Francis Meyrick

The inverted pyramid approach to winning elections in the US democratic system

Posted on January 20, 2009

The inverted pyramid approach to winning elections in the US democratic system

Imagine if you like, a pyramid.
Imagine that it is a pyramid that represents the level of understanding of economics and history by the people.
It stands to reason that a few, select individuals, right at the tip of the top, are truly au fait with the latest and greatest thinking in modern Economics and Political History. Below them, the top 3 % of the pyramid contains folk who are highly informed. Below that, another 25 % of people who are well informed. Below that, there are more strata, each successively less informed. At the bottom…. Well.

Now imagine a society, where electioneering is honest, with no dirty tricks. No deliberately misleading statements, no inflammatory television ads, no demagogues, and no blatantly populist arguments, seeking to inflame class envy. Or worse, class hatred. And of course, no false promises…
In such a society, it is reasonable to suppose that knowledge and understanding will filter down through the pyramid. Eventually, even those who have through no fault of their own received a poor education, might understand the basic principles. That an economy of a Nation is not all that different from that of a household. That you cannot spend forever, and borrow forever, without the day of the reckoning arriving eventually. That the goods and services we all require and seek, must first be produced and provided by others. That it is good for mind and body to have a regular job, work hard, and be honest and upright.
Such a society, utopian indeed, might be a peace loving one. With inequalities for sure, but nonetheless, providing a good living for everybody.

What is the fatal weakness in this utopian portrayal?
The assumption of an ethical society. The assumption of principles and scruples held dear by the political candidacy.

I recently enjoyed, once again, reading the events that transpired during the democratic convention in Chicago in 1937.
In “The New Dealers’ War “, Thomas Fleming offers us the following two titbits.

(page 69) “In order to win the nomination for a third term, Roosevelt had to seek the support of two of the most hardboiled Democratic politicians in the country, Ed Kelly of Chicago and Frank Hague of Jersey City. Each led political machines that dominated their respective states by stuffing ballot boxes, enfranchising the grave-yards, and paying for straight ticket votes on a per capita basis, tactics that made reform-minded liberal Democrats wince and righteous Republicans sputter. ”

On page 71, we read:
“… Roosevelt arranged for Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, the keynote speaker, to read a letter from him in which he claimed he did not want to run and the convention was free to vote for any candidate.
As the sullen delegates tried to digest this startling statement, a stupendous voice echoed through the convention hall.
‘We want Roosevelt! We want Roosevelt! Everybody wants Roosevelt!’
The voice belonged to Chicago’s superintendent of sewers, who was in command of the loudspeaker system in the convention hall’s basement. Someone handed Senator Barkley a large portrait of the president, which he held aloft.
The galleries, which had been packed with city employees and followers of Chicago’s boss Ed Kelly, erupted with wild cheers and applause. Other members of the Chicago machine, joined by delegates from many states, swarmed in the aisles under the leadership of Frank Hague, while the sewer superintendent’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker:
‘New York wants Roosevelt! The World needs Roosevelt!’ For more than an hour, Hague, Kelly and Harry Hopkins presided over this demonstration. By the time it ended, there was no longer any doubt that Roosevelt had the nomination… “

And on page 73, we read:
“…Watching this political circus with extremely jaundiced eyes was Harry S.Truman… “

Political circus…
My point is that in the real world, the quiet logic of the argument, the reasonable line of debate, the underlying economic conundrums, the ethical nuances, are lost, hopelessly, in a sea of tribal sentiment. What happens, in effect, is that the pyramid I described above, as far as priority targeting is concerned, is inverted. Politicians do not waste time on the understanding minority. They aim their appeal at the broad base. That becomes their priority. Rather than phrase thoughtful arguments, based on economic and political history, they rain half truths, untruths, false promises, and quick, easy solutions to complicated problems. They encourage class envy, even class hatred.

You might say, where logic and sound reasoning is weak, the loudspeaker system in the basement can always compensate for any weakness by the application of more decibels…


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on May 23, 2009, 12:13 pm

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