Thursday, October 27, 2022

The McMullin agenda

 There are a number of truths in American politics. One of these is that neither party is popular. A second and corollary to the first truth is that a lot of Americans want other options aside from the duopoly. A third truth is that third parties almost never win.

It’s difficult to understand how all of these facts could be true at the same time, yet they are. Despite the facts that both parties are underwater on their approval ratings and that about two-thirds of Americans want a third option, third parties continue to garner little support from the voters.

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Credit: New America

It’s not hard to understand why. One of the most successful alternative parties, the Libertarian Party, seems to have worked hard to earn a reputation for being more insane than the two major parties. Despite this, the Libertarian Party claims that it has more than 300 members serving as elected officials around the country, mostly Ron Swansons serving in local government.

When it comes to state and local elections, Libertarians are spoilers. I’ve voted Libertarian, mostly as a protest vote when I didn’t like either candidate. I considered voting Libertarian in the Georgia Senate race this year but ultimately decided to cast my ballot against Herschel Walker and for Raphael Warnock since Georgia requires a 50 percent majority to be declared the winner. I didn’t want to see a runoff and in recent months the national Libertarian Party has become so toxic that I don’t even want to give them a protest vote.

That’s the essential conundrum of the millions of Americans who don’t want to vote for either party but also don’t want to see their least-favorite candidate win because they didn’t vote for their second-least-favorite. It can be a difficult choice and usually, the answer is to pick one of the big two. This is especially true if the voter is not politically attuned enough to be aware of third parties.

Beyond that, the structure of the American system favors a binary choice. Unlike parliamentary systems, in which parties get awarded seats based on their share of the vote, in American elections there is a winner and loser(s) for each specific seat.

Ranked-choice voting is one way of getting around this tendency to retreat to the duopoly, even if you don’t like either of them. Some states and jurisdictions are experimenting with ballot systems that have voters list their top preferences for the office. Instead of voting for one candidate, you rank them with your top choice first.

The benefit to ranked-choice voting is that you can list a third-party candidate first, but if that candidate doesn’t win, you can list a candidate from one of the two major parties as a second choice. You won’t be “throwing your vote away” by voting for a third party.

There are several cons as well. It can be complex and difficult for voters used to picking only one candidate to understand. The changes require legislative action and, in some cases, constitutional amendments. And, of course, most members of the big two parties don’t like anything that threatens their turf.

An independent candidate in Utah may have stumbled upon a better way.

You may remember Evan McMullin from 2016. The former Republican ran an independent campaign for conservatives of conscience who objected to Donald Trump. McMullin broke records for write-in votes in 14 states but failed to win any electoral votes. He ultimately received 732,409 votes, 0.53 percent of the popular vote total. For purposes of full disclosure, I’ll state here that I supported McMullin in 2016.

Now McMullin is back. This time he’s running an independent campaign for Mike Lee’s Senate seat in Utah.

Mike Lee used to be one of the senators that I respected. Like most of the other Republicans that I used to admire, the Trump years were not kind to Mike Lee. I won’t delve too deeply into Lee’s conduct over the past six years, suffice it to say that the purported constitutionalist failed to find much to object to in Trump’s actions. The Utah senator sank to a low point in the 2020 post-election when his own texts indicate that he tried to help Donald Trump overturn the election results. Even though Lee undoubtedly knew that Trump had lost the election, the senator advocated a strategy of states choosing alternate slates of electors to change the outcome.

Anyone who tried to help Trump steal the election should be rejected for future office because they simply can’t be trusted to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution. These people either lack the intelligence to discern Trump’s lies or they lack the integrity to stand up for reality. There is no middle ground. For someone like Lee, who claims to be a constitutionalist, the transgression is unforgivable.

Enter Evan McMullin.

The maverick conservative mounted a Quixotic campaign to unseat Lee. He wasn’t given a chance of winning, but then a strange thing happened. Democrats made a smart strategic move in deciding not to field their own candidate, who would not have a prayer of winning in deep-red Utah. Instead, the Democrats threw their support behind McMullin’s insurgent campaign.

If Mike Lee was a popular senator, this would not be a problem. Lee won re-election with 68 percent of the vote in 2016. This year, he’s polling at less than 50 percent. Lee’s support for Trump has obviously hurt his standing with his constituents.

In his debate with McMullin, Lee said, “I stood against my party time and time again to oppose reckless spending. I will do it again and again and again. We need people who say no.”

That’s true. But at one of the most important points of his career, Lee tried to say yes to the wrong question. There is no reason to believe that he wouldn’t do it again.

Now, I’m not saying McMullin is going to win, but he does have a chance. Current polling gives Mike Lee the edge, but the polls are all over the place. One thing that seems certain is that the race is tighter than anyone had assumed.

Major parties have backed third-party candidates as spoilers in the past, but this is different. Rather than running their own candidate and attempting to have McMullin siphon votes from Lee, the Democrats are throwing their support to McMullin and attempting to actually have him win. McMullin is performing better in Utah than any Democrat could hope to because he’s a conservative running in a conservative state.

Whether Lee wins or not, his campaign does provide a model for how to challenge incumbents in safe seats. Rather than nominating a partisan firebrand, the opposition party could back an independent or third-party candidate who is closer to the majority ideology of the state or precinct.

Or they could take it a step further. The parties could recruit moderate candidates who would be more competitive in deep red or blue areas. A progressive is unlikely to win in Alabama and a staunch conservative is at a disadvantage in New York. However, a blue-dog Democrat or a moderate Republican would stand a better chance, particularly against weak, partisan candidates.

There was a time when conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans walked the earth. Resurrecting these species could allow Republicans to be competitive in places like California and Democrats could mount a serious campaign in Texas. If all that matters is the letter after the name - and that seems to be the case for both sides - then allow some ideological diversity within the party.

Just imagine! Maybe the parties will look at McMullin and realize that the way to compete in a state where they are a minority is not to field a rabid partisan but to find a candidate who can compete with the state’s majority on its own terms.

The key is that primary voters have to make the change. Either that or we have to change the primary system. Right now, the primary system rewards fringe candidates, but these candidates all-too-often don’t excite independent and moderate voters.

In mathematical terms, winning elections is simple, you subtract voters from the other side and add them to your own. That’s a lot easier to do if you don’t have a candidate that alienates a large number of voters from the start.

Maybe, if we are very lucky, picking moderate candidates will have a moderating influence on the parties. If the parties start nominating centrists and they start winning, it could change the political landscape.

Nah. That’s too much to hope for, but if Evan McMullin can unseat the hypocritical Mike Lee, it would be a good start.

IRAN PROTESTS: We haven’t covered the Iranian protests, but I just want to say that I have a lot of sympathy for the protesters, who are putting their lives on the line. The Iranian regime is not known for its gentle nature.

The moment is all the more ironic because the Iranians are taking an active role in the Ukraine war, supplying Russia with kamikaze drones and has apparently even sent troops to Ukraine to help with the drone operations.

It’s too early to say how the uprising in Iran will end, but these brave people are standing up to their repressive government and we should help where possible.

PENN DEBATE: I didn’t watch last night’s debate between Dr. Oz and John Fetterman, but I do think it’s a legitimate concern as to whether Fetterman can perform the duties of a senator after a stroke. The big question is whether his problems are cognitive or whether it is merely a matter of communication.

The irony - or hypocrisy - of both parties is on display here. Republicans are touting Walker despite his obvious lack of qualifications and his mental health problems while the Democrats favor Fetterman despite his own limitations. They’re both hypocrites. All that matters to them is the letter after the name.

I’m glad I don’t have to make a choice in the Pennsylvania election because both candidates are bad, albeit in different ways. I don’t have to make a choice and I’m not going to.

From the Racket

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Herschel Walker and the Idiocracy

A while back, several of my online friends recommended the 2006 movie, “Idiocracy.” I finally watched it over the summer. It was really funny, but I can’t recommend it without reservation because it was, as my dad would say, “raunchy.” Of course, that was a big part of the movie's point.

The premise of the movie, which was written by Mike Judge, of “Beavis and Butthead” fame, and Etan Cohen, and which stars Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph, is that intelligent, responsible people delayed having children and often never had them while people who didn’t give thought to their actions and simply acted on impulse sired children in great numbers. In a low-mortality society, these children who were not well-educated did not face an evolutionary disadvantage.

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In the movie, this demographic pattern skewed the national IQ in the negative direction over a period of 500 years and drastically changed the course of the world. (This is explained in a case study here.) The chief executive in this brave new world is President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Camacho, a former professional wrestler and porn star with innumerable children.

You might wonder what this movie has to do with Herschel Walker. It isn’t the fact Herschel has four children (that we know of) by different women (in most cases at least).

My point here is that we are forming our own real-life version of the idiocracy. Herschel has no experience in government and many of his soundbites and videos suggest that he does not understand the issues at hand. What’s more, he has a history of mental illness and domestic violence. He claims to oppose abortion yet has allegedly funded the abortions of more of his own children. He has a long history of dishonesty and deception about his education, his businesses, and his family.

(Raphael Warnock has also been accused of domestic violence. His wife accused the current senator of running over her foot with a car during a domestic dispute but police found no evidence to support the claim per Politifact.)

What are Herschel Walker’s qualifications to be a senator? He has only two. One is that he’s a celebrity and the second is that he is endorsed by Donald Trump.

Actually, you can make it three qualifications because Herschel’s lack of understanding about the issues at hand is a plus for his puppet masters. Herschel will vote how he is told to vote and won’t talk back or go off on his own like Susan Collins or Mitt Romney.

The person pulling Herschel’s strings will be Donald Trump so if that’s what you want for a senator then Herschel is your man. For those of us who prefer an ideological conservative, there is no viable candidate in the Georgia Senate race. There is, however, an honest and intelligent choice. (Spoiler alert: It’s not Herschel.)

There is definitely a temptation to overlook Herschel’s personal life because he’s a Republican and will be a reliable vote on Republican policies. The problem there is that this is not your father’s Republican Party. The GOP has shifted a lot in the past few years, probably irrevocably. I would love to see the Republican Party return to its roots as a principled conservative party, but voting for Idiocracy candidates like Herschel won’t get us there.

And we are moving toward an Idiocracy. If there was ever an Idiocracy moment in American politics, it was earlier this month when Herschel pulled out an honorary badge in a debate to respond to accusations that he falsely claimed to be a police officer. Think about that. He pulled a pretend badge to argue that he didn’t falsely claim to be a police officer.

Think about what happens if Herschel wins. If Georgia votes Herschel in, it won’t be just a six-year commitment. The Republican Party establishment will be firmly in Herschel’s camp as an incumbent running for re-election. There won’t be a sane, qualified conservative opposing him. It will be yet another case of It’s The Most Important Election Ever and Herschel Must Win to Save Us from The Democrats. 

We’ll be right back where we started.

The only thing that can make the Republican establishment break with candidates these days is if the candidate speaks ill of the Republican Party. Madison Cawthorn and Liz Cheney are case studies in being abandoned by the party while Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are feted despite their buffoonery.

We know this is true because we just lived it… and we’re about to live it again. When Donald Trump won the nomination in 2016, we were urged to support him because the Democrat alternative was so bad. We did and then Trump corrupted the whole party. The Republican establishment locked out primary challengers in 2020 and Trump was anointed with the blessing of the unopposed. He will be back in 2024 and Republicans will flock to him again. Mark my words.

Yet Donald Trump is the cause of this mess. If Trump had never been elected, we wouldn’t be dealing with candidates like Herschel and Dr. Oz. We’d have stronger Republican candidates, conservatives with political experience, instead of celebrities. 

And they’d be winning.

I’d like to see a return to the strong, conservative Republican candidates of the past. As I’ve said in previous elections, however, we aren’t going to get better Republican candidates if we keep voting for the bad ones that the party nominates. It isn’t true that the worst Republican is better than the best Democrat, but that’s what the tribal leaders want you to believe.

What’s more, it’s less true now than it used to be with the MAGA faction steering Republican policy away from constitutionalism and conservatism on many fronts. While I continue to oppose the Democrats on many cultural issues, I part ways with MAGA Republicans on issues like stealing elections for Republican presidents, resistance to raising the debt ceiling, their desire to grow government for their own ends, and support for Ukraine.

When I posted these ideas online, the main theme of Herschel’s apologists was that character doesn’t really matter as long as he votes the way we want. “The end justifies the means” was never a conservative argument, and anyway, I not only believe that character matters, but I also don’t think a MAGA supporter like Herschel would vote in line with my limited government, constitutionalist beliefs. None of the pro-Herschel arguments impress me. They all boil down to tribalism.

The tribalism is so strong that it is breeding an Idiocracy of unqualified politicians. The irony is that much of the impetus for this new raunchy Idiocratic world comes from Christian voters who have been convinced that Trump and Herschel are God’s anointed despite their sordid pasts and their current tendency to tell falsehoods. For those who need a refresher, the ninth commandment means that lying is a sin.

Last week in early voting, I voted for Raphael Warnock and the status quo with the hope that Republicans can get their act together in the next six years (or in four years when Jon Ossoff faces re-election or in two years when it’s Joe Biden’s turn). Right now, I’m not optimistic.

But I’m not a Democrat either. I voted for Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger at the same time that I voted for Warnock. I foresee a lot of split-ticket voting in my future.

I was in Georgia when Herschel played football for UGA. My brother and I even got our picture made with him at one point. I’d post it, but I was a geeky kid.

Anyway, when Herschel left before finishing college to play pro ball, there were a lot of jokes, many of them racist. Here’s a clean one that I remember from that time:

Herschel had been working on a criminal justice degree, but didn’t finish. Despite not having a degree, he landed an interview with the FBI because of his celebrity status.

The interviewer wasn’t too impressed with Herschel’s knowledge of law and history and asked, “Tell me, do you know who shot Abraham Lincoln?”

Herschel replied that he didn’t, and the interviewer said, “Okay. Tell you what, you go do some research on that and when you have the answer, come back and we’ll talk.”

Later, a friend asked Herschel how the interview went and the football star replied, “Pretty good, I think. They’ve got me working on a case already.”

From the Racket