But Do They Have A Football Team?

Much has been written and discussed lately concerning the Electoral College.  Some argue that it is an anachronism that outlived its usefulness.  Others argue that it is integral to the foundation of our republic and must stay in place.  There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue and it seems that most people’s opinions are colored by whether they see our country as one nation, indivisible — as stated in the Pledge of Allegiance — or whether they see it as a collection of united states.

Although the discussions surrounding the Electoral College pop up every four years in conjunction with presidential elections , they are more noticeable this time around given that we have two presidents out of the last three (George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump) that lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College.  There are only three other times in our entire history where this happened.  John Quincy Adams became president in 1824 through a vote in the House of Representatives.  Although Andrew Jackson won more Electoral College votes, he did not win enough to get a majority as required under the Twelfth Amendment (more on that later) and the House elected Mr. Adams.  In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes became our president despite having lost the popular vote and the Electoral College vote — until 20 disputed electoral votes were changed under a compromise between Republicans and Democrats and awarded to Mr. Hayes.  This despite the fact the his opponent Samuel J. Tilden not only had more popular votes, but had a majority of the vote (just over 50%).  And we think our current election was contentious.  The only other time that the Electoral College victory came despite losing the popular vote was in 1888 when Benjamin Harrison defeated the incumbent president Grover Cleveland by campaigning to keep trade tariffs high to protect American jobs.  Some things don’t change.

For the next 124 years there were no instances of a candidate losing the popular vote but still winning the Electoral College vote.  And now in the first sixteen years of the 21st century it happened twice. Thus the argument over whether it is still a valid way to elect our presidents.

To fully understand the issue, a quick history of the reasons for the Electoral College are in order. Briefly stated, it was established because our esteemed Founding Fathers did not want the citizens of the new United States to elect the president.  Remember that their ideal for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was really meant for white wealthy males.  The pursuit of happiness meant property, and wealth meant education.  The masses were considered unfit and untrustworthy to elect the “real” leaders of the nation. Thus the president was elected by the Electoral College and United States Senators were elected by the legislatures of each state.  The House of Representatives was the “people’s house” — the safety valve for allowing the average citizen to participate.  Note that Senators are elected for six years (designed to provide stability and experience) and the House is elected every two years, making it easily changeable.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution created the Electoral College as the means to elect the President and the Vice President.  In practice it did not work out so well and the procedure was modified through the Twelfth Amendment when it was ratified in 1804.  All subsequent elections have been carried out under that amendment.  Clearly a precedent was set that if our method of electing the president is not efficient or effective, then it can be changed.

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution was replaced by the Seventeenth Amendment when it was ratified in 1913 and provided for the direct election of Senators, vice having them elected by state legislatures. This is another precedent that our voting procedures can change with the times.

Both of these changes are relevant to the arguments for and against the continued use of the Electoral College.  The arguments are cogent on both sides of the issue, although passions sometimes run rampant rather than logic or historical facts.

Some of the arguments for eliminating the Electoral College, or to significantly change the way that it works, include the following.

  • Our presidential election process is not democratic.  It is the only national office where “one person, one vote” does not apply.  As has happened, the voice of the people can be muted or eliminated by the electors choosing someone who did not win the popular vote.
  • Originally Senators were picked in a manner very similar to the Electoral College voters. That process was changed with an amendment to the Constitution to allow direct voting.  If that can change because the original purpose for state legislators to vote for Senators changed, then that same argument for the purpose of the Electoral College is no longer relevant. We now have an educated citizenry with easy access to communications and an understanding of the issues.
  • The Electoral College was meant to be a check on the whims of the citizens.  Most states now require the electoral voters to match the results of the popular vote in their state, thus the original purpose of the college is no longer followed.
  • Too much power is invested in smaller states relative to their population.  For example, one electoral vote in Wyoming equals 142,741 people whereas in New York one electoral vote equals 519,075 people.  One can argue that this is patently unfair to all voters, and gives disproportionate power to states with small populations.
  • The House of Representatives could elect the next president and in doing so totally ignore the wishes of the electorate.  This would happen if the Electoral College vote ends in a tie, a mathematical possibility unrelated to the national popular vote results.  The vote in the House is by state — one state, one vote — thus giving Rhode Island the exact same say in choosing a president as Texas.
  • It solidifies a two-party system and precludes the possibility of other candidates making a meaningful run for president.
  • A president may punish a state that voted for his/her opponent even though many citizens of that state voted for the winner.
  • Presidential candidates ignore states that are safely in their camp or that they believe will not vote in their favor.  They end up not visiting large states (no serious campaigning by either candidate in New York, California, Texas for example) and small states (no serious campaigning in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming for example).  They only campaign in a handful (about ten) of swing states.

Some of the arguments for keeping the Electoral College as it is include the following.

  • The Electoral College protects states rights.  Small states would lose their voice in presidential elections in favor of states with large populations.  Candidates would only focus on states such as New York, California, Texas and Florida.
  • The two-party system is preserved.  Such a political system is proven to be the best form for governing in the United States through competing political parties and their ideas .  If the Electoral College is eliminated in favor of directly voting for candidates, multiple candidates could conceivably run and splinter the popular vote.  This could allow a candidate with only 20 or 30% of the vote to win.
  • The Electoral College embodies our nation’s principle of federalism and eliminating it could be the first step in dismantling that system of governing.
  • Only the “coastal elites” in large cities would get presidential attention.
  • No one should mess with what the Founding Fathers created.  They knew what they were doing.
  • To change or abolish the Electoral College would require a Constitutional Amendment.  This process may open the door to other changes to our Constitution.
  • A victory in the Electoral College gives the president the legal authority to govern all of the states and all of the population.

To me, the strongest argument for changing or eliminating the system is that states with small populations have a disproportionate impact on the election.  The strongest argument for keeping our current process is to prevent a candidate from winning in a race with multiple candidates and garnishing only a small percentage of the popular vote.

Additionally, given the current political climate in our nation, any attempt now to change the Constitution would probably open a Pandora’s Box of other issues that could fundamentally change our Constitution and thus our way of life.

Although it goes against my preference, I reluctantly conclude that keeping the Electoral College is, at least for now, the best thing for our country.

And no, the Electoral College does not have a football team.  And that’s too bad.

Cold War II (continued)

With all of the attention surrounding the circus that is our presidential campaign season, it is possible to overlook other developments of significance.  To my mind, one of those significant others is our increasingly deteriorating relationship with Russia.

As I wrote back in July when I focused on the role of NATO and the increasing belligerence Russia is exhibiting towards the Baltic States, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees his role as the one individual that can, and will, restore Russia to its previous glory.  Since then he has continued to create discord around the world. In particular, he has helped to further inflame conflict in Syria and Ukraine.  Just yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry pulled all of the United States’ negotiators from Geneva where they had been trying to work with the Russians to come up with a political solution to the civil war in Syria and thereby try to save some of the many civilians at risk in Aleppo and other areas of Syria.  A cease-fire attempted last month failed when Syrian and Russian, or at least Syrian assisted by Russian, aircraft bombed an aid convoy trying to provide humanitarian relief to those trapped in the city.  Since then negotiations aimed at restoring the cease-fire and creating more confidence building measures that might give a chance for a political settlement of the strife had been ongoing.  Additionally, the United States had been working on an agreement to work with the Russians in a coordinated military effort against terrorism in the region, especially against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or as most people in the U.S. call it, ISIS).  All of it went out the window when the Russians turned their full military might from the air on Aleppo in a brutal assault, even as negotiations were underway.  What future course may be taken to alleviate the situation is up in the air, but it does lead to an increased probability that Russia and the U.S. will be working at cross purposes to fight terrorists in the area and increases the probability of Russian and U.S. military forces coming into contact with each other.

In retaliation for the United States withdrawing from the Syrian negotiations, the Soviets, oops, I mean the Russians, suspended a nuclear agreement signed in 2000 between the two nations that called for the disposal of each nation’s stocks of weapons-grade plutonium.  While the Russian suspension of the treaty is mostly symbolic (both countries intend to continue to reduce their stockpiles) it does serve to show how the relationship has deteriorated and it also provided the Russian government an opportunity to complain about actions it believes the United States is taking to undermine Russia.

And what are those actions that so enrage Vladimir Putin you may ask?  Foremost among them is the continuing deployment of NATO forces to the Baltic states and the enforcement of the sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. In Ukraine last August, President Putin raised tensions as he claimed that the Ukrainian government was moving to attack Crimea, the area Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The tension persists and even though it is currently relatively quiet, nothing is totally quiet along the front as periodic fighting continues and lives continue to be lost. Further exacerbating the toxic atmosphere in Ukraine, Dutch investigators clearly linked the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 over Ukraine in July 2014 to the Russian supplied separatists.  All 298 people onboard were killed.  Despite continued Russian denials, the investigation showed a missile battery moved from Russian territory into rebel held territory and then returned to Russia after the incident.  Russian actions in the area continue to be a threat to the rest of Ukraine and Europe, and President Putin seems to be relishing his ability to turn conflict off and on. Keep an eye on developments there as the rest of the world becomes increasingly distracted by the U.S. presidential campaign, events in Syria, and the fight against terrorism.

What is troubling to me about President Putin is his world view.  While we have competitors and adversaries in China, Iran, and other spots around the world (President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines seems to be gong off the reservation for example), they have a different world view than does President Putin.  Most nations of the world know that they are economically tied to the global economy which is powered by the United States.  This does not stop actions antithetical to our interests, but it does serve to temper them.  President Putin on the other hand, sees the world and especially Russia’s relationship to the United States, indeed politics in general, as a zero sum game.  Whatever hurts the U.S. helps Russia and vice versa.  Add to this that his country is not doing well economically and like most dictators, he is creating international foes in order to distract the citizenry from their troubles at home.  This makes him ever more dangerous.

In this context, I am amazed that more reporting is not being done on the breaches of cyber security that occur almost daily in the United States, and most especially, the hacks that impact our free and independent elections.  Of particular note are the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the release of scores of emails concerning the primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the attempts to get into the election processes of individual states, most notably Arizona and Illinois. Experts point their collective finger at the Russians as being responsible for these and other equally egregious cyber attacks.

While individual ballot boxes are not connected to the internet, and therefore cannot be hacked, there are other processes that are computer driven and may be susceptible to attack.  Among these are voter registration lists.  Imagine if large numbers of people show up to vote and are not allowed to do so because their names were expunged from the voting rolls or are otherwise tampered with so as to take away their ability to vote.  Add to that one presidential candidate that is already talking about how the vote is rigged if he doesn’t win and that his supporters should go to the polls in urban areas to watch others vote to make sure that everything is on the “up and up”  because “that would be one hell of a way to lose, I’ll tell you what.”  (Incidentally, in study after study and in court cases concerning voter identification laws, there has been absolutely no evidence of voter fraud changing or even slightly influencing the outcome of any national election, despite urban myths and legends to the contrary.)

I am not a conspiracy theorist and do not want to be misquoted so I will say up front, I do not think that the Republican nominee is in any way aiding or abetting or otherwise involved in the Russian hacking efforts, even though last July he famously invited the Russians to hack his Democratic opponent’s emails.  However, I find it disconcerting that thus far, only Democrats have suffered the embarrassing revelations of the Russian hackers.  I would be willing to bet that a number of Republican accounts have been similarly hacked, but clearly the Russian hackers are trying to influence the election in one direction.  One could speculate as to why that is, or even if there is some kind of reverse bizarro world logic that it could backfire on the other candidate.  I don’t know, but clearly there is an effort to influence the outcome.  It is bad news for our nation when a foreign power attempts to influence our elections and we do not stop it.

Ultimately, whether or not the attacks are successful at actually changing ballots, the real effort on the part of the Russians is to delegitimize our election process, call into question the results and spread further hate and discontent in an already fractured election process.  Besides being cyber warfare, it is most especially also classic psychological warfare aimed at undermining the United States, our policies, and our stature in the world.  Vladimir Putin and his cronies are ready and willing to fill the void left by the United States should their efforts be successful.

Unclear to me is whether or not our own cyber warfare forces deployed to counter the Russians and/or to similarly attack them in a way that sends a signal to knock it off or suffer the consequences.  It is a tricky situation for the U.S.  It is generally accepted that the United States has superior cyber warfare capabilities, but to deploy them now, in the month leading up to an election, and risk a wide-spread cyber war that could impact the election results dramatically (not in vote manipulation necessarily but rather in a wide-spread crisis that impacts infrastructure, banking or some other target that causes far-ranging panic) is a tough decision.  On the other hand, we do not know where or when the Russians (and possibly others) might strike anyway if not deterred from doing so.  A difficult choice.  Unknown, of course, is whether such a counter sign of our capabilities and willingness to punish the Russians in our own attack has already been demonstrated to the Russians by our cyber forces under a stringent top secret operation.

Regardless, our next president must be prepared to deal with the Russians and do so with eyes wide open.  Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States and he never will be.  He has one goal and one goal only — to turn his economically depressed country into a super power at the expense of the United States of America.

Dignity Lost

A number of you inquired as to why I have not written in this blog for quite some time.  Thank you. The not so simple answer is that the news, social discussions, and just about everything else is consumed by our current presidential campaign.  More specifically, but not solely, it is consumed by the antics of the Republican nominee Mr. Donald J. Trump (R-Mar-a-Lago).  This is both depressing and scary. However, I thought that with the saturation of campaign news, there was little to nothing that I could add of substance so I wrote nothing.  However, after the events occurring yesterday in Washington D.C., I cannot help but write about it.  Mr. Trump’s performance (because, indeed that is what it was) summed up everything that is wrong with his campaign.  More on that in a minute.

There are a number of things I do not understand about both candidates.  I probably never will. However I think that history will not treat those of us voting this year well.  Among the many things that puzzle me is the glaring discrepancy between the “opaque” and “secretive” world of the Democrat’s nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the “open” and “straight forward” candidacy of Mr. Trump. What did I miss?

Secretary Clinton is under attack for her emails.  Not for what is in them, but for the fact that she used a different server and some of the material in them was deemed classified.  I cannot and will not defend her use of the server or anything else related to the issue.  I will say, however, that in my personal experience dealing with high-ranking members of the federal government, military and civilian, Republican and Democrat, I have seen similar activity.  I did not condone it then — indeed I tried where I could to keep it from happening — and I don’t condone it now.  But let’s be realistic. (I could also get into a nuanced discussion about why it happens.  I could also discuss how the State Department has a tradition of over classifying cables and other documents to get people to read them.  If it isn’t marked “Secret” or higher, no one will read it because of the sheer volume of material generated daily.  But that discussion will be for a different day.)  But let me repeat. I have heard little to no criticism of the contents — of actual decisions being made as revealed in those e-mails — just that they exist.

Likewise, I have heard significant criticism of the Clinton Foundation.  Mainly that the Clintons have “gotten rich” off the work done by the foundation.  Again, I have heard no criticism of the work that they do or how the money is distributed, just that if it involves the Clintons it must be crooked.  Too much money involved for it not to be.

Secretary Clinton released fifteen years of her tax returns.  Likewise much information has been released about contributors to her campaign and to the Clinton Foundation.

Secretary Clinton also put out information on her health that most physicians said was complete in giving a snapshot of her current health.

For Secretary Clinton, it is all out there — the good, the bad and the ugly — all of it is available for anyone with an interest to read it and crunch the numbers, review the decisions, see how it happened.

Compare that to Mr. Trump who, other than a synopsis of his health data — which several physicians say is incomplete in portraying his current health, especially given that one of his five deferments from the Viet Nam draft involved his health — has released nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zero.  No tax returns.  No information on the donors to his foundation.  No information on how that money is spent.  No information on how he funds his foundation.  The small amount of information that is available screams out to me that we need to know much more about all of it.

Apparently, he has not contributed to his own foundation in nine years.  Apparently, he has used foundation money to buy personal gifts for himself, including a portrait of himself for $20,000 and an autographed Tim Tebow helmet for $10,000.  And he really helped out the charity he charged $250,000 for the use of his mansion for one night.  He has already been fined by the IRS for making a political contribution from his so-called charitable foundation to the campaign of Florida’s Attorney General. He also held a fund-raiser for her.  It was then such a surprise that she decided not to investigate Trump University even though many citizens of her state complained that they were ripped off.  Talk about “pay for play!”  The list goes on.  And yet, Mr. Trump continues to take us for chumps and refuses to reveal any private information that every other candidate, including his own Vice Presidential nominee, has already done.  Shame on us for letting him get away with it.

More troubling are his business connections.  A recent issue of Newsweek magazine delineated the extent of his foreign business dealings and the fact that many of those deals could be made or broken by decisions he will make should he become the president.  There are serious conflicts of interest at play. And yet, there are calls for the Clintons to dissolve their foundation and nothing about Mr. Trump divesting himself of his business interests.  Why is that? He said that should he get elected, he will put his business into a “blind trust” run by his children.  That is not a blind trust and he knows it.  A blind trust is when a third-party — not a relative, not a former business partner — that has no monetary interest in the success or failure of the enterprise runs it.  Accordingly, he would have to sell all of his business interests around the world and turn the proceeds over to someone else to manage for him in order to make it a blind trust.  It will never happen.  I am not necessarily arguing that he should sell it all off, but I am arguing that we the voters should have a clear and unfiltered view of the consequences of our votes.

(A slight pause for a tip of the hat to intrepid reporters, usually print journalists, who are out doing the good ol’ fashioned drudgery of hitting the pavement, asking questions and tracking down records.  We may not know as much about either candidate if there were not people ready to do so professionally.)

So Secretary Clinton is devious and hides stuff but Mr. Trump does not?  That may be his ultimate con job on the American people.

All of this came together for me yesterday and reinforced what a tragic mistake it would be for Mr. Trump to become our next president.  First, he scammed most of the cable news channels into covering his “major announcement” live, and then stood them up for nearly an hour.  Then, he used the opportunity to advertise the “greatness” of his new hotel in the Old Post Office building, a landmark building in Washington D.C. that is now emblazoned with his name.  Finally, his “major announcement” was that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”  Wow. Just wow.  After five years of a racially based slam on our duly elected president, Mr. Trump walks off without another word. Except for the most unbelievable part of all.  According to him, it was Secretary Clinton’s fault that the whole birther movement began and he, The Donald, was able to finally fix it. No matter that the appropriate birth certificate was shown years ago and oh by the way, since his mother was an American citizen, Barack Obama would also be an American citizen no matter where he was born.  As usual, Mr. Trump takes no responsibility for his own actions and falsely blames any problems on someone else. The usual traits of a great leader.

Here is why this is the Trump campaign in a nut shell.  His primary purpose for the “news conference” (no questions were taken from the press) was to tout his new hotel. Yet another display of his ego and the fact that his desire to make money off of any and all opportunities is his number one priority.  Not the country.  As an after thought, he also included that our president might actually be an American. With malice of fore-thought he then blamed it all on Secretary Clinton.  A bold face lie that has been debunked so many times we do not even have to pretend that it could possibly be true.  Given his demeanor and the whole atmospherics around this “huge” announcement (some have come to call it his I’m-a-hostage-and-they-are-making-me-say-this statement) he was clearly giving a wink and a nod to his birther supporters that he may have to read the script to get elected but we all know that President Obama really isn’t “one of us.”

This is why I am baffled that so many people still support Mr. Trump.  I have said before that I am no fan of Secretary Clinton, but given the choice between the two, there is only danger ahead if Mr. Trump is elected.  Although I generally disagree, I get the arguments about how she cannot be allowed to appoint Supreme Court justices, or that we need to shake things up, or that the economy is recovering too slowly, or a dozen other arguments that cause people to hold their collective noses and vote for Mr. Trump.  But there is far more at stake. As the conservative columnist Michael Gerson stated more eloquently than I can in an opinion piece last week, Mr. Trump is giving validation to racism in America and unleashing the worst parts of our society. The birther issue is just a sample of the un-American and un-Constitutional issues Mr. Trump espouses. Michael Gerson points out that in his words and actions Mr. Trump gives main stream support to racially tinged extremism that in turn validates the positions of white nationalists.

Time and again in conversations with those who claim that they will vote for Mr. Trump I hear something along the lines of “I don’t agree with everything he says, but…” and then go on to disavow his extreme statements and actions but give a reason to vote for him.  “I don’t agree with 30% of what he says, but we cannot have Hillary Clinton in the White House” is a common refrain.

Here’s my problem.

The 30% (I would say it is more like 80%) that people say they disagree with Mr. Trump about are exactly the things that make us the country we are.  We cannot have a functioning economy for all, we cannot have a fair judicial system, we cannot address difficult issues like immigration, we cannot function as the United States if at the heart of his campaign is a dark and dangerous refrain of “us” against “them” and a disregard for the values and traditions of our nation that make us already great.

Mr. Trump will leave a lasting legacy behind. Unfortunately, it will be one of hate and a nation that lost its dignity.


Game On!

But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.

Stephen Sondheim — “Send in the Clowns”

It is unclear what to make of Monday’s Iowa caucus results.  Analysts and pundits are busy parsing it in many directions.  So far I have heard that Hillary Clinton’s win was really a loss, Marco Rubio’s third place finish was a win, Bernie Sanders pulled out the biggest upset, Ted Cruz really knew how to do “retail politics” and Donald Trump is not unstoppable.  I suppose all of that means we can make of the results whatever we wish.

There are a few things that are apparent.  Projections, pundits and potential are all mostly in the past now that real people are voting.  The game is on.  On to New Hampshire.  There is no clear front-runner in either party even though various candidates would like to think that they are the inevitable nominee for their respective parties.

Perhaps we also know (or hope) that the reality show atmosphere of the Republican debates will be a thing of the past. Perhaps the clown show is finally over.  (Time out:  You may remember that Donald Trump boycotted last week’s debate on Fox News.  We will never know if that hurt him or helped him — many argue the latter because he would be asked some difficult questions.  Ever the entrepeneur Mr. Trump opined that they should pay him for his appearance as he was such a boon to ratings for the network, and felt that the questions asked him were “unfair” — even as Fox News claims it is the only network that is “fair and balanced.”  If I were a cynical conspiracy theorist, I would opine that it was actually a back room deal between Fox and Mr. Trump to boost ratings for each of them by creating a mock feud.  But I must stop myself from slipping into the slime that is unworthy of the citizens of our great country.)  Perhaps the next debates will be more substantive, but in truth, without Mr. Trump there, the last Republican debate was the most policy driven one they have held thus far.

There are a few things to keep in mind about the “winning and losing” that often get lost.  In no particular order these include:

  • Caucus goers in Iowa are not representative of the voters nationally.  For both Democrats and Republicans they tend to skew farther to the edges of their respective parties.  The last two winners of the Republican caucuses were former Governor Mike Huckabee and former Senator Rick Santorum.  Neither were much of a factor in later primaries.
  • The “winner” in the Republican caucus was Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who got 8 delegates. In second place Mr. Donald Trump (R-Manhattan) got 7 and in third place Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) got 7 delegates.  Out of 1,237 needed to gain the nomination.  (For the record, Dr. Ben Carson (R-Johns Hopkins) got 3 and Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich each got one.  Chris Christie got zero, along with Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, “other” and Jim Gilmore — “other” actually got more votes than Jim Gilmore.)  The “winner” got about six tenths of one percent — less than one percent — of the total needed for the nomination.
  • The “winner” for the Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got 23 delegates and the runner-up, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got 21.  Former governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD) got no delegates but he did finish ahead of “other” and “uncommitted” in the voting.  Out of 2,382 delegates needed to get the nomination, the “winner” got about one percent of the total needed.

(Time out number two:  Out of the roughly 314 million citizens of the United States, these fifteen people are the best our nation has to offer?  No offense to any one of the candidates that have put themselves out there to run (well, maybe offense to two or three of them), but whoever ends up being the two nominees do not to me look like the best that we can do.)

One thing is clear, the economy of Iowa benefits from hosting the first test of the candidates among the voters.  I am not so sure the rest of us get much benefit from it.

The real impact of the caucus is the psychological aspects of winning or losing.  Especially this year. Given the number and variety of candidates running, many voters are undecided and more importantly to the candidates, many major donors have been sitting out this cycle waiting to see who is a viable candidate with a shot at winning, you know, the real election.  Additionally, some candidates found out that they have no realistic shot.  (Farewell Governor Huckabee, Governor O’Malley, and Senator Paul. All “suspended” their campaigns after Iowa.)

The rules of the Iowa caucus, for both Democrats and Republicans are a bit arcane.  I won’t go into them here, but even as one may argue that Iowa does not represent the country as a whole with respect to race, ethnicity, socio-economic factors, etc. it is also difficult to participate in the caucus. None-the-less, it is what it is and it does provide a chance to start narrowing the field.

Up next, New Hampshire.  While that state also may not reflect the make up of the rest of the population of this great nation, at least the good citizens of the Granite State cast a real ballot at a polling booth. What makes New Hampshire interesting is that independents can vote in either the Republican or the Democrat primary (but not both).  Expect more Republican candidates to suspend their campaigns after New Hampshire, especially those that only paid lip service to the Iowa caucus and put most of their effort into New Hampshire and still make a poor showing.

That said, I am not in the prognosticating business so I will not venture a guess as to who decides to retire from the field. I also am sure that we will still have a large field for a few more weeks.  At a minimum, however, it should start to reveal who has a realistic shot at being their party’s nominee.

Perhaps by early March, we can send out the clowns.


Perceptions Shape Reality

So, did you hear this one?  Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis walk into a bar.  The bartender looks up and — well I don’t really have a joke with a punch line here, although it would be fun to come up with something along those lines.

However, they all do have something in common, along with Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and in a way, John Boehner, soon to be the former Speaker of the House.  I pledged to myself that I would not comment on the current state of affairs regarding the run up to the 2016 presidential election until sometime next year.  It’s the silly season when marginal candidates make outrageous claims and promises and the field has yet to be winnowed to those serious candidates that have an actual chance to lead our nation.  (For example, four years ago at about this time it was all about “nine, nine, nine.”  How did that turn out?)

None-the-less there is a definite trend in the air.  Together Trump, Fiorina, and Carson get over 50% combined in the current polls for the Republican nominee.  Sanders, who when he started his campaign did not himself expect to get much traction, is giving Hillary Clinton a serious run in the early going. What does this tell us?  I am not sure — but to state the obvious, I think it reflects a serious message to the other, qualified, candidates that the electorate is unhappy with the way things are going.  I am not sure that it is truly a desire to “hire an outsider.”  It is more a message to the current crop of politicians on both sides of the aisle that if they cannot, or will not do their jobs, then the electorate will look for someone who can.

To me, this is reinforced by the reaction to Pope Francis during his recent visit.  Whatever one thinks of his religious views or whether or not he is too “political” (as I noted in an earlier post, I don’t think he is political but rather pastoral), one must agree that the outpouring of positive response to him as a man, by Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers alike, shows that a vast number of people are looking for someone who cares about them as individuals and for someone who brings a message of caring and hope.  Hope for them in their daily lives and hope that our future can be better. Even Speaker Boehner has reflected this (look up his comments about the “jackass” in his party and the “false prophets” in his party), now that he is not bound by party duty and can speak his mind.

This paints a picture for me that the candidate that can provide a vision for the future that is positive, yet specific — enough with the vague platitudes! — has the best chance of capturing his/her party’s nomination and indeed, of capturing the presidency.

What I worry about is that we are reaping what we have sown over the last 6 years plus.  In other words, politicians have been complaining about how bad, ineffective and dysfunctional government is these days.  They have been complaining to such a degree that maybe people are beginning to believe it.  The same politicians that barrage us with negatives about our government and our place in the world (which face it folks, if we are so bad off why are none of the complainers moving to another country) are not doing so well in the polls. They may have done such a good job painting a picture of disaster that they are now in the throes of having to recognize that maybe the electorate considers them as part of the problem.  They have painted such negative perceptions of government that they are now living in the reality of being part of the problem.  As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, they will be “hoist with his own petard.”

At the same time I do not understand why it would be a badge of honor — a selling point for gaining votes — to proclaim that as a candidate that they are complete outsiders with no government experience what-so-ever.  I would guess that Trump and Fiorina as CEOs would not hire a new CEO for a major corporation that has absolutely no experience in business at all.  And be proud of it.  While I get the “outsider” appeal, I also believe in the American people.  It is one thing to attend a rally, answer a poll question over a year before the election, and display other expressions of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and quite another to actually vote for one of the “outsiders.”  I have no idea who will be the Republican or Democrat nominee for president, but I have a pretty good idea who it will not be.

There is a ray of hope.  The politicians also should think about this.  A recent survey done by the Democrat Party (don’t dismiss it out of hand — it was not just a survey of Democrats but rather a cross-section of voters) and obtained by the Washington Post  indicates that most voters are not in favor of a smaller government.  They are in search of a more effective federal government.  Fifty-six percent of the respondents said that they were “very” or “somewhat” confident in the government to do the right thing. The top five answers to the question “what is wrong with the federal government” reflect that the electorate is most concerned that it is “corrupt” (23%), “inefficient” (18%), “out of touch” (17%), “wasteful” (14%), and “too big” (9%).  To me this means that most people don’t worry about the size of government, they worry that it does not reflect the nation as a whole, and only is responsive to big donors and lobbyists.

Perhaps the cliché that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” applies here.  The factions that are currently making the most noise on the campaign trail are getting the most attention.  But, I do not think that most voters are single issue voters.  In the general election the voters take the full measure of the person running for office — their personality, knowledge, leadership and position on a full range of issues. The candidates that recognize this and put forward honest answers and specific plans as to how they will make the federal government more responsive will have the best chance to win.  And to help our country.