I recently came across an online account
of how badly the Romney campaign messed up its election day get-out-the-vote operation, with large numbers of volunteers going unused because of failures of the computerized system that was supposed to coordinate them. The account takes it for granted that the errors were due to incompetence by the campaign. While that is the most plausible explanation, there is another and more interesting possibility—deliberate sabotage by one or more Obama supporters who managed to infiltrate the Romney campaign. Such things have been known to happen in elections.
Which reminds me of a talk I heard some years ago from someone who had been involved, at a fairly high level, in state politics. He started by commenting on how shocked he was at the breach of political ethics in the Watergate case. Then he went on to explain.
In the old days, he told us, we spied on them and they spied on us, and both sides took it for granted; that was part of the game. This time some bastard called the cops. Clearly unethical behavior—what is the world coming to?
Which raises the question of whether such dirty tricks may actually play a positive function in politics, seen not as an exercise in morality but as a way of choosing a leader. If Romney can't even protect his own campaign from infiltration and sabotage, can we trust him to protect the country?
The implication in the other direction—what it means if there was sabotage and it was the work not of a few individuals working on their own but of the Obama campaign—is less clear. Insofar as we regard the President as our leader and trust him to employ dirty tricks only against our enemies, his ability to do so is a plus. Insofar as we suspect that we might ourselves be targeted, or that the same tactics might be used to keep us ignorant of information relevant to deciding how to vote in the future, it is a minus.
Which reminds me ... of the Ottoman Empire. In its early and successful period, the succession mechanism was fratricide. When the Sultan died, those of his sons who wanted the throne raised troops and fought it out. It was a costly way of choosing a ruler—considerably more expensive, relative to the wealth of the Empire, than our procedure relative to our wealth. On the other hand, it was a succession mechanism that selected for the ability to win a war, to avoid assassins, to attract support, a collection of military and political talents that might be very useful to a Sultan. As best I can tell, the point at which that mechanism disappeared was about the point at which the Sultan became a pampered figurehead rather than the real ruler of the empire and commander of the army. Also about the point at which the Ottoman Empire stopped expanding.
All of which makes interesting speculation on the real, as opposed to theoretical, mechanics of democracy. But the odds are that it is speculation built, in this case, on air, that the problem really was incompetence, not sabotage.