Friday, April 5, 2019

Elizabeth Warren is Wrong About the Electoral College

“Voting is the only way to make change in a democracy.” 
-Christine Todd Whitman

I was mad when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore to become President, despite getting less votes. I was in my twenties and viewed life simplistically, in terms of outcomes I liked or disliked. At the time I did not care to understand why we needed an Electoral College which in my mind clearly suppressed the will of the majority and prevented the right outcome.

In 2016 Mr. Trump again won the presidency despite getting fewer votes than Mrs. Clinton. Her margin was five times greater than Mr. Gore’s had been over Mr. Bush. However, now I am in my forties and the intervening years have instilled wisdom and maturity that was missing before. I am not a supporter of Mr. Trump’s, but instead of questioning the outcome simply because I did not like it and crying foul about the Electoral College, I decided to try and understand why our founding fathers had incorporated this seemingly unfair mechanism into our election process.

The simplest way to explain what I have come to understand is as follows. Imagine a family of five that has two sons and a daughter. This family aspires to have a democratic process within the household and allows the kids to vote for family outings, movies and vacations with the majority vote determining the outcome; all good so far.

However if we look beyond the simple vote tally we will notice that the boys, being closer in age and interests, always gang-up against the sister and vote together. As a result the little girl never gets to have her activities picked because she is always in the minority. This no longer feels like a fair system.

In our example the parents now serve as the Electoral College. They are an added layer in this family’s democratic process, not because they control purse strings, but in order to maintain fairness in the voting. Their role is to ensure that the minority voice is heard and has the ability to affect outcomes. Without this parental check our little girl would never have her voice heard.

Senator Warren recently called for the abolishment of the Electoral College. Interestingly, she said “I believe we need a constitutional amendment that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and makes sure that vote gets counted…” Understandably, this idea is popular among Democrats who feel they were cheated in 2000 and again in 2016. However, if we look beyond simplistic vote totals it becomes clear, like with our family, why we need the Electoral College to ensure that every vote actually counts.

Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2.8 million votes but the majority of these votes came from one state; California. If we eliminate California from her vote total she loses the national popular vote to Mr. Trump. This means that if we get rid of the Electoral College, the most populous states would always determine the outcome. Conveniently, the populous states happen to be coastal states with dense urban populations which are liberal and reliably blue. If this transpires then the votes from Red states across the rural heartland, which have small populations, would no longer matter. How does this help every vote count?”

Eliminating the Electoral College would also ensure that candidates no longer needed to waste money or time campaigning beyond two or three states with large population centers. Mrs. Clinton was criticised by her husband and President Obama for not spending enough time in the rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. She assumed that she had votes locked down in these blue wall states and along with her guaranteed coastal majority, she had an automatic path to the White House. 

We now know that the reliable blue working class voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were feeling so neglected by the Democratic Party, that this small minority banded together to swing the election in favour of Mr. Trump. That is exactly what the Electoral College was designed to do - give the minority a voice. 

Had Mrs. Clinton bothered to campaign there she might have picked up on the depth of their disenfranchisement. She could have broadened her message to appeal to the 8.4 million voters frustrated enough with Washington elites to hold their nose and vote for Mr. Trump. These were people who voted for Mr. Obama, many of them twice, before breaking for Mr. Trump in 2016.

I did not like the outcome of the 2016 election, nor do I agree with the reason people felt they needed to vote for Mr. Trump, but I refuse to get rid of a check simply because I am unhappy with the outcome. As someone who values fairness and integrity above all else, I understand why we need the Electoral College. At a time when we see deep political and ideological divisions across our country, it is one way to ensure that every candidate running for President is forced to appeal to a broader national coalition and cannot get away with lazily appealing to voters in a few large states.

The irony is that, while Mrs. Warren is suggesting we eliminate the Electoral College, she is also championing the breakup of big tech companies. Her argument goes that monopolies are harmful for society because human beings are fallible and power concentrated in a few hands inevitably leads to corruption, selfishness and greed. Yet, in the same breath she wants to remove the most important check in our electoral system, one designed to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

Liberals claim to fight for the rights of minorities and to get these voices is heard. By removing the Electoral College they will be taking away the most important right for minority populations across America - to make their votes count. I am not suggesting that the Electoral College has no flaws or that it must not be updated, but such recommendations must come from an independent commission of scholars and professors and not partisan politicians. What is clear is that by simply eliminating the Electoral College we will create a less fair and representative democracy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jussie Smollett and the Righteous Race to Judgement




“Trust, But Verify.” 
-Russian Proverb

I first learned about the attack on Jussie Smollett when the news was blowing up on social media. My immediate reaction was one of horror and sympathy. However, once I began to read about the details of the attack, my antennae went up.

Mr. Smollett is a black man who is gay, and that made him the perfect target. His claim that the attackers put a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him powerfully re-enforced the victimization narrative on the left. The fact that his attackers also proclaimed proudly “this is MAGA country” seemed to leave no room for doubt in the minds of the left, in terms of the presumption of guilt.

Journalists and celebrities immediately seized on the attack as vindication of the fact that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for another reprehensible attack. Politicians, who are supposed to keep their heads when all of us are losing ours, also rushed to judgement. Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, who were preparing for a Senate vote on a bi-partisan anti-lynching bill, used the attack as proof of “modern-day lynching”.

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted that The racist, homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is an affront to our humanity and Adam Schiff, the head of the House’s investigative panel tweeted that he had personally met with Jussie Smollett and had “…seen the passion and moral clarity of his activism first hand”. Both have since deleted their tweets.

I am not suggesting that I knew that Mr. Smollett was lying; I had not even considered the possibility. The problem for me was that the whole thing felt perfect, almost scripted to fit the narrative on the left about Trump and anyone who voted for him; and that bothered me.

In addition, I also thought it best to reserve judgement on the heels of the media’s recently botched Covington Catholic School student’s story. That was another case of a dangerous rush to judgement before the full facts were apparent. We now know that the boys, who were summarily branded racist Trump supporters by the mainstream media, have been fully vindicated. The Washington Post noted that an independent investigation into the incident revealed “no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students.”  

It turns out the Native American man, who claimed to be the victim of the boys’ racist taunts, lied about it, and the offensive and racist chants came from a group calling themselves the black Hebrew Israelites. It would seem that the boys’ only crime was wearing MAGA hats.

Yet, here we were again with media, politicians and celebrities presuming innocence and blindly attributing guilt before the police had even launched their investigation. More worryingly, even after Mr. Smollett refused to hand over his cellphone to the police, the conviction of many was not shaken. It would seem these people were not interested in the facts, so confident in the belief that a gay man, a man of colour, a liberal would never lie, leave alone do anything as heinous as fake the whole crime.

We live in an age where social media encourages a constant rush to judgement, on both the left and the right. We seek refuge in events that fit a pre-determined narrative and we side only with those who confirm our biases, while rejecting outright any facts that challenge them. This ensures a loss of integrity and fair-mindedness in our debates. Further, there is a growing trend, on both sides, to gauge “truth” based not on hard facts but on political beliefs, sex or colour of skin.

What is even more troubling is that there is a nonsensical belief among many on the left that anyone who did not vote for Trump has some claim to moral superiority, and is a better human being. For example many on the left accept as gospel that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, and Clinton voters are not. If that is true, then how do we explain the fact that over 8 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 chose Trump in 2016? Or an IPSOS/Reuters poll from 2016 that found nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described black people as more “violent” and “criminal” than whites; this is not an insignificant number. A more recent study done by Yale University also found that Democrats and white liberals have a tendency to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, while there was no statistical significance when it came to Republicans.

The fact is that no group has any moral or ethical superiority over another based on religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or skin colour. If this were true, we would still have faith in the Catholic Church and Bill Cosby would be ‘America’s Dad’. It is true that minorities have suffered disproportionately more discrimination than their white counterparts in this country, but none of this changes the fact that we still need to judge every person based on his or her actions, and the punishment must fit the crime. There is a good reason why justice is meant to be blind.

Indian, Jewish, White, Muslim, Black or Asian husbands are all equally likely to cheat on their wives or beat them. Similarly, it is ludicrous to suggest that liberal women cheat more often than conservative women, or suggest that gay men cheat less than straight men. People are people and all human beings have the same propensity for good and bad within them - it depends entirely on the individual; as an Indian social activist who spent his life championing minority rights eloquently said “no community has a monopoly over virtue or vice”.

As long as we fail to see the faults in the people we love, or to acknowledge the virtues in those we profess to hate and continue to apply different standards to both for the same actions, we will only serve to propagate bigotry and division. If we truly want an equal society, then the question we all need to answer is “do we want to live in a country that judges everyone based on the content of their character, or the colour of their skin?”

 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Howard Schultz, The Democratic Party and The Future of Liberalism

Howard Schultz on 60 Minutes (Image: CBS)


“Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.” 
-Dwight D. Eisenhower

Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, appeared on CBS 60 minutes recently and declared that he was considering running for President of United States of America, as an independent. The rebuke from the left was swift, predictable and harsh.

The New York Times ran an opinion piece calling Mr. Schultz irresponsible and self-centered. Vice wrote that whilst he was not the first billionaire to run for President, he was “the most disconnected from reality.”  There were also public threats to boycott Starbucks.

The boycott threat was led by Neera Tandon, a longtime Clinton acolyte, who served as Mrs. Clinton’s policy director for her first failed presidential bid. The justice editor of a left-leaning publication, Think Progress, said that if Mr. Schultz runs, the Democratic National Committee and "major unions" and "major presidential campaigns" should "all use their email lists to promote a Starbucks boycott until he drops out."  Sadly, boycott calls have become a standard bullying tactic the left uses whenever someone does or says something they disagree with.

I was disappointed because this pushback confirmed that liberals no longer believe they have a persuasive argument or that they can win people with ideas. Instead, much like Mr. Trump they resort to bullying and browbeating anyone who dare challenge or expose this truth.

Democrats fear Mr. Schultz will split the anti-Trump vote and hand Mr. Trump a second term. This is a valid concern. However, what Democrats fail to understand is that there is a deeper malaise within liberalism that needs to be addressed, and it has nothing to do with Mr. Trump.

Liberals have long refused to acknowledge that the Trumps, Modis and Bolsanaros did not win - liberalism lost. 

Over the last fifty plus years liberalism grew complacent and ignored the growing economic inequality and social divides prevalent in every democracy. Liberals forgot that democracies, like gardens, are fragile and need constant tending. As a result, what remains today is a vapid shell of liberalism; one that stands for nothing but is against everything. It is defensive, cowardly and quick to chastise everyone, but offers no alternate vision.

Our problems are deep, messy, and have been building over generations; there are no “big ideas” or quick and easy solutions, it will take more than one generation to fix them. However, unless we start to have the prickly, honest conversations and dig into inconvenient and uncomfortable issues, we will continue to create room for extremists and false prophets, on the right and left, who will gladly fill these voids with superficial, dangerous and divisive solutions. 

I don’t want to defeat Trump; I want to address the root causes that enable people like him to win power in the first place. And the only way to do this is by offering a bold new vision for liberalism. One that is rooted in humility, civility, compassion and recognition that nobody has the answers. We will need to work together, across the political spectrum, to solve our deepest and most intractable problems.

There is already a grave danger that the continued and increasing lack of unity and disarray within the Democratic Party will likely result in Mr. Trump's winning a second term. A party that might field twenty-five to fifty plus candidates stands for nothing and will never offer a compelling vision. They will be too busy infighting and their candidates will need to resort to being outrageous or to positing extremist views, simply to stand out in a crowded field. 

The continued framing of issues with race and gender politics have also come home to roost for Democrats. We now know that Mrs. Warren identified herself As ‘American Indian’ on her Texas Bar Registration, and in Virginia the party is in full self-destruct mode. The Governor and Attorney General, both white men, admitted to wearing blackface, and the lieutenant governor, a black man, has been accused of multiple sexual assaults. The New York Times described this mess “unfolding at the intersection of race and gender, and risks pitting the party’s most pivotal constituencies against one another.”

I have sounded the alarm bells before. More than six months before the 2016 election, it became clear to me that Mrs. Clinton’s tone-deaf campaign and Democrat’s lack of cohesive message and vision was going to allow Mr. Trump an unlikely path to victory. I wrote to her campaign begging her to drop out, suggesting that if she loved this country she would let someone else run. 

Today, I am convinced Democrats are lulling themselves into the same false sense of security that Mrs. Clinton did, because they are once again unable to see past the President’s low poll numbers, historic unpopularity and the large number of investigations into his business and political activities. It is naïve and dangerous to think that any of this will translate into electoral support for Democrats from independents and anti-Trump conservatives. Especially not when they are running around championing socialism as the answer to all our problems.

The fact is that the majority of independents and anti-Trump conservatives I know find themselves without a party, and Democrats have shown zero interest in courting these voters. So I am convinced that the threat of an independent, centrist candidate is the wake-up call needed to ensure Democrats do not hand Mr. Trump his second term on a platter; like they did his first.

I admit my logic might seem counter-intuitive to some, but there is one thing I have learned about human nature; people do no act in their self-interest until there is an imminent threat. Consider that most young people do not spend money on health insurance simply because they have fewer ailments and feel healthier than older folks. By the same token most people do not buy renters insurance until they experience a pipe burst, a burglary or some other catastrophe.

I believe Mr. Schultz has integrity and would make a great President. I see in him a humility that is completely missing in our political class. If the politicians attacking him did a little research, they would find that while they have been busy making grandiose promises, Mr. Schultz was implementing solutions. Starbucks provides quality healthcare and college tuition for all of their employees and is also working to employ thousands of veterans, youth and refugees

Mr. Schultz’s candidacy will also compel the party to have a real debate, not superficial ones. It will force them to clearly articulate what liberalism stands for in the 21st century. They will need to present a unified platform and message derived from assembling the most viable ideas from different factions within the party; rather than have them compete. 

Also, they will not be able to placate a subset of their base with a populist or extreme agenda, and will need to appeal to the broader electorate. The threat of Mr. Schultz splitting the vote will ensure they can no longer sidestep this debate.

Mr. Shultz will challenge them with his ideas (we are yet to hear them) - good, bad and sometimes half-baked - and will force them to stake coherent positions on messy and uncomfortable issues. I have no idea what Democrat's position on immigration is. They will be forced to offer solutions versus platitudes about equality or utopian dreams of quality healthcare, universal income and college for all. 

To take on and defeat Mr. Schultz they will need to rally around a few nationally viable candidates, deliver a unified message and will not be able to get away with simply vilifying Mr. Trump or following him into the gutter. They will be forced to address all that is broken with liberalism, our political process and craft a new vision that has appeal for ALL Americans, not just for specific groups.

Democrats are acutely aware of this and that is why they are running scared of Mr. Schultz. 

It is interesting that the people attacking him most vehemently are people from the party that lost to Mr. Trump. The media pundits claiming that there is no path to victory for an independent candidate are also the same ones who assured us that Mrs. Clinton was going to win. 

America’s founding fathers didn’t want political parties as they feared factionalism. The two-party system today is their worst nightmare. Perhaps, the time has come to break the duopoly, partisan bickering and constant gridlock that do nothing to serve the people. 

Mr. Trump lacks integrity, maturity and the temperament to lead, but to defeat the forces of Trumpism, Democrats must beat him at the ballot box with their ideas, not with more extremism or threats of impeachment. 

There is no question that there are short-term risks of an independent candidate running, but the long-term cost of not starting this debate, combined with the Democrats dangerously erroneous path, will be much more harmful for liberalism and for democracy.