How to Solve the “Politics of Personal Destruction”

How to Solve the “Politics of Personal Destruction” November 14, 2017

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Here are a few further thoughts on the Roy Moore issue.

Voters in Alabama are understandably upset that these reports are coming out at the last minute, past the time when they could have chosen another GOP candidate in the primary, past the time when the state GOP could have replaced him on the ballot.  “If everyone knew he was a creep, why did they keep their mouths shut for so long?” they reasonably ask.  After all, at this point they’re no longer being asked to support a different Republican, but being asked to vote for a Democrat — one with whom they disagree on all manner of policy positions, one who could be a swing vote, and who could, in the next election cycle, make the difference between Republicans or Democrats having control of the Senate, and, with it, the ability not just to pass or reject legislation (after all, on any given piece of legislation, a Democrat senator from Alabama might choose to vote along with the wishes of his constituency, and, in any event, votes rarely fall precisely along party lines) but to control what legislation comes up for a vote in the first place, and how that legislation fares, due to the extensive powers of the majority leader.

After all, put yourself in their shoes.  Which is a “better,” more just outcome:  a creep who votes the right way, or a morally upstanding individual who enacts legislation you believe to be spectacularly wrong, whether it’s (for Republican readers) expansion of abortion access and federal funding of the same, or (for Democratic readers to identify with) authorization of military force in North Korea?

They’re being excoriated for “putting ideology above decency” but Moore is, at this point, a stand-in for Republican-ness, and the demand being made of Alabamians is one that most of us would have a tough time swallowing:  “in the name of punishing this man, you must accept the risk of all manner of legislation you dislike being imposed on you.”

And at the same time, well, I am an actuary, after all; we deal with risk and probability.  It isn’t a sure thing that Moore is guilty as charged.  To be sure, it seems very likely that the overall accusations, that he liked to date teen girls, are true.  Are the Corfman allegation, and the newest one, from Beverly Young Nelson, also true?  Again, also likely — but unproveable.  Could an overeager reporter have pushed Corfman into embellishing past events?  Did Gloria Allred find in an old yearbook an opportunity for publicity once again?  Conceivably, yes.  Without giving credence to, say, The Gateway Pundit, which alleges that Nelson was acting and that the signature was forged, it is a bit unsettling that it would indeed be possible to make last-minute fraudulent accusations and upend an election and, what’s more, the path of legislation affecting the country.

How do we solve this?  It’s not easy.  As long as we vote for individuals, rather than parties, or as stand-ins for parties, those individuals will be targets of attacks, whether true but last-minute, or false.  On the other hand, I suspect that this is much less of an issue in countries with proportional representation, in which one votes primarily for a party.  To be sure, German voters cast their votes for the CDU/CSU in support of Angela Merkel, for example, and if a skeleton were discovered in her closet, her party might lose some votes, but they’d replace her as party head and continue on with the election campaigning.

Now, a move to proportional representation would require a change so substantial that it would require an entire re-write of the Constitution rather than just an amendment, so I know that it’s pretty dang improbable, but it just serves to illustrate that these October Surprises are an inevitable consequence of our system.


Image:  public domain

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