14 July 2011

GOOOH: pronounced "go," not "goo."

Responding to one of my posts about the way candidates for office are chosen today, d. eris of the estimable Poli-Tea blog asked if I had heard of the GOOOH group and their proposals. I had not, but I have since visited the website of the group formally known as "Get Out Of Our House." Like W. C. Fields emphasizing the "accent grave" on the final syllable of the name Egbert Souse, GOOOH insists that its acronym be pronounced "go," whatever your impulse might be to read it as "goo." The difference is obviously significant, but is it justified?

Founded by Tim Cook in 2007, Get Out Of Our House is not designed as a political party. Instead, "It is a system that will allow you and your neighbors to choose, among yourselves, a candidate who will truly represent your district." The group's first priority is to defeat the incumbent Representative in every district in the country. Accordingly, "Our preference is to compete in the primaries against the incumbent." Running on an independent line is seen as a last resort, but if the GOOOH candidate opts to contest a primary, he or she is obliged to stand down if the incumbent wins. The group appears to believe in a single-elimination principle, citing Sen. Murkowski of Alaska as a negative example (despite her eventual victory) of a party candidate continuing to run despite a repudiation from primary voters. Dedicated to eliminating all 435 current Representatives, GOOOH declares itself non-partisan and non-ideological. As a non-party, it has no platform. It presents itself as a "process," a mechanism through which "a socially moderate candidate [can] be selected in San Francisco and a socially conservative one in Colorado Springs."

Interestingly, GOOOH originally considered excluding lawyers and people making more than 250 times the median national income from membership, on the ground that these groups were already over-represented in the existing political system. They thought better of that rather Capra-esque idea, but still insist that members of either group declare their profession or their wealth before they can participate in one of GOOOH's "Selection Societies." Active politicians and their relatives are still excluded, however.

Everyone who participates in a "Selection Session" is a potential candidate for office as long as he or she meets the requirements for serving in Congress. Participants must fill out a campaign questionnaire, marking Yes or No positions on a wide range of issues -- GOOOH claims there are no "right" or "wrong" answers at this stage. They must promise in writing not to accept money from "special interests" and to vote in Congress according to the positions set down in the questionnaire. Another condition is added elsewhere: each candidate must promise in writing to serve no more than one term in office. Perhaps most importantly, participants must donate at least $100 to a general GOOOH campaign fund. The group acknowledges criticism of this requirement, which is believed by some to exclude "the poor." The core of GOOOH's response follows:

Candidates are competing for a job that will pay $168,000 per year. If someone does not have the ability to raise $100 from family, friends or a side job, it is unlikely they are qualified to represent their district as a US Congressman. If someone is not willing to support the system with a minimum $100 donation, we do not consider them committed to the process.

The actual candidate selection process is a staggered caucus system that does seem to give each member a plausible fighting chance at first. Members in each district are assigned randomly to pools of ten people apiece, from which two candidates will be sent to the next round of selection. The process repeats until the number of potential candidates is down to ten. Those ten are then empowered exclusively to choose one from their number to run against the incumbent in a primary or general election. It is a very indirect system of selection that may strike people as undemocratic at the final stage, but the indirectness arguably denies any single person an advantage due to notoriety, and advertising is conspicuously absent from the process. If the plan has an obvious Achilles heel, it is the lack of any guarantee that all participants in the selection process will support the final candidate. Some may prove unwilling to register in the incumbent's party if the election law requires it. For others, ideological bias may trump anti-incumbent sentiment if the final candidate appears "worse" in any respect than the incumbent.

GOOOH expresses confidence that its candidates can win primaries and general elections. "We believe Americans will vote overwhelmingly for our citizen representatives if given an honest chance," the website declares, "GOOOH candidates will win in a landslide." The group hopes to seal the deal with a stern anti-incumbent argument against voters who declare themselves satisfied with their current representatives.

There are 700,000 members in each district, thousands of imminently qualified men and women. George Washington stepped aside after two terms as President because he did not want any one person to become more important than the system. Will your representative do the same, or is he more concerned about his political career? If your representative is good, shouldn’t he run for Senate or Governor? Do you agree that sometimes it is worthwhile to take one step back in order to move 435 forward? But, does it really matter if you “like” your representative. We voted for our high school officers based on likes and dislikes. This is about results. What has your politician done to ensure there are no earmarks in a budget? What has he done to ensure we do not amass debt that our children will be forced to pay? What has he done to seal our borders, improve our education system, or solve the looming Social Security / Medicare crisis?

The author (presumably but not necessarily Tim Cox) goes on to make comments that suggest an anti-Democratic bias, but Cox does appear to have designed a system that it itself ideologically unbiased and would produce biased results only if ideologues join in numbers overwhelming to everyone else. However, GOOOH desires people to spread the word indiscriminately, to as many people as possible regardless of current partisan or ideological orientation. As long as GOOOH is not a secret club for any particular ideological faction -- and while Cox seems to expect "fiscal conservatives" to be chosen his rules can't guarantee that result -- it might serve as a vehicle for anyone intelligent and charismatic enough to impress at least ten people. I'm not prepared to endorse GOOOH on a first reading, but the ideas it proposes definitely deserve a closer examination.


Anonymous said...

"seal our borders". What does that even mean? That one remark shows that Cox, at least, is a right-winger and therefore his motives are suspect. For one thing, it is impossible to "seal our borders". Our border with Mexico alone is thousands of miles long. The border with Canada is quite extensive as well. Add to that a few thousand miles of coastline opening on open ocean and then explain how all of that can be "sealed".

We already have a system in place that would work fine if not for it being duopolized by the Republican and Democrat parties. We don't need yet another layer of obfuscation and confusion.

Outside of that, the name of the organization is patently offensive. Who, exactly, are they telling to "get out of our house"? The government belongs to ALL American citizens, not just this group or that group. And no one group has a right to define "American" by their ideology. According to the founding fathers, as written in the Constitution, anyone born within the borders of the USA is legally an American citizen.

Samuel Wilson said...

"Get out of our House" is addressed to incumbents, the House being that of the Representatives. I'm not sure why you dismiss this plan as "another layer of obfuscation and confusion" when the object is to give ordinary people (regardless of their ideology) a way to propose candidates for office. If there's a major flaw to the scheme, it's in GOOOH's preference for primarying incumbents and its apparent aversion to party formation. We definitely need another means (not necessarily a "layer") for people to appoint alternate candidates when the bipolarchy nominees (AND existing third parties) prove unsatisfactory. We also need election-law reforms that will allow last-minute candidates to emerge in response to mass dissatisfaction and compete with established parties on more equal ground. GOOOH (the acronym, if not necessarily offensive, does sound dumb either way you pronounce it) doesn't address these issues, but its proposals for candidate selection could be imitated and improved upon usefully by others who might not be so ideologically suspect.

d.eris said...

Thanks for looking into this group Sam, and for the shout out. I've never dug very deeply into their website, and your piece supplies a ton more info on them than the handful of MSM articles I've seen on the organization. It's too bad they're so hung up on the primary process and averse to either party formation or running independent candidates. Although it seems like, if major party supporters could potentially hijack the process, then actual independents and third party supporters could very well do so themselves and use the process to find a candidate to run against the bipolarchy.

Anonymous said...

Because the whole set up. Who proposes all the people that would be put in the random pools to begin with? If 2 out of every 10 people are chosen, how many pools must you go through to finally get to the final 10? What if the final 10 are deadlocked? It just seems to be a needlessly stupid way of doing things, when there is already a system in place.

Granted, that system is currently controlled by the two main parties, but it would seem to me that there must be a legal way to cut through their control, as the Constitution does not give exclusive political rights to any party.

And again, since one of their main gripes seems to be the "illegal alien" issue, I must assume at their core they are, if not partisan, at least biased towards the right, which means that in all likelihood, any true leftist candidate still won't have a chance to progress. And, since they are only targeting incumbents - and mainly in the primaries, that means they are still buying into the whole bipolarchy to begin with, which means their solution is no real solution.

Anonymous said...

Finally, it seems to me that the incumbents were elected by a majority of people within their district, which means the majority of people must not want them "out of their house". So whom, exactly does GOOOH presume to speak for/represent?