Thursday, June 5, 2008

"I Don't Understand"

There are a lot of things I don’t understand. And when I say, “I don’t understand”, I’m not using “I don’t understand” the way Dr. M uses it when she says, “I don’t understand how you can put your dirty dishes in the sink without running water over them.”

When she says that, Dr. M doesn’t really mean, “I don’t understand.” Not in the sense of, “I don’t understand how to program the DVD player.” “I don’t understand”, in the context of my not running water over the dirty dishes in the sink is Dr. M’s way of saying, “You’re an idiot.”

Dr. M’s trying to be polite by saying it another way. And I appreciate that. But she and I both know that when she says, “I don’t understand”, it has nothing to do with the issue of understanding. Unless, in fact, she’s talking to herself, and she’s saying, “I don’t understand why I married this idiot!”

When I say, “I don’t understand”, I mean I really don’t understand. And what would be great is, if you, out there, understood what I don’t understand, and you contacted me and cleared up the thing I don’t understand so that, hopefully, I could, then, understand.

Though there’s the possibility I may still not understand, because, if you apply the “not rinsing the dishes in the sink” standard, I’m an idiot.

Let’s give it a try anyway.

After a yearlong public humiliation of the candidates known as the Democratic Primary, it appears that we finally have our two nominees for the presidency. I like Obama. And I have a really good reason. He agrees with me on just about everything.

I wrote a book – which is currently stored under my desk – entitled, Both Sides Make Me Angry. In my book, I say many of the same things Obama says, especially concerning how, as a result of a polarizing partisanship, each of the two sides – who have remained the “two sides” since the Sixties – has no ability to and little interest in hearing anything the other side has to say.

In my favorite TV drama ever, The West Wing, this entrenched mutual animosity was labeled “the hate the Right has for the Left, and the mountains of disrespect the Left has for the Right.” This continuing hostility has not helped usd solve or even seriously discuss the major problems confronting our country. I believe there’s a better way to handle things. And so does Obama.

Let me be clear here. I’m not saying that Obama stole my ideas. I’m almost certain he hasn’t read my book. If a tall, skinny guy who looks great in a suit had been hunkering under my desk reading Both Sides Make Me Angry, making notes, I’m pretty sure I would have noticed. He’s welcome to read it if he wants to. He can come over any time. And he doesn’t have to sit under my desk. He can sit in my chair.

Anyway…

Now, that the campaign for President has officially begun, the issue I don’t understand moves powerfully front and center. And that issue is:

The Electoral College.

It’s not that I don’t understand the whole thing. I understand some of it. I understand that the Electoral College came into existence, because The Founding Fathers didn’t trust the people to do the right thing when they voted, so they threw in a little “checks and balance”, called the Electoral College.

Because of the indiscriminate head loppings that took place during the French Revolution, the “rule of the people” got a unfortunate reputation. Those Frenchies went crazy. The Founding Father’s went, “That’s not happening here”, and they came up with the Electoral College system to avert the possibility of massive head lopping in the newly-formed United States.

I understand that.

Another issue is that, due to population deficiencies, the small states were afraid they’d be overlooked in presidential elections, if only the popular vote was considered. The candidates would simply campaign in the more populated states, where the greater number of votes could be had, and totally ignore North Dakoka.

I understand that too.

What I don’t understand is why is the Electoral College voting allocation system is “All or Nothing”? Which, except for one state – and I don’t know what state it is but I know it’s small – the Electoral College voting allocation system is:

It’s “All or Nothing.”

A presidential candidate gets one more vote in a state with, say, a million voters in it, and by doing so, the candidate receives every one of that state’s electoral votes.

Why?

When I went to law school – I attended the University of Toronto Law School for five weeks – I learned two lessons. The first lesson was that I had no business being in law school. That lesson led me to leave law school. The second thing I learned in law school was a Latin phrase, which applies to the law, though I’m not exactly sure how, because by the time they explained it, I wasn’t there anymore.

I still, however, remember the phrase. The phrase was this:

Cui bono?

I took Latin in High School for five years. I was good in Latin, though I was immediately aware that this talent presented few career opportunities for a Jew. However, as a result of my useless Latin education, I know what Cui bono? means.

Cui bono? means “To whom does it benefit?” (“Cui” is in the dative case. Just something I happen to know.)

Cui bono? is the Latin cousin of “Follow the money.” “Follow the money” is purportedly a “Deep Throat” Watergate term. In that case, the investigators followed the money paid to the Watergate burglars into the White House, which ultimately led to the President of the United States being kicked out of the White House.

Similarly, if you follow the trail to who benefits from a statute or a policy or a longstanding institution, you can get an understanding of why that statute, policy or longstanding institution came into effect and why, against all logic, fairness and common sense, it hasn’t been eliminated or changed.

The Electoral College is not democratic, but we live with it because it’s a tradition, we’ve avoided the head loppings, and because, generally, throughout our history, the electors have “rubber stamped” rather than overruled the will of the people, as expressed through the popular vote. So far, so okay. We don’t need those guys, but fine. It gives them a job.

But why does the electoral vote allocation have to be “All or Nothing?”

(I’m going Q and A now. I’ll be both Q and A)

Wouldn’t an allocation of electoral votes in proportion with the popular votes in each state be more democratic than “All of Nothing?”

You would think so.

But we’re not doing that.

No.

Why not?

“Cui bono.”

Okay. Who “Cui bono’s” most from the current “All or Nothing” Electoral College allocation?

Republicans.

How?

By winning battleground states through the promotion of “wedge issues”, such as Gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, gun control, evolution versus “Intelligent Design”, school prayer, sex and violence on television and any other divisive cultural issue they can think of.

How does that work?

By mobilizing passionate supporters, “Wedge issues” win “battleground states”. “Battleground states” win close presidential elections. Therefore, “wedge issues” win close presidential elections.

When did that happen?

In 2000 and 2004. Maybe 1968 too, which employed the “Southern Strategy”, a “wedge issue” based on racial discomfort. And in 1988. Same reason. Remember Willie Horton?

Can the strategy work in 2008?

With a left of center black candidate with a Muslim-sounding name? Are you kidding me?

It is constitutionally possible to change the Electoral College voting system, to make it proportional rather than “All or Nothing”?

It appears that it is. As I said, there’s one state that already does things that way. I tried to research which one it is, but I got tired and gave up. But I’m almost certain it exists.

And you’re sure a proportional allocation would be better?

If “All of Nothing” disappeared, every state’s electoral votes would be in play. There would be no more “battleground states”, because all the states would be “battleground states”. And you couldn’t ignore the small states, because if the election’s close, you’re going to need every electoral vote you can get.

When every state’s a “battleground state”, “wedge issues” lose a considerable amount of steam. Nationally, stem cell research is supported. And so, or pretty close to “so”, is Gay marriage. With the blunting of “wedge issues”, you could focus on the war, health care, education, the environment and jobs. What some – and by “some”, I mean me – would call real issues.

Didn’t California recently try to get an initiative on the ballot making the electoral vote proportional to the popular vote?

Yeah, but that was a scam. These Republican wise guys simply wanted to siphon off some electoral votes in a state where, because of the “All or Nothing” system, they haven’t been getting any. Changing the process isn’t fair unless you do it in every state. That way, you allow Democrats a shot at some of the electoral votes from, say, Texas, where they, of late, have been shut out. The whole country has to change its system at the same time.

Democrats currently control the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Yes.

And Democrats have suffered as a result of the current “All of Nothing” allocation of the electoral votes.

Yes.

Are Democrats calling for a modification of the Electoral College process?

If they are, I haven’t heard about it.

Why don’t they do that?

You got me, Pal.

I don’t understand.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Electoral_College):

All states—except two—employ the winner-takes-all method, awarding their presidential electors as an indivisible bloc. The exceptions, Maine and Nebraska, select one elector within each congressional district by popular vote, and additionally select the remaining two electors by the aggregate, statewide popular vote. This method has been used in Maine since 1972, and in Nebraska since 1992.

Seonaid said...

I have some observations. I doubt they'll directly lead to understanding, but perhaps they'll help.

First, that Senator Clinton currently leads the popular vote in the Democratic party primary. The Democratic primary rules do not allow "winner take all" states, and yet, the popular vote isn't running the show.

Second, the apportionment of delegates to the electoral college is up to the individual states. Constitutionally, they don't even have to choose delegates through a popular vote at all! A state's constitution could declare that the governor appoint them all!

So, if the states choose to get rid of this winner-take-all system in the Electoral College, they can do so. But if they do, you can still have "upsets", such as Senators Clinton and Obama.

This gives rise to "why have super-delegates", which is the political question I don't understand today. They seem to exist so that the party elite can throw a close primary election one way or another. But very few of them are willing to do so publicly. I haven't checked the numbers since Tuesday night, but at the time, there were still enough uncommitted super-delegates that they could en-mass decide that the delegate equation isn't reflecting the total popular vote of the nation and all endorse Senator Clinton. But individually, they'd appear to be going against the popular vote in their home districts.

As immortalized in the Broadway musical 1776, it was the delegate from Georgia who switched his vote on the Declaration of Independence at the very end, against the instructions of his colony. A delegate has a conscience, and is expected to exercise it at his discretion, even if it goes against the popular vote or his instructions, no?

I think I've come to a conclusion while writing this. We have such things as the Electoral Collage just as you said, to put a check and balance on the power of the popular vote. The popular vote isn't always right, and it is sometime up to the conscience of our delegates and elected leaders to go against the whim of the masses to ensure our government is one of law and reason. (Isn't the whim of the majority just as tyrannical as the whim of a King? I think this is what our founding fathers were trying to avoid.)

Oh, and I feel the left is just as guilty of using "wedge issues". That's stock and trade of a politician of any party. I can't recall an election where there hasn't been a claim of, "the right will take away your Medicare and social security benefits." More recently, another key "wedge issue" for both sides has been withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the Reform Party, the Green Party and the Libertarian Party all have their pet platforms too.

Much more than eliminating the Electoral College, I think the change I'd like to see is the adoption of a Single Transferable Vote (also called an Instant Runoff) system for all elections across the United States. If I'd prefer to vote Reform or Green or Libertarian, right now that's seen as throwing away my vote. But if I listed Democrat or Republican as my second choice... if I knew my preference would still be counted if my first choice were mathematically eliminated... I'd be much more inclined to vote my conscience as my first choice and hedge my bet with the second. Too often people vote against the other guy, than for anything they believe in.

Sorry I've been so long winded. I hope when I click submit that this isn't longer than your original post. It sure looks that way in the preview. ;-)

Mike Tennant said...

Let me give this a shot, Earl.

There are no federal elections in this country because the federal government is a creation of the states, not vice versa. Every election is held at the state level or lower. Therefore, it is up to each state to set its own rules governing elections. (Meanwhile, primaries, while generally conducted by state governments, are really the province of the parties since they're just the way the parties have chosen to have their nominees selected--hence the DNC's ability to throw out, in whole or in part, the results of Florida's and Michigan's primaries.) It's all part of the federal system, in which most power and responsibilities are supposed to be devolved to the lowest level possible.

The all-or-nothing Electoral College system may benefit Republicans currently, but it's not as if the last century has witnessed a dearth of Democratic presidents under roughly the same system. FDR won four terms; Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Carter each won one term; and Wilson and Clinton each won two. At the same time, for most of the century the Democrats dominated both houses of Congress.

I happen to agree that selection of electors by congressional district would be a better system, but I think both parties like it this way because they can concentrate all their efforts on the areas of each state where the most votes are, and on the states with the most electors, and ignore the rest of the people. Then again, I'm of the opinion that the Democrats and Republicans are just two heads of the same monster trying to destroy us, which is why they stick together on these things and only quibble (as you correcly noted) about surface issues.

Unless the Constitution is amended to put the federal government in charge of deciding each state's election laws, this is going to have to change on a state-by-state basis. Good luck.

Keep up the good work with the blog. It's always enjoyable.

Anonymous Production Assistant said...

Cui non bono? (I don't actually know if that's right.)

I agree with Mike. If the Democrats didn't stand to gain, they'd be fighting it.

floating on my cloud said...

Now I finally understand your wife...is her list ready yet?

NickA13 said...

Hey there Earl,

First, I love the blog! Thanks for taking the time to write.

Second, I think the explanation is pretty simple. You said the following:

"Another issue is that, due to population deficiencies, the small states were afraid they’d be overlooked in presidential elections, if only the popular vote was considered. The candidates would simply campaign in the more populated states, where the greater number of votes could be had, and totally ignore North Dakoka.

I understand that too."

Well, the Electoral College is what ensures this. If the Electoral College votes were handed out in direct proportion to the popular vote, then small States would still not matter. Can you think of another way to ensure that small States matter?

R.A. Porter said...

Earl, @mike tennant pretty much nails it, but I'm going to distill that a bit more. This isn't a democracy: it's a federated republic of sovereign, democratic states. It is not for the people to choose the President, it is for the states.

Like or dislike that system, it is the one our founders gave us.

This is also why our more deliberative and conservative camera - the Senate - is the one apportioned to give the states more power.

@nicka13 also emphasizes your point about small states. More directly, if the populations of the big states were to effectively hold sway over Presidential power like that, Arizona and Nevada would be shut down when the entirety of the Colorado river basin (and to a lesser extent up north, the Truckee and American rivers) were diverted to slake California's thirst. That's just one example.

Earl Pomerantz said...

This is a general comment. Thank you for your contributions. I now hawe Youtube links to "Best of the West" and "The vessel with the pestle" scene from "The Court Jester." I now also know that Maine and Newbraska proportionally apply their electoral votes, though I'm still not convinced why all the states don't do it.

I appreciate anyone who takes the time to write in. The only way I know how to thank you is to keep doing this.

Keep reading. And writing in. Without you, I'm just talking to myself with my fingers.

i'm only joking said...

I've got just the puppets for you.

Anonymous said...

To see the day when the national popular vote will elect the president, support the National Popular Vote bill.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill would make every vote politically relevant in a presidential election. It would make every vote equal.

The National Popular Vote bill has been approved by 18 legislative chambers (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Washington, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, California, and Vermont). It has been enacted into law in Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These states have 50 (19%) of the 270 electoral votes needed to bring this legislation into effect.

To be involved in the National Popular Vote bill effort . . .

You can check the status of the bill in your state at http://www.NationalPopularVote.com/pages/statesactivity.php

If it's still in play in your state, let your legislator(s) know what you think. If you need help to identify and/or contact your state representatives, senators, and/or governor about National Popular Vote, you can search by your zip code using online sites such as http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home

Sign up to get email updates - http://www.NationalPopularVote.com/pages/getemailupdates.php

Help get the word out and show your support.

Tell a friend- http://www.NationalPopularVote.com/pages/tellafriend.php
Distribute literature at political, civic, or other meeting, convention, or conference.
Post on discussion groups.
Write letters to editors, OpEds, and/or blog.
Please include a link to the National Popular Vote web site by including something like "See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com"

Up-to-date information and materials are at http://www.NationalPopularVote.com/pages/explanation.php

susan

steve macdonald said...

I hate to nitpick, Earl, but the Electoral College system had already been established by the time the French Revolution began. So the head lopping really had nothing to do with it.

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