We've sized up the problem well enough, not that it's hard to do.
Our political parties are steadily held more hostage by their bases, also known as their respective extremes, left and right. Government, in turn, is rendered ever more dysfunctional by personal and political alienation.
But as a man asked the other day: Do we have any solutions, or are we powerless beyond whining?
What follows are not solutions. One is a potential procedural advancement. The others are ideas worth pondering.
The potential procedural advancement is a bill introduced without action years ago by a former Democratic congressman from Michigan, Dale Kildee.
It would provide that, in the event of a vital spending measure not being passed, the government would remain open under spending that would continue automatically at the existing level until a new measure is enacted. There could be no shutdown.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at a lunch Friday with columnists, brought up the old measure by Kildee, retired since 2013, and said she'd like to see it considered anew.
It's not always Donald Trump who forces a shutdown because he doesn't get his way. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer did it the year before, albeit only for a few hours, having realized his folly weeks more quickly than Trump grudgingly admitted his.
Even now, Trump invokes a possible shutdown on Feb. 15. For that matter, the imperative to raise the debt ceiling will arise again in a few weeks or months, depending on how long the Treasury Department can move money around.
The point is that federal employees shouldn't pay a price, and airline customers shouldn't be less safe, because the alienated politicians can't achieve adulthood.
I'm not at all sure whether any politician would want at this juncture to vote against preventing shutdowns. The time seems ripe. Pelosi should move while she's atop the world.
The ideas worthy of pondering have to do with how we elect our politicians or nominate them in party primaries.
They are designed to make the choices less zero-sum, whether between the good and horrible, or the acceptable and the horrible, or the lesser and the evil.
It is to reward candidates who might be second choices in multiple-candidate fields over those who would be the top choice for some but low choices for many--like, oh, Donald Trump.
The idea is to elevate general appeal over polarized appeal.
Just last November, Maine seated its first congressman from the "RCV" system, meaning "ranked-choice voting."
In a multiple-candidate field, it works this way: Voters don't merely vote for one candidate. They rank the candidates by their preference.
Then, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the last-place candidate is thrown out and his voters' second choices become first-place votes. And then the same goes for the next-to-last, and so on, until two candidates are left standing and one has more than 50 percent.
It takes a while to do the tallies, but the score is announced along the way. And in the end, the premium will be on--and victory ought to go to--a candidate getting a lot of second-rankings instead of one getting a lot of last-place rankings.
Some people call it an "instant runoff," and I'm not sure it would change a lot of outcomes.
Let's take the Arkansas Republican presidential primary of 2016. Trump got 32.8 percent; Ted Cruz 30.5; Marco Rubio 24.9; Ben Carson 5.7; John Kasich 3.7 and Mike Huckabee, an inactive candidate, 1.2.
Huckabee voters probably would have split their second-choices; Kasich's would likely have gone secondarily to Rubio; Carson voters probably to Trump, and Rubio's to ... well, some for Cruz and some for Trump and a quotient to Kasich.
The Arkansas Republican presidential primary probably is a bad example. Arkansas GOP voters faced two candidates, Trump and Cruz, who led the pack but also were equally worthy of being ranked last. They were loved-hated about equally, probably.
What, then, about the recent Little Rock mayor's race? In the first go-round, Frank Scott had 37 percent; Baker Kurrus 29; Warwick Sabin 28, and two other candidates got 3 percent each.
Ranked voting would have been fascinating, to see whether Sabin or Kurrus got more second-place votes, mostly to each other, and whether Scott would have dropped with third-place votes. I'm not saying that would have been the case. I'm happy with the way the race turned out. It's just that I'm agitated with moot wonder.
The other idea is a free-for-all primary with all candidates of both parties thrown together in a single primary election with the two top finishers proceeding to the general election.
Supposedly, incumbents would become less fearful of offending their extreme bases since their primaries would not be closed affairs dominated by those bases. Instead they'd be all-comer affairs with some premium on the mainstream and moderation.
But, in California last year, the free-for-all primary produced an anti-competitive all-Democratic U.S. Senate contest in the general election.
And it all became very strategic, with people talking about voting for a candidate for no reason other than to try to keep another out of the general election.
So, while what we're doing is not working so well, doing something different for the sake of doing something different is no panacea.
The ranked voting intrigues. I place it somewhere north of interesting, but still well south of promising.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 01/30/2019
Print Headline: BRUMMETT ONLINE: Ponderable potentialities