Sunday, January 22, 2012


The secret that unlocked the computer revolution is a thing called binary code.

Binary basically means “two numbers.” Zero and one. All numbers and words can be expressed in binary code. That’s how computer chips work. They toggle from on to off, from positive to negative from zero to one at instantaneous speeds.

Here’s what my name, Thomas Brennan, looks like in binary:

So what has this to do with politics?

Logic. Binary is the basic expression of logic. Everything either is or it isn’t. All human decision making boils down to the ayes and the nays.

Either you do or you don’t.

That’s why we have two political parties in the United States. There’s nothing official about it. Nothing in the Constitution or laws limiting political activity to two parties. It’s just that every decision eventually comes down to doing or not doing.

In a democracy where the majority rules, you have to have a majority to do anything. “No” votes don’t have to agree with each other. If the majority votes “no,” it doesn’t happen.

The same is true in Presidential politics. The Constitution requires that the office of President goes to the candidate receiving a majority of the electoral votes.

If no candidate garners a majority of the Electoral College, the decision must be made by the House of Representatives. In the House, each state’s delegation has one vote.

As a result of its strong showing in the off year election of 2010, the Republican party controls a majority of 33 state delegations, while the Democrats control only 17, including the delegation from the District of Columbia. One state, Minnesota, has a divided delegation.

Enter Peter Ackerman.

Interesting fellow. Graduate of Colgate University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

He apparently made a lot of money as an investment banker with Drexel Burnham Lambert because he has had a lot of time to devote to idealistic causes.

Founding Chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. Chairman of the Board of Freedom House, a non governmental research and advocacy organization founded by Wendell Willke and Eleanor Roosevelt. Board Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan, non-profit, foreign policy think tank.

In 1990, he went to England as a visiting scholar at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, after which he co-authored a couple of books and helped produce some television documentaries about non-violent political activity .

About a year ago, Ackerman plunked down five million dollars to launch Americans Elect, an effort to create a third political party in the United States which would draft its platform and nominate its candidate for President on the Internet.

It has a very sophisticated web site at

Americans Elect has announced the goal of qualifying to place its candidates on the ballot in all fifty states, and they are well on the way.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Peter Ackerman will succeed where Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, George Wallace and Strom Thurman failed.

If Americans Elect can win enough electoral votes to deny a majority to either the Republican or Democratic candidate, the next President of the United States will be chosen by the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Or, perhaps by a coalition of non-Tea party Republicans and Democrats.

Or, maybe, a coalition of Tea Party Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.

Whatever the realignment of American politics, the irrefutable fact is that it takes a majority to govern. There are only two choices. Either you win or you lose.

Just like the Super Bowl.


  1. "Either you do or you don’t.

    That’s why we have two political parties in the United States. There’s nothing official about it. Nothing in the Constitution or laws limiting political activity to two parties. It’s just that every decision eventually comes down to doing or not doing."

    This is not true at all, not in any way. The reason America has two political parties is because we have a single-vote, first-past-the-post plurality voting system. It's because people are smart & want to maximize their voice when the system unnecessarily silences it.

    Imagine: you're in a group who all must agree on one option for dinner. The debated options are Chinese, Mexican, & Italian. You'd really like Chinese, but it seems everyone else is considering either Mexican or Italian. Since you hate Mexican & realize Chinese has little to no chance at winning, you vote Italian; not because Italian is your first choice, but because you simply don't want to be stuck with Mexican. (Now you're voting strategically rather than sincerely; because you only get one vote & logically want to maximize the impact of that vote.) This method of voting inevitably leads to two-party domination as is explained in Duverger's Law. If a third party arises in this voting system, it either takes away votes from one major party causing the less-desirable major party to win; or the third party wins and permanently replaces one major party, resulting in a new two-party domination.

    This is the very thing that will happen with American Elect: either they'll take away votes from the major party candidate most like the Americans Elect candidate, causing the less desirable candidate to win. Or Americans Elect will win the election & permanently replace one of the major parties as voters strategically realign themselves.

    Now, imagine a different style of voting: instead of only getting one vote for dinner, you can raise your hand for any of the cuisines you like. You now vote for Chinese & Italian, but abstain from voting for Mexican (e.g. Yes, Abstain, Yes). This is an approval based voting system; & this system results in multi-party domination. Unfortunately, this style of voting has its own limitations in that the most desirable choice doesn't always win, instead sometimes the least objectionable choice often wins (like a world where vanilla regularly beats other flavors even though most people when asked say another option would be more desirable).

    There's an infinite number of other voting methods that people regularly engage in all the time in other areas of their lives. There are Approval/Disapproval voting systems (Yes, No, Abstain, Yes, No), there is Preferential voting (1st, 2nd, 3rd...), there is Range voting (e.g., ranking a movie on a scale from 1 to 10 or from 0 to 5 stars). All of these voting styles are perfectly acceptable & none of them lead to two party domination.

    Our current method of voting is actually one of the least desirable methods for selecting the most popular candidate. Unfortunately, though, every voting system has its limitation as is explained in Arrow's Impossibility Theorem.

    I have my own theories of how to counteract the effects of Duverger's Law using the proven limitations of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem; but a complicated computer algorithm would have to be created to test such a system under all conceivable conditions to prove that it is the best method (& even then I'm certain mathematicians will still debate it long into the future as new ideas perpetually spawn into existence).

    But, before two-party dominance can ever be realistically challenged, we need an educated populace; because obviously the two dominant parties would have no interest in institutionalizing a voting system where their domination is lost. Thus, only an educated, defiant populace could succeed against the inevitable objections of the dominant two parties.

  2. So I spent hours writing an explanation of Duverger's Law and Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, and you don't even bother to accept the comment?!

    Beyond rude, beyond biased, beyond bigoted. You obstruct the truth to favor a misguided personal agenda. I'm ashamed of you, Judge.

  3. I hope the guy who chewed me out for not posting his comment is the same guy who wrote the comment that was posted four days before he complained. Geez!