On this episode of the podcast Sarah Hurd and Midwest Socialist editor Charles Austin talk to newly selected chair of Chicago DSA’s Electoral Reform Committee Jamal Abed Rabbo about his efforts to bring ranked choice voting to Chicago (and everywhere else).
We spent the first 13 minutes discussing a commentary published in the Tribune called “It’s the Spoiled Children of America Who are Drawn to Socialism”. So, if you’ve heard enough half-baked critiques of the new left, feel free to skip to the “technocratic babble” which starts at 13:30.
SH: Sarah Hurd @sarahjhurd
CA: Charles Austin @charlesraustin, Midwest Socialist editor
JaR: Jamal Abed Rabbo, chair of Chicago DSA’s Electoral Reform Committee
SH: Hi everyone welcome to Talking Socialism. There’s a lot of very important news happening today including people going on strike, people getting pushed out of their neighborhood because of gentrification; but we wanted to open up the show by talking about some of the news that the Tribune feels is most important to put in front of everybody’s eyes, which in particular is a commentary called “It’s the spoiled children of America who are drawn to socialism” by Cal Thomas. And this is a real Gem of an article which opens with the line “for the current generation it appears one thing is more seductive than sex, and that’s socialism.” And it goes from there. I would like to introduce my my guest on the podcast: we’ve got the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Socialist publication, Charles.
CA: Yeah, good to be here.
SH: And we’re here with:
JaR: Jamal. Oh, and actually I got myself a title, so I am chair of the Electoral Reform Committee of the Electoral working group.
SH: A little later we’re going to get into one of my favorite topics, what — what did you call it when we were talking before Jamal, a technocratic —
JaR: Technocratic babbling —
SH: Yeah yeah, we’re going to get into some technocratic babbling about ranked-choice voting and how we’re going to make it happen if not in Illinois immediately at least soon in Chicago. But yeah, let’s let’s get into it. Do you guys have any lines of this commentary that you thought were especially, you know, really made you think and reconsider your position?
JaR: It’s just a masterpiece, like from from top to bottom this is an incredible — incredible editorial.
CA: Yeah I think, let’s see — I mean, let’s just start from the top here. Talking about Ocasio Cortez and Bernie Sanders, their platforms hinge on the idea of handing out free stuff to just about everyone. I definitely encourage people to find this article for free from the Tribune. Sarah was telling me you can’t just use a incognito tab anymore to steal their articles for free?
JaR: We should put this up on the website.
CA: How should socialists get this for free? Yeah.
SH: If people want to email me, I will copy and paste the text of the article into an email. Can the Trib get back, like can they do anything to me if I say I’m going to do that? Is that — I mean I’m all about handing out free stuff to just about everyone, so.
CA: This op-ed is clearly provoking us so I think we should feel free to provoke them back.
JaR: But I think that the next line — we could really get into this, right? Because it’s he says “it is undeniable that capitalism has raised more boats than socialism has sunk” and he just starts talking about Venezuela for like the entire [laughs]
CA: Yeah, yeah. The classic talking point.
JaR: This is kind of becoming a meme, where the right just points at Venezuela, you know, because the USSR isn’t around and everyone understands that China is capitalists these days. Venezuela is the only kind of Whipping Boy, you know, to attack. But they — they always ignore, you know, Scandinavia. And Matt bruenig wrote a really interesting article on the People’s Policy Project basically investigating the extent to which all of the Scandinavian countries have massive government ownership of the economy, right? Like we, you know, we tend even in the United States — as a lot of socialists in the DSA will say oh, you know, that it’s not real socialism — yeah sure it’s not real socialism, it’s social democracy. But it’s important not to underestimate the extent that actually they’ve had a great deal of success democratizing huge portions of the economy. I think in Norway — I may be getting the statistic wrong — but I think 70% of the Norwegian gross domestic product is in government-owned funds and the like, so it’s just very telling that they never actually talk about functional, you know, countries that are no less socialist than Venezuela is but that actually function properly.
SH: Well, but also he’s not willing to say what — like, go into any detail about Venezuela at all. Because I don’t think — I’m not convinced that Cal Thomas knows anything about Venezuela except that it is bad and it’s because it’s socialist and there’s probably no history there involving, you know, the United States, like —
CA: We should actually — Chicago DSA should send Cal Thomas to Scandinavia.
JaR: All expenses paid.
SH: Pass the hat, guys. But yeah, I mean, that’s like it — it’s one of the most glaring oversights. As a person who did live in Scandinavia, it’s so weird to see just such a blatant misrepresentation of the facts of the planet. Yeah, it’s — it’s kind of mind-boggling to me.
JaR: Right. And the section where he talks about this polling result is from the uchicago genforward survey of Americans ages 18 to 34. This is very interesting, right? Because you know he — he’s lamenting the — the sorry state of our society. He says, “61% of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, which is not surprising, while 25% of Republicans favor it, which is a surprise”
SH: Who are these people?
JaR: Well, I mean, but this is — this is big news actually, right? Like, 25% of Republicans are — are saying that they have a favorable view of socialism. if we can peel those voters away, I mean, that’s a — that’s a huge prospective, you know, shift, and —
SH: Well if 18 to 34 year-olds voted.
JaR: Right. [laughs] Right. Yeah, exactly. Never mind. No shifts.
SH: [exaggerated] Which we don’t because we’re spoiled. It’s too hard to vote. I just want to, uh —
JaR: [laughs] I’m kind of sympathetic to his —
SH: you know, drink my frappuccino. Yeah and I mean, he has a whole section where he talks about how we don’t — we take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy, which I think he is engaging in something that everyone I talk to who is kind of scared of capital-S Socialism engages, and where they they use our use of the word socialism is kind of shorthand to completely discount the Democratic part of —
SH: — Democratic Socialism. And if I could meet this guy in real life that would be the first thing that I would try to try to say, and then he would probably just go shake his fist and —
SH: — chat about Venezuela.
CA: Yeah, it’s — at the end of the day it’s reactionary and it’s not good faith debate. Like he’s not actually trying to understand why people would feel the way they do about socialism, he’s just trying to dunk on us and I guess we’re doing — returning the favor here.
JaR: Right. But it definitely shows you how ill-equipped the American Right is to understand what’s actually happening here, right? Because you know what, he makes this very typical, you know, in the — in the last paragraph he says, “socialism stifles incentive and makes people dependent on government, not themselves”, which appears to be the liberal ideal, right? And so this guy just doesn’t understand the difference between liberal and socialist, right? And this is — we keep seeing this in kind of editorials and think pieces about AOC etcetera, where people keep calling her a — you know, a liberal. And I understand if they’re, like, Maoists calling her a liberal, fine. But, you know, these are conservatives calling her a liberal. And the blinders are so tight that they are not aware that the Overton window is is expanding, you know. And it’s not just liberal to conservative anymore, there’s an entire new wing of the political Spectrum that’s opened up that has been asleep in this country for a very long time, and they’re just not — they’re not wising up to it.
SH: I also think that the word Millennial and the word liberal are used in similar ways in which it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual definition, which — liberal already has like 10 different definitions depending on the context. But it really becomes this catch-all term; you know, liberal just means anything left of center, millennial means anybody younger than me, if I’m writing an op-ed for the Tribune —
CA: Dan Nainan.
SH: Yeah and so these — this op-ed is all about these hyper-liberal Millennials who aren’t — it’s a fake — it’s this imaginary
CA: Yeah, I like the way you’re framing this article. You’re basically framing it as “Millennials are totally ruining capitalism” — like that kind of like, you know, hot take — essentially what this is.
SH: One of the best sentences is about socialism, and says “it is an economic philosophy closely associated with Communism” presented as if it — like, that that’s the like —
CA: Yeah. Got ‘em!
SH: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
JaR: Right, it’s like, a lizard is an animal that’s closely related to a reptile, you know?
CA: Then he invokes Millennial hero George McGovern.
JaR: Right, and Walter Mondale. You can tell when this guy stopped paying attention to politics in a real sense.
CA: Here’s another one where I can, like, disingenuously pretend like I agree with him: “people seduced by socialism have likely not had to sacrifice much for their country.” I feel like to some extent I’ve sacrificed much more to private enterprises that, you know, all of my student loans were sold to, like, a private corporation and, you know, basically you’re just nickel-and-dimed constantly by private interests. Healthcare is insanely unaffordable and, you know, thanks in part to Obama making so many concessions to Private Industry.
SH: You know, JFK saying “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It’s like, well, so we serve capitalism more than we serve the US government. So like, what have I been doing for my country, for the markets of my country, as I’ve been working, getting less wages than I definitely need to survive. That’s what I’ve been doing. Spoiled Boomers wouldn’t know about that because they’ve been in the same job, if they wanted to be in that job, since 1970 and they paid for college by like, mowing a lawn one time —
JaR: Right. Right —
CA: because they campaigned to destroy the unions that gave them those wages in the first place —
JaR: Exactly, right? Because there was this huge economic upswing and quality of life upswing following FDR where, you know, he wasn’t a socialist but he’s as close as this country has ever come to socialism, right? And the generations that were able to, you know, reap benefits from the programs, you know, that that the government implemented back in those days — widespread unionization, you know, free or low-cost universities that were all hope — you know, all of it — every state have them, you know. That gave them a very nice quality of life and the economy was going great until, you know, in and around the the 70’s and 80’s we started to unilaterally dismantle a lot of those programs, and the people who were alive to benefit from them now don’t seem to understand that, you know, the the programs that allowed them to live a comfortable life just aren’t there anymore a lot of the time.
CA: Something I think in DSA that we should really take advantage of sort of explaining to people is the tension between democracy and capitalism. Like, I think a lot of Americans have this idea that somehow democracy and capitalism go hand-in-hand when in fact they’re in direct conflict with each other and there are moments when you have to choose one or the other. And this country has been choosing capitalism over democracy for a long time now. And just — there’s just all these little ways that, you know, shrinking the size of government also involves just shrinking democratic accountability and everything is privatized and completely unaccountable which is essentially an authoritarian system, which — I don’t think most Americans have a way of framing it that way, but it’s important to learn to look at it that way, you know?
SH: Yeah. I feel like let’s move on to something else, because we’ve given this guy too much credit and I got to the bottom of why he even wrote this. It becomes clear, like, mid-way through. There’s one sentence where he says, “they are part of a generation that has never had to serve in the military and I would venture to guess do not know anybody who is serving or have served other than maybe a grandparent whose values many seem to have rejected.” This is just a sad grandpa! His grandkids never call him, and he also apparently is mad at his kids themselves because he says, “this group of misinformed ‘comrades’ includes parents who gave their pampered Millennials a lifestyle they likely would never have enjoyed under a socialist regime”, so —
CA: He sees his grandkids on on Facebook at, like, a DSA rally or something he’s all mad about it.
JaR: Right —
SH: Never had a visit at Thanksgiving —
JaR: He tells his, you know, son or daughter “I told you you are spoiling those kids, look what happened.”
SH: Now they want basic health care!
SH: In other news, Jamal recently wrote an article for Midwest Socialist. Charles, do you mind talking to me and Jamal about that article?
CA: Sure, yeah. So we published this in May, it’s called “Third parties can’t compete without electoral reform.” And I mean it’s pretty straightforward, you know. In DSA in specific and on the left in general there’s plenty of arguing about, like, “oh, should we try to, you know, do entryism into the Democratic party and change it from within, or should we try to run on our own ballot line as like a third party — sort of quixotic third party attempts to beat them?” And Jamal’s point is that both strategies are flawed and we really shouldn’t be seeking either one of them as our ultimate goal. But the American electoral system is structured in a really strange way that’s not really like any other country. We have a lot of reform to do to make it so that third parties can compete, but what we’d like to talk about as a solution is Ranked Choice Voting, which already exists in Maine. Maine became the first full state to use it in June. It’s in cities like Minneapolis, Santa Fe, I want to say San Francisco?
JaR: San Francisco uses it, yeah.
CA: And essentially rather than the first-past-the-post system where whoever gets the most votes will win, you rank each candidate. The classic example of course is, like, the 2000 election of, like, you have Nader and Gore and Bush. Rather than your vote for Nader essentially being thrown out and sort of working against Gore, you just put Nader “1” or “2”, Bush “3”, And then all those Nader votes, when he loses, will be combined into the second choice — which most of those would be Gore. So Gore would come out ahead, but you still got to vote for Nader first and foremost.
SH: Or, it turns out everybody wanted to vote for Nader the whole time but thought they had to vote for Gore! President Nader, no Iraq war, airbags for everybody?
JaR: Right, exactly. Right. And so this is — this is the key advantage of this reform, right? It prevents vote splitting, so it it prevents us from accidentally electing Republicans. But, it also makes people less afraid to vote for third parties because they don’t have to worry about vote splitting. So, a hypothetical Democratic Socialist party could actually compete on a level playing field.
SH: A Democratic Socialist party??
JaR: Hypothetically, if there were an organization out there in the country that could maybe give birth to such a party…
SH: I don’t think anybody’s going to organize an organization like that, but dare to dream, Jamal.
JaR: [laughs] And the other point that I tried to make in the article is that not only is this a good reform, it’s an achievable reform. We can do it, it’s not impossible in most states. Or not most states, but in a lot of very important states including Illinois and California, and Michigan and you know, various other, you know, important states they have ballot initiative processes. We can collaborate with other groups just like they did in Maine and get this on the ballot, and if you put a question in front of people and say ”do you want to destroy the two party system?” You know, that’s a pretty easy sell.
SH: Yeah. I feel like that’s like 90% of the solution —
CA: Yeah, its — it’s huge. I mean, like, Gallup — I mean, I wish I had these numbers in front of me —
SH: If only somebody had offered to make you a copy!
JaR: I believe we said we’d just make it up.
SH: Well, then, yeah —
CA: Gallup and those type of —
SH: Pull some numbers out of there —
CA: Most polling organizations do questions of like, you know, “do you think America should have three or more political parties?” And it’s massive supermajorities who say that we should —
JaR: Right —
CA: But I think most people don’t understand what the particular hurdles are for that happening. Because let me — okay, you think about when new people hear about the DSA, the first question is like, “oh are you a party?”
CA: Then the second question after they learn the answer to that is, “oh you should make a party because I would vote for that.” But it’s like, there’s certain hurdles that I think we need to first educate people about, then organize around, and then overcome, you know?
SH: Right, so. Yeah, I guess first question, is the reason that ranked-choice voting has already taken off in other countries just because they they baked them into their constitutions originally?
JaR: No. No. Actually, so the the big example of a country that uses ranked-choice voting is Australia. And Australia is unusual because usually we think of third parties splitting the vote as something to happen to the left, because the left has a long history of creating useless parties that, you know, kind of compete with parties slightly to the right —
SH: We’re all individuals. We all have our opinions. We’re not always great at compromising —
JaR: Right. But Australia actually was the opposite situation, there were two right-wing parties: the Liberal party, which is right-wing, and the National party. And they kept splitting the vote, allowing the Labour party to, you know, trounce them in elections. And so eventually they managed to win a majority somehow, and they implemented ranked-choice voting. And it worked for them. But the Australian Labor Party actually — which initially had been, you know, they had suffered from it — like it now too because it allows for more functional democracy. The Green party can compete with the Labour party and they don’t really split the vote and, you know, it works. It’s a good system, but that was just a reform they implemented; it wasn’t baked into the Constitution. And in Maine it wasn’t, obviously, baked in the Constitution either; it was because they kept accidentally electing Paul LePage.
CA: That’s exactly where I wanted to go with it is — it’s no coincidence that Maine became the first state to pass it because they just had two gubernatorial elections in a row where a very unpopular candidate won in a 3-way split vote, and has been a scourge on the state ever since to the majority of people.
SH: Can you give me a little bit of background about why Paul LePage is bad?
JaR: Oh, man, he is just so, he’s like, comically like — he was the the Trump before Trump, right? Like he’s the —
CA: Yeah. Standoffish, egomaniacal guy —
JaR: Right. And he — he has just said the strangest stuff. Like he claimed at one point that the opioid — I’m paraphrasing him, but — I think he claimed the opioid epidemic was a problem in Maine because guys with names like Shifty were coming up from Boston and selling opioids to white girls. He literally said that.
JaR:So he’s that kind of Republican. And he is, he — for example, Maine just passed Medicaid expansion. He’s been vetoing it for the last 8, you know, years or however long, right? Maine finally passed it by a ballot initiative. He’s literally refusing to implement it and he said “I would rather go to jail” [laughs] “than implement Medicaid expansion.”
SH: What a guy.
JaR: What a guy. But if we’re lucky he may actually get a chance to make good on that promise.
CA: And so this is sort of interesting. Like, once the ballot initiative passed in Maine to create ranked-choice voting there was just an endless string of Republican lawsuits against it from the state party. And each one was about a different thing. It was clearly not a matter of principle, it was like “let’s find any way we can to tank this.” And like, I think the Republican party was doing it there simply because they’re holding onto power by doing it. I can imagine the Democratic party doing the exact same thing in, say, Illinois in, you know — if we’re successful in implementing right choice here I guarantee the Democratic party’s going to have lawsuit after lawsuit until it’s finally enshrined through, like, the state supreme court eventually — probably — right?
CA: So you can tell it’s of a powerful reform because whichever party is in power will fight tooth and nail against it, you know?
JaR: Right. Right.
CA: And also, I guess something worth clarifying too is that, like, it doesn’t just naturally benefit the left in any way. It’s just making elections more fair and more democratic and opening the door up to actually having a healthy amount of parties. Like, I mean, the perfect example that already happened in Minneapolis last year I mean Ginger Jensen — is that her name?
JaR: Yeah. Yeah.
CA: She was the Socialist candidate who — she would have won the City Council seat under first-past-the-post because she had the largest share of the vote by far. But under ranked choice the sort of more centrist candidates consolidated all their votes and beat her. So we’ve already lost one race because of ranked choice. But we have to expect to take those losses along with the victories, you know?
SH: Do you see Republicans within Illinois being a potential ally in that way?
CA: I don’t know.
JaR: I don’t know. I mean, the Republicans in Illinois are hard to read. I do think the Libertarians are definitely going to be a potential ally. Now, how much they’re worth I don’t know.
CA: Yeah, exactly — do they actually organize or, like, canvass or do anything?
JaR: Right. Maybe they can give us all the Koch brothers’ money or something.
JaR: But I don’t know, I mean… Because, I think the Republicans in Illinois, I think they only win elections when Democrats become so incredibly corrupt that people cast protest votes for them. So, I think they might not want to reform the system too much because if they’re not the only protest vote for people then they would probably never win an election.
CA: And I think they understand too that under ranked-choice they’re still never winning anything in Chicago, you know what I mean? Like, the areas where they can win are the areas where they’re automatically going to win under first-past-the-post. Like, I don’t know that they really necessarily gain many seats with ranked-choice, so —
SH: So then I guess in Illinois the allies that we’re looking at are just the large percentage of the populace that is just so over both parties —
CA: Yeah I think it’s the majority of people, really. Like even if you’re a reliable Democratic voter in Illinois, if someone says “oh now you can have more parties” they’re going to like the option.
JaR: Right. Right.
CA: Like, it doesn’t ruin anything, it just makes it more fair and accessible and democratic.
JaR: Right. And I think a large part of the history of the Illinois Democratic party and the Chicago machine is that it constantly self-sabotages, you know, with excessive corruption and just ridiculous behavior, right? And this happens cyclically, you know. Like, when — when did Blagojevich try to sell the Senate seat, that was like —
CA: ‘08 ish?
JaR: Yeah, ‘09 probably, or something like that. So the Illinois Democratic party constantly does this kind of stuff, right? And I think Illinois voters — even, you know, reliable Democratic voters — you know, understand that the corruption that we have in the state, a lot of it is due to the one-party nature of the politics, right? And when we do elect Republicans like Rauner, that too is due to the one-party nature of the politics, right? Because people cast a protest vote the only way that they can: for the only other candidate who can win under a two-party system, even if he would never win under normal circumstances, right? But if we can Implement ranked-choice voting in Illinois, or — in Chicago, for example, it would have a huge impact on Chicago municipal races. And this is something that we could do as well because Chicago allows its own, you know, ballot initiatives. Now there’s some complications with that, but I think it’s a reasonable short-term sort of thing to push for, right? To get sort of the word out, and that’s actually what I’m doing with the electoral reform committee and the electoral working group. Our goal right now is to get a ballot question to implement ranked choice voting in Chicago Municipal elections placed on the February ballot, and we’re working with our favorite aldermen to try to get that passed. Now, we probably won’t be able to get it passed this time, you know, it’s such a new issue. But, if we can kind of get the word out a little bit, you know, this kind of stuff — these coalitions for electoral reform form organically, because there are a lot of people very interested in this, but you need kind of a spark to get the different groups to come together.
CA: To toot Jamal’s own horn here, he’ll be that spark hopefully with the — with this committee, but. Yeah, I know you’ve already been talking to Fair Vote and Fair Vote were the ones who were the main force behind the main initiative so they have, like, the legal expertise and the experience. So I would say, I mean — not to put words in your mouth, but I say the beginning of any kind of Coalition here is Chicago DSA, Alderman Carlos Rosa, Fair Vote —
JaR: Right. And so that’s currently our coalition is us, Fair Vote, Chicago DSA, and Alderman Rosa, but Fair Vote is planning in the Fall a big kind of get together, a — I don’t know what you call it, a convention or something — where a bunch of different groups are going to be invited and we’re going to try, you know, CDSA will be there. Hopefully we’ll get a good turnout from, you know, League of Women Voters, the Green party, Libertarian party. You know, maybe Reclaim Chicago. You know, some of these other Grassroots groups, right? If we all come together and form a, you know, a more permanent structure for this kind of push, you know, I think in a couple years we could we could really do this. You look at how quickly this stuff got off the ground in Maine. Or, you know, it’s not necessarily ranked-choice voting but something very similar happened in Michigan, when as soon as the the election happened people were just coming to terms with the extent to which gerrymandering had taken all control of the state government out of their hands, right? And I think it was just like three, you know, friends started a Facebook group. They had no infrastructure or anything and that Facebook group and — you know, in a span of months became a statewide coalition to put an anti-gerrymandering Amendment on the ballot which has succeeded it appears. They got hundreds of thousands of signatures. So this kind of stuff can really take off as long as, you know, you do a little bit of leg work, you get a little bit of momentum going. There’s no telling how far we could go with this.
CA: Yeah. I think that goes for most citizen initiatives in the first place. Like, another big one is, like, campaign Finance reform.
CA: To varying degrees it’s been happening in a lot of different states and we’ve seen the exact same kind of thing. I wrote for the national DSA publication about this. In South Dakota — 2017 I think — they passed a citizen initiative that was, like, really sweeping campaign Finance reform. Then of course the legislature just personally overturned nearly everything in it, and then they replaced it with all these toothless half-measures. Like, oh great. So they had to go from doing that initiative to an actual constitutional amendment which is what they’re working on in that state right now.
CA: When we actually try to fix things we have to expect this kind of pushback from lawmakers’ vested interest.
JaR: And that actually happened in Maine as well. I don’t think we talked about this, but Maine passed their initial referendum to make ranked-choice voting the law of the land and then the state legislator tried to — the legislature tried to overturn it. And some Democrats actually voted with the Republicans because, you know that — the two party system, you know, it’s a duopoly. But the the activists in Maine, they didn’t miss a beat. They immediately got signatures to put a reversal referendum on the next ballot and that one actually won a larger share of the vote than the initial referendum had been passed by. So —
SH: Which — I think when you give your government the opportunity to have to visibly act against your best interest, I think that can really fire people up. So even if — yeah, this first time around doing it in Chicago you seem pretty pragmatic about its chances of succeeding, but — having, you know, on the books and, you know, probably in the Tribune, in the Sun-Times, a headline that says, “the duopoly decides that they don’t want to give people the right to vote.” Like, that is — that can be really catalyzing.
JaR: Right. For sure. And you know another thing that I think will be catalyzing for this, is that we have this Mayoral race in Chicago that is going to be the perfect example of why our current municipal electoral system does not work. You know, we currently use Top Two Runoff, so we — while it’s not quite as bad as first-past-the-post, but it’s still pretty bad. And the problem with Top Two Runoff is that vote splitting still occurs, because who gets into that second place position is, you know, entirely dependent on which political factions split their votes between which candidates in which way, right? And we’ve got like, I don’t know, eight?
CA: At least, yeah.
JaR: We’ve got ten candidates, right? And with a field that crowded, there is going to be a huge amount of vote splitting and there’s going to be a huge amount of just kind of, knee jerk tactical voting, right? Because people overcompensate and don’t want to vote split so they vote for the good enough candidate, you know, because they they are really desperate, for example, for it not to be a runoff between Rahm and — who’s the —
SH: Garry McCarthy.
JaR: Yeah, the Evil Man. They don’t want it to be a run-off between Rahm and the Evil Man so a lot of people are going to vote, you know, they’re going to hold their noses and they’re going to vote for whichever quote-unquote progressive candidate seems to be in the strongest position, right? But under ranked-choice voting, you know, you don’t need to make that kind of calculus. You don’t need to worry about tactical voting at all, you just rank your candidates, “1”, “2”, you know, through “10”, you know, or however — until you lose interest. And it would totally fix this. And you can imagine the ways that that would encourage the mayoral candidates to, you know, participate in — to campaign together, right? To endorse each other. You saw this in Maine, “vote for me first but vote for my ally second,” right? You have cross endorsements like this. It would totally change the game in the Mayoral race, and it could also change the game in Aldermanic races in a lot of places too.
CA: I think that’s particularly why Fair Vote likes it a lot, because it encourages coalition-building and partnership between, like, ostensible rivals, you know?
CA: And as socialists I think the main reason for us to support it — I mean (A), obviously there’s the reason, it’s the only way we can ever compete if we wanted to support our own party in some way. But then (B), like, if we believe in radical democracy — and we do — then we have to support a more democratic system of elections, you know? Like — we have to believe that our ideas will win in a very fair democratic fight rather than playing in the exact same, like, two-party duopoly sort of maneuvers of “oh, how can we rig things to just work in our favor the best” all the time.
JaR: Right. Right. I don’t know if we want to talk a little bit about Seth Ackerman’s piece?
CA: Yeah. Yeah, we should.
JaR: Did we get a chance to? So, Seth Ackerman has been kind of — he wrote this very good Jacobin article I think last year —
CA: I want to say 2016.
JaR: 2016, yeah.
CA: I think it was right around the elections. I feel like that was —
JaR: Yeah, I think you’re right —
CA: I feel like it was sort of, like, a galvanizing thing for me to join DSA maybe, where I was like, “oh this is how we can implement this strategy,” you know?
JaR: Right. So he wrote this this Jacobin article, I think called “a blueprint for a new party”, where he basically, you know, tried to put into words, you know, that the reality that the DSA and the left was moving past Harrington’s old strategy of the DSA as kind of an entryist organization that goes into the Democratic party and tries to turn it into a Social Democratic party from within, right? And everyone I think, with the possible exception of the Northstar caucus, agrees that this has been a failure and this strategy probably is not going to work going forward. But then that leaves us with the question of, “well what do we do instead”, right? And you’ve obviously got a lot of people in DSA saying “we need a third party right now, we need to blah blah blah” and, you know, that’s not going to work for the reasons that we’ve been talking about. The first-past-the-post electoral system means that a real electoral third party is not going to be a nationwide player for the foreseeable future, right? And so Ackerman comes along and proposes a new model, right? Which is kind of — you can call it, like, a “one-and-a-half party” model, or something like that. Like, where — where we constitute a — a super party or a meta party that, you know, opportunistically engages with the Democrats and opportunistically engages with other parties and opportunistically runs independent parties but has no particular attachment to the Democratic party, right? And I think this is, you know, it’s — it’s a good — it’s certainly an improvement over the other alternatives, but I think it kind of runs into a lot of the same issues that the old Harringtonian entryist strategy ran into, which is if you are de facto depending on the Democratic party for your ballot access, you are at tremendous risk of the democratic party fucking with you in all sorts of ways, right? The Democratic party controls its own primaries, and if we actually start making inroads — and AOC did great, and yeah — but if we actually start making inroads there is going to be a tremendous amount of pushback. They just need to figure out how to do it and they’re going to try to throw a wrench in the works, right? So we really need a way to not only be an independent organization that is, you know, separate from from the Democratic party, but also not be reliant on it. And we can’t do that without electoral reform. And this is I think where — where Ackerman doesn’t — he doesn’t really engage with this issue that much.
CA: Yeah. Even in that new — there’s a new interview with him this week on Jacobin, and in there he voices support for it but he doesn’t really expand on that and say what it looks like.
CA: I kind of suspect at the end of the day he’s sort of in agreement with what we’re talking about here, and I see his strategy as being very useful in the very short-term of like, right now the only game in town is just running on the ballot line where you’re going to win. I would also — I’ll clarify one of his ideas as you were talking there, that he almost tends to conceive of American political parties not as parties but associations of office holders. Because you can’t join the Democratic party. Like — it’s not like in England where I join the Labour party and now I can vote on the platform, and I can elect leaders internally, like — that’s a party where there’s an actual membership. The Democratic is just like this hollow vessel for fundraising among office holders —
JaR: Right. Yeah, yeah. And he’s exactly right about it and, you know, that’s a very, you know — that’s one of his strongest points I think, is that, you know, the — the American parties are not real parties, right? And that means — and this is why we have had so much difficulty historically on the left and in the DSA specifically actually moving the Democrats left, right? Because it’s not a real party, right? It’s a self-protecting, you know, sort of incestuous viper’s den of consultants and politicians and all they’re doing is jockeying to continually control this — brand, basically — which is what the Democratic party is, right? It’s — it’s nothing like the Labour party in the UK where at a certain point the membership is able to say, you know, “enough is enough, we’re taking the party back”, right? You know, like, “get out of here Blairites”, right? Like they were able to do that but it’s going to be very difficult for us to do that in the United States.
CA: And the reason that these clarifications are important to make is that DSA is already building some of that type of structure where we have internal democratic mechanisms, like we participate in membership democracy, you know, like, there — those structures are already being put in place anyway. The question is toward what ends do we use those. And I think that Ackerman is correct in the short term of like, we can use that kind of discipline that we’re building to enter into strategic Democratic races — like with Ocasio Cortez — where it benefits us to do so and increases our profile and grows our membership. But at the end of the day, we need electoral reform so we can do that in a context where we actually feel good about it and not compromised, you know?
JaR: Right. And I — you know, there are a couple other things that, you know, when I was reading Ackerman’s latest interview I thought to myself, you know, he’s like — I agree with like 90% of what he saying, right? But there are a couple little gaps in here where I really do think it’s — it’s important for us to kind of — sort of — insert maybe a little wedge, right? Because Ackerman says that, you know, one of the main problems with the Democratic — the major parties in the United States is that the politicians run them — run elections as personalities, right? Like people, you know — it is a totally personality-based politics, especially In primary elections, right? And this is something that we are going to — we run the risk of getting stuck into. We already see this with AOC, right? Where there’s a little bit — you know, and I love her and I’m entirely, you know, behind the electoral push that got, you know, New York DSA on board with her race. But, you know, if AOC decides at some point to, you know, move to the right, she’s built up enough of a brand, enough celebrity, that she could probably pull it off, you know? So we need to have an alternative way of holding politicians to account and it’s very difficult to do if you are — if you’re running in Democratic primaries.
SH: Well yeah. And I think when you say if she decides to go towards the right as if, you know, she gets, like, you know, spoken to by a snake in the snake pit or something but actually it’s like, a lot of the time it comes down to — you’re surrounded by all of these centrist Democratic politicians, you have to kind of play the game if you want to actually — she could go to Congress and just be the person who votes against everything,
SH: Or she could try to play the game,
SH: Which involves making sacrifices,
SH: And I think something that DSA is going to really struggle with having, if we end up sending more people to Congress, is how much do you want to get your hands dirty and that,
SH: And how much — at the end of the day, I think she’s probably trying to look out for her constituents,
SH: However she can,
SH: And it’ll be really interesting to see how much that, when it comes down to brass tacks, essentially means maybe not advocating for Palestine —
SH: — the way she might want to in her heart,
SH: Or, you know, doing tax reform in a way that isn’t, you know, according to kind of, our values as an organization, but is maybe the only way that her constituents would benefit from whatever was happening. So yeah, it —
CA: But I think — this is exactly what draws me to DSA, where that’s why the inside/outside strategy matters, because that’s where sort of, like, the outside of the electoral game comes into play where, you know, right now in the House they just started that medicare-for-all caucus. And there’s like 60-plus Democratic Representatives who joined it. We didn’t have to win those electoral races to get those 60 people on board. You just build enough pressure on the ground and they’re going to see which way the wind blows, and then our agenda becomes more enticing, you know? So — I mean, I think you’re — you’re absolutely right that she’s going to face a lot of issues where, if you vote the moral way you’re just going to be, like, pissing off the party apparatus without gaining anything. But if you compromise everything, then what was the point of sending you there? And I think there’s some of that stuff is just inescapable, but some of it can be alleviated by actually building power outside of the electoral system and putting that pressure constantly.
JaR: Yeah. Ackerman talks about, you know, the — the potential of an outside party, you know, to kind of be a self-sustaining organization that can build this strength regardless of what — kind of regardless of what’s happening on the Electoral sphere, right? Like, even if our politicians are being, you know, siphoned away by corrupt influences, we can still keep building on the ground and, you know, hold them to account, you know, with increasing strength as we gain more members and as we organize more and more, right? And — this is the way you do this if you’re relying on the Democratic party ballot line, right? But, if we can have a real third party — and who knows how long it’s going to take before enough States, you know, have passed electoral reform that we can even think about having a real third party. But a real third party is different, right? A real third party, the politicians are dependent, you know, not only on your endorsement they’re dependent on that position on the ballot line, right? When voters come to associate themselves with Democratic Socialism, you know, you want them to be able to go pick up the ballot and vote for the Democratic Socialist candidate who has been decided on by the members of, you know, the future incarnation of the DSA, right? And, there’s — this is kind of off topic, but I want get to it before I forget because —
SH: Do it.
JaR: Ackerman keeps talking about the incredible difficulty that third parties and independent candidates have getting on the ballot in the first place, right? And I think this is why he doesn’t talk about electoral reform as we’re talking about it, meaning ranked-choice or an alternative to first-past-the-post. I think it’s because he thinks the major issue is ballot access, and I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s — that’s a misunderstanding of — of the hurdles that third parties face.
CA: Yeah, agreed. I mean, it is a hurdle,
CA: But it’s not the major hurdle, because — when you see the Green party and you see the Libertarian party getting ballot access pretty frequently,
CA: But they, I mean — for a number of reasons, like (1), you know, like we’re saying, first-past-the-post precludes them from actually winning many races. Then the other thing is they just don’t build power on the ground. Like, the Green party is structured just like the Republican or Democratic party we’re talking about, where they don’t have an actual membership that, like, votes on leadership internally and stuff. It’s like, they’re replicating a broken system but with a slightly better platform. But it’s just never going to work.
JaR: Right. Yeah. You know — and you read his interview, and he, you know, at the end of it he says, “electoral reform is important, but, you know, I don’t think it’s going to happen until there’s enough of an outside structure to start splitting the vote, and so the two main parties, you know, kind of will be spooked and will pass electoral reform.” I don’t think that is a plausible path to electoral form at all. I think if the Democrats start worrying about vote splitting with the hypothetical future Democratic Socialist Party, and that’s throwing elections to Republicans, the Democrats in the United States will do exactly what the Liberal party in Canada has been doing for decades which is just saying, you know, “Whatever. We’d rather the right-wing party win an election than pass electoral reform.”
CA: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why when we’re talking about ranked choice we’re talking about cities and states. Because there’s no way there’s any federal reform coming anytime soon. And that’s why, you know, there’s a couple dozen states where this is actually doable. Just because I’ve got it pulled up: in Jamal’s article he lists off the Midwestern states that do have citizen-initiated ballot initiatives and it’s Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, you know, it’s a very broad definition of the Midwest, we don’t want to quibble about which states are involved here —
SH: No, let’s get into it.
SH: I have some friends that have strong opinions on —
CA: We could get into this every single episode —
SH: what’s Plains, what’s Midwest. This the podcast where all we do is argue about what is the Midwest —
CA: Yeah, like sectarian Midwestern definitions —
JaR: Well, I’m from Michigan originally. And whenever I go visit my family in Kansas — they live in deepest Kansas — they always talk about the Midwest as something that distinguishes them from Michigan.
SH: Oh, you’re like Great Lakes, or you’re —
JaR: Yeah, I don’t know what they —
SH: You’re pretty much Canadian?
JaR: Right. I think — I think to them I’m a Northeastern coastal elite or something, right? Like —
SH: Well that’s interesting. I have a friend who lives in Tulsa and is — he’s from Nebraska but he’s been living in Oklahoma for a while now — and he is very adamant that Oklahoma is not in the Midwest, it’s a Plains state.
JaR: A Plains state? I don’t —
SH: Yeah. He has his def — like, I think he considers Nebraska a Plains state too.
JaR: No, I — yeah. I bet.
CA: What about New Mexico?
SH: Well New Mexico is Southwest.
CA: Oh, OK. That makes sense.
SH: New Mexico, Arizona, Far West Texas. Texas is in like four different —
JaR: Like three, right —
CA: Is there a piece of the Plains states in Texas?
SH: Yeah. West Texas and East Texas are very different in so many ways. But I feel like we’re digressing a little bit.
CA: The point being, though, I guess —
SH: Midwest states.
CA: There’s, yeah. There’s — there’s plenty of states where I think this should be our first order of business in terms of electoral reform, is just heading for the statewide ballot initiatives that citizens start, because it’s like we’ve been saying, you’re going to get pushed back after you succeed with like endless lawsuits. But we just have to expect that.
JaR: Right. And you know, that’s not even something the DSA has to worry about, because our potential partners have all sorts of lawyers and shit that they can use to defend these ballot initiatives once they are actually, you know — once they’ve actually sort of taken form, right?
CA: Absolutely. And I think — looking forward for me personally, it does become — so essentially you’re critiquing Ackerman for not really having a clear vision of the moment when that electoral reform happens or precisely how it does. We have a clearer vision where we can see like 20 individual states passing these initiatives. But to me, the next step to jump from those states with the citizen initiated campaigns to something that’s truly national. That is a really difficult bridge to cross, but —
SH: Well, that’s just because there are certain states that have no presence of this at all —
CA: Yeah, you would — it would have to come from the legislature, and for obvious reasons that be much more difficult to pull off —
JaR: Right. But, I — you know, I think a useful example is marijuana legalization, right? Now obviously marijuana legalization is different, because the two parties have no particular institutional interest in quashing this, right? So it’ll be a — it’ll be harder to convince, you know, state legislatures. But you saw with marijuana legalization, state legislators were not interested in this at all. But once a couple states started to pass ballot initiatives, it kind of penetrated the national consciousness. You know, politicians start realizing, especially if you’re a, you know, Democratic politician and you’re kind of worried about a primary, “yeah I should probably flip flop on this issue”, right? And I I really think that there’s a potential for progressive Democrats to kind of embrace this. I think a large number of Democratic base voters are Democratic base voters with various degrees of reluctance, right? And, you know, you go to these kind of like grassroots progressive meetings that are popping up all over the country, right? And there’s no particular love, you know, for the Democratic party, right? There’s a huge antipathy for the Republican party, but you know, people would be happy, you know, to think this was a possibility and pressure their Congress people and their state legislators about this, if it looked like a plausible thing to actually organize around. And I think it could be, you know? After a couple states are passing this, I really do think that even states that don’t have ballot initiatives, it’s going to be plausible to pass these —
CA: Yeah, we just need to drill the momentum and hope that it carries onward. For sure.
JaR: Right, right.
CA: And that’s really the only viable path, so I don’t think there’s another choice really, like — we’ve just got to do that and hope that it works.
JaR: Right. I mean, I think that the path that some people talk about, you know, is — is some variation on violent revolution or whatever, right? And that’s like, sorry, I think passing ballot initiatives is probably more plausible —
JaR: in the short term than a violent revolution, so I’ll just occupy myself with that for the moment —
SH: Is there any benefit to tying this more strongly to DSA and maybe making this become part of our national goals, or?
CA: That’s something I’ve thought about but I don’t think that we’ve discussed, Jamal, so it’ll be interesting to get into that. Where — you know, part of me thinks it would be a wise idea to push electoral reform as a national DSA priority, but another part of me thinks — like we’re talking about — there’s only so many states where there’s direct action that can be taken.
CA: So I think we would get a lot of pushback from states who are essentially, like, exempted from that. So I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be a viable thing to get enough people to vote on at the national DSA convention. There’s just too much reason for too many states not to do it. But I think that the states – for the states where it is viable, we should have some sort of informal network that we built for, like, strategies for this stuff.
JaR: Right. Yeah, and I actually — I think that a kind of Medicare For All style campaign coming out of National DSA could actually be very valuable. But it would obviously — it would have to take into account the specific — the specificities of which states, you know, in which states it’s plausible and which it’s not, right? But one thing that National could do very easily is to create state-level infrastructures for ballot — because right now, chapters are chapters and National is National, and there’s not really all that much in between, right? But sometimes you need to organize on the state level, right? Specifically for ballot initiatives. And it would be very useful if National could create some kind of infrastructure for doing this that we in Chicago DSA can get in touch with the other Illinois DSA chapters and be like, “hey we’re thinking about the, you know, you want to help out with this, maybe we can do this”, right?
CA: I think — if I may irresponsibly speak on behalf of National without knowing this for a fact — I know that they’ve been trying hard to create regional organizers, and we do have one for the Midwest now. I would imagine that if the organization can use to grow, and the money is there to pay these organizers to do the work, then I can imagine those regional organizers would become state organizers and stuff. I think it’s just a resource issue. But you’re absolutely right that that’s something we should be having our eyes on as we hopefully continue to expand.
SH: That’s the person we should ask about what is and isn’t the Midwest.
CA: Ooh, yeah —
SH: Actually have it on paper somewhere. Well, and —
CA: DSA’s, like, bureaucratic definition —
SH: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. I trust them, they can decide for me. But I — yeah, I think that’s something that we should probably be focusing on either way, is doing more stuff on the state level and more stuff regionally. Because even if — you know, best case scenario all of the states that we think this could succeed in have it succeed, we still have the US Senate that is going to be overrun by Republicans, because Wyoming gets to pick two of them. And Wyoming is not probably going to get on board with our agenda anytime soon, so trying to do stuff at the state level is probably going to be our best bet in general.
JaR: Yeah, and you’re — you’re touching on on hardcore electoral reform now, right, where it’s like, we got to start thinking about getting rid of the Senate and all that stuff, right? I mean, maybe by the time we’re dead we could have — we could have succeeded at that, right? I mean it’s definitely something I think we need to — on the left, we need to start taking more seriously these — these institutional problems, you know?
JaR: And a lot of them are going to be very difficult to resolve. This is not one of them. This is one that’s going to be, like, medium difficult to resolve. But a lot of them are going to be very difficult —
CA: Yeah. And it’s precisely why this is worth tackling. But like, the Senate — actually, speaking of not having numbers in front of us, I think I can do this number straight off top my head —
CA: It’s something like by 2040, 70 Senators will be voted on by 30% of the population. Like, it’s just completely anti-democratic.
CA: And God, it’s such a huge structural thing to overcome. I have no idea how we’re going to do that, but —
SH: Yeah, I mean, not to sound like a right-winger or anything but it’s like — okay, if they wanted every — all the states to have states’ rights, then I can lean into states’ rights and turn Illinois into the Democratic Socialist state. Like, you know, if we can make Chicago the Chicago that we want it to be, you know, and just kind of work out from there, there a lot of positives about thinking globally but acting locally when it comes to politics —
CA: Oh, yeah.
SH: and elections specifically. And putting in reforms, and trying things out, and seeing what works. And hopefully enough people see what works, and copy and paste it to their locality, and then all of the localities add up to the United States.
CA: Yeah, like, I think that’s one of the best things about DSA, is that we’re recalibrating people’s sense of what politics is back toward what it really is, which is local and state level. Like, Federal politics is just not —
SH: It’s theater.
CA: The — yeah, yeah. It’s — I mean there’s stuff that unfortunately needs to be done at that level depending on the issue, but it’s completely abetted by the media, which only cares about Washington. And now people have learned to think that way too, and —
SH: Right, it’s the show we watch —
CA: it’s just become like a horse race, yeah, it’s just drama.
SH: [exaggerated] And we love drama, but we hate drama, but we love drama.
JaR: I just love drama.
SH: Except for Jamal who’s actually honest and unapologetically loves drama. [laughs]
CA: DSA drama caucus.
JaR: Well I think we’ve got several of those.
JaR: But, you know, and — I think you’re absolutely right that, you know, you read articles or books about early democracy in the United States, right? And people didn’t care about Federal politics in — you know, the early decades of of the republic, right, it was local politics that people were getting most involved in. And I think would be very healthy if we could, you know — and, just because of the way the DSA is structured that — that we just have a bias towards that because we are locally-based chapters. And most of the work we do is not electoral, and most of the electoral work we do is local politics, right? So, it could be great if we could really kind of reconstitute that, you know, bit by bit, you know, do our small part to do that. That would be awesome.
SH: And it’s more satisfying when you are working on something on a local level, and then you see the effects of it. It feels good to have a horse in the race, instead of just watching the national horse race —
CA: Yeah, because you’re doing real community building in meeting your neighbors you’ve never talked to you before and stuff. Whereas any involvement in the sort of federal high drama is just, like, a spectator sport that really is just, like, atomising and isolating at the end of the day. You know?
SH: So, am I jumping the gun to move the conversation towards, like, what action you are trying to take Jamal? In what — how other people can get involved? Does it involve printing off a, like, signature sheet from the website or…?
JaR: So we’ve been working with Fair Vote. And Fair Vote has drafted legislation and a cover letter, and Carlos Rosa is going to propose this legislation at some point in the fall. And so between now and then we need to get as many volunteers as we can to go and meet with aldermen — in person preferably, you know, but obviously call them as well, right? So if that sounds like something you want to participate in, to try to convince these aldermen to vote — to put this on the February ballot, find me however you find me.
SH: And Charles, on the list that you read earlier, are those other states where, if people who maybe are Midwesterners but not specifically Chicagoans are interested in this, they can kind of plug into that?
JaR: So, I would definitely just say go to fairvote.org and get in touch with — if your state has a local chapter Fair Vote get in touch with them, so — and if not, get in touch with National Fair Vote. So Fair Vote is not a grassroots group per se, it is kind of a more organized — like, they’re lawyers and policy people, but they have been very helpful. You know, like they can do stuff that we can never do. They can draft legislation, right? Like, if we tried to draft legislation it would be a shitshow, right? But —
SH: How dare you, sir.
SH: Just because I’ve never drafted legislation before and do not even know what font to use does not mean that I couldn’t do a bang-up job.
JaR: We should have a draft legislation competition —
SH: It’s in crayon —
JaR: Big rows taking up half the sheet. But yeah, if you’re in a another chapter, another state, get in touch with Fair Vote and just ask them, like, “hey, I want to — I want to pass, I want to try to pass ranked-choice voting in my state.” Or you know, start with your municipality, start with your city, because a lot of cities actually have ballot referenda and they are not particularly difficult in terms of signatures to — to get stuff on the ballot in a lot of cities. So yeah, totally. Do that kind of stuff. And get in touch with us if you want to, you know, pick our brains about how we did it — assuming that we actually have some success with this. Yeah, I think it would be great if we had more DSA chapters kind of looking into this as a — as a potential avenue of activism on the local level.
CA: We’ll be the guinea pig here —
SH: Yeah, we can guinea pig. Also even outside of DSA. I’m just thinking about my parents; they’re frustrated, and I think probably their neighbors are frustrated, and everybody in their town is frustrated. And just because they’re not dues-paying card-carrying DSA members doesn’t mean that this isn’t a cause that they could also kind of get the ball rolling on where they’re at.
JaR: Yeah, absolutely. This is a very normie-friendly issue.
JaR: And — yeah. So yeah, hopefully — talk to Fair Vote and stuff. Hopefully Fair Vote has the infrastructure in all parts of the country to kind of help people with this. They were definitely a lot of help here.
SH: I can’t believe you just outed my parents as normies.
SH: Yes, I guess I did too —
CA: Here’s my — my way of smoothing that over. Rather than “normie-friendly”, I’ll brand it as “there’s a large constituency for this type of reform.”
SH: Thank you, diplomatic Charles.
JaR: Some of my best friends are normies.
SH: Cool. Well do we have any closing thoughts, any final topics to cover?
JaR: Yeah I’m Jamal, come talk to me if you want to help me with ranked-choice —
SH: Or with other things. To build a shed —
CA: Yeah hopefully, you know, in the not-too-distant future we’ll have some actual updates on this and see how it goes.
SH: Great. I’m Sarah, if you want to help me reach out to me. I need a lot of help with things.
SH: Charles, do you need any help with anything?
CA: Nah I’m good, I got everything covered.
SH: Alright. Don’t — don’t reach out to Charles. Alright. Thanks for coming on the podcast, Jamal, and best of luck to you.
JaR: Thank you.