Sunday, April 1, 2012

AElien Autopsy (Part I)

The wheels are now beginning to fall off of Americans Elect Corporation's bus. Its first-round balloting is a slooooow motion train wreck. No brand-name candidate with a respectable reputation to worry about is willing to come within a ten-foot pole of declaring for it. High-profile one-time supporters like Rise of the Center's Solomon Kleinsmith are quite publicly jumping ship. Its media honeymoon is over, and suddenly everyone is asking it hard questions (for which it seems to have no answers). So we think it is time to begin the autopsy while the corpse is still fresh.

Why bother? Well, first off, future advocates of digital democracy will do well to consider Americans Elect Corporation's many fatal flaws. As AECorp’s Chairman-For-Life, Peter Ackerman, was the first to fully appreciate, internet-enabled democracy really is the wave of the future. We just hope that in that future Americans Elect wannabes will actually work to serve democracy, not their own personal interests.

Secondly, as every fan of zombies knows, the walking dead can still do harm, and Americans Elect Corporation still has tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands, if you believe the Party line) of idealists under its putrefying spell. These are mostly good-hearted idealistic folks of every stripe - Left, Right, and Center - who just want to fix what is obviously wrong with American politics today. We hate to see them being used like Wall Street's ‘muppets’, and we hate the thought of how discouraged and cynical they’re going to be once the Corporation has had its way with them.

Finally…and this is a foundational principle here at AE Transparency...unless we make very clear to plutocratic AE wannabes just what public humiliation they will bring upon themselves if they try this same insulting con again, the next election cycle will see dozens of AECorp clones springing from the soil of its grave, just as today we have Citizens United to thank for the rash of Super PACs which followed in its wake. And if that happens, you can pretty much kiss ‘democracy’ goodbye, and say “Hello, corporatocracy!” Mystery-money gazillionaires, we want to be very sure you get this: don’t try this again.

That said, herewith begins our litany (in no particular order) of what we think were Americans Elect Corporation’s most fatally boneheaded mistakes. They’ve made so many that this will have to be a multi-part series in order to really cover them all.

Mistake #1: Telling Your Customers What They Want Before They've Told You Want They Need

If you've somehow managed to make a billion dollars without ever once putting in what most folks would consider an honest day's work, like AECorp’s mystery Wall Street puppet-masters, chances are you have a vastly overblown opinion of your own wisdom. AECorp’s founders were just sure they knew what believers in digital democracy need, and that was the seed of their undoing. Here’s what they decided for you:

1. You need lots of sparkly Javascript gizmos to click on, like a crazed chicken in a Skinner box. Find your True Colors with our sexy online push-polling survey (the results of which the Corporation will totally ignore…we’re just trying to make you feel like we actually give a damn what you think). Let us match you with your ideal Dreamy-Date Candidate (because, you know, you’re too stupid to decide for yourself which candidate to support). Click more buttons, collect more Badges! Click FASTER! Since when did the exercise of democracy, digital or otherwise, become a computer game?

2. You need a Strong Man, a Digital Joe Stalin, to make all your decisions for you. AECorp’s founders, fearlessly led and bankrolled by Wall Street tycoon Peter Ackerman, appointed themselves as its Board of Directors, then honed the corporation’s Bylaws so that they cannot be displaced. Not ever.  Then they really got to work, bestowing upon themselves omnipotent superpowers: the “extraordinary power and authority to take or compel any action” (its in the Bylaws; just check if you can’t believe it). When we call AECorp’s Board of Directors ‘omnipotent’ we’re not just engaging in our usual needling hyperbole. They reserve for themselves the power to take ANY action…including, but not limited to, overturning the “delegates’” winning choice of a ticket and crowning their own choice instead, by fiat. If the power to do anything you want isn’t 'omnipotence', we don’t know what is.  How on earth could otherwise fiendishly clever guys (gender bias intended) come to believe that we muppets would be pretty much OK with that? It says a lot about their opinion of the ‘little people’ (in fact, we’re kind-of surprised not to find the ghost of Leona Helmsley on their leadership roster). Of course we yearn for a Digital Dictatorship. Grab us by the mouse and our hearts and minds will follow!

3. You need protection from the Tree of Knowledge. AECorp’s Founding Fathers determined that the muppets wouldn’t really care who ponied up the tens of millions of dollars required to rapidly build up the organization from nothing and to (literally) buy its way onto all fifty states’ ballots. They decided we would be sufficiently placated by their casual assurance that “no special interests” were involved…as if every billionaire isn’t a special interest unto himself. Alas, they guessed wrong. “Follow the money” is, was, and always has been the First Law of Politics. A surprising number of muppets get that.

4. You need silence (…crickets…).  A feature which is particularly notable in its absence from Americans Elect Corporation’s Whiz-Bang Intertubes Democracy Machine is any facility for enabling active, vibrant, and intelligent debate among ‘delegates’, for debating the candidates’ merits and demerits, for thoughtfully discussing what’s important and what’s not. Sure, they outsourced “customer support” to a dumb web site called Get Satisfaction, but you’ll get no satisfaction from that echo chamber. And sure, the Corporate web site provides a spiffy ‘Debates’ section…in which no debate is possible. The one message which is communicated loud and clear by the Corporation is that when it wants your opinion, it will give it to you.

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