Why Obama Won

All the conservative talking points about demographics are an excuse for not coming to terms with being out of touch.

Republicans have been doing a lot of soul searching following Tuesday’s election and have come up with various explanations as to why their candidate lost. The consensus for now is that the country is changing and that the party is out of step with this change.

Rather than meet this change in a responsible and realistic manner, so many prominent conservatives have resorted to lamenting the passing of a golden era, the death of “real America”. The most common statement thus far been “Obama only won because of demographics” which is a lot like saying “I only failed the math test because of numbers”. Similarly heard is “Obama only won because of the Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and urban residents”. Conservatives are pretending that these people are nothing more than special interest groups – as if they don’t already constitute a vast majority of the country.

In other words, when a Republican wins an election, it’s because the country as a whole voted for him – end of story. When a Democrat wins, a black man at that, the electorate is dissected so as to lay blame on those pesky minorities and women.

It should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment is mourning the end of an era in which White men ran the show. Personally, I think this is premature because White men still overwhelmingly run the shows that matter. But still, the times they are a changin.

Here is my favorite excuse from the aftermath. 

You heard it, but have a closer read. “It’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated, by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The White establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming Black vote for President Obama and women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel they are entitled to things and which candidate between the two are going to give them things?”

So there you have it. White men made the country and now women and the coloreds are destroying it. Rather than thinking about ways to appeal to women and minorities, conservatives are blaming them for not seeing the light, for wanting things, for not working hard enough. The self-victimization never ends.

Jon Stewart describes the conservative resentment most accurately: “They’re really only entitlements when they’re something other people want. When it’s something you want, they’re a hallmark of a civilized society.”

Why I Am not Voting

As a New Yorker, I know that my state is a lock, so I’m going to maximize my vote by not using it.

I support Barack Obama for the Presidency, but hope he loses the popular vote. As much as I want the President to complete a second term in office, any loss in legitimacy would be offset by the prospects of replacing the Electoral College (EC) with a national popular vote.

Until now, the EC has disproportionately benefited smaller and more rural states, which tend to be Republican. Only if the American right feels cheated by the electoral system, can we begin to have a meaningful discussion about reforming it.

Americans across the political spectrum are in favor of replacing the EC with a popular vote, but this sentiment does not carry over to our elected leaders. Whereas Democratic officials have publicly expressed support for selecting the President through the popular vote, Republican lawmakers have been fully aware that this would eliminate the disproportionate power given by the EC to their states.

If President Obama were to capture at least 270 electoral votes, but lose the popular vote, all that could change. It would send the American right into such a tizzy that instead of focusing on voter suppression, birth certificates and secret religious convictions, they may turn their ire at the electoral system that elevated the man they so dislike, once again, to the highest office in the land.

This will undoubtedly decrease Barack Obama’s legitimacy as President, should he win, but this is the man that since day one of his Presidency has been deemed illegitimate as their leader and as an American by significant portions of the American right. No electoral mandate will be enough to win these people over. Should conservatives feel that they have lost something as a result of the EC, then, and only then can we begin to reform our electoral process to achieve a popular vote.

I’ve already gone into detail about how and why we should effectively dismantle the current Electoral College system (it doesn’t even require altering the Constitution). Had my vote been from Ohio, I’d be out on the streets, banging my drum. Unfortunately, my vote is from NY – it will not matter – and that is a shame. This is about convincing all (enough) Americans that the popular vote is a good idea.

I know promoting this sort of behavior is risky. It assumes that Obama will win the EC. It assumes he will take Ohio and other key swing states. It assumes that the loss in legitimacy would not make Obama a 4-year lame duck. If, in the end, Romney gets the minimum 270 electoral votes and also wins the popular vote by one vote, I will punch myself in the face and stop blogging.

How the Electoral College Works (or Doesn’t)

President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet in Denver tonight for the first of three debates that are to be held over the next two weeks. They will not be speaking to the entire country. They will not be speaking to the 47%. They will not be speaking to the 53%. More than likely, they will be addressing the concerns of people living in a handful of states, particularly Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada and Iowa.

These are the so called “swing states” in which neither candidate has a commanding lead. He who picks up the most votes in these states will almost certainly be the next President of the United States. Considering that my vote would be from New York, I may as well not vote. Here’s why.

The framers of the US Constitution were big fans of democratic governance in so far as it was not monarchical. The kings of Europe were bad. The American yeoman farmer was good, but not good enough to be trusted with a direct vote for the highest office in the land. And so they created the electoral college.

How it works

The Electoral College is made up of representatives whose only job is to vote for the President. The membership is basically equal to the total number of representatives in Congress. There are currently 538 electors: 100 (number of members in the Senate) + 435 (number of Representatives in the House) + 3 from Washington D.C., which has no Congressional representation.

The partisan colors reflect the current Congress only in which the Democrats control the Senate and GOP the House. DC is not winner takes all.

Whichever party/candidate garners the most votes in each state, typically gets all the electors from that state. This system is not a federal mandate as Maine and Nebraska award electors based on the most popular candidate per Congressional district. The federal government empowers states to decide how to allocate electors. In our country’s early history, it was no uncommon for state legislatures to decide how to allocate electors – this is a Republic after all! For the most part, we have a winner take all system based on state-wide popular votes.

Why it was created Continue reading “How the Electoral College Works (or Doesn’t)”

Romney Overpays Taxes in Effort to “Fit In”

After complaining endlessly about high federal income taxes, Romney pays half a million dollars more than he needs to. Why?

On Friday, the Romney machine released his 2011 tax returns and “summary” of taxes from 1990 to 2009. In 2011, Romney made approximately $13.7 million, donated just over $4 million and paid about $1.9 million in taxes for an effective tax rate of 14.1%. Nothing surprising here considering what he paid in 2010.

The most interesting takeaway is the political accounting tricks being used for dealing with charitable contributions. Even though he was entitled to claim the full $4 million as a tax deduction, Romney only claimed $2.25 million. Why would Romney not claim the full amount and voluntarily pay more taxes? This is, after all, the man who stated earlier that:

“I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. Continue reading “Romney Overpays Taxes in Effort to “Fit In””

About the 47%

Mitt Romney’s recent remarks, secretly recorded and obtained by Mother Jones, in which he refers to 47% of the American population as self-victimizing moochers, has led to a chorus of criticism for his ineptitude as a campaigner. But what about his perception of reality? Is it true that 47% of Americans pay no federal taxes? Is it true that these non-contributing victims form the base of President Obama’s support? The following chart from the Tax Policy Center helps answer these questions.

While it’s true that almost half of Americans technically pay no federal income tax, more than 28% pay federal payroll taxes, which are basically federal income taxes that are collected separately for social security and medicare. It should be noted that payroll taxes are highly regressive and are almost always ignored in the national conversation about tax burdens. So suddenly the 47% shrinks to 18% who don’t pay taxes.

The next biggest group in the 47% are retirees who have exemptions because of their fixed (and often low) incomes. It should be noted that retirement income is still taxable – the 10.3% who pay no taxes represent the poorest of our elderly – hardly a demographic to target for being lazy moochers. Excluding the payroll tax payers and the elderly poor, the 47% collapses to 8%. Continue reading “About the 47%”

Romney Has Foot in Mouth Disease

The campaign took a decidedly bizarre turn earlier this week when one of the candidates actually spoke candidly about his Presidential ambitions. It goes without saying that this moment of honesty came at a closed door meeting among wealthy donors and that the candidate did not realize he was being recorded while denigrating nearly half of the American population.

Here’s the money shot put out by Mother Jones.

Did you catch that? Continue reading “Romney Has Foot in Mouth Disease”

Citizens United Explained

This week’s post is a bit longer than usual but bear with me – it deals with the most important Supreme Court decision in at least a generation. This is a review of a truly epic essay written by legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin in this month’s New Yorker, entitled “Money Unlimited, How Chief Justice John Roberts orchestrated the Citizens United Decision“. The essay will be relevant for years to come, and although it’s a bit long (just under 10,000 words), I highly recommend a full read of the original.

The Citizens United ruling is the latest in a back-and-forth struggle over campaign finance laws that has been waging for over a hundred year. For decades, the Supreme Court has been accused by conservatives of judicial activism – legislating from the bench by overturning laws created by democratically elected legislatures. According to Toobin, the tables completely turned in 2010 when a more conservative Court went out of its way to overturn nearly a century of Court precedent and federal law. But first, a little background.

McCain Feingold

In 2002, with bi-partisan support, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws which prohibited corporations and unions from funding campaign ads in the leadup to an election. The justification was that candidate ads (in support of an individual or party for an election) were different from issue ads (in support of an idea in general). The latter was still permitted under the law. Essentially, a corporation could run as many adds as it want on a specific issue (abortion rights for example), but the minute it endorses or opposes a candidate just before an election, it is breaking the law.

In 2003, the law was challenged in the Supreme Court (McConnell v. FEC) and was upheld. In 2007, it was challenged again (FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life), and survived again, but suffered a few wounds that watered down its mandate. McCain Feingold was to be the main target of the Citizens United case.

Citizens United

Inspired by the success of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, Citizens United, a conservative non-profit organization attempted to air a documentary, Hillary: The Movie, just before the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. The FEC found the documentary to be “electioneering communication” and forbade it. To the Supreme Court they went.

The argument offered by Citizens United was very clever. They saw no problem with the McCain-Feingold law but instead argued that Hillary: the Movie was merely a documentary, protected as free speech, and was not, a campaign ad. What was at question, supposedly, was not the constitutionality of an existing law, but the nature of a small and obscure documentary. The decision came down to two points:

  • Corporations and individuals have the same 1st Amendment right to free speech. If the government can ban a documentary, then what’s stopping it from banning a book? A documentary is basically a form of free speech, just like a book, and we would never prohibit a corporation or group from publishing a book.
  • Money is speech. In the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Court equated free speech with spending money because “every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money”.

In spring 2009, the Court ruled 5-4 that the law does not apply to the documentary…almost. In June of that year, the Court announced that it would hear the case again, but this time, to decide whether or not to overturn previous decisions. The Court does not announce that it is “considering” overturning precedent unless it has already made up its mind. Without being asked to do so, the 5 Justices were determined to rule not just on the small and obscure documentary, but on the constitutionality of the entire law and campaign finance regulation as a whole. In January 2010, to nobody’s surprise, the Court ruled 5-4 that McCain Feingold was unconstitutional.

In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote, “If the First Amendment has any force…it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”

The Aftermath

Corporations and unions can spend as much money as they want on political campaigns. More money in politics – that’s what was missing!

For the sake of brevity, I’ll let Justice Stevens, who retired from the Court before the final decision on Citizens United was handed down, speak for me:

“Five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law…The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare…Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings.”