Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Letter is Mightier Than the Mouse Click

As the initial shock of the electon wears off, and  Trump and  Pence pack the Cabinet with anti-government, science denying, anti-worker knuckle-draggers, it's time for us all to take some action.

But not all "actions" are created equal. Here is a handy cheat sheet. 100 points is the best thing a citizen activist can possibly hope to do with one single action, and 1 is the worst. Based on that scale, let's look at some actions:

1) SIGNING AN ONLINE PETITION:
   POINTS: 2 out of 100
   GRADE: G, because sometimes an F is not bad enough.
 
Our Facebook feeds are  full of standard online petitions, where you enter your name and an email address and (maybe) if they are on the vaguely sophisticated side, a Zip Code. Then, you click your mouse to send and call it a night.

Dirty little secret: These petitions are the single most ineffective thing you can do as an activist. Since the Internet is the provenance of memes, I'll give you a meme:

ONLINE PETITIONS ARE COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, STAGGERINGLY, BREATHTAKINGLY USELESS. 

The progressive movement has done a fantastic job using online petitions for fundraising, but their impact on lobbying Congress or elected officials is severely limited. Most of the time, online petitions are essentially a front for fundraising. The environmental or choice or other activist group is collecting your email so they can ask for money later ("later" generally commences milliseconds after you sign the petition and you see the gigantic, easy eye "donate" button on your screen). There is nothing at all wrong with this. Those groups need money, but don't assume that signing the petition moves either lawmakers or legislation. It moves neither.

ONLINE PETITIONS ARE COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, STAGGERINGLY, BREATHTAKINGLY USELESS. 

And, there are some dirty little secrets. Change.org petitions are often NOT EVEN DELIVERED to Congress. Non profits use the service to enhance their email lists. A non-profit pays to use the Change.org site; any new emails that come in on that petition are given to the non-profit, at a price per email. It's great for list building, and it's somewhat effective at corporate lobbiyng (spooking a business by showing them customers are angry). At the Congressional level, it brings us back to our meme:

ONLINE PETITIONS ARE COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, STAGGERINGLY, BREATHTAKINGLY USELESS. 

Sites like Credo and MoveOn are also more effective at corporate lobbying than lobbying Congress. They are simply too ideological. Consider: Speaker Paul Ryan full well understands that anyone signing a liberal group's petition is highly unlikely to vote for a Republican, at least not until they are 90, dementia laden, and can no  longer read the party labels on their ballot. So, Ryan and his Congressional colleagues will simply wholesale ignore a couple hundred printed pages of "signatures" delivered to their staff. And before you pillory the GOP on this, put the shoe on the Donkey: Neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren are likely to be swayed by an online petition circulated by the NRA, a Koch brother PAC, Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart. Remember the meme:

ONLINE PETITIONS ARE COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, STAGGERINGLY, BREATHTAKINGLY USELESS. 

EFFECTIVELY lobbying Congress takes a LOT more time and effort.

So, since the online petition doesn't work, try this:

2) A personalized email or letter.
   POINTS: 85 out of 100
   GRADE: B+

This only works, however, if you DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

CHOOSE YOUR TARGET: Before you write, call the Representative's or Senator's office and ask them for the name of the person who handles the issue you would like to write about and get their email address. If you are addressing climate change ask for the environmental staffer; if it's education, ask for the education staffer. Don't just use the office's main email address, it's an electronic data dumpster; get the staff person's email and send it directly to them. Even if the receptionist won't give you their email over the phone once you have a name you can generally Google them to find it.

WRITE CAREFULLY. THEY GO LOW, WE GO HIGH:  Check your anger and your partisanship at the door. You are trying to convince someone you are right, and they are wrong. You won't get there with all caps, or profanity, or worse yet, a four paragraph electronic version of the Harry Potter Howler. Keep your missive professional. For an example of a letter on Gun Control, click here:

http://behranalytics.blogspot.com/2013/04/dear-senator.html

Research your issue, and write armed with real facts.Tell the official your concerns and that his or her opinion on your issue means a great deal to you and will influence your vote. But don't wear your partisanship on your sleeve. If Speaker Ryan's staffer senses "hard core liberal" your missive carries less weight. You don't need to hide anything, just advocate cleverly. THEY GO DUMB, WE GO SMART.

If you want to fight for Medicare, look at how Senator Al Franken from Minnesota chose his words in a missive criticizing the incoming Trump Administration:

"More than 55 million Americans depend on Medicare’s guaranteed access to medical care. Nearly a million of those people are Minnesotans [find the number for your state and insert that in this sentence]. All of them paid into the system during their careers, and all of them retired with the understanding that the next generation would care for them when they needed it most. Donald Trump did not run on a promise to end Medicare as we know it. In fact, he promised that he was “not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.” But that’s not what he’s saying anymore. He's already shown that he's comfortable with breaking his campaign promises."

Or, look at a paragraph from the Democratic Senators' letter to Trump on Medicare:

" Low-income children and families and people with disabilities are the primary beneficiaries of Medicaid.  Millions of seniors and individuals with disabilities have earned and rely on their Medicare benefits.  Medicaid is the only assistance available to millions of low and middle-income families who have a loved one requiring nursing home care.  As you noted when you extolled their benefits on your campaign website, cutting these programs would be devastating."

We might add a final paragraph, deftly avoiding partisanship:

"Understand, Mr. Trump, voters are no longer interested in the same old tired GOP rhetoric. You were right to oppose old school Republicans on trade, and you were right to oppose them on Medicare. America did not vote for more of the same, and it's morally repellent for you to back off your promises, even before you take the oath of office. Are you for change, or for more of the same? If you think tossing your campaign promises into the first trash can you pass is leadership, don't bother accepting the oath of office on January 20. Shame on you, Sir. Shame. I am respectfully requesting the favor of a reply from your Administration, and I'd like you to answer this question: how is breaking your campaign promise 'Making America Great Again'?"

No need to be disingenuous. Just make your reader at the White House who reads your letter (and it will be an impressionable aide, not Trump), come away with an uneasy question "Are we annoying one of OUR voters here?".

If you don't get a reply within a week, follow up, re-posting your original message. And keep doing it until you do get a reply.

This will be more effective than including any of the following quotes from petition and news site comments on Medicare:

"YouGottaBeFuckinKiddingMe!!"

"Trump is larding up his cabinet with so many despicable scumbags"

"It was only a matter of time before the most selfish nation in the world did something like this. The US is totally isolated and reviled."

Or these comments online regarding  Trump's choice for EPA Secretary:

"The good news is that you'll get a dead otter with every fillup, you can eat it or mount it on your wall."

"Trump's billionaire cabinet picks and pay to play what's in it for me appointees and the orange turd hasn't even been sworn in yet."

In blog posts to follow, I'll be posting sample letters and fact sheets. Want to fight Bannon? Argue for renewable energy? Fight for fair funding in education? Stay tuned.

BE INFORMED and put TIME into your activism. You'll get out of it what you put into it. If  you rely on the one mouse click petition, you get what you invested: nothing.

And, yes, I'll give you the meme one last time.

ONLINE PETITIONS ARE COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, STAGGERINGLY, BREATHTAKINGLY USELESS. 

You can do better than clicking a button. And given we are facing a Trump Administration, you are going to need to step up your game, and quickly.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The College No One Should Attend

For the second time in five Presidential elections, America is rewarding the White House to the candidate who lost the popular vote. When all the ballots are counted, Mr. Trump will have fallen 2.3 to 2.5 MILLION votes short. Just as in 2000, when Mr. Gore defeated Mr. Bush in the popular vote, apologists are emerging for the Electoral College. They are dead wrong, and  they are taking the Electoral College out of historical context. 

Hit back, but put it in context. The original Constitution had...er...no faith in the average citizen. It was a baby step toward a Democracy and was more of a "hey, this divine right of Kings thing needs to go, so let's gingerly try something new" document rather than a recipe for the 21st Century. We've eliminated most of the anti-Democratic tendencies of the 18th Century and taken the Constitution into the 21st. The Electoral College, in this light, is just the last shoe that needs to drop not some sacred institution we need or want any longer.

Let's look at what the Founder's intent was for the common voter and see what seems fair today, two and a half centuries later.

The Constitution forbade women, blacks, and non property owning whites from voting, and it counted slaves as 3/5 of a person in assigning US House districts so that the population-poor south could keep slavery legal. Raise your hand, in the 21st Century, if you think these are things you'd like to bring back.

The Constitution forbade popular election of US Senators. They were elected by members of the various state legislatures. Raise your hand, in the 21st Century, if you would like to give up voting for your Senators by popular vote.

The Constitution gave the District of Columbia no Electoral Votes in the Presidential race. Now, It has  three.  Raise your hand, in the 21st century, if you would like to disenfranchise the 690,000 residents of DC.

The Electoral College was, in part, put together to OVERTURN the vote of the people if they voted for someone....unfortunate.  Raise your hand if you want an elector, whom you've never met, to vote THEIR conscious and not yours, for the President of the United States.

The population distribution of the US has never been more uneven. A guy in Wyoming has his vote rolled into 187,000 vote blocks to make one electoral vote. Eligible voters in California have their vote rolled into blocks of 592,000. In the 21st Century, everyone should be equal; a vote in Wyoming should NOT carry three times the weight as a vote in California. The Electoral College is one of the leading reasons voting participation lags behind Europe. GOP voters in California believe (justifiably) that their vote for President "won't matter" just as Democratic voters in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma or Texas feel likewise disenfranchised. The students marching on America's college campuses should be praised, not condemned. They know systemic disenfranchisement when they see it. We tell them "vote, it matters." We don't tell them..."your vote matters...er....depending upon where you live and how you vote." They are trying to hold us to our words.

The population distribution is getting worse every year. In some scenarios, by 2024 it will be quite possible for the Democrats to win the popular vote by 10 million votes (a larger victory than President Obama garnered in 2008) and still lose the Electoral College.

Finally, let's have a moral discussion about racial equality. Is it fair for a women in Brooklyn, whose father was beaten by police in Alabama in the 1960s trying win suffrage for African Americans, to have her vote, today, counted at less than 1/3 the value of a rancher in lilly white Wyoming? Keeping the Electoral College has become inadvertently racist. It is time for it to go.

Raise your hand, in the 21st century, if you think one person, one vote should extend to the only place it's forbidden: the Presidential vote. We've eliminated the notion that citizen votes don't matter everywhere else in the Constitution; for every other elected office in America we have one person, one vote.  EVERY CITIZEN SHOULD HAVE PRECISELY THE SAME SAY IN THE ELECTION OF THE PRESIDENT. No one deserves special privileges because of where they live. It's time for equality.

 No, the Founders didn't trust the citizenry, but this isn't the 18th Century and the Founders weren't perfect. Hamilton and Madison were elitist snobs and Jefferson had children with his slaves; times have changed. A lot of folks toiled very hard to build on the original Constitution and to expand the suffrage. Eliminating the Electoral College is part of the new Civil Rights struggle. Make a joyful noise, America, and rid ourselves of this outmoded relic. Removing the Electoral College will not be easy, but that doesn't make it a less moral, or imperative, task. 

Put the shoe on the other foot: if Hillary Clinton won the White House by losing the popular vote by over 2 million popular votes, the GOP would be raising a hue and cry all over this country and they wouldn't let up for a New York minute. We don't do that. We kvetch on Facebook and have a glass of wine and call it a night. That's why they win and we lose. Ape the GOP. Make noise. Write a letter to the editor of your paper. Call the Senate and ask them to support Boxer's bill to kill the Electoral Congress. And EVERY time you complain to a GOP lawmaker in the next four years, absolutely EVERY TIME, mention the popular vote totals. No, we won't overturn the Electoral College any time soon, but we can erase the notion of a GOP mandate. IF WE TRY. Given Trump's histrionics about "election fraud" over the last week, we need to let the Congress know that we expect them to disown Trump's lies and refocus them on the real inequality here: awarding the White House to the loser. So, come armed with facts, and get busy, people.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Electoral College: A Brief History

From Dr. Michael Green, Professor of History, UNLV

The Electoral Collage

The British Prime Minister William Gladstone once described the United States Constitution as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” It IS wonderful, but wonderful and perfect aren’t the same thing. The original document had its flaws involving the protection and perpetuation of slavery, and the absence of guidance for federal courts (technically, under the Constitution, you don’t have to be a lawyer to be a Supreme Court justice—really). Its biggest surviving flaw is the system it created for choosing a president.

When the framers emerged with the Constitution, a woman asked one of the delegates, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” It certainly was no democracy. The Constitution left open the questions of who would vote, and where and how. At the time, property-owning adult white men comprised most of the population that could vote.

Long before he became a rapper, Alexander Hamilton described the public as “a great beast.” Although he was among the more conservative founding fathers on that score, his disdain for democracy was nothing unusual. They could not envision that, in 2016, any citizen at least 18 years old and meeting certain requirements—in some states, not being a convicted felon, for example—would have the right to vote. Since they made it possible to amend their own document, they might have been less surprised that, 125 years after ratification, Americans decided that they should elect their U.S. senators directly instead of leaving it up to their state legislators. The expansion of suffrage has been sometimes violent and rarely pretty, but the arc of history has bent toward its growth.

Yet the Electoral College survives. It has changed from its origins, constitutionally and politically. At first, electors met and chose the best candidates. The top vote-getter became president, and the runner-up became vice-president. The problems became apparent when George Washington retired and presidential elections became competitive. In 1796, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ran against each other and wound up as president and vice-president respectively, despite deep ideological differences. In 1800, Jefferson clearly was his party’s presidential candidate, and Aaron Burr was just as clearly his running-mate, but their electors voted equally for both of them, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. The 12th Amendment made clear that there would be votes for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and that problem was solved.

But why does it exist at all? The traditional view has been that the founding fathers, generally if not completely sharing Hamilton’s attitude toward democracy, wanted to leave the decision to the elite—maybe the financial and propertied elite, but certainly the elite who were educated and thoughtful enough to make more informed decisions.

Except that while legislators chose electors, caucuses and popular votes soon became part of the process in most states, and the electors often ratified those choices. This tendency grew as political parties became more important with the rise of the Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs by the 1830s.

Yet electors kept choosing presidents, and sometimes the system ran aground. In 1876, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote by about 250,000 nationally against Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. But with Democrats having regained control in most southern states, and the three southern states that Republicans still controlled submitting two sets of returns, the result wound up in the hands of an Electoral Commission created by Congress. The Republicans who controlled the commission managed to decide in favor of Hayes. A dozen years later, Democrat Grover Cleveland won the popular vote by just under 100,000 votes, but the Electoral College gave the victory—233-168—to Republican Benjamin Harrison.

As for the 2000 election, we may never know all that happened. Here’s what we do know: Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000 but lost the Electoral College, 271-266, after a Supreme Court ruling on the 25 disputed electoral votes from Florida. But if Gore had carried New Hampshire, Nevada, or his home state of Tennessee, he would have had the required 270, and Florida wouldn’t have mattered.

Why Florida or any of the others mattered at all may have had nothing to do with the fear of democracy the Constitution’s framers shared. Akhil Reed Amar, one of the nation’s most distinguished scholars of the Constitution and the Sterling Professor of Law at Yale, is among the leaders of a group of experts arguing that the reason for the Electoral College was not a fear of democracy, but in fact the most undemocratic and unappealing aspect of the origins of American society.

Slavery.

Amar has noted that one of the most important figures at the Constitutional Convention, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, suggested the direct election of the president. The “father of the Constitution,” James Madison, perhaps the key figure at the convention and one of the most subtle thinkers of that gifted generation, said, “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive [i.e., extensive] in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”

At the convention, the 3/5 Compromise counted five slaves as three residents for the purposes of determining a state’s delegation in the House of Representatives. But it served an additional purpose: a state’s vote in the Electoral College equaled the number in its congressional delegation. Thus, the South derived an important benefit from using the Electoral College.

How important? In 1800, when Jefferson won, he (and Burr) received 73 electoral votes to 65 for John Adams. If each slave had not counted as three-fifths of a person, the South would have had, Amar estimates, 13 fewer electoral votes. All of those votes went to Jefferson. Remove them, and Adams wins a second term.

Indeed, the history of presidential elections until the Civil War is inseparable from slavery. Slaveowning Virginians served as president for 32 of the republic’s first 36 years. Until 1850, the Adamses were the only presidents who didn’t own at least one slave. And in the 1850s, the two presidents who were elected, Democrats Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, were acceptable because they fit the definition of a “Doughface,” a term used to describe “northern men with southern principles.” When the North’s population, already too large for Madison’s taste in 1787, grew enough, in 1860, Abraham Lincoln could win the Electoral College without a southern vote. The South’s response was to secede from the Union.
As Amar noted, “After the 1800 census, Wilson’s free state of Pennsylvania had 10% more free persons than Virginia, but got 20% fewer electoral votes. Perversely, the more slaves Virginia (or any other slave state) bought or bred, the more electoral votes it would receive.” He added, “In light of this more complete (if less flattering) account of the electoral college in the late 18th and early 19th century, Americans should ask themselves whether we want to maintain this odd—dare I say peculiar?—institution in the 21st century.”

Amar’s droll question requires an answer. Courts have interpreted the Thirteenth Amendment, which ends slavery and empowers Congress to enforce abolition, as giving the legislative branch the right to attack “the badges and incidents of slavery.” The Electoral College is not only undemocratic in an increasingly democratic republic. It also is a badge and incident of slavery.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Decision 2016

I'll be updating this blog tonight with election returns and data crunching, but first I have to run my slightly under the weather pup, Fennel,  to the vet.

Just barely settled in here....

FL looks good; unless we see a tsunami in the Panhandle for Trump, it's looking good.

PA and NH aren't too shabby either.

NV turnout is about 70....it was 81% in 2012....slightly smaller turnout doesn't necessarily hurt HRC...indeed, it makes those early votes that were banked very useful (field and ground game matter).

And yikes, FL is tight and the panhandle is not reporting. One not so fabulous stat from the exit polls: folks who mark the economy as the number issue favor HRC 50 to 43 but trump kills for voters who mark immigration as the number one issue.

Florida will be a nail biting photo finish. Romney's highest vote margins came in places like Okaloosa, Collier, Clay, Lee and St. John's counties, in the panhandle. These counties have barely reported vote results, while the high performing urban Democratic counties are 80-90 in.

Those urban counties are bigger, but we are looking at a nail biter of 2000 year proportions, I fear.

With the Panhandle coming in FL is now looking like a close to lost cause.

OH, on the other hand, is looking more hopeful. Who would've guessed it. FL latino turnout was huge but african american turnout fell off, which is what is given us the bad vote spread here.

Counties to watch for TRUMP and CLINTON (based on 2012)

Butler, which Romney carried by 42,944
Warren, which Romney carried by 42,719
Cleremont which Romney carried by 33,193
Delaware which Romney carried by 22,849

HRC must do very well in Cleveland (Cuyahoga) where Obama cashed in a 236,478 vote margin and Franklin (Columbus) which Obama carried by 117,713.

African American turnout is crucial for HRC to carry the Buckeye state....

At this point, HRC will win popular vote by 3.5 but may well lose electoral college.



Eleciton 2016 Updates

I'll be updating this blog tonight with election returns and data crunching, but first I have to run my slightly under the weather pup, Fennel,  to the vet.

Just barely settled in here....

FL looks good; unless we see a tsunami in the Panhandle for Trump, it's looking good.

PA and NH aren't too shabby either.

NV turnout is about 70....it was 81% in 2012....slightly smaller turnout doesn't necessarily hurt HRC...indeed, it makes those early votes that were banked very useful (field and ground game matter).

And yikes, FL is tight and the panhandle is not reporting. One not so fabulous stat from the exit polls: folks who mark the economy as the number issue favor HRC 50 to 43 but trump kills for voters who mark immigration as the number one issue.

Florida will be a nail biting photo finish. Romney's highest vote margins came in places like Okaloosa, Collier, Clay, Lee and St. John's counties, in the panhandle. These counties have barely reported vote results, while the high performing urban Democratic counties are 80-90 in.

Those urban counties are bigger, but we are looking at a nail biter of 2000 year proportions, I fear.

With the Panhandle coming in FL is now looking like a close to lost cause.

OH, on the other hand, is looking more hopeful. Who would've guessed it. FL latino turnout was huge but african american turnout fell off, which is what is given us the bad vote spread here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Donald Trump: Mitt Romney's Monster

The GOP is falling apart. Rabidly racist Trump rallies, boorish supporters calling for the murder of Secretary Clinton, and the abusive sexist soft core porn that is Trump's personal life are plumbing uncharted depths.

While some conservatives are reacting with horror, most incumbents are cowering, cowtowing rather than standing up to the hateful mobs. Ironically, the Trump Monster is their creation. Trump is merely an extension of the failed policies Mitt Romney brought to his disastrous campaign in 2012. No, Romney's personal life is not the cesspool of sexual assault and juvenile innuendo that characterizes Trump, but there are parallels in both men's policy prescriptions and business dealings that brought us to the mess du jour.

 Neither Romney nor Trump support revisions to the tax and business laws that allow billionaires to pay fewer taxes than farm laborers or crooked mortgage bankers and Wells Fargo execs to retire without punishment after bilking their customers out of tens of millions of dollars.  Mitt Romney gave the working class a patina of "family values" with a vapid main course of business as usual. Trump offers the hard sell: there are evil people out there (Mexicans and Muslims) and I'll destroy them for you (while, like any two bit third world dictator, offering more of the same business policies beneath the populist facade).

 Mitt Romney's call for Mexicans to voluntarily deport themselves and his unbridled support of racist Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio laid the groundwork for Trump's vociferous scapegoating of Mexicans as "job stealers" and "rapists." Both men scapegoat Mexicans, one simply musters more virulent rhetoric.

Romney, toiling at Bain Capitol, helped wealthy incompetent executives grasp golden parachutes for their failed companies, while working class and middle class employees got pink slips. Romney's clients are no different from Trump's gleeful boasts that he beat the system and is too smart to pay taxes. Romney's layoffs aren't quite as morally repellent as Trump's gaming of bankruptcy laws to rip off his small business vendors but ethically they are cut from the same filthy cloth.

Romney supported waterboarding, stereotyped the Islamic world and called for a vast expansion of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Trump wants to ban all Muslim immigrants and indeed, ban all American mosques. Both tactics would, evidence shows, lead to many more terrorists recruits. Where Romney was culturally clueless, Trump is unabashedly racist.

The difference is that in 2016, the white working class are mad as hell, and they are finally wholesale rejecting the worker-be-damned status quo of Romney/Bush/McCain/Carson/Cruz/Rubio. All that remains to appeal to the working class base are the scapegoats and the hate. Without actually changing their policies, the GOP  will be at the whim of a parade of demagogues. Indeed, four years hence, we may all shudder at what rough beast, his hour come round at last, sloughs to New Hampshire to be born.

It can tough for a political party to utter the words "we were wrong," to admit that their policy agenda has faults, and by no means jibes with family values, social justice, or a healthy economy. Longing for the "good old days" can cloud good judgment. This is most symptomatic in the plans of a small rump bunch of Republicans in Utah. These folks hope (and probably pray) that unknown candidate, Evan McMullin,  will win the state, that neither Trump nor Clinton will garner 270 electoral votes, and that House of Representatives will game the system and restore the ancien regime by naming McMullin our Supreme Leader. The scheme is the product of a Republican party elite so sanctimonious and smug they think that, if they lose at the ballot box, they can make an end run and cram their "ideals" down our throats. And, somehow, we'll like that. It's as out of touch with reality as the GOP's business agenda. The same cowards who refuse to pull their endorsements of Trump aren't going to vote for an unknown Mormon if Trump carried their Congressional district by 10 points. They'd find their heads severed and on pikes.

More absurdly, what these reactionaries don't comprehend is that McMlullin is more of the same: lip service to religion and family values camouflaging the same old business first policies. If that's your salvation, you are a very lost soul indeed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ralph Nader’s Ghost: The Folly of the Protest Vote

Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. Progressives unnerved about the increasingly hysterical, overheated histrionics among supporters of Clinton and Sanders should take little solace. We’ve been here before.  In 2000, it was Ralph Nader vs. Al Gore. And it was ugly. By the eve of the 2000 election, if I had had a dollar every time I heard the Nader camp's refrain “Bush and Gore are the SAME. There is NO difference” I could have comfortably retired to a seaside villa in Sicily. The Nader/Gore split became a gargantuan s*** show.  Fully formed, highly educated adults became raving adolescents, happy hours were anything but, and online forums disintegrated into intelligence-free zones of name calling and sniping.

Ultimately, Nader’s Raiders did just well enough (2.75% nationally) to tip the election to George W. Bush. The Nader vote cost Gore two states: Florida and New Hampshire. With the inauguration of President Bush, the rift was “repaired”:  both Nader and Gore supporters together suffered policy loss after policy loss for eight long and damaging years. 

History’s lesson: Um, Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore weren’t ideological twins after all.

But did we learn or did we forget? If I had a dollar every time someone who once spouted the “Bush = Gore” meme later admitted they might have been a trifle mistaken, I’d be penniless. The ideological right and the ideological left have few things in common but they do share this: neither side ever admits a mistake.

As Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders head into the final stages of Campaign 2016, the parallels to Nader’s doomed Presidential run are becoming ever more apparent. Both Nader and Sanders started with very upbeat campaigns, addressing real issues, long on optimism but short on specifics. Team Clinton argues that Sanders’ plans are cartoonish, simplistic and would never pass in a divided Congress. Given my public policy bent, I favor the pragmatic and detailed over the optimistic but dangerously vague. I don’t doubt Sanders’ sincerity on the issues for a moment, however, and I will fight like a tiger to keep the White House in Democratic hands regardless of the eventual nominee. 

As the 2000 campaign progressed, and Nader faced abysmal polling numbers, his campaign’s optimism morphed into something uglier, solipsistic, and cynical. If you weren’t for Nader, you weren’t just against him, you were either stupid or an evil shill of the plutocrats.

Since last week’s New York Primary, in which Team Sanders was dealt a devastating defeat, we are seeing some alarming and familiar signs.  Sanders original pledge to work hard for the Democrats regardless of the outcome of the primaries has been cast to the wind by some of his most senior staff. Now, we hear that they’ll fight for the nomination even if they lose the delegate count and the popular vote. The Sanders team has, like Nader before them, become infected with conspiracy theories. Primaries and caucuses are not lost, they are stolen. Super delegates don’t make up their own minds, they are merely puppets of the DNC. And the DNC has the evil powers and ill intent of Voldemort.

Recently, we see more and more Sanders supporters proudly proclaiming they will sit out this election, or cast a “protest” vote for a minor third party candidate—many of the same people who just a few short months ago were vowing to wholeheartedly support the eventual Democratic nominee. One of the more vociferous folks on my Facebook feed, is now proudly proclaiming: “I can afford a protest vote, I live in New York”. The pledge to support the nominee, it seems, carried some fine print: we’ll support the nominee but only if the nominee’s name is Bernie Sanders. That’s a bit ironic for a campaign obsessed with “lies.”

In 2000, a vote for Ralph Nader didn’t turn out to be a vote for the progressive cause in any state. Nader’s core supporters erred in keeping a doomed campaign alive across the country, and they siphoned just enough votes to put Bush in the White House. So, could Sanders’ supporters cost the Democrats the White House if they choose to sit on their hands? It’s a good definite “maybe.” Progressives delight in proclaiming Donald Trump a joke, but six months ago we all scoffed that he had even a remote shot at the Republican nomination. It doesn’t take much of an attenuation in votes on the progressive side to send a couple of swing states to the other team in the Midwest battlegrounds, particularly if our team repeats the ridiculous internecine civil war we fought amongst ourselves in 2000. This year, the sniping doesn’t stop at the top of the ticket: Sander’s pledge to sue the Democratic Party for raising money for Democratic Congressional candidates is many things; a path to recapturing the House and the Senate isn’t one of them. It’s a tactic more indicative of a bitter curmudgeon than a principled progressive.

What I find ethically troubling, from the mouthier folks on the Team Sanders campaign, is the notion that yes, the White House is better off in the hands of any Democrat, but they, personally, can afford a protest vote. So, the rest of us, who are either stupid or shills of the plutocrats are forced to do their dirty work by supporting the Democratic ticket while they occupy the supposed moral high ground. This crass nonsense cost us the White House in 2000, and I’m having a difficult time imagining a scenario where it is helpful in 2016. 

Secretary Clinton currently leads Senator Sanders by nearly three million popular votes. Perhaps, before Team Sanders urges their supporters to steam off in a huff of protest votes they might consider WHY so many folks didn’t see the Sanders’ message as the start of a revolution. The 70% to 80% of minority voters casting ballots for Clinton aren’t all stupid stooges of the plutocrats. Maybe they just see the world a little differently. Maybe more voters really do favor the pragmatic approach. Neither Clinton nor Sanders is the perfect candidate, but neither are evil, either, and a vote for either of them is far better than a vote for no one. 

Elections have consequences. Ironically, Team Nader recognized that in the final months of the 2000 campaign. By late September, groups of Nader supporters were flocking online peddling “vote swap” schemes. I live in Michigan, it’s a swing state, but you live in New York, a blue state, so you vote for Nader and I’ll vote for Gore. But vote swaps were ultimately insincere; Nader supporters voted for Nader in all states.  And we all know how that turned out.

Let’s all take a long breath and consider the specter of President Donald Trump, as the Wraith of Ralph, the Ghost of Nader, hovers overhead. 

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/2797782/Ideas-Trump-front-page.pdf

Elections do have consequences. Putting Trump in the White House doesn’t capture the moral high ground, it’s playing the fool. We played that asinine card in 2000. Do we really want to play it again?