Saturday, December 17, 2016

I have to write the electoral college post

The Electoral College meets Monday so I've run out of time to write an Electoral College Post that tries to transcend the obligatory.

Because what's to say? Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2 percent but fell 100,000 votes combined short in four key states, so Donald Trump gets to be "president" (sic).

I used that construct -  "President" (sic) Bush - for the first year of this blog, as a snarky protest. I probably won't resume it; the nature of our politics has changed enough in the last 16 years that even the moral high ground of the popular vote win will serve as no restraint. Win with an asterisk, govern like it was a landslide.
Iowa Democrats seem determined to cede the moral high ground of the popular vote win. In the current working draft of their caucus review committee report, they write:
"Candidates for President cannot 'win' the Iowa Precinct Caucuses by running up vote totals in the largest cities with the densest populations of liberal voters."
Which, um, is exactly how Hillary won the national popular vote...

(Yeah, I've seen the whole caucus review committee draft report. Waiting to hear from a few people before I decide how hard I'm going to rip it apart. They DID say I was more valuable on the outside...)

I've been ranting against the electoral college since I was in high school speech. Which made it extra ironic that I actually RAN for it for a couple days this year, at the behest of the Clinton campaign. I lost to a Bernie kid, who then lost to the Republican slate. Also ironic that I list "Electoral College" as my alma mater on Facebook, to avoid getting invited to alumni stuff from my actual school. (That doesn't work either.)

I always though that what it would take to abolish the electoral college would be just ONE post-1888 incident whether the second place candidate assumed office. That finally happened in 2000, and then... nothing.

In fact, the issue barely came up, because all the attention was on the opera buffa of the Florida recount. I still can't hear the name "Chad" without gagging, and if you work in an election office you have already heard every joke WAY too many times. None of that would have mattered without the electoral college, because 537 votes one way or another would not have impacted Al Gore's half million vote national win.

I still like to think there were 538 Prince fans in Florida who were really mad at Tipper.

But the Florida distraction wasn't the real reason electoral college reform was a non-starter. In my high school speech naivete I failed to account for partisanship.

See, the only way a Republican could support electoral college reform, in 2001 or now, would be to tacitly acknowledge the illegitimacy of their presidential "win." and in our hyper-partisan times, that's too much to realistically expect.

Amending the constitution requires a consensus-level super majority - 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states. We last had that much consensus about anything in 1971 when we decided that 18 year olds were adults, because "old enough to fight, old enough to vote" was too powerful of an argument and we still needed draftees for Vietnam. So we locked 18 Is Adult into the fundamental law of the land, then backed away from that principle with a rider to a highway bill. But that's apparently OK because drunk college kids are jerks. Yeah, still pissed.

(The 27th Amendment limiting congressional pay raises that came out of nowhere in 1992 kinda sorta doesn't count. If it hadn't already been sitting on the shelf gathering dust for 200 years there wouldn't have been the momentum to push it.)

These days you literally can't get 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states to agree on basic scientific facts. Literally. So getting 2/3 of a Republican Congress and 3/4 of a set of 50 state legislatures that are Republican dominated to openly acknowledge that their Republican president was unfairly elected and that it means we need to change our fundamental law? Let's not waste energy on that.

We've already wasted too much energy demanding security briefings and going through all the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving. Anger: people who didn't vote protesting the election results. Denial: recounts in states that were not recount-close.

And especially bargaining: let's cut a deal with the "good" Republican electors and all vote for John Kasich. As if that would have made any policy difference. Trump without the tweets.

The last defecting elector was in 2004, under dopey circumstances: a Minnesota Democrat accidentally voted for John Edwards for both president AND vice president. (How do his extramarital shenanigans look now compared to the Pussy Grabber In Chief?)

I expected defecting electors the last couple cycles, on the losing Republican side, figuring some Ron Paul die hard had made it onto an elector slate. I was wrong, but I expect it again this cycle, on BOTH sides.  Below the radar: How many Bernie or Bust people snuck onto Democratic elector slates? Even money that there's as many Democratic votes against Hillary as there are Republican votes against Trump.

But the Grand Bargain of a Democratic/anti-Trump Republican "deliberative" electoral college is a non-starter, and I think that's for the best. It would have undercut that moral high ground of the popular vote win, in a media climate that calls itself "Objectivity" but really means the false equivalency of Both Sides Do It.

We just have to hunker down, fight what we can, and win what we can, which will be more hearts and minds than laws and budgets for the next few years. Then, when we finally get it back, we make the electoral college a priority. Because in the 21st century it's simply inexcusable that the person with less votes wins the election.

Soon after the 2000 election I remember lecturing a group of Russian visitors to our office and trying to explain the electoral college in the aftermath of Bush v. Gore, and they laughed at me.  They'd only had about ten years of democracy in the last thousand, a window that was sadly soon to slam shut, and even they knew that the person with the most votes wins.

Could be worse; could be China.

It's been 8 years, Axl, so that next album is due in 2025.

So I've risen above the obligatory through a set of tangents; time to land this zeppelin. Stop that.

Yeah, I know federalism. That's what the US Senate is for and what state governments are for. Iowans, stop playing the "a popular vote would make Iowa less powerful and important" card. We already have twice the US Senators our population would call for, and after this election we can hardly call ourselves a swing state anymore. Of the six states that flipped from Obama to Trump, Iowa swung the hardest and wasn't even close. All that's  left is the loss of the caucuses and we're just another speck in Flyover Land.

Just because the Founding Fathers (yep, I'll be "politically incorrect" because Donald says that's OK and because they were in fact all men) came up with the idea of the electoral college doesn't mean that it's suited to the 21st Century. There's a lot of archaic stuff in there, like 3/5 of a person and quartering of soldiers and titles of nobility and the concept that owning a weapon is somehow an absolute and fundamental right.

Which wasn't exactly what they meant... but as long as the NRA continues to in effect argue that mass shootings are the price we pay for "freedom," we're stuck with that false interpretation. I go back and forth between which thing in the Constitution I most want to change: the Second Amendment or the electoral college. Till Monday when they meet, it's the electoral college, unless we get another mass shooting tomorrow.

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