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Enjoy the show

Reader advisory: This is a weekend political reflections post. You do not have to read it or agree with it, though you are welcome to comment on it. If my political observations irk you, please feel free to look instead at Jan Freeman’s excellent Boston Globe column on the mutating phrase work from home and the history of the preposition from.


No one would have taken greater joy in the tea party phenomenon than Henry Mencken, who reflexively distrusted all True Believers but found their antics hugely amusing. I myself am happily awaiting the discovery, already beginning to dawn in Washington, that campaigning is comparatively easy but governance is hard.

The squirming of the Republican leadership in Congress, as they attempt to rein in the more extreme and crackpot measures advocated by the tea partiers without alienating their votes should be exquisite to view.

I commented some years back about the distorted perception fostered by the red state/blue state maps and consequent chatter. Those broadcast electoral graphics, with the winner-take-all-colors for each state give the unbalanced sense of majority that the Founders designed the Electoral College to produce.

But if you think about it, New York City alone has more voters that several heartland states combined. Further, if you break down the red-state/blue-state vote according to the proportions in each state, you find much sharper divisions. The United States is basically a moderate to moderately conservative polity, veering one way or the other, as recent elections have shown.

The Democrats made the mistake after 2008 of thinking that Barack Obama was another Franklin Roosevelt with a fundamental realignment of the political balance. (Never mind that Obama is no FDR—and neither was the actual FDR, who tacked to the left and right as the political winds blew.)

Now the Republicans who cant about their mandate in the recent election are poised for the same mistake.

Take the grandstanding about the budget deficit. You can make public radio go out to beg for quarters on street corners—hell, it’s already doing that—but the bulk of federal spending goes to Social Security, Medicare, and the military, each with large constituencies that tend to scream loudly when touched.

Or take the cant about constitutional government. We already have constitutional government, and the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means through more than two centuries of case law. The Constitution does not say explicitly that the Supreme Court can rule laws unconstitutional, but the court does that because John Marshall outfoxed Thomas Jefferson in Marbury v. Madison. I doubt that even the great Originalist Mr. Justice Scalia is prepared to abandon judicial review.*

My own advice for the coming months: Pour a brimming beaker of the adult beverage of your choice and sit back in a comfortable chair. The carnival has come to town.


*I believe that a respectable argument can me made that Original Intent today is essentially the same mechanism that the Nine Old Men of the New Deal era used to thwart liberal or progressive legislation with which they disagreed.



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:22 PM | | Comments (4)


I'd like to second Erin McKean's endorsement of the neologism wackaloon. It's bound to come in handy.


The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn't be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

In the 2012 election, pundits and campaign operatives already agree that only 14 states and their voters will matter under the current winner-take-all laws (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in each state) used by 48 of the 50 states. Candidates will not care about 72% of the voters-- voters in 19 of the 22 lowest population and medium-small states, and big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. 2012 campaigning would be even more obscenely exclusive than 2008 and 2004. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action, without federal constitutional amendments.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO-- 68%, IA --75%, MI-- 73%, MO-- 70%, NH-- 69%, NV-- 72%, NM-- 76%, NC-- 74%, OH-- 70%, PA -- 78%, VA -- 74%, and WI -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE --75%, ME -- 77%, NE -- 74%, NH --69%, NV -- 72%, NM -- 76%, RI -- 74%, VT -- 75%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and border states: AR --80%, KY -- 80%, MS --77%, MO -- 70%, NC -- 74%, and VA -- 74%; and in other states polled: CA -- 70%, CT -- 74% , MA -- 73%, MN – 75%, NY -- 79%, WA -- 77%, and WV- 81%.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 74 electoral votes — 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

I'm surprised you've received only two comments so far, John. That is bound to change. I firmly belive that the anonymity that the Internet affords is more to blame for the incivility in political discourse than any red state/blue state division. Millions of these folks, myself perhaps included, wouldn't be as apt to rant in public they had to sign their real names.

Personally, I think the red state/blue state thing, besides being a completely arbitrary color choice and therefore meaningless, is ill-suited to describe people's true political leanings. Not everything in life is either/or. I do realize that's easier for some people to digest. Try, folks, and see where you fall.

I agree that "not everything in life is either/or." The red state/blue state concept brings to mind an exam question my son encountered several years ago while in elementary school. They were doing a lesson plan on the French and Indian War. They had to pick one emotion that described the reaction of American colonists to the French leaving North America (happy, sad, angry, etc.). That's right, just one. It didn't allow for the possibility of mixed emotions, or the fact that a colonist in Georgia likely had a different take on the situation than someone in Pennsylvania or Vermont.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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