Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Myth of "Popular Vote"

I know I've covered this before, but people keep bringing it up. A recent CNN website poll asked us how the Democratic candidate should best be chosen -- by delegates or popular vote. Overwhelmingly, the respondents picked "popular vote."

We have lived with this myth now for well over 100 years: that somehow, "popular vote" gets us the best candidate. It only takes a review of history to realize that some of our best presidents were not elected by popular vote. As I look at our three apparent front-runners for the US presidency, I have to ask, "Is this really the best we can do?" Somehow, I do not think I am the lone voice on this issue.

Is McCain really the best that the Republican party can do? Most Republicans don't seem to think so, yet McCain was elected by popular vote. He got a little help from the Guiliani states -- the ones that Rudy "gerrymandered" before the primaries began -- the idiotic "winner take all" idea that robs delegates of any true representative power. If popular vote gets the candidate the people want most, why aren't Republicans out en masse singing McCain's praises? Simply because popular vote does not work.

I see all the enthusiastic rallies for the two Democratic contenders. I see the ridiculous logic of women interviewed every night, "I'm voting for Hillary because she's a woman!" What in-depth thought! What intelligent analysis of the needs of our republic! "She has two X chromosomes, so I'm going to vote for her." That's popular vote speaking. We could say the same things about Obama. He deserves to be considered because of his record, his preparation, his convictions, his philosophies. Yet his candidacy is reduced each evening to a simple trait: his color. I hear Martin Luther King spinning in his grave. More than ever, we are judging people not by the "content of their character," but rather by the color of their skin or the number of x and y chromosomes they have.

When I was in high school, the cheerleaders were elected by popular vote. They would all come to an assembly of the rest of us, and perform their "try-outs," and then we would go to our classrooms and vote. While we were voting, I can never recall anyone commenting on athletic ability, on being able to say the right things to get the game crowd "in the spirit." I did hear things like "she's cute," or "she stole so-and-so's boyfriend." The cheerleader vote was a beauty contest, an analysis of trite things. No one took the ability to lead cheers into account. That's probably okay with high schools. No one is taking it that seriously anway. In the rare moments that they do, we get some macabre story of a woman hiring a hit man to "take out" another cheerleader candidate's mother. We don't want it to be serious.

But I think we do when we consider who will try to be our executive leader for the next four years. The last thing we need is a "popular vote" based on skin color, gender, or ability to convince enough voters that a candidate will do all the right things and push the right buttons.

Delegates are not perfect by any means, but they at least have a chance to seriously look at issues and make an informed choice. In times past, candidates have been elected in local precincts because people thought they were someone else. In the 70's, when I was a devout Republican, I once thought I was voting for George Bush (future 41) to be my local representative to the US house. After all, that's what it said on the ballot. I was surprised later to learn that I had voted for his kid, who was just in his twenties. What a dirty trick.

Some people don't even vote for a candidate. The lazy way is to just check the box at the top, and vote for a party. That may have even worked in times past, but it means nothing now. There are good candidates for local elections in both parties, and it is a horrible thing to avoid one of them because someone tows a party line rather than showing the diligence to see who the candidates really are.

Most people don't know enough to vote anyway. I've voted ignorantly many times, and often, couldn't even remember who I voted for later.

Popular elections don't get the best people in place. Rembember 1972? The Nixon landslide? Love him or hate him, Nixon could not be called the "people's choice." He won because of the popular vote. Was he the best they had to offer at that point? I don't know. Many think he wasn't.

In 1976, I have problems believing that the Georgia peanut farmer was the best the Democrats could do. It was almost a "gimmee" election -- running against an unelected president who had replaced an indicted and resigned one. And Carter nearly lost anyway. Why? Can you say "popular vote primaries?"

What the Democrats need this year is a good delegate fight. I'm not talking about those superdelegates -- which is just a distribution of slot machine tokens to the war horses of the party. I'm talking about real human beings who do more than mark a ballot -- who hammer out issues, and determine party and platform policy. I would love to see Democrats come together for their national convention and go through the nightmare of a deadlock, to see them have to hammer out several agreements, and finally emerge with a dark horse candidate that didn't even spend the last 18 useless months kissing babies, drinking beer, and bowling. Maybe someone who was actually voting in the Senate or House during that time, or sitting in with the pundits determining policy. Someone who really knows what's going on -- whose spouse is not saying things that need to be explained away, or whose daughter is not saying "none of your business" to people who ask questions.

The Republicans need one of these types of conventions this year, too, but that's a pipe dream. They will have a coronation. The platform and policies will already be set, and there will be posturing and moving and shaking as the post-Bush Republican party hands out the cushy jobs and people move up in the shuffle. And McCain may or may not win, but it won't matter.

Both major parties are scared to death to do anything that the Founding Fathers intended in order to get a leader. They are also scared to do what their party founders sought in getting a candidate nominated.

We are condemned to mediocrity. Popular elections are possibly the worst way to choose a leader. Drawing straws might actually be better. Remember that some of the popularly elected leaders we have seen recently were named Hussein, Castro, and Chavez. Popular elections do not produce the kind of bold, wise leadership that our nation and others need.

That's why the Framers of the US Constitution were against them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

In Summary: Blue and Red

Blue states and Red states. It goes far beyond anything as simple as "Republican vs Democrat," or "Liberal vs Conservative." In a nutshell, for those who don't like to read long posts, here is the summary of the last two posts:

  • Blue is a consumer; Red is a producer
  • Blue wants the government to do it for him; Red wants to do it himself
  • Blue likes spending others' money; Red likes saving his own
  • Blue thinks things will eventually work out if he just sits there; Red wants to do something about it.
  • Blue perceives comfort, entertainment, and plenty as rights; Read sees them as privileges to be earned.
  • Blue thinks it's everybody else's fault when things go bad; Red thinks that bad things should be addressed and fixed.
  • Blue likes to earn and spend money fast, and spend more than he makes; Red knows that the tortoise always beats the hare, and lives on less than he earns.
Again, "Red" is not Republican; in fact, Republicans are looking bluer and bluer each year. The two main parties will be a choice, not of color, but of shades of blue. I look forward to the return of a viable "Red" candidate. Some of you have local "Red" candidates, for senator, representative, governor, and local offices. The higher you climb, the less red you will see. We must support "Red" candidates locally, and send a message to the top.

This also means that we have to stop voting for Santa Clause. We need to stop voting for expensive promises, and quick fixes. Maybe, this election, the best thing we could do is vote for a candidate because of what he or she will not do.

I don't care whether you vote Republican or Democrat or Third Party. I don't care whether you vote liberal or conservative. All I ask you to do this year is not vote Blue.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What do "Blue" and "Red" mean? (Part II)

In the previous post, I noted that there had been a complete shift in the "Democratic" and "Republican" designations of the parties, which was shortly followed by the change in colors. What do the colors really mean?

While I cannot prove this, and it may be unintentional, even subliminal, the colors have a meaning that follows certain values, it appears. I risk giving everything away at the beginning of this posting, but in a nutshell, the two competing values in our nation are neither "Republican" versus "Democratic," nor "liberal" versus "conservative." The colors represent "consumer" versus "producer." The old-time "red" Democrats were farmers and factory workers, teachers and police officers. They worked to build houses and buy land, and their main desire was to do this without debt. They fed the nation, built roads and communication networks, and eventually worked to launch a human being into space.

Consumers bought up corporations in order to take their resources. They looked for ways to eat more, buy more, and spend more. Entertainment is the main venue of consumers. Once, this was the venue of the blue Republican mind set, and they relied on the red Democratic producers to feed them, clothe them, and entertain them.

While it would be easy to say that the color shift represents a similar shift in party values, that would also be over-simplification. When I look at the last two GW Bush election maps, especially the one in 2000, colored by county or precinct, I don't see Democrats vs Republicans. Mr. Bush was fortunate enough to have the support of producers in the last two elections, but I don't think the Republicans who follow him should count on that same loyalty. Not after the heavy consumer-oriented spending and legislation of 8 years of "compassionate conservativism."

What is the difference between a consumer and a producer? The best way I can describe it is to show what consumers believe. If I do that, you can figure out what the producer ideology is; simply, it's the opposite:

  • Consumers think that water comes from a faucet, that eggs come twelve to a carton, and that meat is some mostly-red inanimate object that comes on a styrofoam plate, neatly wrapped in plastic.
  • Consumers think that food comes from a grocery store, and that highways and utilities are an inalienable right that "someone else" needs to take care of for us.
  • Consumers think that gasoline grows under service stations, for free, and that those who sell it decide how many dollars per gallon they want to take from us for it.
  • Consumers do not like the dirty, nasty things that some people tell them are necessary to produce their food and fuel. They hate those who kill animals so we can eat, who plow up forests so we can grow food, and who drill wells in ice so we can drive cars.
  • Consumers think that the government is a limitless source of money and resources, and has the constitutional obligation to feed us, clothe us, pay for our medical care, protect us from our own stupidity and carelessness, change our diapers when we're young, and pay for our nursing homes when we're old.
  • Consumers think that we're too stupid to save money or build for our retirement, and they're willing to let the government force us into that responsibility, so they can pay us a nickel on the dollar for our investment.
  • Consumers believe that money is best earned fast and spent faster. They think that the best way to wealth is to inherit it, win it in the lotto, or sue someone for it. They believe that all the woes of the world can be solved by "insurance" and "someone else's money."
  • Consumers feel they are the victims of fate, and that the lucky ones have an obligation to take care of everyone else.
  • Consumers feel that the highest good in life is to entertain themselves, and they spend most of their financial resources on increasing and improving that entertainment. They spend only a fraction of what they make on education, protection, and prevention, but after all, that's the "government's" job, and "it's" got plenty of money.
  • Consumers are willing to outsource jobs, education, and production to places like China in order that they may be able to afford cheaper entertainment and luxury. They are willing to sacrifice quality, not only in manufactured goods, but also in government, family, and faith, in order to continue to enjoy themselves and get what they want at the cheapest price possible, down the path of least resistance.
  • Consumers feel that the world revolves around them, and are not really concerned with others who might suffer if things go the way consumers want them to go in the Pollyanna world they live in.
If you look closely at the red/blue maps, you will see that the bluest concentrations of consumers live in the overcrowded metropolitan areas where people have never seen a live cow; where the stars are not visible at night, and where there is no productive soil. They live with brick, concrete, steel, and glass, and cannot be blamed for the shortsightedness that causes them to vote for other consumers.

One look at a consumer/producer map will make you erroneously conclude that there are far more producers than consumers, but that is not the case. The consumers must live close to each other and their sources of entertainment.

In our nation, we are currently divided at about 50/50%, and that is why nearly every election, court case, and legislative decision is so hotly contested and violently addressed. Where do I stand with this? If our trend continues, there will soon be less producers than consumers. When that happens, more elections and court cases will be decided by consumers. Consumers can only consume if there is someone producing. While American consumers have been the most efficient and prolific in history, there will be a breaking point. When there is, there will be violence, because consumers also believe that drastic measures are necessary to address perceived violations of rights.

Consumers just don't understand. Years ago, in the famous "Rodney King" riots, stores and markets, public services and offices, all the property of "producers," were destroyed. One of the saddest pictures of all was a line of consumers, the next weekday morning, lining up at the smoking ashes of what was formerly a post office, ready to pick up their government aid, because that was where they always got it.

There are producers and consumers in both major political parties, and they also exist among both liberals and conservatives; they know no racial nor economic boundaries. But if we are to flourish as a nation or a cultural group, we must do what we can to promote the producers, to make ways for their tribe to increase. When the "blue" begins to take over the heartlands, when it inundates the sparsely-populated counties and cities, we will all be in trouble.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What do "Blue" and "Red" mean? (Part I)

My state, Texas, has always been a "Red" state. When I was in high school, my Civics (as it was then called) teacher had a chart on the wall listing our president, senators, and representatives from each state. Texas was nearly solid red. Our governor, senators, and most of our representatives were Democrats. Why was that? Because they were farmers and laborers, soldiers and educators, all of whom believed that the most important things in America were freedom and individualism. For some reason, the Democrat color was "red." Some people used that during the Kennedy campaign to note that there was a genuine "red" threat if the Democrats won in 1960.

I remember the color of the Nixon stickers; they were the same color as the Goldwater ones later: deep blue. When did it happen -- the color shift? I suddenly realized in 2000 that the colors had traded. This was not the first, nor will it be the last, realignment. One of the biggest ones in history was the FDR revolution. Love him or hate him, FDR did something phenomenal in 1932: he switched parties, but kept his own values. Before FDR, the Democrats were the conservatives. There were no Republicans in the KKK meetings. The "solid South" was solid Democratic because they were the conservatives. The Republicans, on the other hand, were the socialist movers and shakers. Herbert Hoover was probably blamed unjustly for the Great Depression -- after all, it was a world-wide wave that caught up with America during his administration. But he had laid the groundwork for it: "A chicken in every pot." The Republicans before FDR were the ones who promised the moon and funded it with federal revenue. Republicans were the federalists who opposed states' rights.

Look it up. Republicans believed in a strong central government, in higher taxes and strong federal spending. They were the champions of social programs. Before FDR, almost all black Americans who could vote -- many were forbidden that right by southern (and northern!) Democrats, by the way -- voted Republican. Until the 60's, any Black congressional representation was Republican.

FDR changed everything overnight. He did this by taking the Republican ideals, and going further than they had in that direction. He replaced the Republican federalism with a welfare state that even the most liberal of Republicans would never have dreamed possible. The party was realigned, but not without great cost. The Democratic party would struggle with its own self-identity for nearly half a century.

The reason Harry Truman was our 33rd president is because of this struggle. Roosevelt's first choice for vice president had been powerful Texas Democrat John Nance Garner, who served under FDR for two terms -- 8 years. But Garner was an "old" style Democrat, and had problems balancing his loyalty to his constituency with serving under FDR. He was replaced in 1941 by Henry A. Wallace, from Iowa, who was then succeeded by Missouri native Truman. The truth was, it was hard to tell the players without a score card. "Democrat" meant something different in Washington from what it meant in Texas, Iowa, or Missouri. One of FDR's Texas contacts was a young Lyndon Baines Johnson, who somehow managed to stay on Roosevelt's good side in Washington while sticking close to Garner and Sam Rayburn of Texas. Johnson, for whatever else he was, knew how politics worked.

LBJ would be the architect of several impossible Senate victories. His very presence in the senate was a combination of masterful manipulation, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing how to run the seamy side of Texas Democratic politics in the 1940's. He somehow rose to the top of the Senate at breakneck speed, and did a thorough housecleaning. He knew when to ally with the enemy, and his greatest coup was his alliance with northern Republicans, with whose help he hammered out a massive civil rights bill. He was able to make strategic compromises with southern Democrats, who thought Johnson was one of them, and through their vote or their absence, engineered a bill that had his name on it and eventually led to his presidency.

In late 1963, John Kennedy had to go to Texas to try to cement the factions of the Democratic party. Johnson was supposed to guarantee Texas' electoral votes, at that time the fourth largest prize in the nation. Unfortunately, Johnson's buddies were looking at Republican Nelson Rockefeller, or even Lodge or Goldwater, as an alternative to Washington Democrats with whom they did not identify. Kennedy was not yet immortal because he had not yet been assassinated, and the tour in Texas was a desperate attempt to try to rally the troops for an election the next year that many were saying he would not win, no matter who his opponent was. From the Texas governor, down through the local representatives, Kennedy had few friends among the Democrats; the most notable was Ralph Yarborough, who didn't get along well with fellow Texas Democrats, and even refused to get anywhere near Governor Connally in the Texas motorcade. Kennedy had harsh words for Connally, who would eventually be a Republican in the continuing alignment.

Johnson's administration would do much to finally cut the last cords between pre-FDR Democrats and those who followed. He lost friends on both sides of the aisle. His support for the Vietnam war angered the new Democrats, and his social programs lost him the support of the old ones. When he decided not to run in 1968, it was because, among other things, he knew that the party was divided, and probably no Democrat, except maybe another Kennedy, could unite enough Democrats to win; in addition, he couldn't stand the Kennedy who would run.

True to form, Nixon won in 1968, mainly because the Democratic party was split between the new wave, represented by Humphrey, and the old wave of George Wallace. It would take something as serious as Watergate to get a Democrat back in the White House, and even that just barely got Jimmy Carter in. Carter was easily defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan, who would be the last "blue" Republican.

With Ronald Reagan as president, the re-alignment was completed. The "party of Lincoln" was now really the "party of Roosevelt." Only the names had been changed. Southern Democrats were now Republicans. Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and others, would remain "red" states, not because they had not changed, but because the color-coding had.

I still don't know who made the decision to change the colors. Was it a subconscious recognition that the parties had changed roles in the nation? I don't pretend to believe that the Reagan Republican of the 1980's and 1990's is a carbon copy of the John Nance Garner Democrat of the 1930's, but the comparison is a lot closer than any other.

So, what's the difference? That's my subject for part II. What does it mean to be a "red" state or a "blue" state? It's not about parties, people, or politics. It's about one of the oldest social theories we can observe, but one that has rarely been put into print. I'll have more on it next week.