Political Thoughts for November

November is election month in the United States–a good time to do some political musing. Here are a few random thoughts.

Canadian-style election results happen in the United States.

17 US presidents got less than 50%
Many Americans are baffled by the recent Canadian elections. Justin Trudeau's election as prime minister is being called a "rout" in Canada, which perplexes Americans who read that he got just a shade over 39% of the vote. Part of the answer lays with Canadian election laws in which the party's fate—the one that wins electoral districts ("ridings")-- determines the prime minister. I get that people unfamiliar with parliamentary democracy would be confused by that. What I don't get is where Americans obtained the weird idea that the U.S. president obtains a "majority." More than 1/3 of all U.S. presidents have taken office with a plurality, not a majority.

Citizens did not vote for presidents until 1824, which means Yanks have gone to the polls 48 times since then. In seventeen cases (35.4%), the winner got less than 50% of the popular vote. Want to guess who took office with the lowest percentage  of votes? That would be John Quincy Adams (30.9%) in 1824, but that's hardly a fair gauge given how few eligible voters there were back then. It might surprise to learn that Abraham Lincoln is second on the list; he got just 39.8% of the vote, about what Trudeau got in Canada. (Bill Clinton is third with 43% in 1992.)

Nor do Americans have much authority for pondering the oddities of other electoral systems. We, after all, have that archaic institution called the Electoral College. In five elections (1824, 1876, 1884, 1888, 2000) the Electoral College has anointed president a candidate who "lost" the popular vote.

Is the Tea Party the Republican version of the Dixiecrats?

The Republican Party is in utter chaos, even if Paul Ryan wrings concessions that allow him to become Speaker of the House. The GOP is being held hostage by the forces of reaction and unreason. The Tea Party isn't the party majority, but it's large enough to force feed its agenda. An analogy can be made to Dixiecrats that disrupted the Democratic Party from 1948 into 1980, but the GOP's problem might be bigger still.

The Dixiecrats were a one-trick pony trotting behind a cardboard sulky labeled states' rights; it was really an entrenched group of racist Southern Democrats opposed to civil rights. Dixiecrats fielded formal candidates twice—Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace in 1968–but it's unclear they affected either election. By 1980, they had abandoned the Democratic Party and joined the GOP, where their Southern suburbanite heirs are one component of the Tea Party. If they were only one, the GOP problem would be less acute.

Ted Cruz: an independent for president?
The Tea Party also includes anti-tax fanatics, Second Amendment zealots, anti-choice advocates, theocrats, pseudo-libertarians, nativists, anti-regulation business pirates, and scores of paranoiacs, conspiracy nuts, climate change deniers, Creationists, Biblical literalists, and those with the IQ of garden vegetables. The coalition cannot win on its own, but neither can the GOP ignore it. Fanaticism makes it hard for the GOP to win the White House and even harder to govern should it win. Yes, I'm talking to you Donald Trump.

It's very conceivable that the next president will win but a plurality of the 2016 vote. It's likely that some of the current GOP pretenders will launch independent campaigns when they don't get the nomination. Rand Paul might go that route and I wouldn't put it past loose cannons such as Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina either; they're not in government, so such a run would only increase their name recognition. I really find it likely that one or more Tea Partiers will declare themselves Keeper of the True Faith and launch a bid: Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, or Ted Cruz—especially Cruz.

If GOP strategists could think beyond the bottom line for Wall Street's next quarter—a very big if—it would be a good idea to concede 2016 by running an independent mainstream Republican (Jindal? Rubio?) to sabotage the Tea Party and chase them from the party. I don't think that would happen, but the chaos makes it possible that someone like Bernie Sanders could win the White House, if he nabs the Democratic nomination.

Netanyahu has his facts scrambled, but he's not wrong!

Netanyahu: Bad history but good sociology?
I have had it up to my eyeteeth with bleeding heart critiques of Israel. The latest is the brouhaha about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stupid remark that Hitler didn't want to kill Jews and that Palestinians talked him into it. Those details are simply false, but he's not incorrect that Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini supported the Holocaust. Nor is he wrong to think that prevailing Palestinian sentiment is to wipe Jews from the face of planet. Would Hamas make the kind of remark Netanyahu attributed to al-Husseini? It does—every day. It also does more than advocate the extermination of Jews.

Is there no accountability whatsoever for Muslim anti-Semitism? Look, folks, it's this simple: there will no peace in the Middle East until Israel's right to exist is affirmed. None. Nada. Zilch. Nor will there be any substantive movement on land for peace, relaxing border security, or dismantling West Bank settlements.

Where's the outrage over Palestinian terrorism? As long as that continues, there will be more deaths, such as that of Ahmad Manasra. Shouldn't we ask how a 13-year-old became so hateful? Or why the troops who shot him did so without hesitation? Don't tell me that 13-year-old Mansara developed a sophisticated political analysis involving the use of guerilla tactics against occupiers, or that the Israeli soldiers are born killers.

Anti-Semitism breeds violence–on both sides. It creates patterns in which intemperate individuals sacrifice human dignity and their children rather than making peace. Netanyahu is the angriest Israeli prime minister since Ariel Sharon, but he's right about the intentions of anti-Semites. Nor is he inherently more evil than Hamas head Khaled Marshal, who is the de facto head of Palestine, not that empty suit President Mahmoud Abbas. (Of what is he president, actually? There is no such nation as Palestine and you can kiss that goodbye too until anti-Semitism abates.) Until Muslims can embrace Jews (and Christians as well) as brothers and sisters in faith rather than infidels, Netanyahu's remarks stand as bad history but good sociology.

Is the United Nations a noble failure?

Time for condo conversion?
It would seem so. Related to my remarks on Netanyahu, anyone who has followed the U.N. lately will have observed that it's little more than a bully pulpit for denouncing both Israel and the United States. Both have their share of things for which they should answer, but it's not commensurate with the amount of vitriol spent.

More to the point, there's simply no way the United States gets $500 million worth of dues value from the United Nations. How did the U.N. help Rwanda? What has it done to resolve kidnapping in Nigeria? What good has it done for Ukraine? Why has it made so much noise over Assad in Syria and so little over ISIS? When was the last time anyone other than the U.S. called attention to the plight of Muslim women?

I'd not like to see the US abandon UN international development, health, and human rights programs, nor do I support the recent suspension of UNESCO payments. We might, however, have to admit that as a peacekeeping organization it's not any better than the post-World War One League of Nations. I'd not mind seeing a huge chunk of US annual dues yanked away and diverted to anti-poverty programs inside the United States.   

Hooray for Germany!

Its decision to dismantle nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable energy sources is, simply, the moral thing to do. It might hurt in the economic short-term, but it will pay huge environmental and economic dividends in the future.      

Check out the new National Geographic. The cover is of earth from outer space. Emblazoned across the photo is a poignant message: "Cool it." We need many more Germanys. We need to say no to the nonsense of "clean coal." We also need non-transferable carbon taxes, mandated mileage increases, and a raft of other immediate reforms. Now.

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