tax base means that their schools are funded well, they had the natural “rival schools” for the private school I went to, and Ottawa Hills isn’t far from where I live, so it’s a part of town I’m somewhat familiar with. Most importantly, it’s directly adjacent to the main campus of The University of Toledo, so I drove through Ottawa Hills quite often when I was a student there.

Shortly after I started going to UT, someone spraypainted a message, using stencil templates, on one of the garage doors I passed on my way to and from campus. The message read “WELCOME TO OTTAWA HELL – WE STILL HAVE KAKISTOCRACY.” I was certain that the message would be painted over right away, but it stayed on that garage door for months. Shortly after it was removed, though, someone planted a sign in the lawn in front of that garage with the exact same message, and that sign is still up there to this day. I can only assume that the sign is not an act of vandalism, but a message from the property owners to the rest of the community.

I wasn’t familiar with the word “kakistocracy” at the time — I knew the “-ocracy” ending meant it had something to do with governance, but that was it — so, being a good English major and all, I looked it up. Kakistocracy is governance by those who are most unsuited to govern. It’s hardly a common word (WordPress is giving it the red squiggly treatment as I type this), but it’s certainly a useful one, especially in times like these. I have to wonder if, given enough usage, it’s one of those words that might enter the common vernacular.

I don’t know enough about Ottawa Hills to say whether or not they’re under a form of kakistocracy there, but they’ve certainly got enough kakistocracy in Washington right now, and as things continue to get worse for so many Americans, it’s becoming harder and harder not to step directly into the fray and try to better things myself, particularly given the fustercluck that the Republican party has become these past five years. Naturally, like in so many other states where they won control after the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure not only that they continue to hold power, but prevent others from even participating in the democratic process, not just as voters but also as candidates.

Ohio was one of those states that took a hard right turn in 2010. Even if that’s eased somewhat since then, Republicans still maintain a strangehold on state governance, and these past few years haven’t been pretty for most Ohioans. As Republicans in Columbus have rammed through a bunch of far-right social legislation — TRAP laws to close Ohio abortion clinics, letting people carry concealed guns into bars, and so on — we’ve gone from being ahead of the national recovery from the Great Recession to lagging behind. Now that the Republican Party of Ohio knows they’re in hot water, they’ve pulled out all the stops to try to keep control of the state despite their growing unpopularity, including the recently-passed State Bill 193 that basically squashes all the gains that third parties made in gaining ballot access over the past decade. If you can’t win the game by its current rules, then change the rules; it’s a tactic that’s as old as it is tiresome.

Another key thing that Ohio Republicans did after the 2010 midterms was to redistrict the state, most notably gerrymandering the congressional districts to force Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich into a primary in the last election, stretching Kaptur’s district out into Cleveland just enough to encapsulate Kucinich’s house. In order to do so, though, they had to trim the western edge of Kaptur’s district, including some portions of her native Toledo. As I’ve mentioned before, my house was in the part that got trimmed, so after living in Kaptur’s district all my life, I suddenly found myself in a mostly-rural district represented by a Republican by the name of Bob Latta.

Now, let’s be clear from the start that, by prevailing standards, I’m about as far from an ideal political candidate as you could get, notwithstanding the fact that I’m a member of the Green Party, which is still considered a joke by far too many Americans. I have no illusions about the prospects of success I’d have if I ran as a candidate for any office, much less for the House of Representatives in a district that was custom-engineered by Republicans to be safe for their candidates for the rest of the decade. Let me be clear about one other thing, though, something which may be just as important as everything I’ve just said, if not more so: I am absolutely certain that I could do a far better job in Congress than any Republican currently serving in that role in Washington, including Representative Latta.

Although I’m strongly opposed to conservative philosophy, I do believe that it comes from valid reasoning, and that it’s important for intelligent conservative voices to take part in both government and public dialogue. The Republican party has not been a haven for intelligent conservative voices in my lifetime, though, and it’s gotten worse as the party has maintained, if not strengthened, its ties with the far-right religious elements that helped them to victories in the 1980s. That social conservative element was always defined by a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism, a distrust of any knowledge that contradicts the received wisdom of their deities, whether you’re talking about their perverted version of Jesus Christ or Ronald Reagan or Dubya or who have you. The fact that the percentage of Republicans who believe in evolution dropped from 53% to 42% in the last four years is all-too-chilling proof that things are getting worse, not better, in this regard.

Some say that figures like Glenn Beck and that Infowars guy should be seen as “the fringe of the fringe,” elements so extreme that they shouldn’t be seen as representative of American conservatism as a whole, but I’m not convinced of that at all. From Darrell Issa’s “hearings” about everything he can turn into another soundbite for Fox News to repeat every ten minutes, to the seeds of distrust being sewn into even the most empirically verifiable of facts, it seems like membership in the Republican Party these days comes complete with its own supply of tin foil hats. The conservative mass in this country — can it even be called a “movement” if it seems dead-set on staying where it is for all eternity? — has fallen into the worst kind of retrograde thinking (and one that can plague all ideologies, but seems especially prevalent among conservatives these days) there is: Instead of gathering evidence and then coming to conclusions based on that evidence, American conservatives come to conclusions first, then try to find evidence to back their conclusions, and when they can’t find that evidence they’ll either try to twist existing evidence until it’s no longer recognizable, or else they’ll invent “evidence” out of whole cloth. When confronted with evidence that disproves their claims, they just repeat their previous claims louder, and more frequently, until they become “facts” for their followers. (Remind you of a certain far-right cable news network?)

This kind of thinking was once the domain of the Rush Limbaughs and Wally Georges of the world, and while the Republican Party of those days might have parroted some of those same talking points from right-wing media, they at least had a modicum of practical, rational thought that allowed them to look like actual politicians in office, a realization that they weren’t in control of everything, and that trying to force all of their policies on everyone indiscriminately would cost them the moderates whose votes they needed if they were to remain in power after their next election. Starting with the Bush 43 presidency, though, and especially after President Obama’s first inauguration, the line between what radical right-wing media proposes, and what the Republican Party actually tries to pass into law, has blurred to the point where it’s often not even discernible. We see it in the constant obstructionism by congressional Republicans, we see it in the unprecedented social legislation being rammed through state legislatures by Republicans after the 2010 midterms, and we see it in the privileging of political stunts, like the never-ending stream of House votes to repeal Obamacare, over the conduct of the business these congresspeople were elected to do.

It’s one thing when a Republican elected official says or does something to get themselves in regular rotation on Fox News. The 2011 debt ceiling fight, though, showed that Republicans were willing to tank the country’s credit rating, and possibly cause a worldwide depression, just to extract concessions from a reeling Obama after the 2010 midterms. The fact that Republicans even entertained the thought of another such fight this past year — after their agenda was pretty soundly rebuked in the 2012 elections — should have been a sign of total lunacy, but the resulting government shutdown cost the United States economy $24 billion. That is nothing short of deliberate self-sabotage, and evidence that the Republican party will keep pursuing its agenda at any costs, no matter what consequences America suffers as a whole.

It is true that not all Republicans are adhering to this methodology directly, but these moderate Republicans undermine their “outsider” status by not supporting efforts to stop congressional logjams obstructing bipartisan legislation they claim to support, such as discharge petitions in the House. At the start of the most recent government shutdown, several House Republicans claimed they supported the stopgap Senate bill that was eventually passed once we were minutes away from breaking through the debt ceiling. However, they refused to go along with any measures that would have forced the bill onto the House floor, indicating that they cared more about not getting in trouble with their Republican/conservative overlords than they did  about the people they were elected to serve. To me, that makes them just as complicit in the shutdown and its consequences as the far-right nutjobs who dreamed the whole disaster up.

Someone has to say it: The Republican Party has lost its moral authority to be a participant in American governance. From a reluctance to negotiate with Democrats that borders on outright refusal, to the crazy legislation getting passed in states where they took control after the 2010 elections, to their continuing efforts to disenfranchise those groups most likely to vote against them, Republicans are not only acting against the best interests of Americans, but they’re acting in ways that demonstrate that they want to abolish democracy entirely, setting up effectual one-party rule.

It’s bad enough that most people are trapped into the false dilemma of thinking that they have to vote for either Democrats or Republicans, especially as the diversity of views in both parties has shrunk so much in the past few decades. It was worse when the Democratic Party launched a virtual jihad on the Green Party after the 2000 elections, accusing Ralph Nader of “spoiling” the election. If the Republican Party and the conservative money machine are going to go after third parties now, it could very well kneecap the possibility of any real progress being made in American government for decades, especially if Democrats keep refusing to push back against Republican obstinance and obstructionism. (Ohio Democrats’ slate of candidates for state office this year is about as stale as year-old bread, although I do give them credit for opposing SB 193, even if their opposition is hardly vociferous.)

I’m not even sure the Green Party of Ohio would have me as a candidate, but the point is that thanks to Ohio Republicans, I no longer have the opportunity to even pursue that possibility. There’s no way I could get on the ballot in Ohio for anything other than low-level, non-partisan local positions, and I’m not interested in those. Whatever good I might be able to do in those offices pales in comparison to the immediate, desperate need for someone to go to Washington and break up the duopoly that is allowing our country to keep slipping down the drain. If I don’t make an effort to be that person, who will? If those of us outside of the stifling two-party system aren’t even allowed to run for office, though, it’s all kind of a moot point for pretty much everyone else who wants to change government for the better. Make no mistake: This is deliberate on Republicans’ part. They’ll do anything to preserve their kakistocracy.

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