Sunday, January 15, 2017

Jesus Tweets: Yes, it's true. Donald Trump is racist poo

Next weekend is the first big test for those of us dedicated to fighting the Twittering Twit the GOP is installing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You don’t have to travel to or live in DC to partake, there are marches planned all across the county. SHOW UP. Numbers matter. Seriously, SHOW UP. We have an opportunity to turn coverage away from pomp and circumstance and back to the issues that actually matter. Trump is an existential threat to our Democracy. Don’t run to the beach or the mountains or hide in your house binge watching some TV series. SHOW UP. If you don’t feel comfortable marching, think of it this way: how comfortable is a 17 year old Mexican girl whose parents brought her over to the US at age 2, and who recently discovered she isn’t a citizen?


Ten years from now, when your children ask what you did to stop Trump, do you really want to say “nothing”?


As a veteran of a lot of marches, I offer a few humble suggestions on how to ruckus right.

1) Signs and posters should be painted on BOTH SIDES. One of the more amusing things in DC is to see a rally or protest from afar, and approaching from the rear, you gaze upon a sea of blank poster board because the slogans are only on one side. Paint your slogan on BOTH sides of your poster board.

2) Don’t use a stick as a base for your poster. In some areas, sticks won’t be permitted.

3) Wear comfortable shoes. Marches aren’t fashion shows and you’ll be on your feet for a long time, especially if you are attending the events in DC.

4) Stay engaged: Chant and make noise, and take your nose out of your IPhone.

5) Remember your audience. This isn’t just for us, we need to send a strong message to Team GOP and the press. The paramount message is that the Republicans are NOT the team that stands for Family Values; the press has given them a pass on this point for far, far too many years. Family Values Presidents don’t grab women by the pussy and they don’t call all Mexicans rapists and they don’t blow off critical national security briefings. It’s time to take that phrase “Family Values” back. Many in the GOP are worried about Trump, even if they’ll never admit it publicly, at least not yet. They are beginning to see the size of the moral abyss they just elected. Calling them out will get us noticed.

If you are interviewed by the media, draw a distinction between the GOP and actual morality. The question they’ll ask is almost always the same:

Q: “Why are you out here today?”

A: " I have grown tired of being told the GOP stands for family values. Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans don’t support family values. They don’t. Trump is a disgusting ill-informed racist, sexist pig and Congressional Republicans need to call him out on his outrageous behavior.”

6) Chant and sign suggestions. The press delight in the ironic chant; try some of these “best of the Anti-Trump movement”  signs and slogans below. If you have other suggestions (we need all the slogans we can get, it’s going to be a long day) put them in a comment.

For the family values message:


And don’t forget Russia….


And the wall….


Or the hair…


Or Twitter…


Or the aggressive sexism…


Or the immigrants, with maybe a nod to Boradway's Hamilton:


Have more ideas? Post them in the comments. And happy ruckusing. We should remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. had to march down a lot more dangerous roads than what is required of us. SHOW UP, Let's get the job done.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Musician's Resolution

My road to data driven politics was long and winding. I hearken from a classical music background. Conservatory training brings with it a natural “glass half empty” attitude I find helpful in the political dodge. Serious musicians spend a lot of time alone, in a practice room, constantly evaluating their playing and making changes and improvements.  If you aren’t your own harshest, most iconoclastic critic, you will never succeed. This isn’t considered noble or out of the ordinary for a serious classical or jazz musician.  No one has ever become a better musician practicing what they already know. You identify and attack bad habits and drill and listen to hone your skills.

And you do it 4 or 5 hours every dang day.

For those of us in the progressive space, the musician offers helpful lessons. Let’s make 2017 a musician’s year. First, let’s all be hard on ourselves. I’m seeing a bit of the blame game on the Internet of late. The left is blaming the center, state players are blaming their national organizations, folks who don’t understand data are waxing Luddite and blaming the “white coated statisticians.” Vendors are blaming the campaign. Folks who didn’t spend one millisecond helping out a campaign with their dollars or their time are kvetching as if they have all the answers.

Screw all that.


We just fought a long, hard campaign and we not only lost, we put a dangerous, anti-intellectual, racist, sexist, megalomaniacal butthead in the White House. All of us bring some blame to the table. EVERYONE. No exceptions.

 Sure, it hurts to realize that not all of those  midnight data pulls on Saturday, the weeknight wee hour sessions, or the daily grind for months failed to move enough votes on election night. So, we need to do better. And we need to be tough on ourselves this year, the very Republic is at stake. But I’m not shedding tears.  It’s just time to re-evaluate and get back in the practice room.

First, we need to get out of our silos; yes, we need to do the work we do in our niches to pay the mortgage and keep our pups in kibble, but we need to be far more flexible.

Did the big data folks oversell their usefulness? YES

Did we  ignore turnout indicators on the other team (turnout after all is relative)? YES

Did the field become too obsessed with the base, all the while ignoring persuasion: YES

And even if you don’t work in politics, you aren’t off the hook here:

Did the political left become solipsistic and smug, utterly unwilling to accept that a huge chunk of the electorate DOESN’T always see the world through their eyes? YES

Did too many folks think this election was a done deal and sit on their hands? YES

Are too many of the folks reading this guilty of kvetching about the state of America (on and off line), all the while donating no money to the cause, refusing to find the time to knock on doors or make phone calls? YES 

Let’s all take a day or two, or even a week, and look at our own failings. No one is guilt free. Don’t blame others, that won’t make you a better player, a more refined politico capable of the adroitness of a fine violinist or jazz improviser. BLAME YOURSELF. All of us, every last one, made mistakes. It’s not self-flagellation. It’s the only way out of the pit we’ve dug. No musician ever improved blaming the conductor, or the Oboists poor “tuning note” or the humid weather that caused their tone quality to suffer. They look within, they evaluate, they criticize themselves, and only then do they grow.

And that’s what we need to do tonight and moving forward.

Stay tuned both here and on the Democratic Daily, I'll be offering a lot of actions, sample letters to elected officials and things to do to fight Donald the Tweeting Twit Trump.

So, let’s get busy, Let’s get in that practice room, and let’s get to work.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Resolutions for the Media

Tonight's post comes from political and Civil War  historian Dr. Michael Green, UNLV (who is a highly respected historian with oodles of publications and awards...more on that here:

We'll need a strong media in the coming years, and his thoughts are valuable. If you haven't yet, give $$$$$ to NPR, the Washington Post and the New York Times. Just as your models,voter files, musical skills or other professional skills aren't free, neither is courageous reporting. Pay your dues, peeps, pay your dues. Freeloaders can't fight Trump...

 Dr. Green, I turn it over to you:

The media who covered the presidential election of 2016 have a lot to answer for on Judgment Day. But when Saint I.F. Stone (google him) greets them at the Pearly Gates, they can help their chances if they make these resolutions and keep them.
      Always look for the unhappy ones. James Reston of The New York Times won the first of two Pulitzer Prizes for reporting when he obtained the secret papers the Allies had drawn up for the Dumbarton Oaks conference, which gave birth to the United Nations. Each nation’s representative blamed whoever he disliked or considered his greatest rival for leaking the papers. Reston actually got them from a member of the Chinese delegation who was upset at the lack of attention his country received (a personal connection also helped, but we’ll get to that).
      Democrats will be unhappy during a Trump administration. So will some Republicans—John McCain and Lindsay Graham, for example, if the new president is too friendly with Russia. The media would do well to cultivate the losing side and those who feel left out on the winning side.
      Look for the nothings. During a 1960s conference, several CBS newsmen hoped to find out what went on inside a closed meeting. Charles Collingwood, one of the brilliant corps of correspondents Edward R. Murrow hired during World War II, arrived with the minutes of the meeting. He told the group, “There’s a young man in the Laotian delegation whom I used to know at the Sorbonne. He’s nothing, the fifth secretary of the delegation. But he did happen to have the minutes.” Marvin Kalb, a superb diplomatic correspondent for two decades, said his colleague “went for somebody like the Laotian fifth secretary, who he knew would know what was going on.”
      Similarly, Reston went to a lower-level Chinese official—who also happened to have worked at one time at The New York Times. Like Collingwood, he knew how to exploit connections. But if they were covering the Iditarod, both of them would have understood that the lead dog may know a lot, but the dog at the back is closer to the sled and the driver, and may know more. Reporters need to cultivate those sources. Remember: Bob Woodward’s friend Mark Felt only confirmed information, but Carl Bernstein’s ability to get to know telephone company employees helped them find numbers they might not otherwise have obtained.
      Remember Joseph McCarthy and Murrey Marder. McCarthy is more famous as the senator leading the communist witch hunt of the 1950s, attacking reputations without a shred of evidence or compunction. In The Powers That Be, David Halberstam brilliantly described McCarthy’s technique:

      It was a great journalistic shell game of its kind, hit and run: McCarthy charges, press picks up, passes on, never checks, charges are forgotten, McCarthy goes to next town, reveals a new set of charges, press again uncritically passes them on. McCarthy had shrewdly and ruthlessly seized on the weakest part of the mechanics of journalism, the desire of reporters to have a hot story, and the ability of a senator--who was after all a high public official, and thus a serious man--to make a charge. Because he was a serious man the charge became, if not reality, at least news. The boys in the Senate press gallery occasionally had minor qualms about what McCarthy was doing and what their role in it war, but there were always excuses: he was a senator, their editors wanted it, the play was good, Joe might be right, you could never tell. Sure, they had doubts, but only a columnist could express doubts. Thus it was news. So it was not just McCarthy who was violating the essential bond of trust and civility in a free society, it was the press that was a willing accessory.

      The hero of Halberstam’s account is Marder, a reporter at The Washington Post, who was determined to hold McCarthy to account. Whenever McCarthy made a claim, Marder would carefully investigate it, or point out how it diverged from something else he had said, or put it into a broader perspective—when McCarthy claimed communists had infiltrated the army, Marder went to the base in question to get the real story, rather than just going into print with what McCarthy claimed.
      Marder’s editors supported him, but when they questioned him, Marder replied, as Halberstam put it, “either you believed that a full and fair and honorable explanation of the man and what he was doing was all your readers needed and would in the end bring him down, or there was no sense in being a journalist.” The journalist’s job is supposed to be a full and fair and honorable explanation of what is happening. Halberstam knew it. Marder knew it. Marder’s editors knew it. So should today’s journalists, regardless of the demands of Twitter and internet hits.

      Learn From Russell Baker. Those familiar with Baker know him as the onetime host of Masterpiece Theater on PBS or for 37 years of Pulitzer Prize-winning commentary in The New York Times or for his charming (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) memoir, Growing Up. They also can learn from him about journalism. The Times had assigned him to cover the U.S. Senate, and the then-majority leader, Lyndon Johnson offered to help him. Baker grasped there would be a price: “a sweetheart contract … couldn’t do me anything but harm.”
      Baker understood that. But he also understood himself, and what he wanted to do. “I had never been much interested in getting ‘inside’ information and scoops. Such stuff was important to a newspaper, but it wasn’t what I did well. On the Senate beat I hoped to give the reader accurate and absorbing pictures of the fascinations that occurred there daily,” he said. “I wanted to let readers know that senators billed as titans of statesmanship were also human. That the Foreign Relations Committee’s stately Walter George of Georgia was also the senator from Coca-Cola, that Senator [J. William] Fulbright [a scholarly and thoughtful foreign policy expert] also worried about keeping the board of Arkansas Power and Light pacified, that the oil industry often called tunes for senators like, well … Lyndon Johnson.”
      Good writing and reporting can capture a lot in a few words. Scoops and inside information can be part of a bigger picture. Consider today’s Senate. The GOP leader’s wife has been nominated for the president’s cabinet; if that doesn’t present problems, what does? The Democratic leader once replied—correctly, to be fair—to Jon Stewart’s criticism of his efforts to tweak Dodd-Frank by saying that “Wall Street is in my district.” Those facts won’t necessarily breed great scoops, but they certainly are part of providing “accurate and absorbing pictures.”
      Know Thy Followers and Readers, and Care About Them First. David Farenthold, who did brilliant reporting on Trump’s foundation, used Twitter to try to round up information. Some correspondents interview someone for one story and never expect to encounter that person again, but good journalism involves saving string: the school nurse interviewed for a story about vaccinations might end up being in charge of medical care for her region and have a great story for a reporter about Obamacare, good or bad.

      People like them ultimately matter more than whether other journalists adore you. An editor in my hometown once told me the story of a reporter who begged to be taken off of a story that was on the front page every day because other reporters laughed at him—they didn’t think it was their kind of story. It wasn’t. It was just a great news story, and the public liked it and cared. That needs to matter more than whether your colleagues follow you on Twitter, or whether they invite you onto their television panels.

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:

   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:


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.


And, there are some dirty little secrets. 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 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:


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:


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:

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:


"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.


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 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 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.


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 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.