Why, Yes, Dave Agema, I Do

Dave Agema, one of Michigan’s representatives to the Republican National Committee, reposted on Facebook an anti-Muslim screed that’s reportedly been circulating for years. You know those things your friends forward on to you that you’re smart enough to ignore, or at least not make public? Well, it seems Dave Agema isn’t as smart as you. The screed asks,

“Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?”

Short answer, yes, I have. My friend Maher teaches chemistry at my college, and my friend Ahsan teaches economics (and from a rathet conservative perspective). Are those not positive contributions to the American way of life?

Several years ago I participated in a meeting at the State Department with a group of Muslims. (I was, as my friend, Muqtedar joked, “the token white guy.”) Is citizens having a respectful and intelligent discussion with government officials not a positive contribution to the American way of life?”

The City of Dearborn, in your own state, is 40% Arabic, a mixture of both Christians and Arabs. Many Muslims there are business owners. Is that not a positive contribution to the American way of life?

Several thousand Muslims currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, including Colonel Douglas Burpee in the Marines. Mr. Agema, would you like to tell him to his face that he has made no positive contributions to the American way of life?

Mr. Agema has also insulted gays, calling their lifestyle “filthy.” He seems to be under the impression there is a single gay lifestyle. As already noted, Mr. Agema doesn’t seem to be very smart.

Agema is the face of today’s Republican Party. An older white devout Christian who is apparently determined to minimize the number of people who are comfortable identifying with and voting for his party. (Have I noted that Agema seems not to be that smart?)

My friend PJ has nearly persuaded me that we are in fact in the process of a historic party realignment, the likes of which will be discussed forever by political scientists and historians. And this is how it is happening, via a Republican Party that is shrinking and aging, whose median voter is becoming increasingly distant from the American median voter. Agema is but one more indicator of how that process is playing out.

Currently in Michigan it’s easy for Republicans to fool themselves into thinking they have strength, as they control both chambers of the legislature and the governorship, while long-serving Democratic U.S. Senator Carl Levin is retiring. But their hold on the legislature is the product of successful gerrymandering, and they have the govenorship through the good fortune of having accidentally nominated a moderate (when several candidates split the conservative vote, collectively gaining over 60%), and the Democrats foolishly nominated a screwball. But in 2012 Obama received 54% of the statewide vote, and Democratic U.S. senator Debbie Stabenow–who lacks Levin’s clout and name recognition–received almost 59% of the vote in a race against a conservative Republican opponent.

A smart man, not driven by ideology and hatred of those who are different, but concerned about his party’s electoral future, might look at these numbers and think twice about what he posts on Facebook. Dave Agema is not that man.

[Note: Initially I had Mr. Agema’s first name as “Ken.” That was inaccurate, and I have corrected it.]

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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22 Responses to Why, Yes, Dave Agema, I Do

  1. D. C. Sessions says:

    It might be worthwhile to find out what he does think contribute to “the American way of life.” Or for that matter, what “the American way of life” includes, or more importantly excludes.

  2. pierrecorneille says:

    First of all, what a horrible thing for a politician to say. I too know many Muslims who contribute to American life. I also probably know at least some people who are Muslim but whose religion I don’t know because they haven’t told me.

    Second, do you, or does your friend PJ, have any guesses/predictions about how the party realignment is going to shape out?

  3. lancifer666 says:

    The Republican party seems hell bent on whittling itself down to complete ineffectual obscurity.

    it would seem to be an opportunity for a third party, that could act as a counter-balance to the Democrats shift towards “progressivism”, to emerge.

    I think a charismatic figure that appealed to a wide demographic could lead such a third party to relevance.

  4. J@m3z Aitch says:

    do you, or does your friend PJ, have any guesses/predictions about how the party realignment is going to shape out?

    Not with any kind of certainty. If I find time, I’ll try to write a post fleshing out our thoughts on that issue.

  5. StevetheCat says:

    Hey James,
    Why don’t you spare the Ken Agemas of the world the ridicule and change every mention to Dave Agema like it states in your links?

  6. lancifer666 says:

    Hey Mr. American Government teacher, how is it that the primary elections are held in government facilities when they are instruments of the individual parties and have no legal role in electing government officials?

    Or am I wrong? (A question that is all too often answered in the affirmative.)

  7. D. C. Sessions says:

    how is it that the primary elections are held in government facilities when they are instruments of the individual parties and have no legal role in electing government officials?

    They may not have a de jure role, but they certainly do have a de facto role. In large parts of the country, the only election that matters is the primary. The South has been famous for that for almost 150 years, and both Arizona and Michigan are developing similar traditions.

  8. pierrecorneille says:

    Also regarding primaries, my understanding is that states can and sometimes do regulate primaries. If my understanding is correct, it might be a legacy of the dynamic D. C. Sessions, above, refers to. But then, don’t some states, like Iowa or New Hampshire, have laws that stipulate their caucuses/primaries be the earliest ones?

    I suppose none of this really answers Lancifer’s exact question.

  9. D. C. Sessions says:

    Also regarding primaries, my understanding is that states can and sometimes do regulate primaries.

    Well, the Federal government certainly does. That’s a legacy of Jim Crow, where one of the responses to the threat of Negroes voting was to keep them from voting in the Democratic primaries — which, as noted, were the only elections that counted. This was distinguished (where anyone bothered) from forbidding them to vote by the very idea cited above: the Democratic Party was an association of individuals which had no State power and was thus unconstrained by the Reconstruction Amendments.

  10. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Stevethecat,

    Done, and my apologies to all the Ken Agemas of the world!

  11. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Re: Primaries.

    Once upon a time primaries were seen as wholly private business, because the parties were technically private organizations. Of course to have an official party you had to meet state rules–rules that regulate political activity. Also, parties are participating in what can be understood as the public’s business, the overall electoral process. Plus, the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause–which the Amendment says can be enforced “by appropriate legislation”–led to a crackdown on parties’ (mostly the Democrats’) racial exclusivity.

    Collectively, all this means that over the last half century the political/legal understanding of parties has shifted from them being seen as private organizations engaged in private business to seeing them as quasi-public organizations engaged in public–or at least quasi-public–business. And today states can and do regulate primaries, which is the primary reason we no longer have just closed primaries (open only to registered voters of the particular party), but increasingly have primaries of varying degrees of openness.

    One doesn’t have to agree that parties are not fully private organizations–it’s not an entirely empirical question, after all–but that is the dominant legal interpretation these days.

  12. lancifer666 says:

    James,

    Thanks for the education. Interesting.

    D.C. Sessions,

    Here in Carmel Indiana the polling places are not even opened for the general election during the years when there is no state or federal election.

    That is because the Republicans are so dominant that the Democratic Party doesn’t even field candidates for county and city office.

    The “real” election is the Republican primary held months before.

  13. lancifer666 says:

    James,

    One doesn’t have to agree that parties are not fully private organizations–it’s not an entirely empirical question, after all–but that is the dominant legal interpretation these days.

    Doesn’t this have the effect of legitimizing and entrenching the “two party” system?

  14. Matty says:

    Interesting, I’ve mentioned before my discomfort with the way the American system seems to confuse internal party decisions about who to run with public elections and come away with the impression it’s just me not getting your system so it’s good to see an actual American sharing some of my concerns.

    Suppose the Republican party did collapse and the Brand New party took over as the main alternative to the Democrats, should state governments still be helping the Republicans select their candidates, who now don’t have a chance or switch to helping the Brand News? If the later is there some threshold in terms of number of votes at which a party gets this assistance?

    My other confusion is what it can even mean to be a member of a party if you can spend years campaigning for and even helping write policy X only to have a candidate sweep in with the support of people from outside and tell you that your policy is now not X.

  15. D. C. Sessions says:

    My other confusion is what it can even mean to be a member of a party if you can spend years campaigning for and even helping write policy X only to have a candidate sweep in with the support of people from outside and tell you that your policy is now not X.

    It’s a brand, basically. Because parties don’t have any direct official function in our system (the old George Washington advice is still given lip service) candidates do pretty much what they will. At one time, the Party had the power to do a lot for candidates, including organize get-out-the-vote drives, run ads, etc. In some places it was possible to vote a “straight party ticket,” where there was an easy mechanism to vote for all of one Party or the other without going down the list of candidates.

    Under current law, though, Parties are some of the weakest organizations politically. They’re very limited in how much money they can raise — individual candidates can do more on their own, as a rule — and even “independent” organizations such as PACs and so-called “super-PACs” can raise more with fewer constraints. This gives the Parties very little leverage over individual officeholders.

  16. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Lance,
    I’d say it’s actually the constraints on becoming an officially recognize party and getting on the ballot that limit the viability of third parties. Those are two separate hurdles. Some states (NY) make it easy to register as a party, others make it more difficult; some states make it easy for a party to qualify for the ballot (a certain number of signatures on a petition, achievement of a certain proportion of the vote in the last statewide election, etc.). And of course there’s the big factor, out district based election system (see Duverger’s law). I doubt regulation primaries plays a major role.

    Matty,
    my discomfort with the way the American system seems to confuse internal party decisions about who to run with public elections an

    My take is that it’s a metastatic form of demand for democracy. We used to have a group of insiders select the party’s nominee, but that was too elitist and left out the common people, and demand for involvement led to the creation of the convention process, where we used to select candidates (at least for the presidency–I won’t vouch for state by state, much less city by city, processes). Then there was a push to open the process up to all party supporters–this was particularly strong among the Democrats in the late 60s and early 70s as women and minorities demanded a fair share in the selection process (until the 1970s, even though the primary system was decades old by then, “superdelegates”–elite party members–still had the votes, collectively, to play kingmaker). Then we began to say it was unfair that people not registered with a party–folks like me–couldn’t vote in primary elections, so we began opening our primaries.

    Perhaps our mistake was even beginning primary elections. Maybe that term itself helped shape our thinking of candidate selection as a public process, rather than an internal one.

    But overall, yes, in the U.S. we don’t see candidate selection as an internal party decision, but as a public decision in which internal party members play a larger role (at least potentially) than most others. I’ve come to think a big part of the U.S.’s problem is a surfeit of democracy and a want of republicanism.

  17. lancifer666 says:

    James,

    I read the Wikipedia entry on Duverger’s law. It sounds like a reasonable hypothesis.

    Can we expect to escape plurality rule, “first past the post” elections in our life times?

    What system do you think would best free us from the “two party” paradigm?

    Do you think that would even be a good idea?

    I must confess that other than being (dimly) aware of the novelty of other election models I have given the idea very little thought. I suppose this is a function of my naivete or American parochialism.

  18. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Can we expect to escape plurality rule, “first past the post” elections in our life times?

    Don’t make me laugh while I’m drinking coffee.

    What system do you think would best free us from the “two party” paradigm?
    A list proportional parliamentary system with a low electoral threshold for parties gaining seats. Short of that, eliminating House districts and having states elect all their U.S. Representatives at large would help. Indiana has 9 seats–it’s conceivable that in an at large vote third parties could focus their votes and pick up at least one or two of them.

    Do you think that would even be a good idea?
    I’ve moved from being a staunch supporter of the American system of separation of powers to thinking we need a parliamentary system so we can better constrain the executive. Possibly breaking the two party system would just be a side-benefit from my perspective. The drawbacks are potentially having unstable governing coalitions if no party can gain a majority of seats, and losing district-based representation (to a greater or lesser degree, depending on details of the political structure). There’s no perfect system, so you have to decide what benefits you want and what drawbacks you’re willing to accept.

  19. Matty says:

    One issue you haven’t mentioned is that in a parliamentary system if one party has a big enough majority they become close to uncheckable within the system. I recall a lot of concern that Tony Blair had more power than he should because the size of the Labour majority meant that once his government introduced a bill it was all but certain to pass, reducing the role of parliament in scrutinising and amending proposed laws.

  20. Troublesome Frog says:

    Matty,

    I think I’d like to try that version of governance for a little while. What we have now is that the majority party is “responsible” for making things work but doesn’t actually have the power to push its agenda. It’s like the classic management failure at work: You’re in charge of something, but the departments who do the work don’t report to you, so good luck with that. Only it’s worse, because the departents who do the work actually have an incentive to see the whole thing burn.

    J@m3z Aitch:

    Short of that, eliminating House districts and having states elect all their U.S. Representatives at large would help.

    Boy, what would we Californians do with that one? We have 53 seats and enough people in the tails of the voting distributions that our delegation would be a hoot. Remeber what the ballot looked like for our recall election in 2003? Gallagher got 5,466 votes.

    I’m all for it.

  21. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Matty,

    Correct, that’s another downside. Of course that party can be held responsible by the public in a way that our ours can’t because with district representation we have candidate-centered elections rather than party-centered ones. I think–speaking personally–the tradeoff would be, on net, positive. But I could be wrong.

  22. D. C. Sessions says:

    One of the more interesting setups I’ve seen proposed is basically a directorate. There’s a threshold for getting onto the Board (at large voting) and once on the Board Directors vote the proxies they have from citizens. Proxies expire, so a Director’s voting power can change during his tenure. In the USA, we might for instance have each State represented by one Director, but the voters in that State could give their proxies to another Director if they don’t like their own (think Rand Paul or Elizabeth Warren.)

    How would parties play in that setup? I suspect even worse than in our own, which might or might not be a Good Thing.

    I find it interesting for that reason and because it wouldn’t have been feasible until relatively recently.

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