Nuances of the State of the Union

Every political circus has its rules. Here are some of ours.

Obama SOTU

I must be a fool because every time I watch the State of the Union, I am surprised by the amount of clapping there is. Watching the speech in another country makes it feel all the more ridiculous and choreographed. I imagine that Brits feel similarly about the shouts and sneers that erupt in the House of Commons. Continue reading “Nuances of the State of the Union”

Time Magazine’s non-Presidential Persons of the Year

Time Cover Obama POYTime magazine recently named President Obama as their Person of the Year. This isn’t much of a surprise – any time you win the US presidential election, you have a pretty good chance of winning. In fact, five out of the last six President-elects have been bestowed with the honor.

What I find more interesting is all the instances in which the President-elect was not named the Person of the Year. Who were these people that were so outstanding that they managed to outshine the most obvious candidate? Here’s a list of election year winners going back to the award’s inception.

Year

Person of the Year

What’s so special?

 1928  Walter Chrysler  People really hated Herbert Hoover
 1932  Franklin D. Roosevelt  President-elect
 1936  Wallis Simpson  Caused crisis in English monarchy
 1940  Winston Churchill  FDR had already won twice before
 1944  Dwight D. Eisenhower  FDR had already won thrice before
 1948  Harry S. Truman  President-elect
 1952  Elizabeth II  Fresh young queen for a tired country
 1956  Hungarian freedom fighter  David v. Goliath
 1960  American Scientists  DNA, space and computing
 1964  Lyndon B. Johnson  President-elect
 1968  Apollo 8 astronauts  First human orbit of moon
 1972  Nixon and Kissinger  President-elect
 1976  Jimmy Carter  President-elect
 1980  Ronald Reagan  President-elect
 1984  Peter Ueberroth  Managed 1st privately financed Olympics
 1988  The Endangered Earth  officially the “planet of the year”
 1992  Bill Clinton  President-elect
 1996  David Ho  HIV-AIDS scientific research
 2000  George W. Bush  President-elect
 2004  George W. Bush  President-elect
 2008  Barack Obama  President-elect
 2012  Barack Obama  President-elect

It used to be that you didn’t have to win the US Presidential election to stand a chance. These days, it’s near impossible without it. Still, your best options would be to (1) make a breakthrough in the natural/physical sciences, (2) be a business hotshot, (3) go to war with a great power, or (4) shake up the English royal family. If none of that works, try being a planet.

The Bitter Bluff of Secession

If the secession petitioners actually got their way, they’d be a lot worse off and the rest of us would be a lot better off.

For a brief moment after the recent election, I had hope. Prominent conservatives had publicly admitted that Obamacare is the law of the land (given the electoral results, its repeal could no longer be a priority) and that raising the top marginal income tax rate would not be the end of the world. It seemed as though we might actual have a period of bipartisanship. Some folks just didn’t get the memo.

The White House’s website has a section called We the People which allows people to start online petitions. Any petition that garners more than 25,000 signatures will get an official response from the President. There are currently petitions in all 50 states to secede from the Union due to the “unfortunate” results of the election. Other than Florida, which voted for Obama, every other state that has accumulated the requisit 25,000 signatures (Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina) voted for Romney.

This is yet another case of red state blue state foolishness. The Romney states want to leave? If they did, the rest of the country would be better off (financially at least). With the exception of Texas, every single one of those other states get more from the federal government than they give. These states are the real moochers.

I’ve written before that blue states have been subsidizing red states for years, but thanks to these petitions, this discrepancy has been getting a lot more attention recently. If you didn’t like the links in the previous post, here’s some more in the secession context:

I still have hope that we will have at least a few months of uncomfortable and reluctant bipartisanship. But this whole secession business is nonsense. If a Texan you know wants to secede, tell them to relax. If anyone you know from the confederacy of takers wants to secede, let them know how lucky they are that nobody takes them seriously.

For anyone interested, there’s another petition on the White House’s website, entitled “Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America“. As of this writing, it has 22,601 signatures and has just over 3 weeks to get the remaining 2,399.

Demographic Breakdown of the Vote

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of voters for Obama and Romney.

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of the US population as a whole.

Crediting Obama’s victory to high minority turnout ignores the fact that minorities make up such a large part of the country and that Obama’s supporters reflect the demographic reality in the country much more than Romney’s.

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 to Get Rid of the Electoral College Without Abolishing it

The Electoral College (EC) is a lot like the weather in that, as Charles Dudley Warner said, everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. For once, it seems that people are doing something, but not in the conventional manner.

In national surveys, Republicans, Democrats and independents have expressed overwhelming support for getting rid of the EC. The conversation typically ends when people consider how difficult it would be to pass a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the EC. As I have recently discovered, however, no such Amendment is required and the EC can still exist under a system that adheres to the popular vote.

Article 2, Section 1, Claus 2 of the US Constitution gives states the power to decide how to apportion their EC votes. This clause contains the seeds for the EC’s demise – and it would be achieved through an interstate compact. Jigga what?

An interstate compact is essentially an arrangement made between two or more states to work together on a particular issue. The best example of this is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates most of the NYC metropolitan area’s airports and seaports, and important transportation infrastructure and real estate (like the World Trade Center site).

Starting in 2007, states began using their Constitutional rights to subvert the EC by ratifying what has come to be known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). States that implement the NPVIC agree to give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, regardless of the winner in their own state.

This means that as soon as the NPVIC has as many states as is required to achieve an EC majority (currently 270 votes), the rest of states do not matter. You do not need to convince every state sign on to the NPVIC – only enough to get a majority in the EC. The EC can continue to exist, but it would only function as a formality in the electoral process.

The NPVIC is already law in eight states and Washington D.C. – that’s 132 electoral votes, or 49% of the target of 270. The NPVIC would only come into full effect once this target is achieved – until then, the winner take all system will persist.

Considering that the NPVIC started only six years ago, it’s not unreasonable to think that eventually (much sooner than a Constitutional Amendment at least), enough states would sign on to support the winner of the national popular vote.

The states that have signed on to the NPVIC are overwhelmingly blue. But I don’t rule out the possibility of red state support in the future. The best bet for that would be if Romney wins the popular vote, but Obama wins the Electoral College. If the polls from the last few weeks are any indication, such an outcome is very likely.