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DECISION 2024: How (not WHAT) to Think About Politics

Updated: Mar 12

The United States of America holds a Presidential election every four years. Here's some help to keep your head from exploding.


"A Republic, if you can keep it." Oh, for the days of wigs, Whigs, and knee-britches.


When pondering the plethora of campaign ads currently bombarding your ears and filling your inbox, you might want to keep a few things in mind; for instance--

AMERICA IS NOT A DEMOCRACY.

Never was, never will be, and was never intended to be an actual "democracy."


Pure democracy is sometimes pithily described as two foxes and a chicken voting on what's for dinner, i.e., simple majority rule. We, however, are not a pure democracy, but rather a Constitutional Democratic Republic-- "Constitutional" in that we have an established set of principles for choosing our leaders who make and enforce our laws, and also for making the laws themselves; a "Republic" in that our elected representatives, not we the actual citizenry, make and enforce our laws; and yet "Democratic" in that we, the citizenry, get to choose these representatives, and our laws must be passed in democratic fashion by a majority of our elected representatives. In a constitutional democratic republic, a chicken elected to the dinner menu by the vulpine majority can say, "Hold on... even though I am in the minority, we have duly enacted laws that protect the lives of EVERYONE, not just the majority." The chicken might rightly add that someday the foxes might be the minority, and the same set of laws will spare them from the winter coat factory at the whim of the numerical majority.


AMERICA DOES NOT HOLD NATIONAL ELECTIONS.

Never did, never will. Rather, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November every leap year, America holds 51 individual statewide elections (50 states plus the District of Columbia) to elect slates of electors who then cast their votes in the Electoral College for the next President. Which brings us to...


THE (F-ING?) ELECTORAL COLLEGE

 HERE is a great piece on why the Founding Fathers created the system that became known as the Electoral College. Article II of the constitution established it thusly--


"Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. (Thus we have 100 Senators + 435 Congresspeople + 3 votes for D.C. = 538 Electoral Votes. --DM)


"The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse (sic) by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.


"The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States."

(In 1804 the 12th Amendment updated our Presidential election process. --DM)


So, when you are voting for (Biden, Trump, or Other) this coming November, TWO things will distinguish it from a direct national election-- you are not voting for the candidate directly, but rather for his/her slate of Electors in your state; and it is NOT a national popular vote, but rather state-by-state, and winner-take all within each state. This is why a nationwide (and pretty much meaningless) popular vote can be very close while the Electoral College tally seems decisive-- like in 1960, when John F. Kennedy bested Richard M. Nixon at the polls by a mere 0.17% and yet decisively won the Electoral vote 303-219. In rare circumstances the "winner of the popular vote" actually lost the Electoral College vote, thereby infuriating large segments of voters. To many political pundits, the most exact analogy imaginable for this is the 1960 World Series, in which the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27... and yet lost the series 4 games to 3. The outcomes of the individual games, not the number of total runs, are what determined the winner under the operative rules.


Bill Mazeroski's epic home run to clinch the 1960 Fall Classic.


Every four years there are calls to abolish the Electoral College, and there is indeed a mechanism for eliminating or updating it-- passage of a new Constitutional Amendment as per Article V of the Constitution. If this were to ever transpire, it would likely lead to a nationwide popular vote. However, for the nationwide vote total to be meaningful (and legal), every state (plus D.C.) would have to vote under the same exact rules. That would be problematic, for each state has its own peculiar election laws and mechanisms. For example-- a few presidential elections ago, the losing candidate actually garnered some 3 million more total votes than the winner. However, most of that number came from a large state that had conducted (uniquely, among all the states) a "jungle primary" that had picked two senatorial candidates of the same party to the statewide general election, thereby generating far greater turnout by that party than the other side. Such a thing would not pass constitutional muster were we to adopt a nationwide popular vote for the POTUS.


Anyway, back to the current s**tshow--


IT'S PRIMARY SEASON...

And it is well worth keeping in mind that the Constitution doesn't mention primaries, or political parties, or even nominating conventions. (These entities could be accurately described as "post-constitutional constructs.") Each party has its own rules for nominating its candidate... which means that each party can change its rules on the fly as needed. We presently have as front-runners the oldest pair of candidates in history, and a higher-than-usual probability that one or both of them might encounter medical (or even legal) issues that necessitate their replacement very close to Election Day.


WILL WE GET A BREAK FROM POLITICS COME SUMMER?

NO... The Republican National Convention will be held July 15-18 in Milwaukee, and the Democratic National Convention is scheduled for August 19-22 in Chicago. I'm old enough to remember when conventions actually chose the candidates... however, since 1976 they've been combination pep rally/infomercials.


SO MANY MORE QUESTIONS...


Why are our politicians so old?

(Because we keep voting for them.)


Why has American politics become almost indistinguishable from professional wrestling?

(That's an insult to professional wrestling.)


Why does it take a month or more to count the Presidential vote when AMERICAN IDOL can tally millions of votes in ten minutes?

(I'm not sure, but perhaps we should adopt their system.)


Is this the most important election EVER?

(EVERY election is the most important election ever. Just remember that no matter who is elected, they'll never repeal The Second Law of Thermodynamics... the one that suggests that everything eventually turns to crap.)


And finally,

When did "Chuse" become "Choose?"

(About the same time that everything else started turning to crap.)



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