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Good from the machine

| Monday, February 1, 2016

So that was the Iowa caucuses. I don’t actually know what happened, because I’m writing this in advance. However, it likely wasn’t boring. All eyes have been on two contests on either side of the aisle — Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, and Everyone Else versus Donald Trump for the Republicans. In both cases, the challengers have framed themselves as transformative outsiders who refuse to play ball with the party establishment.

If there’s one word that describes both the Trump and Sanders campaigns, it’s “demagoguery.” Both candidates have risen to prominence based on applause-line promises founded almost exclusively in emotion, whether it’s Trump’s race-baiting or Sanders’s soak-the-rich moralizing. Trump has promised to expel undocumented migrants and defeat ISIS without any plan more sophisticated than “by being great,” yet this does not faze the cheering crowds. Meanwhile, Sanders’s healthcare plan has been roundly criticized for being hundreds of billions of dollars in the red, but his throng is no less dedicated than Trump’s. The thought of either of these fist-shakers achieving election, or even nomination, scares me profoundly, though it does not surprise me. As H. L. Mencken once said, “No one in this world … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

Fortunately for America, for the world and for me, a Trump or Sanders presidency is so extreme the establishments of both parties are certain to agitate against it. The Republican base has been running away from Trump from the instant he announced his run. The campaign against Sanders has been muted because he’s never been the frontrunner. Yet the first blows are landing; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently took a big step back from Sanders’s tax hikes. More will surely follow.

If these campaigns don’t crash and burn immediately following Iowa, at some point a concerted campaign of endorsements, ad money and Sunday morning talk show time will pound the upstarts into oblivion. The Clinton campaign hasn’t even started picking through Sanders’s dirty laundry, and Trump seems quite content to keep smithing the nails for his own coffin. Behind closed doors, both candidates will be sat down by the party leaders and explicitly notified that their candidacy is a threat to the future of the party and the nation. They might still be in double digits in the polls after Super Tuesday, but their long-haul potential will be shattered.

History is a useful guide here. In mid-February of 2012, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and even Rick Perry had jumped to the front of the Republican pack as more exciting alternatives to Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s establishment, run-of-the-mill conservatism. Yet it was Romney who secured the nomination.

Now of course, that’s no fun. There’s no sex appeal in a system where the flamboyant outsider loses, and the compromiser — the one who actually does the messy, unpleasant, unglamorous work of running a city, state or country — receives the party’s support. And yes, this election cycle has had more than its fair share of lifeless, extruded-political-product campaigns. Hillary Clinton’s run in particular appears to have been assembled from a Build-a-Candidacy kit (batteries not included). But the constant vetting by the party apparatus is invaluable in preventing a fundamentally unqualified candidate from ascending to the presidency.

Of course, the installation of safeguards against radical change is not new or even restricted to the party apparatus. Many aspects of our political system brace the country against the will of the small-D democratic mob. The whole reason we have separation of powers in the first place is to prevent our leaders from forcing their agendas on the nation. Similarly, the much-maligned Electoral College is invaluable as a final line of defense against the election of a malevolent candidate. Am I bothered by the fact that Minnesota (where I vote absentee) will go for the Democratic candidate no matter whom I vote for? Yes. Am I willing to accept that to keep the next Caligula out of the White House? You betcha!

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • toto

    The current system does not provide some kind of check on the “mobs.” There have been 22,991 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 17 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. 1796 remains the only instance when the elector might have thought, at the time he voted, that his vote might affect the national outcome.

    The electors are and will be dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws guaranteeing faithful voting by presidential electors (because the states have plenary power over presidential electors).

    There is no reason to think that the Electoral College would prevent a malevolent candidate from being elected President of the United States, regardless of whether presidential electors are elected on the basis of the state-by-state winner-take-all rule or the nationwide popular vote

  • toto

    A survey of Minnesota voters showed 75% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80%+ of the states, like Indiana, that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The National Popular Vote bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.

    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


  • Punta Venyage

    1) You may be right that Trump and Bernie are using “applause-line promises founded exclusively in emotion”, but Donald Trump intentionally and skillfully phrases issues in a simplistic manner on the big stage while going into details elsewhere, because he knows it works. Bernie seems to be doing it out of blind ideological dogma.

    ….Actually while writing this post I did a quick check on his website, and found https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/immigration-reform
    Which immediately refutes the claim that Donald Trump has no plan more sophisticated than “being great”

    2) The idea of a compromise candidate sounds very enlightened and grandiose, but why apply this only to Republicans? Obama has been anything but a “compromise candidate”…….

    Newsflash: Romney and McCain (compromise candidates) both lost the election

    • João Pedro Santos

      “Bernie seems to be doing it out of blind ideological dogma.”
      Now try to reason without using ad hominem. Because wanting for the US similar social measures that already take place in most developped countries (just go to Canada, for example) is not a blind ideological dogma. Wanting people to die from preventable diseases because they are uninsured and wanting students to go bankrupt after graduating are the true blind ideological dogmas.

      • Punta Venyage

        Why would you want America to be like Canada?

        All of Bernie’s “freebie’s” have to be funded… How?
        By raising taxes on EVERYONE, not just the rich.

        For anyone making less than $250,000 your marginal tax rate would go up by 9%
        And those making over $250,000 would be faced with a marginal tax rate of 65-75%, not exactly an incentive to work hard and become wealthy.

        (Source: Numbers are based on Bernie’s current tax proposals)

        • João Pedro Santos

          “And those making over $250,000 would be faced with a marginal tax rate of 65-75%, not exactly an incentive to work hard and become wealthy.”
          Poor people, getting only $100.000, they must be really oppressed! And they are such hard workers! I’m mean, they get more than five times of what minimum wage workers get, that means they must work at least five times more than minimum wage workers, that is, 40 hours per day!

          • Punta Venyage

            You’re missing the point. Sanders’ plant effectively puts a cap on how much money you can make. If you have ambitions to be a millionaire, these kind of taxes stifle them. America has produced some of the world’s greatest innovators.

            How much you make, generally speaking, is a reflection of how much society values your contribution not necessarily how many hours you work.

            A minimum wage fast food employee does not provide the same societal value as a billionaire like Elon Musk.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Look at this list of the lowest paying jobs in the US. Could you survive if these people just stayed at home instead of going to work? No, you couldn’t! So stop insulting poor people and learn some basic economics. If “hard-working” millionaires acknowledge that they’d benefit more from motivated and well-paid workers, then so can you. You seem to live in a bubble.

          • Punta Venyage

            Here is a simple lesson on supply and demand… If “these people just stayed at home instead of going to work”, that would reduce the labor supply for the industry, and the workers would be in higher demand, leading to higher income for those kind of jobs (fast food workers, cashiers, farmers.. etc.). The jobs would be filled very fast in such an event, especially given that they are low skill jobs relative to others.

            I guess I just don’t understand the point of the question you asked.
            I thought it was self evident that high-skill jobs should get more money than low skilled jobs. What’s the point of investing time and money into an education at the University of Notre Dame, which I assume you are currently doing, if you think that the job you will have after graduation will be no more valuable than a fastfood/cashier/farmer job?

        • João Pedro Santos

          More seriously, congratulations for insulting American citizens by claiming they are poor because they don’t work enough.

          • Chris Wall

            Hmmm, you say it’s insulting to Americans who don’t work enough? Here we go…trophies for everyone! Sorry, but the reality is that some people deserve more from the fruits of their labor because they are smarter, work harder, or yes, sometimes are just luckier. Americans are not poor by a long stretch. The greed of the masses – projected so well as really being the greed of the wealthy- is what Bernie is playing off of. Our “poor” are not poor by comparison to most countries, they just want more.

          • João Pedro Santos

            1 – “Being smarter” mostly depends on the opportunities people have throughout life. Try going to Somalia and tell people there that they are poor because they aren’t “smart enough” and they are lazy.
            2 – Most minimum wage workers work EIGHT HOURS A DAY. If for you that’s being lazy, either you don’t sleep at all because you’re always working or you’re just a false moralist.
            3 – By last, you say that people deserve to be either rich or poor based on whether they are lucky or not. Are you even serious or are you just a troll? Your comments are just disgusting.
            4 – A lot of poor Americans live as bad as citizens in other countries. Look at this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/30/baltimores-poorest-residents-die-20-years-earlier-than-its-richest/
            In some American neighborhoods life expectancy is lower than the life expectancy of… North Korea! So there are neighborhoods in one of the richest countries in the world with lower life expectancy that a dictatorship which is isolated from most of the world.
            5 – Even if poor Americans lived better than people in most countries, that would be no reason to call them greed. You are basically some wealthy guy telling middle class people to blame on poor people. I understand that people may have different opinions than mine, but what you say is not an “opinion”, it’s hate speech. The only argument you use to justify exploitation is that “people are lazy”. Next time you go to a fast food chain, tell their workers that they are lazy. I dare you.
            It’s because of people like you than people in other developped countries find the US a joke.

          • Chris Wall

            Where to start…1. I have been to Somalia, and yes, most of the population is uneducated and unmotivated, so drawing a parallel between uneducated and unmotivated having less here vs. Somalia, while not your intent , nicely makes my point.2. Minimum wage workers add minimum value and do not “deserve” anything more than their relative value added. I used to work 8 hours a day when I made far less money too. Part time job, my friend. Want more money? Grow up and earn, because no one is going to let you steal it from others.3. Try to stay with the Englush here. I know it is a liberal parlor trick to remove words and nuance from an intelligent argument ( the straw man fallacy) but that won’t work at the grownup table. Be intellectually honest with yourself.4. Nope . Most don’t. Not by far. I suggest you leave the Internet and see the world. The US idea of poverty is a joke. It is the land of opportunity.5. If I am done wealthy guy, which you don’t know, but I understand your frustration with reality, it’s soooo not Bernie…lets see, It’s hate speech…you’re a troll…no logic left, huh? Here’s the bottom line. You don’t get to steal the wealth produced by other people’s labor. It’s immoral.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Repeating the same argument ad infinitum doesn’t turn it valid…

  • João Pedro Santos

    Your criticism of Bernie Sanders is completely innacurate. You call him a demagogue and a moralist while in fact he’s just standing of for social measures that take place in most developped countries for decades. In fact, the US is the only developped country without universal healthcare. On the other hand, some Latin American countries also have universal healthcare. Plus, most European countries have only symbolic tuitions (or even no tuitions at all), so that students don’t get bankruft after graduating.
    About healthcare costs, while a single-payer healthcare system would raise taxes, taxpayers would save more than they would have to pay in taxes since they wouldn’t be needing to pay for healthcare a second time (like they do when they both have to pay health insurance and then they also have to pay co-insurance). In fact, the US is the country in the world with the largest healthcare spending (17% of GDP), while most developped countries spend around 10% of GDP in healthcare and they have a higher life expectancy and nobody dies from preventable diseases for being ininsured.
    You should realize that the US aren’t the only country in the world and they can learn a lot from other countries (and not just the converse).
    If Bernie Sanders is an extremist, then so is the Canadian government and so are most European governments.

  • Chris Wall

    “the constant vetting by the party apparatus is invaluable in preventing a fundamentally unqualified candidate from ascending to the presidency.”That’s rich…you actually wrote that! I am being presumptuous, apparently when I assume you know that B. Obama was elected.

    • João Pedro Santos

      “fundamentally unqualified candidate”
      Like Ronald Reagan?

      • MC

        Ronald Reagan had been involved in business and was president of the Actors Guild, then served as Governor of California for two terms…