Tag Archives: Biden

The Electoral College Versus Democracy

I have posted before–several times–about the anti-democratic elements of the Electoral College. Whatever its origins–whether, as some scholars insist, it was a concession to the slave states, or as defenders contend, it was an effort to give added electoral heft to smaller states–it hasn’t just outlived its initial purpose. It now undermines democracy and national unity.

There is ample evidence that the Electoral College advantages white rural voters–substantially. Research suggests that every rural vote is worth one and a third of every urban vote. Small states already have an advantage by virtue of the fact that every state–no matter how thinly or densely populated–has two Senators.

A recent column from the New York Times emphasizes these disproportions, and points to other, under-appreciated elements of the Electoral College system.These paragraphs outline the crux of the problem

The Electoral College as it functions today is the most glaring reminder of many that our democracy is not fair, not equal and not representative. No other advanced democracy in the world uses anything like it, and for good reason. The election, as Mr. Trump would say — though not for the right reasons — is rigged.

The main problem with the Electoral College today is not, as both its supporters and detractors believe, the disproportionate power it gives smaller states. Those states do get a boost from their two Senate-based electoral votes, but that benefit pales in comparison to the real culprit: statewide winner-take-all laws. Under these laws, which states adopted to gain political advantage in the nation’s early years, even though it was never raised by the framers — states award all their electors to the candidate with the most popular votes in their state. The effect is to erase all the voters in that state who didn’t vote for the top candidate.

Today, 48 states use winner-take-all. As a result, most are considered “safe,” that is, comfortably in hand for one party or the other. No amount of campaigning will change that. The only states that matter to either party are the “battleground” states — especially bigger ones like Florida and Pennsylvania, where a swing of a few thousand or even a few hundred votes can shift the entire pot of electors from one candidate to the other.

Winner-take-all has an even more pernicious effect–it disincentivizes voting by people who are in their state’s political minority. If your state is red and you are blue, or vice-versa, it’s easy to convince yourself your vote is meaningless. (For federal offices, it is.)

The result is that Joe Biden must win the popular vote by a significant margin, or risk losing the Presidency. If Biden wins by five percentage points or more — something that would require winning by more than seven million votes — no problem.

If he wins by 4.5 million more votes than the president? The odds drop to 75%.

Anything less than a 4.5 million vote margin, and Biden’s odds drop “like a rock.” If he wins the popular vote by “only” three million-Hillary Clinton’s margin–we’re looking at a second Trump term.

There is no argument of which I am aware that turns that analysis into a democratically-acceptable result.

I Was Wrong

During the Democratic primary–as regular readers of this blog will remember–I was pretty adamant about America’s need for generational change. I was convinced that both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were simply too old to tackle the monumental task of rescuing the nation (or what is left of it in the wake of the train wreck that is the Trump administration). I thought that a restoration of hope, of possibility, required a younger, more energetic, more “woke” set of actors.

What I failed to take into account was the immense importance of competence borne of experience, especially at a juncture as perilous as the one we approach.You would think that–as an old woman myself–I would have recognized the value of lessons learned over a lifetime, many of them the hard way.

The Democrats have a truly impressive “bench” of very smart, very idealistic young people: Mayor Pete, AOC, a number of others. But they will still be smart (and hopefully, still idealistic) 4 or 8 or 12 years from now, and the experience they will have gained in those years will deepen their understanding of the political process and sharpen the skills it takes to negotiate the convoluted structures of governance.

The (virtual) Democratic Convention reminded me that Joe Biden–who was also a smart and idealistic youngster “back in the day”– offers America fifty years of successful public sector experience. Unlike the reality-show buffoon who currently occupies the Oval Office, he knows what it like to do the hard, grunt work of governing. He knows what it is like to encounter new facts and perspectives that make you recognize and admit that you’ve been on the wrong side of  a policy issue. His deep experience with foreign leaders has allowed him to forge relationships that will be critical to re-establishing America’s reputation abroad (younger people simply haven’t had the time to establish those relationships, and President Obama drew heavily on them during his first term in office.)

His relationships with others in government, on both sides of the political aisle, have established his reputation as a person who can be trusted to keep his word, honor a commitment, and “tell it like it is.” That reputation simply cannot be established overnight; it requires time.

There’s another relationship that has been established over the years–Biden’s relationship with the American public. He’s a known quantity, which is why the efforts of the Crazy Guy In Chief to define him have fallen flat. GOP spin doctors may be able to paint AOC as some sort of communist (after all, she wants rich people to pay taxes! and she wants to save the environment!), but Joe Biden has already defined himself in the years that he has been a public figure.

These are assets that only come with experience.And time.

I still favor a generational shift, probably sooner than later, but I failed to appreciate the value and importance of Biden’s self-described status as a “transitional figure.” Assuming (as sane people must) a Democratic victory in November and a successful (probably ugly) transition of power, Joe Biden will bring extensive knowledge of government and how it does– and doesn’t– work to the monumental effort of repairing the damage.

If we are very lucky, if we give him the tools to work with by electing a sufficient number of thoughtful, non-lunatic people to the House and Senate, the government he hands over to a younger generation will be recognizably American again.

So,  mea culpa. And think about Joe Biden, a competent and empathetic adult, as you watch the GOP convention nominate– and genuflect to– the child-sociopath who currently occupies the Oval Office.

The Republican Voter, Again

A couple of days ago, I posted excerpts from an article suggesting that the disasters that define our current civic reality aren’t primarily attributable to Trump, appalling as he is, but to the voters who form the base of whatever it is the Republican Party has become.

Since then, I have continued to encounter evidence confirming the accuracy of that diagnosis.

Exhibit One:  In the run-up to the Republican convention, an event presumably intended to persuade people to support the party, convention planners enlisted the entitled, bigoted St. Louis couple–the ones who brandished guns and threatened Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their mansion– to appear and publicly affirm their support for Trump.

I can’t think of speakers more likely to offend viewers who don’t display Confederate flags or have swastika tattoos.

The choice of the St. Louis couple underscores the point made by an opinion writer in The New York Times, who has concluded that “Trumpism” is the current GOP. As he says, even if  Biden wins and Trump leaves office peacefully — two big ifs — Democrats will still confront a Republican Party that is the party of Donald Trump.

In 2016, Mr. Trump didn’t change the Republican Party; he met it where it was. The party had been ready for him for years: In 2012, the congressional scholars Thomas Mann of the center-left Brookings Institution and Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute wrote, “The G.O.P. has become an insurgent outlier in American politics.” More recent studies, including by Pippa Norris of Harvard, have confirmed this assessment. In a brief summary of her research — which compared the U.S. Republican Party “with other major parties in O.E.C.D. societies” — she found the G.O.P. “near far-right European parties” that flirt with authoritarianism, like the Polish Law and Justice of Poland or the Turkish Justice and Development parties.

This is not a party poised to pivot toward moderation — even in the face of an electoral landslide loss. The inevitable calls for reform (like the party’s abandoned “autopsy” report after the 2012 election) will yield to the inescapable gravitational pull of the party’s own voters and the larger forces dominating our politics.

The author, one Adam Jentleson, says that the GOP is not only unlikely to moderate in the wake of a defeat,  it is likely to turn to reactionary politicians like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. (You will remember Cotton for his despicable attempt to sabotage President  Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.)  If Trump loses, Cotton is evidently seen–along with Tucker Carlson(!)– as a leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination.

Jentleson says the “way forward” is to recognize what the Republican Party has become. That means ignoring them and working to deliver the results Americans want and need.

I agree. Assuming (fingers crossed) the Democrats take the Senate in November, they should focus on restoring checks and balances and passing long-bottled-up legislation. That will require eliminating the mechanisms that have allowed the Senate GOP to stonewall, obstruct and play partisan politics.  As Jentleson writes,

Sure, invite Republicans to participate constructively in the legislative process, but take away their ability to scuttle it.

To this end, it is encouraging to see Mr. Biden shifting from his staunch opposition to reforming the filibuster, whose modern iteration is what has allowed Republicans to raise the bar for passing most bills in the Senate from the majority threshold the framers set to the current 60-vote supermajority.

I have written before about the way the filibuster has been changed over the years; it’s no longer the process depicted in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” As Jentleson writes,

The Republican Party is now an even more hopeless tangle of pathologies than it was back then. If Republicans choose to take personal responsibility for unwinding themselves and contributing productively to intelligent solutions, they are welcome to do so. But Democrats cannot bet the future of the country on it.

He’s right, of course. But that leaves us with a far more troubling dilemma: a two-party system in which one party has morphed into a cross between bat-shit-crazy conspiracy theorists and a fascist cult.

A White Nationalist Hail Mary

Too bad Covid-19 isn’t black or brown. Perhaps then, Trump would be enthusiastic about defeating it.

As the Presidential campaign moves into high gear, the White Nationalist buffoon in the Oval Office is trying out one racist “Hail Mary” after another. He’s claimed that if Biden is elected, “our suburbs” would be destroyed. And he wasn’t subtle about the nature of that destruction; he specifically called out a 2015 Obama-era fair-housing initiative that requires local governments to address historic patterns of racial desegregation.

NPR quoted Trump’s warning:

“Your home will go down in value, and crime rates will rapidly rise,” Trump said. “People have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they’re going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen, not while I’m here.”

White housewives, apparently, will be sufficiently terrified by the prospect of darker-skinned neighbors to ignore Trumpian chaos and failures to even pretend to govern, and vote Republican in November.

Never particularly tethered to facts, Trump has also warned that Biden will abolish the police. Biden, of course, has said nothing of the kind, but hey–a “law and order” President has to remind voters of the dangers posed by “antifa” and the leftists, even if his own government’s data shows pretty convincingly that there is no actual “antifa” movement, and that the real threat to public safety comes from the right.

As the Guardian has recently reported, 

Donald Trump has made warnings about the threat of antifa and “far-left fascism” a central part of his re-election campaign. But in reality leftwing attacks have left far fewer people dead than violence by rightwing extremists, new research indicates, and antifa activists have not been linked to a single murder in decades.

A new database of nearly 900 politically motivated attacks and plots in the United States since 1994 includes just one attack staged by an anti-fascist that led to fatalities. In that case, the single person killed was the perpetrator. 

Over the same time period, American white supremacists and other rightwing extremists have carried out attacks that left at least 329 victims dead, according to the database.

There’s so much else: Trump’s defense of the Confederate flag, and promises to “protect our historic monuments,” his attack on African American NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, and his constant and misleading rants against peaceful protesters rallying to the cause of Black Lives Matter. (No, Mr. Pretend-President, the protests are not being mounted by Americans who are trying to destroy the country.)

As Jennifer Rubin noted in a Washington Post opinion column criticizing the New York Times for its understated description of Trump’s “racially charged” references,

Trump is not conducting a seminar on race and culture. He is not calling attention to violence against racial minorities. He is making racist statements and venerating racist symbols. Period.

Rubin also reminds readers that Trump’s explicit and nauseating racism has effectively been endorsed by his political party.

And when the media generously describe Republicans as “bothered” or “uneasy” about Trump’s blatant racism, they exaggerate Republicans’ reaction and distort reality. The overwhelming number of elected Republicans do not say and do not act as though they are bothered or uneasy. The few Republican voices (other than openly Never Trumpers) whom mainstream reporters dig up to say negative things about Trump are generally retired pols (e.g., former congressman Carlos Curbelo) and lesser-known strategists who do not really take Trump on as much as they disagree with his premises and assertions, as if racist words and accusations are floating free in the atmosphere, untethered to a particular person. Let’s be accurate: Whatever personal qualms they might have, virtually every elected Republican either ignores, rationalizes or minimizes Trump’s racist appeals.

In November, Americans won’t just elect people to critically important public offices. We will render a verdict on the country’s original sin. 

The GOP has chosen to make defense of racism its political strategy. The party needs to be so soundly defeated that even the very stupid partisans willing to place party above both morality and country recognize the folly of that approach. 

 

 

 

An Interesting Analogy

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College who writes a daily Letter addressing many of the subjects covered in this blog. Given her background, it isn’t surprising that she sees historical parallels; in one recent Letter, she analogized the current political situation to the latter part of  the Hoover Administration.

After describing aspects of Trump’s disastrous non-response to the Coronavirus, she wrote

In all of this, the administration sounds much like that of President Herbert Hoover who, when faced with the calamity of the Great Depression, largely rejected calls for government aid to starving and displaced families, and instead trusted businessmen to restart the economy. To the extent relief was necessary, he wanted states and towns to cover it. Anything else would destroy American individualism, he insisted.

But by 1932, the same Americans who had supported Hoover in 1928 in a landslide recognized that his ideology had led the nation to catastrophe and then offered no way out. They rallied around Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who worked together with Congress to create an entirely new form of national government, one that had been unthinkable just four years before.

Ironically, Trump’s disastrous administration and the Republican fecklessness that has enabled it, may have created an opening that Biden, with his deep knowledge of the Senate and his non-polarizing persona–is especially well-situated to use.

Biden has previously been considered moderate, rather than “left” or progressive, but he clearly understands that the times call for significant change.

News and Guts has reported that Biden worked with Bernie Sanders on a recently unveiled plan that would both create jobs and combat climate change, and that the plan was far more ambitious  than anything he had discussed during the primary.

Biden’s campaign has characterized his overall economic proposal as the “largest mobilization of public investments in procurement, infrastructure, and R&D since World War II.” It calls for desperately-needed investment in infrastructure and R&D, incentives to revive trade unionism, higher wages, and higher taxes on corporations. It makes environmentalism a high priority, and includes a public option for health insurance that would be a huge step toward universal access. It would  also reverse Trump’s horrific approach to immigration.

The New York Times, characterized the plan, in its typically understated fashion.

But the ideas put forth on Wednesday are also indications that progressives succeeded in pushing some proposals leftward, influencing Mr. Biden’s policy platform as he prepares to accept his party’s nomination for president next month.

Richardson notes that the document is strong politically, “undercutting both Trump’s “America First” language and promising concrete policies for voters suffering in the Republican economy.” She also points to an underlying philosophical shift–  “a return to a vision of a government that stops privileging an elite few, and instead works to level the economic playing field among all Americans.”

That philosophical shift is reflected in Bernie Sanders’ approving remarks about the campaign’s economic plan; it is also reflected in the decision of the progressive organization MoveOn.org to endorse Biden and the overwhelming vote of its members to do so. (Biden won 82.4% of votes cast by MoveOn members.)

Too many Americans think progress requires revolutionary leadership–that it is the product of extraordinary people who have spent their lives on the ideological barricades. But social change (like so much else) is a  complicated process; often, it is the result of a fortuitous combination of factors: when emerging imperatives of a particular time produce leaders who recognize the degree of change required, and possess the personal and institutional skills to make change happen. 

Before his election, FDR didn’t look like a revolutionary, but he met the imperatives of his time. Whether Joe Biden can meet the imperatives of ours remains to be seen–but the prospect shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

The signs are encouraging.