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  • Writer's picturePeter Fitzhugh

The Invisible Hand: Can Voters Break the Parties?

2022 midterm mandate

“The government you elect is the government you deserve.”

― Thomas Jefferson

There is a concept in the free market known as “the invisible hand” that refers to the collective wisdom (or madness) of the market; made up of a vast number of uncoordinated, self-interested moves. Despite what they tell you, elites and experts can’t predict, or control, it very well. The best that they can do is wrestle with the why, and hope to build out from there while continuing to look like an expert. Which is why you get cocksure stock pickers like Jim Cramer who look and sound the part, but are no better than a chimp with a dartboard.

And as disappointing as it is to your neighborly conspiracy theorist, it’s starting to look like our political elite are no good at driving, or even picking, our elections. How could they? For one thing candidate selection process is very new – until the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when the radical wing of the party revolted, candidate selection was a closed door affair more like a board election. The primaries were mostly to let the rank and file feel like they’d been heard – the convention mattered. Now that dynamic has flipped and the primaries drive the selection process, which would be a vast improvement if the media weren’t driving the primaries. The media values star-power over competence, or common sense. It’s a cliché that closed-door processes tend to corruption, it’s harder to admit that egalitarian ones are prone to madness as well as wisdom.

Case and point: Donald Trump won the presidency in arguably as the most out-of-control media publicity stunt in history. Four years later, Joe Biden was elected (and he was elected) on the “I’m not Trump” platform with the implied promise of one term as an elder statesman who could bring down the temperature of national politics. Then the selection process could catch its breath and find two middle-aged adults to run for president. Three would be better, but given the state of things you have to start somewhere. He should have stuck to his guns – his age is showing, it’s getting hard to watch the man stammer through a speech without wanting to present him with a set of golf clubs from a grateful nation and set the man out on the links.

And yet, with Biden at the helm, the Democrats performed better than the expected bloodbath in the midterms – which baffled the Democrats as much as the GOP (although it was a different sort of befuddlement). Since then, the Democrats have has managed to convince themselves that Biden has some sort of poor man’s mandate to get re-elected. Or, less charitably, that disgust with the GOP is so deep that their guy is a shoo-in provided that the GOP runs Trump.

Their logic is flawed – the majority of voters don’t want Biden to “finish the job” – low growth, high inflation, muddled foreign policy, industrial policy as social engineering – any more than they want the return Trump as our “retribution” (I’d make a list of sins here, but you know, word count…).

The 2022 midterm election was the “invisible hand” of the wider electorate trying to slow down the strange, corrosive party-centric agenda of two parties held hostage by brawling, radical mobs. It was voter putting a speedbump before parties doing their best to strangle the government. In short, the invisible hand is engineering gridlock.

Gridlock is not a flaw in our republic, but a feature. It raises the question of can voters break the parties?But the way forward cannot be entirely paved with speedbumps, there has to be a road forward. If we can’t decide which way we are going – a conversation with the other passengers might be useful. Mind, the media and parties aside, this is up to us, but driving the car off into the bay seems problematic.


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