It’s The Structure, Stupid!

Folks in my age group will remember the banner that was famously hung in Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters: “It’s the Economy, Stupid!”  I wish I could hire a sky-writer to outline a different message every day until it sinks in: “it’s the structure, stupid!”

What do I mean by that?

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I am desperate for voters to rid us of the proudly ignorant, deeply corrupt lunatic currently in power. His moral and intellectual defects certainly matter. But he and his Keystone Kop administration are only there because of systemic dysfunctions–which is why the various pissing matches on the Left over candidate purity are so beside the point.

Until we fix the system, God herself can’t get Medicare-for-All or free college or a UBI or even immigration reform passed. (I personally give props to candidates like Mayor Pete who clearly recognize the need to focus on how to get from point A to point B, rather than simply identifying point B as a desired destination.)

Yes, we need to get rid of the morons and crooks running the White House and the Senate. We also– desperately– need to elect people who understand the need for systemic change and who will make that change their number one priority.

Connecticut’s Democratic Senator, Chris Murphy, made this point in a recent interview with The New Yorker. The interview, not surprisingly, revolved around Impeachment and the Democratic primary, but when Murphy was asked whether he agreed with Joe Biden’s expressed belief that bipartisanship would ultimately return–that Republicans and Democrats would once again be able to work together–his response was absolutely dead-on.

I think we can’t be dependent on the culture of this town changing based on personality changes. There are incentive structures that reward dysfunction. You have got to change those systems. You have to change the way that congressional districts are drawn. You have to publicly finance elections and get rid of dark money. You have to stop the habit of Democrats and Republicans meeting every single day, separate from each other, so that we can never talk across the aisle about big problems. There are rules that incentivize partisan bickering. Barack Obama ran on a promise to be able to change political realities in Washington through sheer force of personality, and it didn’t work. I just think we have to be focussed on changing the rules.

The rules Murphy is referencing have created the toxic culture we inhabit, and that culture won’t improve until those rules change.

It’s simple enough to prescribe what’s needed: massive turnout to eject the repulsive remains of what was once a respectable political party, replacing them with people who: 1) are committed to the restoration of democracy and the rule of. law; and 2) who understand the structural reforms that will be required in order to achieve that restoration.

“Vote Blue no matter who” is an essential first step, but it is only a first step. Then the hard work begins. We have to eliminate gerrymandering, the filibuster, and the disproportionate influence of money in our political system. We have fight vote suppression and pass the National Popular Vote Compact. We have to repair the enormous damage this administration has done to our federal government and our stature in the world. We have to move aggressively to combat climate change and protect the environment. We have to restore civic education and teach news literacy.

In other words, ridding ourselves of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump is essential but not nearly sufficient.

We will have our work cut out for us–and we can’t do what absolutely needs to be done unless and until we change the systems that got us here.


  1. Then the biggest obstacle to solving our problems will remain…. tax reform. Until every entity in the country (individuals, corporations, businesses, and not for profits) pays their fair share, we will be at each others throats.
    We are either all in, or we are divided.

  2. While reading this blog today, it reminded me so much of what I’ve read about Eleanor Roosevelt’s initiatives in the 1930s and 40s and beyond. Of course, this could go all the way back to her uncle Teddy. Structural necessities like universal health care and affordable higher education are FOR THE BENEFIT OF OUR PEOPLE. So, naturally, Republicans fight it every step of the way. The Republicans fought like hell to repeal Social Security in the 1930s….and guess what? They’re still trying to do that now blaming it for our national debt.

    Yes, there is a great rebuilding needed when the orange hairball and as many Republicans as possible are removed from government at all levels. But nothing will change, really, until elections are publicly funded, the campaign season is limited to six months and lobbying, where money or some things of value are concerned, must be abolished; no loopholes. Yes, the corporate welfare tax cuts must be restored to generate the needed revenue for the myriad of projects needed. Cutting defense spending and getting out of wars with no end are also part of an intelligent plan to make America great again.

    That would be a long banner.

  3. Is there any discernible structure to be found anywhere in the current administration or in the Senate? The recreation of the structure in progress in Congress seems to have thrown many Americans into a new state of chaos with the current disregard of structure regarding the basic impeachment process as understood – and accepted – as written in the Constitution. The disregard for Constitutional structure within the Senate has been at a standstill regarding Democratic progress, beginning during President Obama’s administration, since McConnell was handed the reins.

    It appears to me that the past Republican control of the House and the continuing Republican control of the Senate lacks the civic education Sheila has repeatedly reminded us the general public needs. Even without civic education we are aware that something basic is drastically wrong and the current government is not working. White Nationalism has a stranglehold and is forming a structure based on denial of our civil rights which has escalated in less than three years to a level where the rights of the majority, democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution are meaningless. The structure of the Constitution has become meaningless and we are a weakened nation under the control of two evil men and their consorts. How do we bring that basic structure to the forefront to return guidance and control within this government?

    The primary vote followed by the general election in November 2020 is the answer but will it provide the solution or end as the 2016 presidential appointment of Trump?

  4. Hey Sheila,
    Seems like a good idea, but what’s to stop the virus of corruption, chaos and conflict from adapting to a brand-new anti-viral disinfectant? How can you change the hearts of the corrupted? How can you make those who have no empathy, feel compassion for their fellow man? How can you stop or, even slow down corruptive and nefarious activities from those who self deal.

    You should read the book “A History of Political Theory” By George H. Sabine; the author pointed out that the ignorance and incompetence of politicians are special curse of democracies. And, they are “disgusted with finding indecision and corruption when they look for direction.” Kind of like watching the Democratic debates? Destroy yourselves, and that will make you stronger? The thought process doesn’t jibe.

    I often wondered how people can expect to legislate morality? Jesus Christ separated himself from politics of the day, he told Pontius Pilate that his kingdom was no part of this world, so that in itself points to Christ’s anti-political stance. He also avoided those who tried to make him a king. Christ also said to give Caesar’s things to Caesar and God’s things to God. Evangelicals have not gotten the memo.

    Would you like to see a microcosm of what democracy with a complete Amoral relationship with an extremely corrupt and Amoral Cardinal Villeneuve. Premier of Québec and also Atty. Gen. Maurice Duplessis used this relationship with the Cardinal to consolidate his political power. Gerard Pelletier a Québecian historian stated that Maurice Duplessis and the Cardinal Villeneuve reigned over a “20 year stretch of lies, injustice and corruption with a systematic abuse of power, the sway of small minds and the triumph of stupidity.”

    When religion becomes embroiled in politics, no good ever comes of it! Not only do the religious turn against their beliefs, they completely deny Scripture and thereby deny Christ. Kingdoms and governments with a corrupt intent, used religion as a bludgeon and purposefully, with nefarious intent, misapplied and misinterpreted Scripture across the board. Kind of like pounding a square peg into a round hole. So we shall see, what we shall see! I also believe there will be a reckoning for the corruption evangelicals supported and promoted for political power and not to advance their beliefs as ministers.

    “Bless your persecutors: bless and do not curse. 15 Gladness with men who are being glad, weeping with weepers. 16 Interested along the same line, for each other; not occupied with thoughts of high things, but drawn into the interests of lowly people; do not feel as if you were great thinkers. 17 Not paying anybody back a bad turn for a bad, keeping in mind what is going to be good before all men; 18 if possible, as far as depends on you, keeping at peace with all men; 19* not taking your own revenges, dear ones, but leave room for God’s anger; for it is written “Mine is vengeance, I will requite, says the Lord.” 20 But “if your enemy is hungry feed him, if he is thirsty give him a drink, for in doing this you will be piling live coals on his head.” 21 Do not be beaten by the bad, but beat the bad with the good.”(Romans 12:14-21)

    The willfully enlightened can see forest through the trees!

  5. It’s funny when you mention fixing the corrupt system and then says the one democratic candidate having fundraisers in wine caves. Pete also has been bought out by Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

    As Bernie says, “You cannot fix a corrupt system when you take money from the corrupters.”

    Obama talked a progressive game, too, but did nothing even remotely progressive. As Louis Farrakhan repeatedly kept saying about Barrack, “Once he got a taste of Wall Street, we can’t get him back to the hoods in Chicago to help the people he promised to help.”

    Bernie Sanders has been putting forth legislation to fix the corrupted system for years. Still, he gets no support from the corrupted Democratic Party or the media owned by the Oligarchy. Why do you think he continues getting a media black-out?

    And yes, late-stage capitalism is also the problem so our economic system must be replaced.

    We’ve been voting R’s and D’s for the past forty years, and we keep getting worse, never better. Purity or incorruptibility is the point, and it’s essential to have politicians who haven’t been bought by the corrupt system because those politicians will not fix the systems which are broke if they are lining their pockets and making them millionaires.

    If the goal is getting rid of Trump — that’s no resistance. It’s called surrender!

  6. Back in the days when I managed a handful of people, I always appreciated it when they pointed out a problem, but I loved it when they pointed out a problem and offered some well considered possible solutions. It’s basic principle of management that, unfortunately, isn’t taught anywhere.

    Senator Murphy is a thoughtful, reasonable man caught in a web of crazy such as we have never seen. I hope for the new year, we can bring about enough change that we can at least begin talking about his proposed solutions.

  7. Corporations have all the money. Not all corporations are corrupt. Some corporations donate to both parties. We need to know those corporations whose donation amounts exceeded previous limitations. In 2016 Bernie claimed NO donations from corporations; all private donations from the public totaling an amazing amount. But many of those same private donors became the Bernie Bots who ignored his pleas that they support and vote for Hillary Clinton when he lost the nomination; few listened, they ranted on and on and either wrote his name in, voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson…or didn’t vote at all. The blame cannot all be laid on corporation donations; Citizens United ended the limitations which freed up those corporations who bought and paid for Donald Trump’s appointment. No structure in Citizens United; they put this government on the auction block with their open-ended donations.

  8. Todd, you are right on @ 8:18 am: It’s funny when you mention fixing the corrupt system and then says the one democratic candidate having fundraisers in wine caves. Pete also has been bought out by Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

    As Bernie says, “You cannot fix a corrupt system when you take money from the corrupters.”

    How could you expect the “Wine Cave Candidate” to be committed to any kind of reform?? Oh, he talks he a good show. Who are his paymasters??? There will be no structural change from likes of Pete or Biden.

  9. I agree with much of what you say. Additionally, the Democrats are not “ideal” in so many ways, and are tolerable, mostly because the alternatives are far worse. Senator Murphy is likely beholden to the insurance interests of his home state and others support their own area’s big businesses. Republicans have proven much more clever, most of the time, fooling the people – playing upon emotions/fears – racism, “socialism” (sic). While Sanders – talks insightfully on most issues, he’s never worked well with fellow senators and representatives and would/will face total resistance if elected president by all the interests opposed to serious change, Warren has worked reasonably well with fellow senators, but has her own weaknesses, Biden – relies strongly upon Black support, but his history shows repeated reactionary – virtually racist – stances over decades, Mayor Pete – is probably the Most Intelligent – but he is weak – in his Centrism and some of his record relating to Blacks – and is inexperienced, I see no simple answer – but a lot of stuff that needs to be dealt with. Meanwhile – people support Trump because of the economy, their (racist often) fears, emotions in general – we’ve got a lot on our plate!

  10. My policy preferences are left wing – I’d love to see the kind of democratic socialism Scandinavia has. And I think Buttigieg has a better, more workable plan to get there than anyone else. Also, he is committed to structural change and has been for years. He brings it up everywhere and he doesn’t take money from pacs or corporations. I don’t believe for a minute that accepting personal contributions from wealthy progressives warps his agenda, and I agree with him that it’s crazy to expect people who aren’t wealthy to carry the load. Everywhere he goes, Buttigieg listens intently to everyone, and responds thoughtfully to everyone – even ranting left-wing ideologues (whose behavior mirrors Trump as far as I can see). And he usually has a low cost event paired with the higher cost ones ($25 to get in). Demonizing people of wealth has Always backfired in America, where most people admire the wealthy. Fairness and equity for All is what works. Ideological purity will sink us faster than anything else.

  11. What we were given by the framers of the Constitution was the most powerful gift conceivable but since then corrupt people have been searching for ways around its protections for we the people through loopholes and progresss and endlessly created demand for comfort. Those assaults are cumulative and finally what we were given is simply not enough and the crooks are in the treasury.

    We need to do again what they did in their times, but who? Who’s that concerned with everyone else at the expense of themselves? Who’s moral enough but not selling their religion? Who’s literate enough but one with we the people? Who’s collaborative enough to find solutions that represent the best of our thinking not the most powerful in getting their way at the expense of everyone else? Who’s fit for the future rather than merely a relic of their times? Who can lead billions of the most diverse population possible? Who can represent earth in discussions with nature’s leading antagonist?

    All I personally see are big compromises to all that’s necessary. I wish it were different.

  12. On the need for structural change of our system of governing, Sheila says correctly that, “We…desperately– need to elect people who understand the need for systemic change and who will make that change their number one priority.”

    Yes; “We have to eliminate gerrymandering, the filibuster, and the disproportionate influence of money in our political system. We have (to) fight vote suppression and pass the National Popular Vote Compact. We have to repair the enormous damage this administration has done to our federal government and our stature in the world. We have to move aggressively to combat climate change and protect the environment. We have to restore civic education and teach news literacy.”


    These changes WILL NOT HAPPEN, no matter who we elect…because the system in place won’t let them happen.

    But here’s what will happen:

    1) Soon after the swearing in ceremonies are over, if not before, part of the newly elected super majority will have sold itself to the 1%, another part will have caved to blackmail by the 1%, and the rest will succumb to threats from the 1%. The “desperately needed” super majority disappears like a magic trick.

    And 2): There is no number 2. Everything stops at 1, except the status quo; it resumes at pretty much full speed. It’s time to accept reality. Neither elections nor our Constitution can make the changes needed. GULP! We have come face to face with our national catch 22.

  13. My now deceased wife used to tell me repeatedly that nothing of substance will change until we have public financing of the vote since then otherwise corruptible public servants will owe their political allegiance to the people and not those who are currently buying their vote. I think she was on to something, but with Citizens United as an obstacle to such representative nirvana I think we are still a target for the rich and corporate class to exploit.

    Given that her analysis had and has teeth, and even if we rebuke Citizens, my guess is that the rich and corporate class will find ever new means and ways of corrupting the political process, so we will have to be vigilant with a view toward making and keeping our representative democracy reasonably representative of the broader interests of all the people rather than the narrow profit-making interests of the few – perhaps a never-ending brawl. We can start throwing the money changers out of the temple by massively voting Democratic November next, and while that won’t immediately rid us of the current inequities in income and wealth, it’s a start, and we have to start somewhere – and persevere after starting.

  14. Throwing out a thought for all…if every time some reform or regulation is instituted the rich and powerful engage their lawyers, consultants, think tanks and/or lobbyists to immediately find “loopholes” to void, work around or turn to their advantage the change….

    Why aren’t there foundations or groups who could put equal or better brainpower to anticipating such tactics and build-in blocks at the get go???

  15. Carol Frances Johnston: excellent response.

    Sheila, for the most part people are incapable of getting your point (as evidence by the thoughts expressed here). It helps to have a knowledge of W. Edwards Deming. For those not familiar, he was a statistician who help industry, particularly Japanese industry, understand that almost all faults are caused not by the workers, but the systems they are given. This concept rebuilt Japan and moved industry forward decades in a few years. The application of his teachings to political systems is this: you aren’t going to change people — you have to build a system that allows them to do their best work.

    If we want any significant results, we have to focus on systemic change.

  16. It appears to me – although I can’t read his motives – that an intellect the size of Mayor Pete’s is required to address the infinitely complex issues America faces: Iran, Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, health care, the environment, conservative judges, regulations, trade, addiction, education, divisiveness, Citizens United, automation-driven joblessness, abortion, income inequality, church and state squabbles, infrastructure, etc. Buttigieg has the youth and energy and temperament and intellect to take these issues on, along with a host of others that are not yet among our top ten. That’s not to say he will fix them all, but he is capable of analyzing priorities and considering issues in context – a vast difference from today’s whimsical approach to policy formation and governance.

    His age gives him the ability to relate to and address the constituency which will be most affected by our poor decision making processes and weak defense of our institutions. He will fight to bring science back into the governmental mainstream, and to demonstrate that truth works better than lies. He will struggle to rid us of the systemic dysfunction that has brought us to this point, and base his solutions on something resembling systems analysis. That could succeed – at least – in getting us back onto a sustainable national strategy for our key issues. We need a president who can lead us out of the quagmire of corruption now pulling us down. He just may be the person to do the job.

  17. Terry, you say that Mayor Pete “will fight” and “will struggle” “to rid us of the systemic dysfunction”, etc. of which we all are concerned.

    I doubt whether you or Mayor Pete realize what fight and struggle mean in this context. This is not a fight for school body president, or for or against the question of an open campus where a tally of the votes settles the question.

    This fight and struggle is more like when the citizens of Little Italy decide they will no longer pay for Mafia protection. The vote has nothing to do with the end results. All that matters is if the people, especially their leaders, can bear up under murders, threats, decapitations, blackmail, bribery, payoffs, bagmen, assassins, arson, bombings, poisoning, job loss, false criminal prosecutions, etc., all of which will be used as terrorizing weapons by the Dons who run things now.

    Buttigieg reminds me of John Kennedy’s brain trust of McNamara and Dean Rusk–very smart, analytical, articulate, progressive…and ultimately ignorant of what they were doing wrong in Vietnam. And they were too soft to question their own thinking, and too soft to go against the military industrial complex, and too soft to fight the doves or hawks of their own party.

    Whoever the next Democrat President will be, we should hope that their very best quality is hardened courage. And we should put that hardened courage at the top of our list of attributes we are looking for in a candidate.

    Presently, I see no one among democrat hopefuls who has that kind of courage…unless it would be Kamala Harris, and I’m skeptical even of her. I wish the polls would show zero approval for each of them, so we could start over in a search for a real leader.

  18. Those who are so disparaging of candidates like Pete and insult those who are potential supports of any candidate who is selected by the party to run against DJT, are setting us up for a repeat of 2016. Making remarks about his corruption by pharmacy and other corporate groups deserves some proof of the claims. I doubt seriously if any of the older top candidates has not accepted contributions directly or otherwise from corporate donors in their long terms in various offices. Harkening back to previous administrations with very intelligent advisors should be viewed as lessons learned the hard way.

    Someone as intelligent as Pete has shown himself to be, who reacts to criticisms and challenges, shows that he can and does learn from negative experience, reacts with reason and cool temperament and is analytical and open-minded should not be dismissed out of hand because of his recognition of precedence. He knows that those in the center will likely dictate the outcome.

    Anyone over 70 would be subject to extremely high levels of stress that are there 365 days a year, 24/7. It is difficult enough for younger people. We can see the evidence of that stress after two terms of Presidential office in Obama. Just look at before and after pictures of Presidents in the last 50 years. The weight of that stress, now maybe just as great as during the Cuban crisis, Vietnam and 9/11, could be a deadly.

    Regardless of who the candidate is, the damaging rhetoric coming from those who continuously sling mud, will come back to taint the campaign run up to November. Bank on it. The diggers of dirt, foreign and domestic, will find and manipulate those charges to their advantage. They appear to be doing so already.

  19. Suggest you all watch Untold History of the United States on Netflix. You will not like or agree with it all, but more is right than wrong. We are in a mess. Sheila is right. We have to change the structure, but not so much of the government but of capitalism. We need rewards and punishments within the system of capitalism and the markets which inform it.

    Andrew Wang and Elizabeth Warren are scratching the surface of the problem. I love Bernie but fear that the people are afraid of the revolution he proposes. Let Wang and Warren tinker with the system in order to restructure the markets and eliminate the current major negative consequences.

  20. In addition to the National Popular Vote Compact, we also really need to adapt Approval Voting, where voters may vote for one or more candidates, and the candidate with the most votes win.

    To me the selling point of Approval Voting is that from a game theoretic perspective, it never offers any incentive to treat your favorite and least favorite candidates strategically: any vaguely rational voter should always approve of their favorite candidate(s), and never approve of their least. Of course, there may be strategic incentives associated with candidates that fall in the middle of one’s preference order, but unlike ranked choice voting, you can always support your favorite candidate without any concern that you are somehow helping a least favorite candidate win.

    It also changes political discourse: it’s common for members of one party to attack third parties that should be natural allies, because of concerns over vote splitting and whatnot. Now, sometimes this critique is not wrong and may even convey some tactical benefit (though I suspect that this pattern of behavior is a total disaster from a longer-term strategic perspective), but since Approval Voting largely eliminates vote splitting. So, as it stands, this argument is odious but not entirely wrong… under approval voting, this argument is simply odious, and has no redeeming value.

    And, yes I am very well acquainted with Ranked Choice Voting, but trust me, Approval Voting is not only simpler than RCV, more importantly it is better than RCV. RCV was my first introduction to social choice theory 20 years ago. I initially supported RCV but eventually came to understand the non-obvious superiority of Approval Voting.

    Check out the Center for Election Science for more information!

  21. Let’s see – everyone who wins elected office becomes corrupt. They can’t help it.
    I am insulted. I have no proof, but that assumes that had I been elected to office back in 2011, I would have been CORRUPTED by THE SYSTEM. I can also be insulted for the author of this blog.


    Some people get corrupted by anything and others never will. That is being human and the continuum of traits.

    If there were to be the case, I would suggest that we just ignore politics and let the corruption consume everything while we go on with our daily lives – lots of TV, Internet entertainment, and music.

    Otherwise we fight back.

    Another thought – Rich people gave money to Pete. OK – So a rich white patrician from New York, supported by many rich people would never care about electrifying Appalachia, the welfare of workers who are injured or retire, or poor people. I guess FDR didn’t exist. Nor would a rich white Texan supported by many rich people care about the civil rights of black people or the cost of medical care for the elderly. LBJ didn’t exist either.

    Prejudice – prejudging people without complete (or even any) knowledge. ARGH!!

    If we want to change things, reclaim our system, move towards our ideals – then we should heed the advice of Sheila and comments by Theresa and others. The other thing to remember is that some things can be achieved relatively quickly and as a whole, but most others will take time and happen in steps. The important thing is to set high goals and then work towards them with our eyes open and with realism (and perhaps pragmatism). The idea is to set aspirational goals, and a realistic road map. The rabbinic sage Rabbi Tarfon said “Ours is not to complete the task, nor are we free to desist from it.” If you can reach your goal, you are aiming too low. Or to take the 20th/21st Century business mantra “Constant Improvement”.

    And remember, we elect people, not saints. My personal political hero, Bobby Kennedy, was no saint and did a lot of bad things, but in the end, the white working class, African-American community, Latino community, and even the Native American community all shared a belief that he would heal the wounds of the 1960s and work to help all Americans. I don’t expect to find another like him, but you will notice that I don’t believe that flaws disqualify a person.

    Note to Leon Smith – I see great appeal in RCV and Approval Voting, but I worry about the unintended consequences – a proliferation of wacko candidates and the “approval” of a non-offensive, unqualified candidate resulting in their election.

    I have lived through Detroit’s “bedsheet ballot” primaries with hundreds of names to consider for dozens of races (well over 100 people seeking one of the 9 council seats). A name similar to a previous office holder, or other similar factors can do a lot in those situations.

    I have also seen unintended consequences like Michigan’s open Presidential Primaries (which I supported), leading initially to the choice of George Wallace – mostly by Republican votes (I did a partial analysis). Unintended consequences –

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