A Veterans Day Lesson On Our “Democracy”

I will acknowledge from the start that I know why we have the political system we have today. I can read history books (or Wikipedia), too.

But on this Veterans Day, a day celebrating those who actually defend what we often call a democracy, it is worth taking a look at just how un- or anti-democratic our system really is, a system first constructed from a blueprint in west point first black graduateour Constitution, and modified by court decisions, amendments, and evolving practices.  And of course I know there will be no constitutional convention to alter our system of governance or no new and radical amendments to a document that is damned hard to amend under the best of circumstances. All that being said, we owe it to ourselves now and then to note just how we fail to govern ourselves democratically in some important respects and why we have failed from the beginning.

1. To start with, the  successful attempt by Republicans to suppress voter turnout among Democrats by enacting needlessly burdensome voting laws, which disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities, is as shameful as anything one can think of for people who live in a democracy. But the right-wing “patriots” who engage in such voter suppression are beyond shaming. Winning will only produce more attempts to skew the vote their way and undermine the principles of democratic government. But there’s more to the story of why they are doing such nasty things to our system, which I will get to at the end.

2. Next, we have the issue of money and politics. Theoretically, we all have the ability to influence the electoral process by making contributions to partisan candidates, or on behalf of or in opposition to ballot initiatives. Yes, we are all free to inject into the process a million or ten million or a hundred million dollars, right? Of course not. But people with real money can and do buy votes and people without real money can and do suffer because of it. Undemocratic or anti-democratic? You pick. Either way it is also a shameful aspect of our system.

3. Another people-unfriendly flaw in our electoral schemata was illustrated just 14 years ago. Everyone remembers that Al Gore, former Vice President of the country, actually got over 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush did in the presidential election of 2000. Yet there was no President Al Gore. The Constitution, in all its compromising glory, denied him the office, by virtue of a partisan Supreme Court decision that prematurely settled a messy election in Florida, which then led to Gore’s subsequent defeat in the very weird and anti-democratic electoral college.

Al Gore’s I-won-the-popular-vote-but-I-lost-the-election misfortune (and the country’s misfortune, given what happened on 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which has set part of the world on fire), though, is a relatively rare event. Such an outcome is not a regular occurrence even under our Constitution. Before the 2000 election, the last time a candidate won a presidential election without at least a plurality of the vote was in 1888. But still it happened and its consequences were costly and catastrophic, and given the trends in our electorate, it may happen more frequently in the future.

4. A more regular anti-democratic feature of our system is gerrymandering, a process of manipulating demographics in order to achieve lopsided outcomes by drawing up Ebola-looking congressional districts. For instance, here’s Maryland’s 3rd District and North Carolina’s 12th District, two of the most gerrymandered House districts in the country:

gerrmandered districts

The most recent beneficiary of this form of voter manipulation is, of course, the Republican Party. After that Democrat-shellacking 2010 election, right-wingers got to draw boundaries for a larger number of congressional districts than Democrats did. After the 2012 election, the results were in: Democrats outpolled Republicans by about 1.4 million votes nationally in House races, but were under-represented by 18 seats. We saw the effect here in Missouri again this year, where even last Tuesday’s pitiful statewide electoral performance by Democrats (they only received 36% of the vote in all U.S. House races) would, under a more people-friendly system, have entitled them to an additional representative in Congress.

Consider the following analysis of the 2012 election done by Sam Wang, who founded the Princeton Election Consortium:

In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.

5. Another regular anti-democratic feature of our strange electoral system is what happened last Tuesday relative to the U.S. Senate, which, as some political scientists claim, “may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.” Let’s look at Louisiana. There were eight candidates in the Senate race. Here are the top three finishers:

Democrat Mary Landrieu: 618,840  42.1%
Republican Bill Cassidy:    602,439  41.0%
Republican Rob Maness:   202,413  13.8%

Rob Maness is a typical Tea Party wingnut Republican. As far as I’m concerned, Maness shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether to buy a new street sweeper for the city of Baton Rouge, let alone make reactionary whoopee with Mitch McConnell in Washington, D.C.  But Maness did manage to get over 200,000 votes in a multi-candidate race. Compare that to fairly-liberal Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware. He won his race by almost 16 points, yet he received only 130,645 votes. Coons will be a U.S. Senator and Maness will not, thank God and, in this limited case, the Founding Fathers.

But there is something about that 130,645 vote total in Delaware that should unsettle us all, at least those of us who value representative democracy. And there is something unsettling about Mike Rounds’ U.S. Senate victory in South Dakota. He got 140,721 votes. Republican Senator Mike Enzi was reelected in Wyoming with a whopping 72% of the vote, but he got a total of 119, 534 votes. In Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is leading with 110,203 votes. Compare all those totals with what Republican Senator John Cornyn received in his Texas race: 2,855,068. That far exceeds the vote totals of 12 U.S. Senate winners, Republicans and Democrats, last Tuesday. Think about that. There were 36 Senate seats up for grabs and John Cornyn got more votes than one-third of the winners put together. Yet Cornyn, who represents 26.5 million people, will have only one vote, and those 12 other Senators, including Mike Enzi from a population-poor state like Wyoming—583,000—will each have a vote that counts as much as Cornyn’s. In effect, Wyoming citizens enjoy 46 times more representation than do Texans—and 66 times more than Californians!

Put another way on this Veterans Day, an American soldier from Texas or California who is fighting on behalf of the country’s democratic values, is getting considerably shortchanged. Those soldiers from Wyoming or Delaware have, democratically speaking, more to fight for and more to lose. And the small-state advantage is not only big, but it is increasing because of the population growth in large cities in the larger states. Because of the nature of that population growth—African-Americans and Latinos tend to live in the largest states—the smaller states with the lopsided representation make the country’s governance much more whiter and conservative than it would or should be. As The New York Times pointed out,

Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

The Times reports another disturbing feature of our political life related to the anti-democratic Senate:

In the last few years, 41 senators representing as little as a third of the nation’s population have frequently blocked legislation, as the filibuster (or the threat of it) has become a routine part of Senate business.

Given that reality, even when Democrats do manage to control a majority of Senate seats, they are still fairly powerless to do anything. One-third of the country’s people can stop two-thirds. It’s hard to see how that is anyone’s idea of representative government.

As I said, there isn’t going to be any mad rush to change any of these flaws in our system. We’re stuck with it, as far as the eye can see. But I do want to point out a dark and disturbing connection between all of the items on my list of anti-democratic elements in our political system, starting with voter suppression efforts by Republicans and ending with the very anti-democratic U.S. Senate.

It is well established that conservatives in our country, whether they have called themselves Democrats or Republicans historically, have always had a problem recognizing the citizenship-legitimacy of African-Americans. The obvious attempts by conservative Republicans today to discourage black people (and other minorities, to be sure) from voting is just another manifestation of institutional discrimination that has bedeviled our democracy since its founding. From the Times:

Robert A. Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who is 97 and has been studying American government for more than 70 years, has argued that slavery survived thanks to the disproportionate influence of small-population Southern states. The House passed eight antislavery measures between 1800 and 1860; all died in the Senate. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, he added, was slowed by senators representing small-population states.

Related to that excellent Times article, professor of political science and author Corey Robin wrote,

…for all the justified disgust with Emory University President James Wagner’s recent celebration of the 3/5 Clause, virtually no one ever criticizes the Senate, even though its contribution to the maintenance of white supremacy, over the long course of American history, has been far greater than the 3/5 Clause, which was nullified by the 14th Amendment.

Now you can see why we have had, and continue to have, such an anti-democratic system. The causes are rooted in white supremacy, and we see a manifestation of that same spirit in the Republican-led defense against what they Gordon, scourged back, colored slide 2.pngperceive as threats to white Western culture. The voter suppression of minorities is part of that defense. The big money that controls our politics is part of it (how many black billionaires do you know?). The Electoral College system, which is directly related to the issue of slavery, is another part. Gerrymandering, where minority voting power is diluted by packing voters into often-convoluted districts, is still another part. And, finally, the Senate is part of it, too, a place where, as Corey Robin wrote, “democracy goes to die.”

So, the next time you hear a Republican talk about voter fraud and the need for stricter ID laws, or talk about how money equals free speech, or how the Electoral College “keeps the values of traditional America relevant,” or how gerrymandering “isn’t really about race,” or how the U. S. Senate balances rural interests against big-city interests, you will know what that Republican is really saying: white might makes right.

To Hell With The Republican Party

GOP dying? Good!”

Glenn Beck

Okay. I’m warning all of you who don’t like profanity to click away.

On Tuesday I heard yet another segment on television—perhaps the millionth by now— about what Republicans need to do to reform themselves.

Finally, I am here to say: Who gives a damn? Who cares what Republicans need to do to reform themselves? I used to. I used to care. Now I don’t. You know why? Because the party is beyond reform, that’s why.

As we get some bad economic news today—the economy didn’t grow last quarter—just think about why that is. The Republican Party has done its best to sabotage the economic recovery, mostly just because it hates Barack Obama and loves political power.

And think about this: My own senator, Roy Blunt, practically begged for funds for his constituents in Joplin, after a tornado ripped through our town in 2011. But then, when a super storm named Sandy ripped through the northeast, blunt2where all those goddamned liberals live, he said to hell with the goddamned liberals. He, and thirty-five other Republicans—most of whom have taken federal funds for disasters in their own states—voted “no” on Sandy relief.

Well, to hell with him, to hell with them, and to hell with the Republican Party.

I don’t like the GOP. I hate what it stands for. I want it to die and go away. I don’t want to waste time worrying if it can reform itself because those who mean to reform it sometimes sound as ridiculous as those who want it to remain the way it is, or, God forbid, make it worse.

Example: David Brooks is by all accounts one of the most reasonable Republicans on the planet and one who liberals love to cite. But when he can say that there ought to be a “second G.O.P.” and that this new G.O.P. would “be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power,” there is no real hope for the party.

Did Brooks even watch that inaugural speech before he wrote that “excessive faith in centralized power” phrase? Are you kidding me? President Obama, in that speech, said this:

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

Can David Brooks hear? Can he read? Is he having a love affair with Rush Limbaugh’s brain? Brooks said the new reformed group of Republicans would be one that “recoiled” at the “excessive faith in centralized power” that Obama expressed in his speech. Except that Obama expressed no such a thing.

What the President did do was explicitly acknowledge our national “skepticism of central authority” and called government-only solutions a “fiction,” and celebrated “initiative and David Brooks, serious typist for the Timesenterprise” and “hard work and personal responsibility,” which he called “constants in our character.”

Maybe David Brooks thinks only Republicans can seriously use language like that, I don’t know. But I do know there is something seriously wrong with a political party when a moderate member, one who gets accolades from Democrats like me for not being a crazy conservative, can grossly mischaracterize a Democratic speech and remain a respected “moderate.”

Okay, I admit I could tolerate a party full of David Brooks types, even if they say stupid things like “excessive faith in centralized power” when there was no excessive faith in centralized power.

But I can’t tolerate a party that would put a man like Reince Priebus back in charge. Priebus has been reelected as Republican National Committee chairman. He’s once again the official spokesman for the party.

Someone explain to me why a political party that supposedly wants to reform itself would put one of its most disgusting leaders of all time back on top. Oh, let me remind you of what this slimy bastard said while the tragedy in Benghazi was still warm:

reince priebus

If there were a God who gave a damn about this world, Reince Priebus would be putting out fires in hell about now. But instead, the creep has been put back in charge of the Republican Party, which may amount to the same job.

Not only is Priebus the leader of the Republicans’ War on Decency, he recently was auditioning for a part in the GOP’s War on Democracy. He favors Republican-controlled states “looking at” an outrageous scheme to thwart the will of the people by changing the way those states allocate Electoral College votes.

As if the Electoral College isn’t stupid enough without the Republican Party devising a way to make a future 47%-of-the-vote-getting presidential candidate the winner. Does anyone think a party that would even contemplate such a thing is redeemable? Huh?

Want more? I finally heard about remarks made last Saturday by newly elected Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz. The remarks were about two of President Obama’s picks for cabinet members, Democrat John Kerry—who has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star and a Bronze Star from his service in Vietnam—and Republican Chuck Hagel—who has two Purple Hearts and flesh-wrapped shrapnel from his time in Vietnam.

Here’s how HuffPo reported the remarks Cruz made on Saturday: 

“Okay, we’ve got two pending nominations, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel,” he said in responding to a question at the National Review Institute summit in Washington. “Both of whom are very prominently — “

Cruz took a pregnant pause. “Anti-us?” said a moderator.

“Less than ardent fans of the U.S. military,” he continued.

Can you believe that? Can you believe a man would first tolerate the moderator’s disgusting “anti-us” remark and then say that combat veterans and war heroes were not fans of the military? I can. That’s what this goddamned party has come to.

You can Google “Ted Cruz military service” and you will find that the arrogant SOB never served a day in the military, let alone won any medals, as did Kerry and Hagel. Cruz was, however, a champion debater at, uh, Princeton. Good for him, the brave asshole.

Lest you forget, Ted Cruz is one of the bright lights in the Republican Party. Political strategist Mark McKinnon, who like David Brooks gets credit for being a “moderate” Republican, called Cruz, “the Republican Barack Obama.”

That, my friends, is from the lips of a moderate Republican. There’s no hope for the party, is all one can conclude.

And there is no hope for a party that encourages law enforcement officials, in this case sheriffs, to disobey the law. All over the country these “lawmen” are saying they will not obey any of Obama’s executive orders related to guns. Here in Missouri, the Republican-drunk legislature may soon entertain a bill introduced by a gun-slinging legislator,

making it a felony to enforce any executive order or federal law that bans the possession of a semiautomatic firearm, among other provisions.

You tell me if such lawlessness by a political party can be fixed.

Finally, I will end this tirade with more on the gun issue and with what happened to Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old boy was killed at Sandy Hook. Heslin was testifying emotionally during a public hearing in Hartford, Connecticut. He was in favor of doing something positive, like changing our insane gun laws, sort of as a way to memorialize the dead.

Initial reports on Tuesday were that Heslin was “heckled by gun nuts” in the audience. That heckling meme made it all around the country in no time. Then what followed the heckling meme was another meme pushed by right-wingers:

No, a Sandy Hook parent did not get “heckled by gun nuts”

Well, I have seen the video. I watched Neil Heslin’s face. I heard his tortured words. I felt his pain. He was obviously still stunned by the death of his little boy. He was understandably full of emotion.  ‘THAT WAS THE LAST I SAW OF HIM’: Neil Heslin dropped off Jesse yesterday morning and planned to go back in the afternoon to help him make gingerbread houses.He was trying to find something good from the tragedy. He asked a rhetorical question,

Why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault style weapons or military weapons or high capacity clips?

Greeted with appropriate silence, Heslin then said,

And not one person can answer that question or give me an answer.

At that point, more than one person mouthed out ridiculous statements like “Second Amendment shall not be infringed” and “you will not infringe our rights.” Real classy folks.

Now, I don’t give a damn what you call this, whether you call it “heckling” or whether you call it something else. What I call it is indecent. And it is the Republican Party that has made the world safe for extremist gun freaks who don’t have the decency to respect a still-grieving father in a moment like that.

And it is the Republican Party that not only enables such indecency, but also enables those gun freaks who demand that they have the right to play with military-ish guns and fantasize about how they need those big-ass guns and clips to combat a tyrannical government. The Republican Party makes that possible.

Add all this up and more—I didn’t even mention the party’s still hot War on Women or that Marco Rubio had to kiss Rush Limbaugh’s ass and get his blessing on immigration reform—and, as far as I’m concerned, the once-great party of Lincoln is irredeemable, hopeless. And I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about its agonizing efforts to reform itself.

____________________

To sort of follow up on my outburst, I present below a stunning “Rewrite” segment from Lawrence O’Donnell’s Tuesday evening show. It’s about what happened to Neil Heslin:

Watch And Worry

Mainstream media have been obsessed with polling of the presidential race for the past nine months or so, and, at least on this last Sunday before the election, the polls they tout look good for the good guy.

I have mostly ignored the polling out of the belief that in the end, no matter what the polls showed in August or September, the race would be too close for comfort, at least for my comfort.

Nate Silver, the stats man from The New York Times, today estimated that Mr. Obama has an 85% chance of winning, taking 307 electoral votes. He explains:

Friday’s polling should make it easy to discern why Mr. Obama has the Electoral College advantage. There were 22 polls of swing states published Friday. Of these, Mr. Obama led in 19 polls, and two showed a tie. Mitt Romney led in just one of the surveys, a Mason-Dixon poll of Florida.

The pollmeisters at Huffington Post show the popular vote race at a virtual tie, Obama 47.7% and Romney 47.1%.  However, they published this portrait of the most recent polling in the battleground states:

HuffPo Pollster says:

Given the torrent of incoming data, the model now reports nearly complete certainty about Obama’s narrow leads in the most crucial tipping-point states of Iowa and Ohio, but that statistical confidence assumes that the final polls are collectively accurate and unbiased. When we factor in the historical potential for polling error, the probability of an Obama win falls to roughly 90 percent in Ohio and Iowa. An Obama win in those states is thus still very likely, but a 1-in-10 possibility still exists, given the typical historical pattern, that the polls could be wrong enough for Romney to win.

Four more states — New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia and Florida — continue to show closer margins, with Obama holding a slight advantage in New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia, while Romney has a slight edge in Florida. If the polling leaders were to carry each state where they currently lead by any margin, Obama would reach 303 electoral votes to 235 for Romney.

All of that is close to what Nate Silver has said and it sounds good for the President, but it is that fragment of doubt—10% to 15%—that will keep some of us from sleeping between now and Wednesday.

What obviously matters more than all the polling is the voting. And early voting—which some Republicans have been trying to slow down or stop—favors President Obama, but not as much as it did four years ago. According to the Associated Press, 27 million people have already voted across 34 states, and Democratic early voters are ahead of Republican ones in most battleground states.

Again, early voting represents some good news for Democrats, but not anywhere near decisive. Perhaps a clearer—or muddier—picture will emerge on Monday, as the final national polls are released by big-time news organizations.

But it is likely that those of us who care a great deal about this presidential election will find some reason to worry over what those final polls show, no matter what it is. I know I am one who would find reason to fret even if the much-trusted Nate Silver came out tomorrow night and said Obama had a 99% chance of winning.

Worry, worry, worry from now until the agonizing end is all there is left to do.

A National Popular Vote?

Chuck Todd did a 10-minute segment this morning on an important issue: The Electoral College and the popular vote.

Todd’s guest was Dr. John Koza, originator of a proposal to move to a national popular vote in presidential elections (nine states with a total of 132 electoral votes have signed on so far).  Koza deftly defended his proposal, as Todd asked him all the relevant questions.

Interestingly (I did not know this) here in Missouri, Joplin’s own Sen. Ron Richard introduced a bill last month that would, if passed, ratify Koza’s proposed legislation, which essentially is a compact among the states to agree to certify electors (thus the Electoral College remains intact) who would vote only for the winner of the national popular vote.

A bipartisan National Popular Vote bill was also introduced in the Missouri House in February, as reported by the St. Louis Beacon:

In a rare bipartisan move, the Missouri House’s top Republican and Democrat have signed on as cosponsors to a bill — part of a national movement — that seeks to commit the state to awarding all of its presidential electors to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, (far right) R-Perryville, and Democratic Minority Leader Mike Talboy, (near right) D- Kansas City, are among the co-sponsors of the bill, filed this week. The chief sponsor is Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Eureka.

Called the “National Popular Vote bill,” national supporters say it “would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill ensures that every vote, in every state, will matter in every presidential election.”

During the segment on MSNBC, John Koza pointed out that under our present system, 200 million voters are essentially disenfranchised. Yikes.

In the Missouri House the bill has been referred to the Elections Committee and no hearings have been scheduled. In the Senate, the bill has been has been handed to the Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee and no hearings appear to be scheduled.

I urge everyone to watch the informative segment below and if so inclined, contact Senator Richard at (573) 751-2173 or email him. If you live outside the Joplin area but still in Missouri you can contact your own state senator (or representative) by going here.

In the House,

Joplin representative Bill White’s phone is (573)-751-3791 or 417-623-0038 and his email address is Bill.White@house.mo.gov or wew@cableone.net

Bill Lant’s phone is 573-751-9801 or 417-623-5286. His email address is Bill.Lant@house.mo.gov or lantsfeed@netins.net

Webb City/Duquesne rep Charlie Davis can be reached at 573-751-7082 or 417-825-1193.  You can email him at Charlie.Davis@house.mo.gov or charliedavis@cableone.net


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