Before I die….
By Patrick F. Cannon
My darling wife hates it when I say something like: “before I die, I’d like to see Berlin, or travel to Amsterdam to see the Rembrandts…” or any number of travel destinations on my wish list (for the record, I did just that a couple of months ago). Hates it, I suppose, because I’m in my 70s and “before I die” seems a bit more ominous at my age.
Even though I might be careful not to say “before I die” aloud to my wife, my health is good enough that I have some expectation of actually accomplishing some of the items on my wish list. For example, a few years ago I also saw Las Meninas, the great 16th century painting of the Spanish royal family by Diego Velázquez at the Prado in Madrid. Strike another one from the list. I’ve also seen the Bears win the Super Bowl, but the memory is fading. And, to be honest, I haven’t seen the dawn come up like thunder outer China ‘cross the bay.
I am not as sanguine about two of the items on my wish list, but of course we must live in hope. They are:
*Direct election of the president, and
*Eliminating gerrymandered voting districts at all levels.
I have been voting in presidential elections since 1960, always in Illinois, although I’ve lived for short periods in other states and countries. I’ve voted both for winners and losers. I voted for President Obama in 2008, so I picked a winner, but if I had wanted to vote for John McCain, it would have been meaningless, because my vote would have had little effect in a state that would inevitably be counted in the president’s column when the appalling Electoral College met to cast their votes.
Appalling because it disenfranchises me. I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. But, as we know, Al Gore actually received more votes and, in my way of thinking, should have been president. I could have lived with that, because it would have been fair, just as it (mostly!) is in every other election we participate in.
The only feasible way this can change is with a constitutional amendment (although I understand that some people believe it can be done on a state by state basis). Why, since fairness demands it, haven’t we had one? The answer is obvious – the political parties don’t want to change the status quo; they don’t want to be forced to fight for every vote, no matter whether it’s in Democratic Illinois or Republican Utah. Did you notice the dearth of ads for the 2012 presidential race in Illinois? What if the 40 percent of the votes that went to Romney would actually count? Ads would flood the airwaves (admittedly a dubious pleasure). Don’t you want your vote to count, whether you’re a Republican in Illinois or a Democrat in Utah?
And isn’t it time to put a stop to the racial politics that has raised gerrymandering to a high art? Why should an African-American only feel comfortable when he or she can vote for another African-American? Ditto Hispanics. Or white folks, for that matter. If we had computer-generated contiguous voting districts of roughly equal population, then candidates would be forced to seek votes and support from whoever ended up in their district. I might well end up in a district evenly split between white, black and Hispanic voters.
What in God’s name is actually wrong with that? The concept that we have to arrange voting districts to cater to voting blocs, thus ensuring that “one man, one vote” is some kind of alternative reality, is both absurd and insulting to all voters.
Again, politicians like to arrange voting districts to suit themselves. In Illinois, after the 2010 Census, the Democrats blatantly redistricted to insure safe seats for as many of their brethren as possible (alas, the Republicans likely would have done the same if they had been in the majority). Predictably, the cowardly Federal courts refused to even look at this outrage.
My congressional district has been designed so that only a Democrat can win. If there’s a Republican even on the ballot, I don’t remember hearing about it. Is this “one man, one vote?” And I won’t even talk about my lack of choice at the state level. In Illinois, a fellow named Mike Madigan has taken care of that too.
So, here are two obvious failures in our system that can only be remedied with constitutional amendments. Who will take up the cudgels? It won’t be the politicians. How about our great newspapers? How about the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune? Aren’t they meant to serve the public interest? And mine? “Before I die,” I mean.
Copyright, 2015, by Patrick F. Cannon (who retains his optimism despite all evidence to the contrary)
8 thoughts on “BeforeI Die”
Maybe you should say “Bucket List” instead of before I die. Who ever said life was “fair” I try really hard not to use that word. As for the politics they are what they are and it doesn’t matter if it’s congress, state legislatures, or associations of any kind. There will always be those who think they are better than anyone else who like to bully and bluster, yell and scream and unfortunately those are the ones that will win because that’s the way it is. It all goes back to your first post – common sense – it doesn’t exist anymore. I feel sorry for the kids I would hate to be in their world in 40 years. Personally the sooner I move on the happier I’ll be.
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Thanks, Judy. Actually, we don’t have a clue what life will be like in 40 years. In the last 40, believe it or not, the lot for most people in the world has improved.
Well that may be a matter of opinion. Technology has definitely improved and keeps getting better. On the other hand what about 9/11, or kids with guns, mass shootings in schools, in movie theaters in my back yard yesterday. I don’t see that getting better only worse. And I don’t want to be here for that.
The fact is that more people in the world are doing better than ever before. Do you really believe that our current problems compare to 50 million people losing their lives in WW2?
I prefer to live now, with all of our problems.
One of the great misconceptions in American politics is people vote for a president in presidential elections.
They do not.
According to the requirements of the 12th Amendment, voters in each state vote for the respective number of electors allocated to that state.
In total there are 538 electors, one for each member of the House of Representatives for each state plus two for the senators from that state. In addition, the District of Columbia gets three electors.
The process of the Electoral College developed as a compromise between a direct popular vote and a vote by the members of Congress. This process was designed to allow some independence of the president from the Congress, but also to generally insulate the election process from political manipulation. It also gave less populous states additional leverage by providing two senatorial electors.
The states basically determine how electors are chosen. Most states have winner-takes-all but some (Maine, Nebraska) do it proportionately.
Al Gore may have felt he was unfairly denied the chance to be president based on his popular vote. But such cases need to be determined on the basis of constitutional law, not a judge’s or someone else’s concept of fairness.
A Republican vote for president in Illinois, for example, may be viewed as a waste of time, but one sometimes does vote in the minority. A vote for electors in a state has more validity than would a vote in a national election, particularly in less populous areas.
So the advantages of the Electoral College are:
• It minimizes the tyranny of the majority in a national popular vote (I shudder to think of the political mischief that would be unleashed upon us by such a system);
• It helps preserve state sovereignty;
• It decentralizes the election of the president; and
• It gives voters in less populous areas a voice and greater representation in the election.
It’s bad enough as it is we have a president who circumvents the law while claiming to have a popular mandate. With a national popular vote our presidential elections would become even more of an American Idol affair than they are already.
Well argued, but I don’t agree. For the reasons stated.
I agree with your view on gerrymandering. It’s something one would expect to see in South Africa under apartheid.
Repeal of the 12th amendment will never happen before either of us greets the great beyond, though there is a movement (National Popular Vote) attempting to by-pass the amendment by having states sign contracts to award their state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote (Illinois, California and New York, and six other states, have already signed on). Can you imagine the chagrin of Democratic voters in California upon learning that their votes had been awarded to a Republican candidate (as would have occurred in 2004)?
My other concern would be that candidates campaigning for a national popular vote would still focus their efforts almost exclusively on big cities and major population centers, in effect “disenfranchising” citizens in low population areas. They do this currently to a good extent (we don’t see too many presidential candidates down here in Mayberry), but at least now they have to drag themselves to places like Iowa, NH, and South Carolina to plead their cases and can’t risk taking even smaller states for granted.
The other snag you face is each state has a different election code that covers everything from hours polls are open to early voting to voter registration to felony voting. Lawyers are already licking their chops at the prospect of filing suit for unfair treatment because of variations in these laws in the event a close national election doesn’t go according to someone’s liking. The hanging chad debacle in Florida would be as nothing in comparison. At least that disaster was confined to Florida!
I love to visit California, New York, and Illinois, but I’d hate to see those states’ political systems be adopted for the entire country!
I think we have always been torn between states rights and the logic of centralized control over certain matters. Voting is just one issue. My feeling is that there should be uniformity in national elections, but it’s a vain hope.