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Published: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 07 Dec 2016 11:38:54 -0500


Trump-Schumer Bromance Is Bad News

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:45:00 -0500

The most dangerous threat to free markets and the rule of law at the moment just may be the budding bromance between President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming Democratic leader in the Senate, Charles Schumer. Trump's decision to reappoint the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, was met with horror and dismay among those who, like myself, consider Bharara's string of insider trading prosecutions, reversed by appellate courts, to be "sadistic" and "sleazy." Those aren't my words—they are descriptions that two distinguished federal appellate judges have applied to Bharara's tactics. There's plenty of blame to go around for Bharara's reappointment, which was announced last week. The Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank with a distinguished record that ought to have known better, published a piece under the headline "Memo to Trump: Let Preet Stay," lauding the prosecutor's efforts against political corruption. But Sen. Schumer's role was central. The New York Times reminded its readers that before becoming U.S. attorney, Bharara was chief counsel to Sen. Schumer. "Mr. Trump also asked Mr. Schumer how best to reach Mr. Bharara, and the senator provided Mr. Trump with Mr. Bharara's direct line," the Times reported. Trump had called Schumer to ask his advice on keeping on Bharara, which Schumer recommended, the Times said. Trump ran as a change candidate, criticizing Hillary Clinton as "secretary of the status quo." Now he's taking personnel recommendations from Sen. Schumer, who has been serving in Congress since 1981, or nearly 36 years. It is breathtaking. Yet it's not only the Bharara re-appointment where President-elect Trump appears to be singing from Schumer's songbook. Consider Trump's high-profile personal intervention to prevent Carrier, a division of United Technologies Corp., from moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico. It's a repeat of Schumer's treatment of New York-based manufacturing jobs, as when he called a bank CEO to try to save 600 jobs at a Rochester clothing manufacturer, Hickey Freeman, or wrote to another CEO to try to save 1,300 jobs at an engine control system factory near Binghamton, N.Y. If there's a silver lining to the Trump administration, it's that all of a sudden the mainstream media, including NPR and The New York Times, are giving prominent attention to libertarian economists like George Mason University's Tyler Cowen, who argue that politicians are being foolish when they take the Schumer-Trump approach of trying to preserve jobs on a case-by-case basis, rather than improving incentives for everyone. Trump is even getting his trade policy from Schumer. Consider Trump's tweet this week: "Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete)." The China currency manipulation complaint has been a Schumer hobbyhorse for more than a decade; back in 2005, Lawrence Kudlow was writing in the New York Sun about how "Smoot Schumer" was "using the issue of floating currencies as a smokescreen for his protectionist package against China." Schumer is also already salivating about Trump's plans for $1 trillion in federally backed "infrastructure spending." "Schumer said he stands ready to work with the incoming administration to pass a major infrastructure bill with a trillion dollars in real federal funding, and believes it is possible in the first 100 days of the new Administration," the senator said in a press release. If you thought the Obama "stimulus" was a taxpayer-funded bridge to nowhere, wait until you see the Trump-Schumer spending binge. Prescient observers saw this coming. A New York Sun editorial back in March suggested that Trump choose Schumer as his running mate, observing, accurately, "The Donald and Mr. Schumer are two peas in a pod." Trump himself has gushed about the senior senator from New York, tweeting, "I have always had a good relationship with Chuck Schumer." Trump called Mr. Schumer "far smarter" than Harry Reid, Schumer's predecessor as the Senate Democratic leader, and called Schumer's[...]

Al Gore Wouldn't Have Invaded Iraq, Third Parties are a Threat to Democracy, and Other New York Times Delusions

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:01:00 -0500

According to Gail Collins' latest column in The New York Times, Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election and thus enabled the Iraq War because unlike George W. Bush, Gore would have never invaded Iraq. "Case closed," Collins so authoritatively puts it. While attacking 2016 Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein for her quixotic campaign demanding recounts in crucial swing states lost by Hillary Clinton by very small margins, Collins outdoes herself in dispensing conventional wisdom that wilts under just the barest of scrutiny. Collins muses that "it's definitely possible" Clinton could have received every vote that instead went to Stein and seethes at Stein's insistence that most people who voted for her would have just stayed home without the Green Party on the ballot. Collins writes: We had heard something similar from Ralph Nader, whose presence on the ballot in 2000 probably cost Al Gore Florida, and the presidency. On many of Nader's issues, Gore was not great. But the point of the American system of democracy is that in the end, you often have to take the responsibility for choosing the better of two unlovely options. And if Gore had been elected, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Case closed. Hoo boy. First off, Ralph Nader may have earned far more votes in Florida than Gore would have needed to defeat Bush (and thus, win the presidency) in the Sunshine State, but more than 12 times as many registered Florida Democrats voted for Bush than Nader. Further, Gore didn't even win his home state of Tennessee, which if he had, would have been enough to win the presidency and make Florida's tally irrelevant. But just like in 2000, when Democrats and sympathetic Top Men and Top Women in media refused to consider Gore ran a terrible campaign, Collins and others want to pin Donald Trump's stunning electoral victory on disobedient voters who rejected the two-party duopoly which produced the two least popular candidates of all time. Examining exit poll data in the wake of the 2016 election, I noted the lack of enthusiasm for either major party candidate among third party voters: CBS News' exit poll posed the hypothetical question of who third party voters would support if the race were only Clinton and Trump, and both [Libertarian Party candidate Gary] Johnson and Stein supporters appeared to support Clinton over Trump by about 25 percent to 15 percent. But 55 percent of Johnson's supporters would have just sat out the election, as would 61 percent of Jill Stein supporters. According to New York Times exit polling, a whopping 63 percent of voters who declined to cast their ballot for the two major party candidates said they would have not voted at all in a two candidate race. Second, it's a howler that Collins is so certain ("Case closed") Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq, considering he was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote in favor of the first Gulf War, uber-hawk Joe Lieberman was his running mate, and he had spent his entire legislative career as a liberal internationalist consistently supporting military interventions on humanitarian grounds. Gore also defended air strikes in Iraq as Vice President and, as a candidate for president, supported the U.S. policy of removing Saddam Hussein from power which President Clinton made official with the signing of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Reason's Matt Welch also found some evidence straight from Gore's mouth boasting of his hawkish bona fides: In 1996, when Republican nominee Bob Dole criticized Clinton for lobbing cruise missiles into Iraq, Gore retorted, "Sometimes the U.S. has to take unilateral action when our interests are at stake." In May 2000, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference, Gore bragged on being an Iraq hawk and stressed that "it is our policy to see Saddam Hussein gone..." We can play "alternative history" games all day, but it arguably makes less sense to insist Gore would definitely not have invaded Iraq as it would to declare the opposite. Finally, is it really "the point of the Amer[...]

Why It's a Mistake to Describe the Alt-Right as 'Neo-Nazis'

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 13:32:00 -0500

"Nazis. They are Nazis. Call them Nazis." With slight variations, this has been a common refrain since the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white-nationalist think tank headed by founder Richard Spencer, held a mid-November D.C. conference devoted to the alt-right's future. The event—which attracted a few hundred attendees, a few hundred protesters, and international media attention—has renewed debate over whether referring to the "alt-right" by its chosen moniker is an affront to decency and lapse in press ethics that risks "normalizing" hate. Even the Associated Press, print-media's bastion of detached editorial authority, issued recent guidance that cautions against "using the term [alt-right] generically and without definition," as "it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters' actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience." In the past, AP stated, "we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist." Reporters writing about those who claim the alt-right mantle should use quotation marks around the term of modify it with phrases such as "self-described" or "so-called alt-right," AP advised. At ThinkProgress, editors announced last week that they would "no longer treat 'alt-right' as an accurate descriptor of either a movement or its members" and would "only use the name when quoting others." In its own coverage of "men like Spencer and groups like NPI, we will use terms we consider more accurate, such as 'white nationalist' or 'white supremacist," they stated, calling it a matter of editorial "clarity and accuracy," as there is very little that "distinguishes the alt-right from more hidebound racist movements such as the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan." ThinkProgress is right that this is a matter of "clarity and accuracy." It's just hard to see how declaring a movement specific to our current cultural and political moment as synonymous with more broad and historical analogues actually serves the purpose of clarity or accuracy. As Julian Sanchez writes at The Washington Post, "The Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge are (or were) all violent racist movements — and using the specific names instead of referring to them as 'violent racists' does not seem to have been much of an obstacle to recognizing them as such. They're all also distinct historical phenomena, and our understanding of them would not be enhanced if we insisted on using the same generic description for all of them." People worrying that the term "alt-right" sugarcoats the bad beliefs of those it describes ignore the way most people actually relate to language and mass communication. Alt-right isn't a term that previously meant something else in U.S. politics but got co-opted by racist extremists. It is a new term, and one still rapidly evolving and gaining meaning, which means alt-right is as alt-right does right now. If those who self-identify as alt-right keep shouting "Heil Trump!" while throwing up Nazi salutes, blasting out hateful anti-Semitic memes, and espousing the dangers of race-mixing, people will get the picture. We don't need thought-leaders to say "this movement calls itself alt-right but they're really racists and anti-Semites!!!!" because the term alt-right itself will become synonymous with these beliefs. And it will do so in a way that's specific to our current context, rather than muddying the waters with poor historical analogies. The term "Nazi" isn't a Kleenex or Xerox situation, where we just throw it around now to mean "all people with beliefs that skew nationalist or racist." Nazis (and groups like the KKK) are inextricably connected to their originating times and contexts, and all the socio-political pathologies that flourished in them. And while there are certainly some parallels between the alt-right and historical hate-groups, considering them all interchangeable isn't merely inaccurate, it also obfuscates the kind of[...]

A Day Trip to Dearborn, Michigan, Helps Puts Election Results in Perspective

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 16:00:00 -0500

For some quick perspective on topics that are flaring in the aftermath of the presidential election—American manufacturing, bigotry, the difference between coastal elite America and flyover country, the environment—one can do a lot worse than a quick day trip to Dearborn, Michigan. The Henry Ford museum offers tours of Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge factory, which now makes the Ford F-150 pickup truck, the best-selling vehicle in America. An introductory video describes the plant as "the most famous manufacturing facility ever constructed," a place where, back in the 20th century, Henry Ford pioneered and perfected both the moving assembly line and vertically integrated production, and where the workforce was once 100,000 strong. Today, the plant runs nearly round-the-clock, seven days a week, but it employs closer to 6,000 people. Fewer workers can be more productive in part because they are assisted by robot arms and mechanical bolt-fasteners made by Fanuc and Kawasaki, which are based in Japan, by Leoni AG, which is a German company, and by Atlas Copco, which is headquartered in Sweden. Even American manufacturing, in other words, relies heavily on foreign trade. For all his business genius, Henry Ford was a bigot whose newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, peddled vicious anti-Semitism and reprinted the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"; Hitler honored him in 1938 with the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. Visit the Henry Ford museum today, though, and you will find within it one of the most inspiring exhibits anywhere devoted to civil rights. Its centerpiece is the actual Montgomery, Alabama, bus that Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of. As President Obama was fond of quoting Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Compared to, say, a Toyota Prius or a Chevy Volt, the Ford F-150 isn't exactly what you might describe as a low-environmental impact vehicle. But a $2 billion overhaul of the Rouge plant in 1999 means that a site where prosperity was once synonymous with pollution now features an apple orchard, beehives, mallard ducks, a "green roof," photovoltaic cells, skylights, and cisterns that recycle rainwater. Tour guides explain that many of these features reduce energy costs and were driven not by government mandates but by economic efficiency incentives. It's something to consider amid the anxiety about the effect a Trump administration will have on the environment. On the day I arrived in Detroit, midweek, rental cars were so scarce, because of "unusually high demand," that the daily prices were more than my airfare from Boston. Someone else on the shuttle bus to the rental car lot asked the driver what was happening in town. A big convention? A college football game? It turned out to be the opening day of deer hunting season with regular firearms. That explanation was so far outside the realm of what I had expected that I laughed aloud at the realization that I wasn't in Boston anymore. It wasn't so clear if I was laughing at myself or at the hunters; what is clear is that college-educated journalists like me spent too much time this election cycle laughing at Trump voters and their regions of the country, and not enough time listening to them. When I finally was able to get a car, it was a tinny Ford Fiesta that had been flatly rejected by the previous group of travelers as too small for their needs. The car's existence was in some ways a consequence of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards imposed, directly or indirectly, by Washington as a way of balancing out the effects of all those F-150 trucks. Will the rest of America eventually converge with the coasts? The Henry Ford's Rosa Parks bus and the robots and honeybees at the F-150 factory on the Rouge River suggest that perhaps Michigan isn't as far from Massachusetts as stereotypes or election results suggest. But regional and cultural differences—enthusiasm for deer-hunting versus revulsion at it, preferences for [...]

Bernie Sanders Got Nearly 6 Percent of the Vote in Vermont, Even Though He Wasn't Running

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:35:00 -0500

How much dissatisfaction was there with the major parties' presidential candidates this year? Enough that we're likely to hit a popular-vote milestone not seen since 1980 and an electoral-vote milestone not seen since the 19th century. Enough that in one state, someone who wasn't even on the ballot collected nearly 6 percent of the vote: • Bernie Sanders finished third in Vermont, with 5.68 percent, even though he wasn't running. All sorts of non-candidates picked up write-in votes in Vermont, including seven ballots for Willie Nelson, one for Louis CK, one for Richard Nixon, and one for "R. Paul." (Rand, Ron, and Ru can fight it out for that one.) Either two or three ballots were cast for God, depending on whether you include the vote for Jesus; I'll let the theologians debate that one in the comments. But the big write-in success was Vermont senator and former Hillary Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders, who got 18,218 votes—18,219 if you count the person who wrote in both Sanders and Joe Biden. That's 5.68 percent of the state's total, more than either Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party (3.14 percent) or Jill Stein of the Greens (2.11 percent). Sanders, you'll recall, ceased to be a candidate before the Democratic convention and spent much of the fall campaigning for Clinton. • Jill Stein has now surpassed 1 percent of the national total. When I last posted about the third-party results, Stein had .96 percent of the national total. Since then her tally has risen to 1.02 percent. If that holds, two third-party candidates will have surpassed 1 percent this year. (The other is Johnson, whose share now stands at 3.28 percent.) That may not sound significant, but it is exceptionally rare. The last election where two different alternative tickets managed to do that well was way back in 1980, and the last one before that was in 1948. To find a third example you need to go all the way to 1916. • Chances are high that one or more alternative candidate—or non-candidate—will show up in the Electoral College totals too. Before Election Day, a Democratic elector in Washington declared that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton even if she carried the state. Another elector in the same state was publicly mulling a similar protest. There was a lot of debate about whether they would actually stick with such a plan if it meant handing the election to Trump. Well, that debate is now moot: Trump appears set to carry the Electoral College no matter what the Washington delegation does. And the Democratic slate did win Washington. So there's a strong chance that we'll see two Democratic electors defect to Sanders, Stein, or someone else. (There is also at least a small chance that one or more Trump electors will refuse to vote for the Republican nominee.) It isn't unusual for a solitary elector to break with the pack this way. That's happened in six of the last 12 elections. But it's extremely unusual for more than one member of the same Electoral College to vote for a presidential candidate other than the one they're pledged to support. That hasn't happened since the 19th century. • Who finished last? Enough with the alternative candidates who did unusually well. Who did really, really poorly? Strictly speaking, last place is a vast tie between a bunch of write-ins. But limiting ourselves to the candidates who actually appeared on the ballot, the person presently bringing up the rear is Frank Atwood of the Approval Voting Party, whose platform holds that you should be able to vote for as many different candidates as you like. According to the U.S. Election Atlas, Atwood currently has just 335 votes. Atwood himself might not be among them: Last October he told the Littleton Independent that he "will most likely be voting for Gary Johnson."[...]

Did Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Voters Cost Hillary Clinton The Election?

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 14:05:00 -0500

Now that Donald Trump is president-elect, despondent Hillary Clinton supporters need someone to blame. Of course, they could blame the Democratic Party for willfully tipping the scales in favor of ensuring the nomination of a candidate who The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald aptly described as "a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption." They could also blame the lack of enthusiasm for either candidate, which produced a far lower-than-expected turnout, particularly in swing states. They could blame the fact that Clinton only won 65 percent of Latino voters—despite running against a candidate who has threatened mass deportation of undocumented immigrants whom he described as "rapists" and "criminals," and who promised to build a Mexican-financed wall on our Southern border. At least 27 percent of Latinos voted for...Trump! There were other voter problems Clinton ran into, which likely dwarf any effect third party voters had on denying her the presidency (not least of which because it's ridiculous to assume third party voters would automatically go to Clinton). According to CNN's exit poll data, Clinton won "union households" with 51 percent to Trump's 43 percent—a shockingly low number for such a historically Democratic base. Clinton lost independents 48-42 percent in favor of Trump (unfortunately, CNN doesn't list independent candidates in national data, offering only "Other/No Answer," which scored 10 percent of the independent vote). Clinton was only able to win voters under the age of 30 with 55 percent to Trump's 37 percent, while 8 percent of young millennials went into the the all-encompassing "Other" category. While Clinton won the group overall, it is highly relevant that the Democratic nominee lost 10 percent of self-described "liberals" to Trump, with 6 percent responding "Other/No Answer." But self-reflection is hard and blaming the deliberately marginalized voices of third party voters by the Democratic and Republican parties is easier. There's no shortage of available takes focusing exclusively on the fact that votes for third party candidates (mostly the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein, and independent conservative Evan McMullin) exceed the differential between Trump and Clinton's vote tallies in a number of states, including some swing states. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow—who when Reason's Nick Gillespie's asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that she was a Democratic partisan replied, "Dude, I'm not even a Democrat"—said of third party voters last night, "If you vote for somebody who can't win for president, it means that you don't care who wins for president." In Maddow's world, this isn't "punching down" at the tiny percentage of voters who rejected the two least popular presidential candidates of all time, it's that serious-minded independents should only ever vote for the two major parties they refuse to join. This thinking is in line with the conventional wisdom that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000 because of the razor-thin margin between the two major party candidates in Florida. Of course, such logic falls apart when you consider that almost 13 times as many registered Florida Democrats voted for George W. Bush as they did for Nader, and that liberals-for-Bush exceeded Nader's total vote by a factor of more than three. CBS News' exit poll posed the hypothetical question of who third party voters would support if the race were only Clinton and Trump, and both Johnson and Stein supporters appeared to support Clinton over Trump by about 25 percent to 15 percent. But 55 percent of Johnson's supporters would have just sat out the election, as would 61 percent of Jill Stein supporters. According to New York Times exit polling, a whopping 63 percent of vot[...]

Where the Third-Party Candidates Were Strongest

Wed, 09 Nov 2016 11:55:00 -0500

Yesterday's presidential election produced the strongest showing in 20 years for third-party and independent candidates. Not all the ballots have been tallied yet, so some of the numbers below may be slightly off from the final totals. But at this point all the alternative candidates put together have received more than 5 percent of the popular vote. The leader of the second-tier pack, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, has (at this point in the counting) 4,012,871 votes, or 3.23 percent of the national total. That's much less than he was polling a couple months ago, but it's far better than any other presidential result in the party's 45-year history. It's also better than any other alternative candidate since Ross Perot's campaigns of 1992 and '96. On the state level, we didn't get to see some of the more extraordinary possibilities that had been tossed around before Tuesday. (No, Evan McMullin did not carry Utah.) But the second-tier candidates did do stronger in some places than others, giving us a map—multiple maps—of where our binary party system is doing the poorest job of representing the full spectrum of political opinion. Here's how the third-, fourth-, and fifth-place finishers fared across the country: Gary Johnson. Not surprisingly, Johnson did best in New Mexico, the state where he was governor from 1995 to 2003: He got 9.3 percent of the vote there (and in some counties hit double digits). He got 5 percent or more in seven other states as well: North Dakota (6.3 percent), traditionally third-party-friendly Alaska (5.9), Oklahoma (5.7), South Dakota (5.6), Montana (5.6), Wyoming (5.3), and Maine (5.1). He got at least 1 percent of the vote everywhere. His weakest showing was in Mississippi, where just 1.2 percent of the voters backed him. That's still more than double his total there in 2012. Jill Stein. As I write, Jill Stein of the Green Party has 1,192,344 votes, or about .96 percent of the national total. That's the Greens' best showing since Ralph Nader's campaign in 2000. Stein's highest percentage on the state level came in Hawaii, where she collected 2.9 percent of the ballots. She also managed to top 2 percent in Oregon (2.4 percent), Vermont (2.3), and—more surprisingly—Kansas (2.0). She did not outpoll Johnson in any state. Evan McMullin. McMullin, a conservative running as an independent, was on the ballot in only 11 states, so it's not surprising that he finished behind Johnson and Stein. (His total currently stands at 443,298 votes nationally, or .36 percent.) But he did very well in one of those states: He was a strong third in his native Utah, collecting 20.9 percent of the vote and finishing second in several counties. He also managed to get 6.9 percent in Idaho, the only other state where he beat Johnson. He didn't get as much as 2 percent anywhere else, though he managed to clear the 1 percent mark in Minnesota (1.8 percent), Virginia (1.6), Arkansas (1.2), Kentucky (1.2), and South Carolina (1.0). It is no coincidence that McMullin did best in the two states with the country's highest Mormon populations. The only other candidate who managed to get more than 1 percent of the vote in any states was Darrell Castle of the paleoconservative Constitution Party, who is currently pulling 1.3 percent in Alaska, 1.1 percent in South Dakota, and, more surprisingly, 1 percent in Hawaii. In Nevada, where voters have the option of voting for None of the Above, that option pulled 2.6 percent. Did these candidates tip any states from Clinton to Trump? I've already heard some ruminations to that effect from angry Democrats ready to replay their scripts from 2000, but it's a hard case to make. Johnson initially drew both disaffected Democrats and disaffected Republicans, but toward the end of the race the polls suggested that he was pulling much more from the Trump camp. (Of course, I don't blame you if you don't feel like trustin[...]

A Walt Whitman Poem for Election 2016

Tue, 08 Nov 2016 17:15:00 -0500

Bitterly fought elections are actually not uncommon in American history. Consider the election of 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied among Electors. In words that some might think could be applicable to a certain contemporary orange-haired presidential candidate, Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist, explained why he preferred Democratic Republican Jefferson: Mr. Jefferson, though too revolutionary in his notions, is yet a lover of liberty and will be desirous of something like orderly Government – Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself – thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement – and will be content with nothing short of permanent power [struck: and] in his own hands – No compact, that he should make with any [struck: other] passion in his [struck: own] breast except [struck: his] Ambition, could be relied upon by himself – How then should we be able to rely upon any agreement with him? Mr. Jefferson, I suspect will not dare much Mr. Burr will [inserted in margin: dare every thing in the sanguine hope of effecting every thing –] ... In a choice of Evils let them take the least – Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr. And perhaps even more apropos, there was the election of 1884, which the U.S. History website notes: The campaign was extremely bitter and focused on the candidates` shortcomings. [Democrat Grover] Cleveland, years earlier in Buffalo, had fathered an illegitimate child. He had taken full financial responsibility for his offspring and publicly acknowledged that he had made a mistake. Republican opponents, however, kept the matter in the public mind by chanting, "Ma, Ma, where`s my Pa? Gone to the White House. Ha, ha, ha." [Republican James] Blaine, on the other hand, was a good family man, but had apparently engaged in questionable investment schemes while on the public payroll. Much of the campaign furor revolved around the difference between private and public misdeeds. Democratic partisans used the refrain, "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine! Similar sorts of taunts echo through Election 2016. In response to the distempers of that 19th century presidential contest, Walt Whitman penned "Election Day, November, 1884." Focus particularly on the last four lines. ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884. If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show, 'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado, Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser- loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing, Nor Oregon's white cones—nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes— nor Mississippi's stream: —This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day, (The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,) The stretch of North and South arous'd—sea-board and inland —Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California, The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con- flict, The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict, Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the peaceful choice of all, Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross: —Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows: These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships, Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.[...]

Why Democracy Is Not Sacred

Tue, 08 Nov 2016 10:45:00 -0500

We live in the era of democratic triumphalism. Democracy is a sacred value, voting a civic sacrament. To paraphrase Auberon Herbert, we no longer see kings as majestic, but we imbue every voter with a share of kingly majesty. Most Americans regard universal, equal suffrage as necessary to express the idea that all people have equal worth. They regard democracy as an end in itself. We may criticize democracy, but to suggest we experiment with an alternative is sacrilege. Here's a different take. Democracy has the kind of value a hammer has, nothing more. It's a pretty good hammer, too. Empirically, democracies do a better job protecting civil and economic liberty and promoting general prosperity than other existing forms of government. Still, if democracy is nothing more than a hammer, we should feel free to use a better tool, if we can find one. No one insists on using a hammer when a wrench works better. The central problem with democracy is that it "works." Politicians and bureaucrats have significant power to do as they please, but they also answer to the people. To win elections, politicians push agendas that appeal to voters. But 65 years of research finds that voters are systematically misinformed about both the basic facts (crime and unemployment rates, who controls Congress and what they did in power, etc.) and about the social scientific knowledge needed to make sense of those facts. Voters advocate policies they would not advocate if they were better informed. They wield their power incompetently, and we all suffer the consequences: more war, overly punitive criminal sentencing, trade barriers, counterproductive welfare policies, and the like. Voters aren't stupid; they just don't care. Since individual votes make no difference, voters have no incentive to correct mistaken beliefs, and every incentive to indulge their worst biases and delusions. Imagine a professor in a 210 million-person class told her students she'll average their final exam grades together and give them all the same grade. Students wouldn't bother to study; the average grade would be an F. That's how democracy works. My middle school civics teacher told me democracy rests on the consent of the governed. She was wrong. Even in democracy, our relationship to the government is not consensual. In a consensual relationship, yes means yes, no means no. For government, your no means yes. Try telling a cop arresting you for marijuana possession that you voted against the law. Regardless of whether you vote or how you vote, the same laws apply to you anyway. We can't even say that we tacitly consent to the law by choosing to live in our country. Most of us lack the right to move elsewhere. Some philosophers claim that democracies give citizens autonomous control over their government. That's misleading. It's true that the collective majority has significant power, but no individual within that majority (or the minority) has any significant power. Democracy empowers groups, not individuals. For each of us, had we stayed home or voted the other way, the same outcome would have occurred. Stripping you of the right to vote doesn't reduce your autonomy; giving you the right to vote doesn't increase it. Many philosophers extol the symbolic value of democracy. The great left-liberal philosopher John Rawls claimed that justice requires democracy because non-democratic systems communicate that some people are better than others. This hurts people's self-esteem and social standing. It's a strange claim, but Rawls is on to something. The Nazis made Jews wear Stars of David as a public badge signaling their inferiority. In Western liberal democracies, we use the right to vote to express the opposite message, that we consider certain people full and equal members of society. Sure, we treat the right to vote this way. But it's not written into the f[...]

Congressman Threatens Major Networks With Hearings On 'Media Bias'

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 12:01:00 -0500

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) sent a letter to the heads of the four "major" TV networks—CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox—threatening to hold a hearing "to explore network media bias in coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign." To justify this grandstanding and overreaching display of concerned government, Cramer cites a recent Gallup poll which put Americans trust in "media" at around 32 percent and also asserted only 37 percent of Americans think the media's coverage of the 2016 campaign has been "balanced." If the public's tepid views of the news business aren't enough to make your fear for the fragile state of American democracy, Cramer's not done. For him, the polls confirm that "national network news has devolved from fact-based journalism to surreptitious propaganda" in violation of their "moral obligation to provide balanced, unbiased news coverage for the American people." Our mass media is not serving the public interest. I call on @ABC @CBS @FOX @nbc to #StopPoliticalBias Letter Here: — Rep. Kevin Cramer (@RepKevinCramer) November 4, 2016 Cramer wants the network executives to know that he's not in favor of re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine, but adds, "while the principle of an independent media is critical to our constitutional government, a news media free of political bias is required for a free system to flourish." So instead of wielding the Fairness Doctrine as a means of forcing the networks to rid themselves of all political bias (which would be impossible to quantify, not least because bias is in the eye of the beholder), Cramer threatens their "the use of federally-allocated spectrum" afforded by their FCC licenses, writing "Your FCC license and the liberty that comes with your First Amendment rights are not a license to broadcast anything you want or in any way you choose." Cramer appears to have not read the FCC's website, which explicitly states (emphasis theirs), "We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations with which stations have relationships (such as PBS or NPR), except to the extent that those entities may also be station licensees." If Cramer has a problem with the national news media and wants to use the FCC as a cudgel, he'd need to sic them on hundreds of individual stations, not just four networks. Though Cramer might want to use the FCC as his own task force, the FCC's website also states the commission "cannot prevent the broadcast of any particular point of view. In this regard, the Commission has observed that 'the public interest is best served by permitting free expression of views." They're not done: The Commission often receives complaints concerning broadcast journalism, such as allegations that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately, or overly dramatized the events that they cover. For the reasons noted above, the Commission generally will not intervene in such cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had responded to reports that Facebook's Trending News section was politically biased against right-leaning voices and stories by asking the company for extensive internal documentation and summoning senior employees to Washington, D.C. for a briefing with the senator, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Communication. What Thune and Cramer—both Republicans in good standing and ostensibly pro-free market—fail to understand is that Facebook and the major television networks are all private organizations, and whether or not they cover the election or any news from a neutral point of vi[...]

Could Trump Lose the Way Gore Lost?

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 00:01:00 -0500

New Hampshire is a tiny state with about 1.3 million people. California has eight counties with larger populations than that. But in presidential campaigns, size doesn't matter. Donald Trump and Barack Obama will be in New Hampshire on Monday. The 39 million residents of California can only watch from afar. In most political races, candidates spend the most time where they can reap the most votes. In presidential campaigns, however, they often seem to shun any place where large numbers of ballots are cast. California, Texas and New York are the most populous states. But from the number of candidates they've seen lately, they might as well be Siberia. The reason for this weird pattern is a weird institution—the Electoral College, which is what we actually use to choose presidents. Each state has as many votes as it has members of Congress, and 48 states are winner-take-all. Whoever can amass 270 electoral votes becomes president. This unusual formula has the effect of steering candidates away from large states that have a strong bent toward one party or the other. Lose by one vote or a million votes in most places and you get the same electoral harvest: nothing. No one campaigns in California, despite its 55 electoral votes, because it's a haven for Democrats. No one wastes time in Texas, with 38 electoral votes, because it's almost impossible for Republicans to lose. New Hampshire could go either way. So it's worth fighting over despite the meager reward at stake: four electoral votes. A few big states, such as Florida and Ohio, find themselves swarmed with candidates and carpet-bombed with TV ads every four years because neither party can take them for granted. But in other vote-rich places, it's almost possible to forget there's an election. Worst off of all are low-population states that are reliably red or blue. Democrats turned angrily against the Electoral College in 2000, when they discovered it's possible to win the popular vote and lose the election. They might have seen it coming. Back in the 1980s, Republicans were said to have a lock on the Electoral College because they had a clear advantage in 39 states that accounted for 441 electoral votes. Democrats wondered whether they would ever overcome that handicap. They have. These days, it's Republicans who face a nearly impregnable electoral fortress. The 17 states that have voted for the Democratic nominee in each of the past four presidential elections command 242 electoral votes. The 22 that have gone Republican every time have only 180. That's why you keep hearing about Trump's "narrow path to victory." He has to capture several states that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 to win, including Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and, yes, New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton just has to hold on to one of them to be practically assured of victory. The Electoral College tilt means she could plausibly lose the popular vote and still take the oath of office Jan. 20. Trump couldn't. NPR calculated that in 2012, it was possible to win the presidency with 23 percent of the popular vote. It's a strange mechanism that we accept only because it so rarely affects the outcome. The winner of the popular vote almost always wins the electoral vote. But as President Al Gore can attest, there are glaring exceptions to the rule. The only reason for the lengthy postelection court battle in 2000 over how to count the votes in Florida was the Electoral College. Without it, the hanging chads in Palm Beach County would have been a trivial curiosity—because Gore got nearly 544,000 more votes nationwide than George W. Bush. Traditionalists regard the Electoral College as a sacred creation of the Founding Fathers, whose genius must be respected. But the Framers really had only the dimmest idea what they were doing. Historian Carl Becke[...]

The Green Party's Jill Stein: Why Choose Between a 'Fascist' and a 'Warmonger'?

Sun, 06 Nov 2016 13:00:00 -0500

The 2016 presidential race features two of the most disliked candidates in electoral history, which has given a boost not only to the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson, but to Jill Stein, a 66-year-old Harvard-trained physician from Massachusetts who's running on the Green Party ticket. "We have every reason to be terrified of Donald Trump in the White House," says Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. "But I don't think we should fool ourselves into thinking that we should sleep well at night with Hillary Clinton in the White House either. They're both dangerous and unacceptable in different ways." Stein is currently polling at about 2 percent, trailing Gary Johnson, who is on track to take about 4 percent of the popular vote. Stein, who sat down last week for an interview with Reason, says this election year presents an historic opportunity for third parties. "This is a realignment election," says Stein. "And you have this marriage of the Democratic and Republican parties now. And its important, I think, for Greens and Libertarians to be working together right now to just break through this stranglehold and be challenging them right out of the gate." Stein says that if only the U.S. were to adopt a new system of voting, Americans wouldn't have to make this choice between voting their conscience or the lesser of two evils. Stein and the libertarian Gary Johnson have a lot in common on topics like foreign policy, marijuana legalization, and same-sex marriage. But on economic issues, the two candidates couldn't be farther apart. For instance, Stein favors a single-payer health care system, which she claims would cost taxpayers nothing. She also says she would pour federal money into the clean energy sector and end our use of fossil fuels by the year 2030. Stein has been battling the perception that the Green Party is anti vaccine after she told the Washington Post that "there were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don't know if all of them have been addressed" with regards to small amounts of mercury once found in childhood vaccines, despite a scientific consensus that there's never been a link between vaccines and autism or any other serious health problems. Stein calls the media coverage of her statements misleading and characterizes it as the "birther" issue of this election, claiming that she's only calling for reforms to the FDA, which she sees as corrupted by lobbyists. With the election just days away, both Johnson and Stein's poll numbers are slipping. One meaningful benchmark for both parties would be to win 5 percent of the popular vote. That would lead the Federal Election Commission to confer the classification of "minor party," which means they'd get easier ballot access and be eligible for matching public funds. "It's outrageous that people should be struggling right now with this questions of, 'Do I prefer a fascist or a warmonger?'" says Stein. Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Produced and Edited by Justin Monticello and Jim Epstein. Camera by Monticello and Alex Manning. Music by RW Smith. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]

If You Want To Understand Politics in 2024, Watch Statehouse Races Tuesday

Sun, 06 Nov 2016 10:35:00 -0500

State legislative elections don't get much attention, even in years when the presidential race isn't the only thing anyone talks about for months on end. But those local races do more than simply determine which lawmakers get a desk in the state capitol. In more ways than one, state legislative races shape the foundation of government—and not only in faraway places like Harrisburg, Springfield, and Raleigh. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House but Republicans hold their majority in the U.S. House (as is likely), it will be in large part because of the victories Republicans have won in state-level races over the past decade. In most states, controlling state legislatures means controlling the ability to redraw congressional districts and giving your own party an electoral advantage before any voters line-up at the polls. The massive advantage that the GOP holds at the state level is something Democrats will have to reverse if they want a realistic shot at winning full control of Congress any time before 2030. They've got a lot of work to do. Heading into Election Day 2016, Republicans control both chambers in 30 state legislatures, while Democrats have dual-house control in just 12 states. There are seven states with Republican majorities in one chamber and Democratic majorities in another. Unofficially, Republicans also control Nebraska's unique unicameral legislature (all Nebraskan lawmakers are technically "nonpartisan" but party affiliations are hardly a secret and 35 of the chamber's 49 members are affiliated with the Republican Party). Contrast that with where things stood when Obama was elected for the first time in 2008. Following that election, Democrats had control of both chambers in 27 states, while Republicans held all the cards in only 14 states. Then 2010 happened. The midterm election swept Republicans into control of both chambers of Congress, but it also produced an astounding swing in control of state legislatures. Even as Democrats re-elected Barack Obama comfortably in 2012 and made small inroads against the GOP congressional majority, the GOP tightened their grip on state legislatures. Obama, who probably learned this lesson better than anyone else in the wake of the 2010 election, has tried this year to use his campaigning superpowers to help Democratic candidates in state-level races, endorsing 150 candidates across 20 states. They could use the help, because the red tide that rose in 2010 hasn't shown signs of receding. In Pennsylvania, for example, Republicans are eyeing veto-proof majorities in both the state House and state Senate this year even as polling shows that the state is likely to go "blue" for the seventh consecutive presidential cycle. Wisconsin is another reliably blue state in presidential races, but Republicans have been able to pass some of the most significant anti-union reforms in the country because of their recent success at winning seats in Madison. Like a hurricane that hits at high tide, the storm surge from the 2010 legislative elections inundated Democrats because of bad timing. It coincided with the once-per-decade process of redrawing congressional districts. Redistricting processes vary from state-to-state, but legislators almost always have significant influence. In many states, they literally draw the congressional maps, sometimes with no practical oversight from courts or the governor's mansion. Even when there is input from other branches of government or from the public (or from the U.S. Department of Justice, which has the authority to discard congressional maps for many southern states if they are judged to disenfranchise minorities), the process remains fundamentally political. There are plenty of ideas for how to reform the redistr[...]

Go Ahead, Throw Your Vote Away

Sat, 05 Nov 2016 06:00:00 -0400

I recently had a pleasant encounter with a great and outspoken American who, despite his libertarian leanings, supports Hillary Clinton for president. I congratulated him on making a tough call but allowed as how I was looking forward to casting my ballot for the Libertarian Party's flag bearers, Gary Johnson and William Weld. "It will be unadulterated pleasure," I offered, "as there is no opportunity cost." My correspondent fired back: "Opportunity cost is Trump gets elected." I stand by my recklessness. Here's where the curious nature of the American Electoral College comes in handy. Even where my vote—or the votes of my 100 closest, most easily influenced "inner circle"—might swing an election, there is simply no real chance that pushing either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton over the top in South Carolina, where I live, will determine the outcome of the presidential race. If Hillary wobbles to victory in my current state of residence, she would have already demolished The Donald in the Electoral College. Similarly, in Maryland (where our family lived until 2014), a squeaker for Mr. Trump would indicate that Ms. Clinton had been vanquished in a yuuuuuge landslide elsewhere. Now, it is extremely unlikely that any one person's vote will rock even one state's electoral outcome. In the closest state presidential election of the last half-century—New Mexico (no, not Florida) in 2000—the final margin for Al Gore came to 366. And even that did not swing the national prize. But set those slim odds of individual influence at the state level off to one (long-shot) side. Assuming that you live in a red or blue, and not a purple, state, you swing completely out of the loop. In its most recent election forecast, the prediction site FiveThirtyEight estimates that there is a 17.9 percent chance that Florida will decide the election (putting one of the candidates "over the top"). Next in line are Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the chances are 11.5 percent each, followed by Michigan at 8.7 percent and Wisconsin at 6.2 percent. When you account for North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, Nevada, and Iowa, you've eliminated all the states with as much as an estimated 2 percent chance to determine the outcome. Multiply that by the probability that one's own vote can throw one's state from Hillary to Donald or back, and the prospect that your vote will crown the next chief of state is neatly forecast as equal to 0.0. This safe harbor protects 67 percent of U.S. population, that portion living beyond the aforementioned swing states. This logic is not lost on the general public, which tends to vote for third parties more often in "one-party" states. Citizens realize that they are not trekking to the polls to cast the deciding national vote but to do their patriotic duty, taking pride in affixing an "I Voted!" sticker to their lapels and relishing the thought of canceling out some barbarian's vote (or their spouse's). But why not go commando and check the ballot for a person you'd actually prefer to see as president? In most states, the Electoral College makes this a guilt-free option. Consequential outcomes from individual presidential votes are so unlikely that Americans cast their chief of state endorsements while investing far less in research about their choice than the investigative effort they sink to select a smartphone data plan or their next Pokemon Go venue. This is straightforward: Decisions that affect actual results generally invite more attention than those that do not. It is called "rational ignorance." In another sense, it's liberating. Because your one tally will not change the nation's fate, you can afford to exercise your judgment worry-free. You are n[...]

Where Hillary Clinton is the Spoiler Candidate

Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:10:00 -0400

(image) This weekend Donald Trump denounced Evan McMullin, an independent conservative candidate who's been polling well in Utah. After declaring that McMullin had gathered his overwhelmingly Mormon support by "going from coffee shop to coffee shop" (fact check: Mormons don't drink coffee), Trump declared that "if for some reason we lose Utah, that could have a very devastating impact" on his campaign.

That it could. Trump's been struggling in several swing states; the last thing he needs is to lose a place that's usually the most reliably Republican state around. And FiveThirtyEight currently gives McMullin a better shot at denying him Utah than Hillary Clinton has. He leads her in most of the state's recent polls, and he arguably has a better chance of picking up supporters from her column than vice versa. From the Clintonites' point of view, it would of course be ideal for the Democrat to claim the state's six electors. But if that's not possible, your average Dem would surely rather see McMullin collect them; at least that way they won't help Trump get the 270 electoral votes required to win.

So if you're a Democrat in Utah, who gets your vote? The fellow with a shot at blocking Trump? Or Clinton, the spoiler candidate?

Now if that Democrat asked for my advice, I'd tell him to vote for the person who's closest to his views. But I'm a guy who usually votes third-party. Every four years, I get an earful about how terrible this is, how I'm a foolish idealist who needs to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. (For the record: I don't think any of the candidates I voted for were perfect, and I don't think any of their major-party opponents were good.)

Well, now the shoe's on the other foot. If you're a Utah Democrat who has ever sneered that Libertarians and Greens vote immaturely—if you seriously believe that the grown-up thing to do is to hold your nose and cast your ballot for the lesser evil—then you'll have to think hard about how exactly their actions are different from voting for Hillary Clinton. If there's a serious movement from Utah's Democrats toward McMullin, he'll carry the state. If they stick with Clinton, Trump's chances of getting those six electoral votes are a lot higher.

It's no skin off my nose; I prefer Gary Johnson anyway. But I'll still take a little pleasure in being able to tell a Democrat, "Oh. So you're throwing your vote away."