It's election season in the US, which means that I have the unwelcome task of wading through well-intentioned though off-topic comments devoted to things political: who might be the next president, and whether or not it matters who the next president is (it doesn't). And rather than bear it quietly, I thought I'd say something about it.
Electioneering in the US is steadily expanding to fill more and more time and space even as it provides worse and worse results with each election cycle. The Congress is made of some of the least popular people on earth, who are manifestly incapable of achieving anything useful. They do seem quite ready and willing to pass laws that erode human rights and enhance the powers of the police state, but this is because they are paranoid. Perhaps their one point of consensus is that sooner or later their constituents will want to open fire on them.
Still, the elections provide a spectacle, the media are conditioned to lavish attention on the candidates, and the people, being weak-willed, are once again beguiled into thinking that it matters who gets elected. A few years of Obama impersonating Bush should have taught them that it doesn't matter who the Prisoner of the White House is. Likewise, watching the sad spectacle of Congress trying to raise the debt limit or to reign in runaway deficit spending should have taught them that this institution is no longer functional. (The US is about to bump up against the debt limit again; does anyone even care?) All of this should have been enough to make it clear to just about everyone that wondering what might be different if, say, Ron Paul got elected president, is like wondering what might be different if the moon were made of a different kind of cheese—your favorite kind, of course.
Leaving aside the meaningless question of who the next Figurehead in Chief might be, let's look briefly at what is perhaps the most corrupt institution the US has: the US Senate. Everyone knows that senate seats are for sale: as soon as a senator gets elected, he starts fund-raising, to finance his reelection campaign. Since each state, whether huge or puny, gets two seats, these are variously priced: the two seats for a large, populous state, like California or Texas, are very expensive, while the two seats for the puny State of Potatoho or some such, with its zero million inhabitants, are more reasonably priced. Since the senators themselves decide nothing and are simply mouthpieces to the moneyed interests which buy their seats, and since this is a very divided country, they are unable to achieve compromise, making the Senate completely useless as a deliberative body.
Let's face it: the senators are just marionettes controlled by giant bags of money. Their seats are definitely for sale, all of them, all the time. But then an odd thing happened about a month ago: the ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison for allegedly attempting to sell the senate seat that was vacated when Obama was elected president. It seems like a stiff penalty for something that is a routine, daily occurrence, does it not? It is especially odd since other miscreants who actually caused serious damage, like former senator Jon Corzine, who looted investors' accounts to cover his gambling debts in the futures market, are still at large. What set Blagojevich apart is that he violated a taboo. Just like any normal criminal syndicate, the US Senate has rules by which the members preserve their positions and keep each other in check. As with a criminal syndicate, these rules have nothing to do with serving the public interest. One of these rules is that it is not allowed to sell a senate seat if it is unoccupied. Essentially, senators get to sell senate seats, governors don't. It is a tribal taboo: “Of course we can have sex with our underage daughters—we all do it—but not when they are menstruating! We are all good decent God-fearing Troglodytes!” Rod Blagojevich is the exception that proves the rule: senate seats are for sale.
It stands to reason, then, that the way to influence this political system, in its current advanced state of degeneracy, is not through the political process, which is just a pro forma activity that determines nothing. Armed with the understanding that it doesn't matter who gets elected, we should ignore the elections altogether. To get the government to respond, it is far more effective to organize around issues, pool resources, and hire lobbyists.
As for the rest of us, who do not have the means to hire lobbyists, there are still a few things we can do: we can starve the system by withholding resources from it, and we can bleed the system by extracting payments from it. If we are clever, we can also find ways to frustrate the system by artificially generating complexity. The system has been gamed to our disadvantage. We are not going to win by playing along. But we all win whenever we refuse to play the game.
If you simply can't resist the temptation to play the game, don't play it to win. Play it strictly for the entertainment value. Ignore the front-runners and focus on all the amusing types that have zero probability of being elected. Encourage them, give them airtime and attention. And if anybody wonders why their candidacy matters, use the opportunity to explain to them why none of these political marionettes matter at all.