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Redditor Dr. Michael Ham announces his candidacy for US senate (New Mexico) (reddit.com)
109 points by x3c on Jan 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

A week or two ago, I was wondering how long it will be (or perhaps, have we already) before we've surpassed the usefulness of location-based politics.

That is, we have congressional representatives who are there to (ostensibly) represent their constituency, with that constituency being defined (gerrymandering aside) based on geographic location.

This is useful for things near me, like roads and schools, but not so useful for other things we may care about, like the internet.

A "reddit candidate" in New Mexico may win a few hundred (maybe a few thousand?) extra votes for being the "reddit candidate", but obviously they still need to mostly focus on things more important to their local community to win. There's a rather large population of people in the USA who care just as much about whether or not their internet is censored as they do about the nearest bit of highway construction, though.

What I'm getting at is this: how much does our geographic location still define us? A great deal, no doubt, but in a more connected world, it's becoming less and less important. I may have a great deal more in common with a couple of hundred thousand other people scattered around the USA than I do with the other people in my (geographically-defined) congressional district. As such, am I being fairly represented?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation discusses this issue. There are a fixed number of seats, but you collect together by party. So if you formed a new party (say the Hacker news party), people all over the US could vote Hacker News. And the intent of the system is that at the end of the day, if x% of the US population voted Hacker News, approximately x% of the representatives would be Hacker News reps.

The difference is that people self-identify to group together by party, instead of location. So your rep would then be the Hacker News rep. Problems with this system involve fragmentation (you end up with dozens of parties and nothing gets done). Imagine instead of one Ron Paul voting no on every issue, every congressman votes no on every issue because they are all so fragmented. You need a civilized bunch of people who actually believe in consensus and giving ground to get things done (good luck with that).

Look, we all know the US electoral system is broken. It's designed by a group of dead guys, who were smart and forward thinking, but they didn't know of things like Arrows Impossibility Theorem or mechanism design. If we got the smartest 10 guys alive today to design a new constitution from the ground up, we'd surely do better. But of course that's a non-starter. And I've surely destroyed the conversation by not adhering to the current convention of mindless hero worship of the founding fathers. But face it, the constitution is obsolete. It is over 200 years old and aging and creaking. Will Wilkinson's take on the original Fareed Zakaria article here is probably the best Piece I've read on this issue: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/04/co...

I think that's a really interesting point and, to some extent, it's an argument that extends back to the idea of representation in a republic in general. You can either think of your representative as functioning as your agent in all matters--that is, someone to parrot your views on everything and, inasmuch as your representative votes differently than you do, that is bad; or you can think your representative as your trustee--that is, someone who you empower with the ability to make decisions on your behalf, but you may not care about, or be aware of, many issues that the representative makes decisions on. If you favor the agentic model, you probably care more about your individual desires and goals being met, whereas in the trustee model, you probably care more about the "greater good" or "national interest" and so on being met, and so care less if your individual preferences are supplanted for the greater good.

If you adopt a trusteeship model, you would argue that your elected representative can (and actually, should) make decisions based on what he or she thinks is best for the world/community as a whole, including decisions about the internet. That person would not be beholden to any "special interests" (as in, whatever people in the constituency might care about like roads or etc.) but would be beholden to whatever he or she thought most important--so, presuming you elected someone with whom you agreed generally, and who implicitly adopted this way of thinking about their role in government, you would probably be "fairly" represented. If you adopt an agentic model, then likely the interests that are most important to the majority of people who elected that official will get priority. Since you may have nothing in common with those people except that you live in the same area, you would probably argue that you’re not being fairly represented, since those people likely do not represent your views.

Maybe we're just not gerrymandering finely enough. If you got down to single-house precision, you could have congressional districts that are just free culture people, or pro-family, or whatever. You couldn't do this in the old days with paper ballots and door-door canvassing, but you could make it work now.

Ham's Big List (http://drmichaelham.com/?p=25) is very appealing. I hope he stays true to it if elected. May he not make moral compromises as he raises money for his campaign.

Some of his items are ideal, but misguided.

For example, number 2, "it only takes one Senator to filibuster" is very inaccurate. It takes 41 Senators to filibuster, as a vote for cloture takes a 60-vote majority on the floor. And most bills never make it to the floor without a guarantee that it can overcome filibuster threat.

Regarding number 10, it's likely that a constitutional amendment would be necessary to reverse Citizens United. As much as money in politics sucks, shareholders are people, and "corporate personhood" is an extension of those people, with certain protections and responsibilities. Furthermore, there is already legislation to overturn Citizen's United in the Senate. Writing an entirely new proposal may not make sense.

Lastly, number 8, (and to a lesser degree, all of these), depends heavily on which committee assignments he receives. Assuming he wins a seat in the Senate, one does not just join the Senate Committee on Finance and start introducing bills. Seniority can take decades. Again, it's not ideal, but this is the way the system operates, for better or worse.

Could someone (knowledgeable) comment on his chances to win the elections? I'm not from US.

Virtually zero. He has no political experience at all and is running a statewide race that would put him in the most powerful legislative body in the US.

It is extremely unlikely he has the ability to pull this off.

He could conceivably influence the discussion in the election, but honestly it's not too likely he'll even been enough of a factor for that.

Like most who aspire to office, he'd be much better off running at a local level.

Yeah! Lets all just accept that the same old crew keeps getting elected, and instead complain and ineffectively "protest" the things we don't like (but keep happening anyway) instead. We should stop everyone who thinks about actually trying to effect a change, telling them to instead stop aspiring. Just like we do with startups (given that most fail and whatnot)!

Or maybe, we could look at the fact that Reddit has become something of a social powerhouse, having wide reaching impact on the world pretty regularly. We can try to help out, maybe break down the traditional barriers to election, and actually do what the internet has been promising for years: to reduce the entrenched BS surrounding everything.

The parent post here is actually reasonable, not cynical.

Think about most of the things that actually influence your daily well-being and the future of the country. We need good schools with good teachers. We need natural places for kids to exercise and learn about the world. We need sane neighborhoods with low crime and shorter commutes and people who actually know and look out for each other.

While the federal government can debate and fund large projects for these things, the people who actually make them happen have boring-sounding titles like County Commissioner and Zoning Board Member. Even if the federal government funds them well, the money gets misused unless local officials use the money thoughtfully and non-corruptly. If you think the corruption on the federal level is bad, you probably don't follow your local politics very well. In most areas they involve not just corruption but also incredible, routine incompetence even on fairlay basic matters.

So if you want to change the status quo, the real tradeoff is something like this: you can either cheer someone's reddit campaign that will probably not get them elected to Congress and pat yourself on the back for trying to make a difference, or you could actually monitor and run for a local office and concretely make people's lives better.

I understood the point. It is a false dilemma though. I can participate in local government (or in my case continue to do so) while still hoping and working for someone to push a better status quo through at higher levels. Suggesting only one or the other is the best possible way to maintain the status quo - since real differences need to exist at all levels.

For example, I live in a place that zealously enforces wiretapping laws to stop police filming. I can push my hardest to get my town to change their enforcement policy, even to great effect, but the law is in place and a zealous district attorney could still prosecute. The next town over won't change their enforcement over my local actions. Perhaps while doing my thing, I should endorse and support someone who will do the same thing at the state level, no?

The OP asked a question. waterlesscloud answered it.

Not liking the answer doesn't give you an excuse to make a rage-post about it.

Reddit has become something of a social powerhouse, having wide reaching impact on the world pretty regularly

I would love to see some evidence of that. Reddit does regularly raise a decent amount of money for charity- that is true. They could raise cash for this guy's election fund, but even Reddit has limits of what it can achieve.

Not liking the answer doesn't give you an excuse to make a rage-post about it.

Doesn't this cover 90% of all discourse? It's not a rage post, it is an expression of my dissent. There is a difference -- just because you don't like my response to a statement doesn't give you an excuse to push indifference as a response, wait.. yes it does. It's still a crappy position tho.

I would love to see some evidence of that. Reddit does regularly raise a decent amount of money for charity- that is true. They could raise cash for this guy's election fund, but even Reddit has limits.

Reddit is regularly in the news over blowing up social issues (getting coverage on issues that were previously being ignored), pushing internet wide campaigns that result in corporations and politicians changing policy/stance, and yes raising money for charities. The fact is reddit is mentioned in the big news channels far more than most previous sites of a similar nature (with the possible exception of Digg at it's height). If regular media attention is not evidence of social power, I'm not sure what you are looking for.

just because you don't like my response to a statement doesn't give you an excuse to push indifference as a response

When did I push indifference?

Reddit is regularly in the news over blowing up social issues (getting coverage on issues that were previously being ignored)

Where? Most of the mainstream coverage I have seen of Reddit describes it as a place to trade pictures of young girls.

pushing internet wide campaigns that result in corporations and politicians changing policy/stance


When did I push indifference?

When you suggested I don't express dissent over a statement that suggests keeping the status quo. The alternatives are do nothing or just don't care. This is pushing a position of indifference.

As for your second and third points, here is one example, in the economist -- a big, well respected news org, that is crediting reddit as a major driving force in the Paul Ryan's stance change on SOPA, after reddit chose to focus on him in their SOPA fights:


There are others, but you can do what I did just as well -- use Google.

I wasn't suggesting that you don't express dissent. I was suggesting that you could tone it more constructively than sarcastically ranting.

The reason I'm asking (besides the burden of proof, naturally) is that I can't find any evidence on Google. Even the Economist article you link to says:

Whether or not for [Reddit's influence], Mr Ryan subsequently came down against the bill.

So it doesn't even confirm that Reddit was the reason. I'm not saying they weren't, but if they were then it's hardly evidence of "having wide reaching impact on the world pretty regularly".

I think that people need to realize that politics, like any other industry, has a learning curve. It's not that Mr.Ham is unfit to win, or that he's not senatorial material, it's that he's a newbie to a very complex world.

Even Obama, who has risen extremely quickly in US politics, was in the Illinois state senate for several terms before trying a run for the US Senate. He ran in 2000 and lost 2:1, but won in 2004. A politician need to learn how to win, just like every other competitive system.

I'm glad that people are getting excited about politics and trying to change a system they dislike, but there's nothing wrong with being realistic about how difficult is is to get into the system.

I don't read reddit. So when I see a redditor running I "meh" pretty hard. My indifference could not be more palpable.

The fact that he's a reddit user doesn't make him any better or worse a candidate, or more or less likely to win. It just means he can fill out a registration form for a site.

He does not appear to intend to enter either the Republican or Democratic primary. While his independence is commendable, this makes his path to victory much more difficult for reasons of practical politics. Independent candidates lack a sizable, established base of voters.

Indie candidates can win, but the only two indie candidates in the Senate right now only faced one viable major party opponent. Sanders and Lieberman both drew heavily from one of the major party's base making them de facto major party candidates and independents in name only. The last indie Governor to win was famous before running for office. Ventura's fame and his choice of Paul Wellstone's legendary ad consultant enabled him to draw from both parties' bases.

Duverger's Law makes establishing a sustainable third major party difficult if not impossible.

His realistic chances right now do not look good but it is still early. All bets are off if he catches fire on the Internet and one of the major party candidates turns out to be a dud. NM has a small population making it less expensive to get the word out.

I would advise him to do some research (polling, talk with grassroots leaders, etc.) and enter one of the two primaries. There is another Senate election in 2014. Even if he doesn't make it this time, he will establish a personal base by competing in the primary that can help him get off to a faster start in 2014.

Running as a partisan doesn't mean you must give up your principles. Parties adapt and change over time based on the views of the members and candidates. Case in point, the Democratic Party in CT is much more progressive than it was even 10 years ago and part of the reason for that is candidates, who more often than not lost elections, spoke out like Ham is doing and attracted more progressives to the party. Eventually progressive Democrats started winning, brushing off the Republican wave of 2010, and we now have what I view is one of the most progressive group of political leaders in the country.

I think it depends on his ability to raise money.

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