Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stealing the silverware

David Mamet has a wonderful essay in The Village Voice, entitled ”Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal’”. Mamet points out the contradiction in the liberal view of the world - people are basically good at heart yet everything is always wrong; takes a second look at George W. Bush; re-examines corporations and the military; and rethinks the need for and value of government intervention. All in three short pages.

I recommend this essay highly and to whet your appetite here’s one of my favorite lines:

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sex with goats

I don't have much to say about this post - I just like it. The incident it refers to is the Jessica Lynch rescue so it's practically ancient. I do think Jane's Rule is worth keeping in mind during the elections as are Lileks' musings on the two different attitudes one can take toward one's opponent.

Untitled (From the desk of Jane Galt)

The Lileks post she quotes can be found here:

Untitled (From The Bleat)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wheat, chaff, babies, and bath water

John McCain’s handling of the Phil Gramm comments drove me crazy. If Gramm was a great economic adviser yesterday he doesn’t suddenly become an economic dunce tomorrow. If your economic adviser says the recession is mental and there’s a lot of whining, don’t pack the guy off to Belarus. Say, “Phil Gramm is right about a lot of things. The economy is growing; we are in a great position globally; and fear of a recession can tip us over the edge into a real one. At the same time, however, we need a plan to be sure everyone participates in that growth and everyone can take advantage of our global economy. That’s the best way to make people stop fearing for their economic futures. As for whining, Phil’s right about that, too: there are people out there who took on more debt than they can handle and are whining about having to pay up and want the government - which really means all you taxpayers - to bail them out. But there are also a lot of people who work hard and live within their means and pay their debts but are hurting from problems like skyrocketing energy prices and we need a plan to help them out.” And when asked if you’re going to continue to use Gramm’s expertise, say, “Of course. I don’t always agree with him but he’s a valuable resource. I make the decisions but I listen to a lot of people before I do so. I can sort wheat from chaff with no trouble at all.”

And while I’m on the subject, could we also stop with the whole No Lobbyists As Advisers nonsense? Obama criticizes McCain for having advisers who are lobbyists for one cause or another - but Obama has lobbyist advisers himself. Now McCain requires all advisers to either resign or cut lobbying ties - as if those who cut their ties will magically forget the causes they once championed. For Heaven’s sake, grow up. When candidates are criticized for listening to advisers with ties to one group or another, they should say, “Sure, I know he sells widgets. But widgets are important and he knows everything there is to know about them. Why would I throw away a resource like that? It’d be like throwing out the baby with the bath water. I always remember he thinks widgets are great and will try to convince me that what the country needs is lots and lots of widgets. I’m smart enough to take what he says with a grain of salt and to listen to the anti-widget guys, too, before I make a decision.”

“I listen to a lot of people but I make the decisions” is a far more powerful statement than “I have to get rid of this guy because I’m so weak-minded he might convince me to do something wrong.” And acknowledging that even smart people with valuable knowledge have agendas and push pet projects is a lot more honest than trying to pretend everyone around you is - or must be - as pure as the driven snow.



McCain adviser talks of 'mental recession' - The Washington Times article that started the whole Phil Gramm brouhaha; you can read more of what he said than “whiners” and “mental”

While searching for a full transcript of Gramm’s remarks - which I didn’t find - I ran across a couple of posts that echo some of what I say here:

Phil Gramm post from The Corner on National Review Online

Phil Gramm is right - An interesting article from The Washington Post on “Campaign Econ”

Obama seizes on McCain lobbyist ties

No Ban on Lobbyists as Advisers for Obama

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mike and Carol versus the Baby Boomers

[This is Old News. Chronistic Date is April 24, 2008.]

Today in a post entitled “The Generational War” Andrew Sullivan quotes from a reader’s lengthy communiqué. We never learn the reader’s name so I’m going to call him “Mike” and his wife “Carol”. Mike writes:

My wife and I are what you would call Obama's core demographic. I'm 27, she's 28; we are both working toward earning our doctorates ... I think we have both developed a well-nurtured sense of doom about the future, driven perhaps by predictions of global warming and the seemingly unending War on Terror that President Bush has promised will be the defining struggle of our generation. I know we're going to be taxed to the hilt at some point to pay for that enormous national debt, and I know that our own finances have probably relied a little too much on the credit card and student loan.

It's difficult and often hyperbolic to define a generation's attitudes toward anything, let alone something as complex as voting behavior. But, I do believe this election is being driven by an Obama voting bloc that, to a certain extent, blames the anxieties that I mentioned above on our parent's generation.

Please tell me that Mike - and Sullivan - are aware these attitudes are so “dog bites man”. I suspect every generation has blamed its anxieties about the future on its parents’ generation. I know Baby Boomers played this blame-game with enthusiasm. Everything that was wrong with the world - the threat of nuclear annihilation, the pollution of the natural environment, the Vietnam war, the long lines to buy gas - was our parents’ fault.

Mike goes on to say:

No, not on our parents directly, since how could you not express affection for such an over-indulgent group of ex-hippies, but on their lack of self-discipline.

Like this young man, we Baby Boomers tried to see our parents’ failings kindly. They were scarred by the Great Depression, overly impressed by their performance in World War II, locked into the ridiculous mindset of MAD. They were terribly, terribly wrong, of course, but their error was understandable.

Mike continues:

They were the generation that got their wish in the 1960s with John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Who saw the promise of a new politics embodied in both men, and had the electoral power through sheer demographics to propel them to what would have been successful presidencies.

Well that’s rather sweeping. We have no way of knowing whether Robert Kennedy would have won in 1968 nor of knowing what kind of president he would have been. As for John Kennedy, Mike seems to have forgotten how narrow a victory the power of those “sheer demographics” delivered in 1960 - possibly because the oldest of those demographics was only 14. Further, although Kennedy is justly praised for his stand on issues like Civil Rights, the Berlin airlift, and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, he also presided over a number of less “new politics” endeavors such as the Bay of Pigs; the last pre-Furman federal execution; a bloody coup in Iraq; and increased intervention in Vietnam, including another coup.

Mike goes on:

The promise was cut short, but that generation of baby boomers lived on as the definitive political and economic force in American politics. In the late 60s and early 70s they expressed their social power through a burgeoning cultural and political revolution.

As I read it, Mike is saying that even though the baby boomers lost their iconic politicians, they continued their drive for social and political change. Whether Mike considers this a good thing or a bad thing is unclear. The interesting question for Mike and Carol - who Mike writes “are committed to [Obama’s] campaign no matter what” - is whether if Obama is not the Democratic nominee or not elected President, they will remain engaged in the political process. If not, then we’re talking a cult of personality rather than commitment to a vision of the future.

Mike continues:

As the 70s became the 80s [the Baby Boomers] began to grow into their prime earning potential, demanding tax cuts and beginning a spending spree that would fuel almost all of the economic growth of the 1990s.

Maybe. Or maybe the Baby Boomers who were students in the 70s had to start earning a living in the 80s. After all, they had children to support, like little Mike born in 1981 and little Carol born in 1980. Someone had to pay for baby food and diapers and athletic shoes and braces and the education that would eventually lead to graduate school.

They were narcissistic and short-sighted; all too willing to view an ascendant, powerful America as their personal reward for being born at the right time and place.

Goodness knows all us Baby Boomers will probably burn in hell for the SUV but this still seems harsh judgment on a generation that produced the climate in which an African-American and a woman are now vying for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Perhaps the greatest metaphor for this generation's attitude is the prevailing belief that the American consumer (and government) spent their way to a victory in the Cold War.

I have heard that the United States government outspent the Soviet government in the Cold War and that broke the Soviet economy. I have to admit I haven’t heard the argument that the American consumer figured into the equation. Since it sounds as if Mike disagrees with this “prevailing belief”, I would be interested in hearing his explanation of what caused Gorbachev to concede the field.

Mike winds up with an impassioned statement about the nearly “Mel Gibson movie” like future that will result if a “pragmatic, problem-solving leader like Obama” does not reach the White House. He begins this last push with:

Now that it appears we've reached the limit of unrestrained consumption, [the Baby Boomers] appear more than willing to take their social security checks and medicaid benefits and ride into the sunset, leaving in their wake a bankrupt, increasingly desparate younger generation.

Interestingly enough, if you actually read what Senator Obama says about Social Security on his website, he offers no plan to cut benefits for Baby Boomers. His only concrete proposal for Social Security is to increase the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security (currently pegged at $102,000). I think this is an idea worth considering but it does sound suspiciously like one of those tax increases Mike and Carol are so anxious about.

Senator Obama does not discuss Medicaid under “Issues: Seniors and Social Security” on his website, but he does discuss Medicare and he has some good ideas, like making the Medicare Prescription Plan transparent. As far as saving money, though, he plans to save money by cutting waste - always a popular although rather vague solution. He also plans to close the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. It’s been a while since I looked at this but closing holes in programs usually means higher costs.

So when Mike says:

The greatest dogwhistle of the Obama campaign so far is his ability to lay out this urgency to our generation.

I find myself thinking how fortunate Senator Obama is that supporters like Mike are content with his laying out this urgency and aren’t insisting on some concrete plans to address it.

It will be interesting to see what Mike and Carol are doing 10 years from now. I imagine they’ll be working at jobs, paying off their student loans, complaining about their taxes, and spending more than they can afford on themselves and their children. On the other hand, if Mike succeeds in convincing his parents to give up their Social Security and Medicare, Mike and Carol will be supporting four aging, uninsured, over-indulgent, undisciplined, ex-hippy parents and living in fear of the day Mom or Dad gets sick.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bobby Murcer

I was so very saddened to hear of Bobby Murcer's death. I didn't start following the Yankees until after his playing days but I adored him as a broadcaster. He always seemed to think the best of everyone, players and fellow broadcasters alike. He was wonderfully steady and that, along with his "aw, shucks, who me" approach to static in the booth made him invaluable. His sense of humor always delighted me and his drawl made for wonderful listening. I always figured he'd be back next year, after he rested up a little and got back on his feet. It's hard to believe he won't be doing another game.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The speech I wish she'd given back then

[This is Old News. It appears exactly as I wrote it on May 11, 2008.]

I wrote this mentally last night and refined it after listening to the talking heads discuss some of the same issues this morning. I am particularly indebted to Cokie Roberts for her validation of my niggling little sense that there was a women’s side to this.

Here’s the speech I wish Hillary Clinton could give:

Many people are speculating about why I continue to run for the Democratic Party Presidential nomination. Some of the speculation is pretty wild but the real answers are very simple. Let me spell them out for you. Partly I continue to run to honor the women who support me. Not just the women who have voted for me over the last five months - although I owe them special honor - but also the women who have supported me my whole life either directly by being in my life or indirectly by coming before me and paving the way. Many people forget how very far women have come just in my lifetime; even more people forget how very far women have come in the history of this country. I remember every day and I believe I honor that historical perseverance with my own refusal to concede defeat.

Partly I run because I truly believe I am the Democratic candidate with the best chance of beating the Republicans in the Fall. And it is vitally important to beat the Republicans. This country will be ill-served by another four years of the policies of the last eight.

Most importantly, though, I run because I believe I am the best choice to be President of the United States. I offer the best policies and the best platform. I am best suited for the job in terms of my ability to do it and in terms of what I will do with that ability while in office. I make no apologies for this belief. Anyone who does not believe he or she would be the best President has no business running for the office.

A few days ago I referred to the fact that Senator Obama’s support among white working class Americans appeared to be slipping. I was stating a fact and one I believe is very important for reasons I will explain in a minute. Certainly, I phrased it clumsily but I have been horrified to see how my remarks have been taken as evidence that I am racist. No one who knows my history, not just in the Senate but throughout my adult life, can seriously believe I am racist. It simply is not true. I am not the person I see described in so many newspapers and on so many talk shows. Let me repeat. I am not that person.

I realize, however, that I apparently sound like that person and I regret that very much. I’ve given much thought to this and I’ve come to a conclusion. For the remainder of my campaign, I am going to stop talking about the issue of electability. In fact, I’m going to stop talking about Senator Obama altogether. I am going to focus on what I have to offer, what my ideas are, what I can bring to the Presidency. This is partially an acknowledgment of the fact that it is almost impossible to talk about race-based issues - even statistics - without sounding racist myself. It is also a re-emphasis of my most important reason for continuing to run: my belief I am the best choice to be President.

Before I leave this topic behind me once and for all, I do want to sound a warning. What I was getting at - however clumsily - is the question of what the Democratic coalition will look like on November 4, 2008. I am not the only person worrying about this. The recent dustup between Donna Brazile and Paul Begala - both of whom I deeply respect - touched on the same issues and with the same rancor.

It is my belief that there are two large and important groups that are beginning to feel they may not be welcome in the new Democratic coalition that is being discussed. The first group goes by a lot of different names: white working class voters; blue and pink collar voters; ethnic voters; Reagan Democrats; Middle America. Whatever you call them, they have been one of the backbones of the Democratic Party and - as the Reagan Democrat name suggests - when they turn away from the Party, the Party suffers. This group is hearing that it is somehow not well-educated enough, not well off enough, simply not hip enough to belong to the new Democratic Coalition.

The second group that is beginning to feel they may not fit into this new Democratic Coalition is people of a certain age. Those who feel this group might not fit into the new coalition usually refer to them as Baby Boomers. A more honest description would be “anyone born before August 4, 1961”. This group is dismissed as having betrayed its own political and social conscience and thus causing all the ills of the world. This is nonsense, of course. The Baby Boomers were no more perfect than any other generation, but the fact that the next President of the United States will almost certainly be either an African-American or a woman is proof enough of its accomplishments. The reality is that this group is not young enough to belong to the new Democratic Coalition.

It is vitally important that the Democratic Party find a way to make room for these two groups in whatever new form the coalition takes, partly for political reasons and partly on principle. The political reason is simple: it will be very hard to win the White House in the Fall if you lose these groups. The Reagan Democrats have already shown they will vote Republican when they feel the Democrats have lost touch with what is important. The older voters are, in fact, older which increases the chance they’ll vote Republican anyhow. Convince them they’re not well-thought of in the Democratic Party and it makes their move across the aisle that much easier. And then there are women. The Democratic Party believes women - both working class and older - will not side with the Republicans and they may very well be right. But it is not inconceivable that working class and older Democratic women will decide to sit the Fall election out if they feel their value is not respected in the new Democratic Coalition.

Equally important - more important in the long run - the new Democratic Coalition should find a way to make room for these two groups as a matter of principle. The nobility of reducing black-white conflict and red-blue conflict is lost if you do so by stirring up class conflict and generational conflict. Replacing racial and ideological divisions with divisions of class and generation certainly counts as change but it has nothing whatsoever to with hope - or healing.

Let me make it crystal clear that my comments about the shape of the Democratic Coalition are not directed at Senator Obama. I have seen no evidence that Senator Obama himself encourages or desires the un-welcoming of Middle America or Baby Boomers. In fact, if it were Senator Obama who was promoting this exclusionary form of the Democratic Coalition, I could tell you that the issue would disappear if I were the nominee. That is not the case. The idea of a new Democratic Coalition is coming in large part from Democrats newly registered and newly energized by the Democratic Primary and by those who write about these new Democrats. That the make-up of the Democratic Party will change over time is inevitable; I just hope it does so by greater inclusiveness rather than by having the new force out the old. I sincerely believe Senator Obama would join me in this hope.

Finally, I’d like to talk about rules, a discussion which will bring me back full circle in just a moment. I’m not going to rehash the arguments about Florida and Michigan but I do want to make one point. I cannot begin to count how many officials and commentators have insisted that “the rules are the rules” and castigated me for attempting to have some or all of the delegates from these states count. So I’d just like to point out that - under the rules - there is no reason for me to stop running. The rules of the Democratic party established a primary season that runs from January to June; specified the number of delegates needed to win the nomination; ruled out winner take all state primaries; created super delegates who can vote as they please; and set a convention date months from now. Under those rules, I can still win the Democratic Party nomination. It might be highly improbable but it’s not impossible. And I believe that as long as it’s possible, it’s worth fighting for.

Thank you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

It's no fish ye're buying, it's men's lives.

So said Sir Walter Scott on the dangers of fishing.

I first read the Time article "Undertaker for the mules" when it was published in 1997. A copy of it has gone with me from torn-out page in a file to document on my Classic Mac to document and link on my iMac and now to my blog. I think Sir Walter could relate.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Step by step to Global Warming: What is, was, and will be

In my earlier post, ”Troglodytes have feelings, too”, I explained that I’m a Global Warming skeptic and talked about a couple of feeling - as opposed to scientific and philosophical misgivings - that make it impossible for me to just believe in and accept Global Warming. (It looks like Penn Jillette is in a very similar boat. It’s always nice to have company.)

Now I want to lay out those scientific and philosophical misgivings about Global Warming. A big part of my problem is simply the number of separate beliefs I would have to hold in order to make it to full-blown Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming so I’ll examine each of those beliefs in turn.

Wikipedia defines Global Warming thus:

Global warming is the increase in the average measured temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and oceans since the mid-twentieth century, and its projected continuation.

There’s a lot of complexity hiding in that simple definition. Ask someone, “Do you believe in Global Warming?” If the answer is “Yes” there’s a tendency to think that implies belief in full-blown Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming. As in, humans are causing it, we’re all going to drown, and we better get busy doing whatever it takes to fix it. If the answer is “No” there’s a tendency to think that implies a lack of belief that the Earth is even getting warmer. Such a lack of belief renders any discussion of antecedent causes and subsequent consequences not just unnecessary but positively pointless.

In truth, however, there is a ladder of steps from someone like William Gray who doesn’t believe the planet is permanently warming to someone like Al Gore who holds the most serious view of the problem and advocates some heavy-duty solutions. Each of us can jump off at any point along the way which leaves the question of belief in Global Warming looking less like a binary problem and more like a sliding scale.

So what steps make up the ladder of Global Warming? I’m glad you asked. To be a full-fledged Global Warming believer you must believe:

1) The planet is getting warmer.
When I first outlined these steps a year ago in an email to a friend, if you wanted to dispute this you talked about measurement problems: urban heat islands, badly placed monitors, missing temperatures from cold countries, and so on. You can still do so - Climate Audit is doing yeoman work on these issues. Now, however, if you don’t want to wade through all that boring technical stuff, you can just point to graphs of the global temperature metrics which have been cool to Global Warming for about 10 years and downright chilly for the last year.

2) The warming is unprecedented in human history.
This is mostly what the Hockey Stick sought to show. It was prominently featured in the IPCC 2001 report. The first controversy swirling around it arose because it wiped out the Medieval Warm Period (and the Little Ice Age for that matter). Then questions arose about the data and the programming. Is the Hockey Stick valid? Depends on who you ask.

3) The warming is caused largely by human activity.
This means it’s not El Nino; it’s not a naturally repeating cycle; it’s not volcanos; and the sun isn’t doing it. Of these, the idea that the sun did it is taken the most seriously by Global Warming believers (although that means they just spend more time saying it doesn’t matter). Why does the sun get extra attention?

Well, remember the Little Ice Age that the Hockey Stick disappeared? That occurred during the Maunder Minimum. A Minimum in this sense is a period of very, very low sunspot activity; this particular Minimum was named after its discoverer, Edward Maunder. There are also Maxima and one of those coincides to some extent with the Medieval Warm Period. More sunspots, warmer earth; fewer sunspots, colder earth? Depends on who you ask. And the answer might be kind of important because although sunspot counts have been high since 1900, our current sunspot cycle (Cycle 24) is late, late, late.

4) The human activity that is causing the warming is the production of greenhouse gases.
In other words, it’s not just that there are more people and more cities making the Earth warmer. It’s a particular thing produced by those humans that is responsible.

5) The greenhouse gas responsible for the greatest part of the global warming is carbon dioxide.
Other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and fluorocarbons are not important enough to rate much concern. Methane is getting more attention but CO2 remains the 300-pound gorilla of greenhouse gases. (Water vapor is the by far the most prevalent greenhouse gas but is not considered in this context since it is not caused by human activity.)

These are the Global Warming beliefs that have to do with the past and present. They make up the picture of what Global Warming is and what causes it. They imply the future contained in that last little phrase in Wikipedia’s definition: “and its projected continuation.” Global Warmists believe that so long as humans keep producing enough CO2 to increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the Earth will continue to warm.

Obviously, I have problems accepting some of these beliefs. But what if you don't? Fine, you say, I’m with the Global Warmists so far, believe it all, no problem. The Earth has gotten warmer and will continue to get warmer still. I like beaches, I hate shoveling snow. So why is this a problem? That’s the question I’ll address next in “Step by step to Global Warming: What lies ahead”.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I’ve posted earlier about Obama possibly backing off on his plan to “... immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq ... remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.” In that earlier post, I suggested that such a change in plan might cause him serious problems with his supporters. However, while commenting on a post at TigerHawk, I realized there is a means by which Obama would have a good shot at justifying a decision to remain in Iraq:

A pivot on Iraq withdrawal would be huge but with his rhetorical skills, Obama should be able to recast it pretty easily. The most effective way would be to visit Iraq and then express a “stay the course” position as resulting from talking with everyday Iraqis who want the US to finish the job. If he can present the elements of the basic conservative argument - democracy good; fear of Iran; get rid of terrorists; don’t waste lives already lost; progress being made - as coming not from those nasty militaristic Republicans but from Iraqis who want for their children what we all want for ours, he might well get away with it. It depends on how badly damaged Obama’s reputation as a Teller of Tough Truths is by that time but the man has been able to pull off some amazing feats so far.

A decision by Obama to “stay the course” in Iraq would seem to leave McCain with little opportunity for substantive criticism: he can hardly attack Obama for coming over to his way of thinking and would be left with only the charge of flip-flopism to make. However, there is a substantive issue on which the Republicans could attack Obama if he decides to stay in Iraq: If he didn’t have all that money he was going to save by leaving Iraq, how the heck would he fund his proposed domestic programs?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Deep-Sixing Two and Five

On June 29, Katrina vanden Heuvel was part of the Round Table discussion on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. While discussing the possibility that a Bob Barr third-party candidacy might draw enough votes away from John McCain to open up states like Alaska and Georgia for an Obama victory, vanden Heuvel said:

We’ve been talking about expanding the electoral map. I think until you bust open the Electoral College - which I hope we’ll do in 2012 - you can’t expand it that much.

This struck me as odd since four years is not very long to pass the Constitutional amendment that would be needed to do away with the Electoral College. Or would it? I turned to Wikipedia and eventually found The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, also known as The Amar Plan. This, it turns out, is precisely what vanden Heuvel had in mind.

Under The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (TNPVIC), individual states agree to abide by the national popular vote. In other words, regardless of how voters in a particular state vote, that state will cast all its electoral votes for whoever wins the popular vote nationally. TNPVIC further specifies that states can agree to the Compact but their agreement will not take effect until states controlling a majority of electoral votes have signed onto TNPVIC. As Wikipedia points out, this means that as few as eleven states could put this Compact into effect: the eleven states with the most electoral votes control a majority of those votes.

It is not clear whether TNPVIC is Constitutional. On the one hand, Article Two, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution allows each state to decide for itself how to apportion its electoral votes. On the other hand, Article One, Section 10, Clause 3 (the Compact Clause) forbids states from entering into compacts with other states without Congressional approval. On the third hand, the extent of the Compact Clause’s prohibition seems to be unclear. Even if TNPVIC is Constitutional, however, it is clearly an attempt to make an end-run around the mechanism for amending the Constitution provided in Article Five.

Article Five requires a two-thirds vote of quorums of both Houses of Congress or a request by two-thirds of the state legislatures to even propose amending the Constitution. It further requires that three-fourths of the states (either by Legislature or Convention) approve the amendment before it takes effect. And, in fact, there have been previous attempts to abolish the Electoral College using the Constitutionally prescribed amendment process. Since these attempts failed, TNPVIC was devised to do away with the need for those pesky super-majorities: the Compact could effectively amend the Constitution with only eleven/fiftieths of the states agreeing. Not only does this approach treat the Constitution as a system to be beaten rather than the highest law of the land, it drives another nail into the coffin of Federalism.

Alongside my outrage, however, I must admit to some amusement. I’m not entirely sure the lawmakers and governors who support TNPVIC have thought this through. The Compact was dreamed up in 2001. It doesn’t take a Constitutional lawyer to conclude that the scheme was originally developed in response to the 2000 Presidential election in which Al Gore won the popular vote and George W. Bush won the Electoral College. Based on the timing - and on Katrina vanden Heuvel’s approval - I’m guessing TNPVIC is driven primarily by Democratic outrage over being cheated out of the Presidency in 2000. I’m further guessing that Democrats suspect it’s unlikely approaching impossible that there will be a situation where Republicans win the popular vote but Democrats win the Electoral College. What if they’re wrong?

As a starting point, let’s assume the 2008 election will look just like the 2000 election - and then we’ll change a few things and see what happens.

First, let’s say that all the states that went for Gore in 2000 approve TNPVIC in time for the 2008 election. That would mean states controlling 260 electoral votes would have approved the Compact. (This number is different from the 266 electoral votes Gore received because redistricting has changed the electoral vote map. And because there was one abstention by a District of Columbia elector. Who knew?) To get TNPVIC to go into effect, it needs states controlling 270 votes to agree to the Compact. So let’s say Florida also signs onto TNPVIC. That means that states controlling 287 electoral votes have now approved TNPVIC and it will take effect for the 2008 election.

Second, let’s say that every state that went for Gore goes for Obama. And let’s give Obama Florida by saying that 1000 Floridians who voted for Bush now decide to vote for Obama. Now Obama has 287 electoral votes, all of them from states that signed on to TNPVIC, and Obama has the popular vote. Obama is the President and all is well. But what if there’s a shift - just a slight shift - in the popular vote?

In 2000, Bush got 50,455,156 votes; these become McCain’s votes in 2008. Gore got 50, 992,335 votes; these become Obama’s votes in 2008. We’ve already taken 1000 Florida votes away from McCain and given them to Obama, so now our numbers are:
McCain - 50,454,156
Obama - 50,993,335

Obama is winning the popular vote by 539,179. In 2008 there were 6 states where the margin of victory was less than 12,000 votes: Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin. That leaves 44 states plus the District of Columbia where we can play with the popular vote a little. Let’s say that in each of these 45 states (yes, I know DC is not a state) there’s a swing in the popular vote of 12,000. That is, in each of these 45 states 6,000 people who voted for Gore decide to vote for McCain. That means McCain would pick up 270,000 votes and Obama would lose 270,000 votes.

Now our popular vote looks like this:
McCain - 50,724,156
Obama - 50,723,335

Oops! Guess who gets to be President? And guess how happy the voters in the states that signed on to TNPVIC are going to be when their elected officials inform them that, yes, we know you voted for Obama and, yes, we know he won the Electoral College and, yes, we know he should be President, but we’re going to cast our electoral votes for McCain?

I’m sure the supporters of the TNPVIC consider an outcome like this very unlikely. But I think there’s a good chance this scenario or one very like it will happen. Look at it this way. More than 225 years ago a group of pretty smart guys wrote a Constitution that embodied a new way of looking at government and at the same time glued a bunch of disputatious states into one nation. That Constitution has served us well for all these years, amended as necessary by a mechanism designed to be as difficult as possible and thereby to avoid the tyranny of the majority. Now a group of people, many angry at losing and all tired of playing by the rules, are willing to do whatever it takes to get their way. If that means cutting the heart out of two Articles of the Constitution, that’s fine with them because they know how this country should be governed far better than those old-timers in funny clothes.

I call that hubris. And as our forefathers in democracy taught us, nothing follows hubris as inexorably as nemesis.


Sources, numbers, and a confession:

Presidential Election of 2000, Electoral and Popular Vote Summary

Wikipedia - United States presidential election, 2000 (detail)

Wikipedia - United States presidential election, 2000

Wikipedia - List of U.S. states by population

I took the transcript of Katrina vanden Heuvel’s comment from my own tape of This Week with George Stephanopoulos. You can find the video at This Week under “The Roundtable”. (I assume this moves off the main site once the next show airs.) Her comment about the Electoral College should begin about 7-8 minutes in.

The final numbers in this post look pretty simple, but I juggled numerous articles and four spreadsheets to get to them. I love my iMac but I hate not being able to put code behind Appleworks' spreadsheet the way I could behind Excel. If you find any mistakes, please let me know.

Although the existence of The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact came as a surprise to me, my home state of New Jersey is one of four states that have signed onto this deal. My only excuse for not realizing this is that the Legislature did this in 2007 when for good reason I was paying absolutely no attention to politics. The other three states that have signed onto the Compact are: Maryland, Illinois, and Hawaii. All four of these states went for Gore in 2000. They also went for Kerry in 2004; and Clinton in 1992 and 1996.