There's a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine called A Dictator's Handbook for the President by Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, two political science professors who have employed political game theory. (I corresponded briefly with de Mesquita, as reported in The Jesus Christ of Political Game Theory on the Stupidity of Lesser Evilist Voting).
The authors describe the following 5 rules, describe how they've been used by various dictators, and then relate that to US political history of both Democrats and Republicans:
Rule 1: Keep the winning coalition as small as possible.
Rule 2: Keep the selectorate as large as possible.
Rule 3: Control the flow of revenue.
Rule 4: Pay key supporters just enough to keep them loyal.
Rule 5: Never take money out of your supporter's pockets to make the people's lives better.
I'm not 100% clear what "selectorate" means, but it appears to mean the number of different groups of voters (in a democracy) or, more generally, supporters, that can be played off against each other by the person or group in power, to generate a selfish sort of 'loyalty'.
I found the following:
Just like autocrats and tyrants, leaders of democratic countries follow the Five Rules of politics as best as they can -- they, too, want to get power and keep it. The conventional impression that democrats and autocrats are worlds apart stems only from the different constraints they face. Those who rely on a large coalition -- democrats -- have to be more creative than their autocratic counterparts and thus they succeed less often. The proof? Even though they generally provide a much higher standard of living for their citizens than do tyrants, democratic leaders generally have much shorter terms in office, even apart from term limits.
As we have noted, Obama has internalized these rules and carries them out as best as the electoral and legal structures of the United States allow him to. Consider his policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the president is to be reelected, he must do what his core voters want or risk them staying home on Election Day 2012 or perhaps voting for a yet-to-emerge, third-party candidate more to their liking. The president likely remembers what happened to Al Gore back in 2000 when Ralph Nader mounted a devastating campaign that sucked up votes from the Democratic base. Obama's core constituents want the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
to ring much more true than lamentations about how Obama doesn't understand this or that, or that he's dumb, or that he's weak, or that he doesn't know how to negotiate.
Fortunately (or is it unfortunately?), two aspects that de Mesquita and Smith seem to have glossed over, or overlooked, are 1) the vast difference in numbers between different US political groups that they speak about and 2) the potential for punishing type votes. E.g., they say
Those voters who are truly essential get rewarded for their support; but how big their rewards are depends on how many substitutes there are for them. Think about it: Is your vote really worth the same as a Wall Street hedge fund manager or someone in a key swing state?
Well, the Wall Street dudes may be able to contribute a lot more cash, which buy TV advertising, which influences voting decisions, but what if progressives (including progressive conservatives, as well as populist voters) used their VAST ADVANTAGE of numbers to counteract the TV/$$ factor? You know, using low $$ means of political message propagation such as I discussed Progressives are Stupid if they don't seize their opportunity to educate their Republican neighbors.?
Secondly, aggressive progressives could exact electoral discipline in some swing state situations, by acting as aggressively as the Tea Partiers have. I've written about voting blocs - which need to cohere between elections, and not be bashful about doling out pain in a limited, controlled manner - in a few diaries, including Recommended Short and Long Term Voting Strategies for the Dump Obama Movement.
And lets not even get into how many swing voters were disappointed in Obama precisely because he couldn't deliver on taming the financial sector. How many conservatives want the US government to be liable for hedge fund type gambling? These are more common sense, rule of law, up vs. down issues, that swing voters also care about. de Mesquita and Smith wrote a brief article, without going into a lot of scenarios, but I hope nobody assumes that their meaning of the reality of swing voters is the same falsely constraining one put forth by Obama apologists.
10:45 AM PT: I just edited the title, slightly, adding the phrase: "Foreign Policy Mag:"