Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Andrew Coyne gets Religion

Political Zealotry No sooner do I post about British Columbia's Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform than Andrew Coyne from the National Post runs a long column on the topic. Unlike me, he rasphodizes about it (no surprise). The process is, he says:
One of those rare, inspiring moments when democracy bursts out of the pens the political class have built around it [and] the people's voice is actually heard.
I don't mind Coyne -often he's interesting and thoughtful - but there are times when his pointy head screams for some rounding. This is such an occasion. The Warmup Let's start by exploding the concept of 'the people.' It does not exist. It is a fiction, created by the political class, i.e. by people like Coyne himself. It gives them something easy to write about. Arguing that countries with Proportional Representation have a better political track record than those using Westminster style government is hard. And that is why no one does it. It's much easier to get all gassy about 'the people,' which can be defined as anything, allowing you to say anything about it. The people won't be giving exclusive interviews the next morning, saying their words were taken out of context. There's a reason, you know, why pollsters don't print results saying that the people think X for a reason. It's because there are always people who don't think X, and they are people too. This is merely the warmup, however. Coyne could say any darn thing about 'the people' any darn time, so why is he so happy now? The Pitch This is what has Coyne and so many others very excited:
The result... would be a legislature in which the parties were represented more nearly in line with their support in the electorate at large. If a party has 40% of the vote, it should have something close to 40% of the seats, rather than the two thirds or more typical of the present system.
Ok, so at first glance this does not seem unreasonable, except that simply we have to ask, why this idea should be so important: 40% of the vote equals approx. 40% of the seats. What is so magical about that? Why does it appear to Coyne and others as some kind of holy grail, the attractiveness of which is so obvious that it does not even need to be explained? Why does an idea taken on nothing but faith have such appeal for an atheist like Coyne? I'll tell you what I think. Pointy heads like it. It has a kind of pointy headed symmetry. They think it means more "voices" will be "heard," that it will "listen" to the downtrodden, and that it might even make the lion lay down with the lamb. From where I stand, what people in weak social positions need is good stable government and as much opportunity and encouragement as possible. Coalitions are inherently unstable and they allow the smaller party more power than voters gave them, because the small party holds the make or break position. A frequent rotation of coalition governments would create legal and economic chaos, as laws are created and modified and broken willy nilly by different groups attempting to stay on top of the dogpile. So much for helping the downtrodden. I fail to see how encouraging minority governments and collations among political zealots will do anything at all for them. A Home Run The real reason the political class likes Proportional Representation is that it means they don't have to get their hands dirty through the process of compromise that takes place within a larger party, which then has to take responsibility for a compromised course. The political class can then cling to ideological purity and when something blows up, blame it on compromises that were made to keep the coalition alive. This mix of power and irresponsibility will only further ramp up their desire to be ideologically insular and withdrawn. Consider that if the United States did not have an Electoral College, we would witnessing Al Gore's response to 9/11. The college acts to mitigate against the fact that large numbers of voters live in urban areas and it would be unfair to allow them to control what happens in rural areas simply because there are more of them. Locality counts, as proximity to an issue makes you a better steward of it. Locality also means community and cohesion. PR would allow extreme views, views that no community accepts, to band together irrespective of location. It reminds me of how kiddie porn flows through the internet, come to think of it. If it is peace, order and good government you seek, the current 'first past the post' system has a very good track record delivering stable majorities and there is no reason to meddle with it. If, however, your political leaning is also you church, well, then anything at all that will keep you from mixing with the heathens will be sought out with great determination.

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