Beto

So, lots of not particularly strong thoughts on the matter, but I thought I’d share some anyone.

1) I’d really like someone with some more political experience.  Especially executive experience.  But, hey, almost everybody here is lacking executive experience, but Beto is short political experience, period.  And that matters!  There’s real skills to be an effective legislation and many of them actually come from experience working as a politician.

2) That said, of course I’m happy to support pretty much any Democrat with a solid shot of beating Trump– and that’s definitely Beto.

3a) Real tired of the “privileged white man thinks he can run for president” takes.

3b) He clearly gets people excited about politics– especially young people- -and that matters.  Part of political skills are the skills of exciting people and running an effective campaign.  Beto’s got that.  I’ve seen my students respond to him like I haven’t seen since the way they responded to Obama in 2008 (though, definitely not to the same degree).

4) He’s pretty thin on policy.  As you know, all else being equal, I strongly prefer candidates who are serious and thoughtful about policy (e.g., Warren).  But all else is not equal.  I thought this tweet from Lee Drutman was particularly interesting:

5) Following up on that, I found this Edward-Isaac Dovere take pretty interesting:

He gave no specifics on how he’d do anything he wants to do, or even exactly what that might be, in his announcement, other than a long pledge to uplift people and bring the country together, instead of tearing it part, as Trump has. Nor did he give specifics at his first event, in Iowa later in the morning and carried live on cable—he talked about health care but didn’t mention “Medicare for all” or any alternative. He was asked about the Green New Deal but talked generally about the climate as he addressed “the spirit of the question.” There are T-shirts and hats for sale online, with just his first name. It’s not up on hotels or towers anywhere, but no other Democrat running is famous enough to be quite such a brand…

Some Democrats are impressed. “You can make a strong argument that Beto is the only candidate in the race so far who has demonstrated the ability to tell a story and command media oxygen in a way that could rival Trump’s,” said one top Democratic operative, eager to discuss O’Rourke but wary of singling him out for praise…

Most of all, O’Rourke is a challenge to how Democrats go back and think about Obama. Thanks to Trump, Obama has never been more beloved by his party. He was calm, and he was collected, and not every day felt like a constant crisis. What people now remember was the guy who’d gone gray by the end of eight years, signed health-care legislation, presided over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, restored good relations with people around the world, and pushed for the Paris climate accords, all while telling dad jokes, filling out his March Madness bracket, and doing interviews with book authors.

A long time ago already, Obama became a celebrity himself, propelled to run for president mostly because of one amazing convention speech, and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize without seeming to have done all that much to earn it other than win the Electoral College and not be George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton and John McCain agreed that Obama was pitching aimless dreams, propped up by a gushing media that was obsessed with every little thing he’d do. But in the meantime, Obama built a movement, and he beat both of them, and Mitt Romney four years later even with the economy still in trouble…

Neera Tanden, the Center for American Progress president who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, worked on health-care policy for Obama, and then backed Clinton’s 2016 run, sounded out a thought on Twitter on Thursday morning as she watched the early criticism of his lack of experience unfold.

“I know another person folks could have said the precise same things about in 2007. And he turned out to be a pretty excellent president,” Tanden wrote. “They are two different people of course. And it’s a different time. But still.”

So, I won’t be donating to the Beto campaign any time soon.  But if he proves himself a strong candidate, then more power to him.  And, if not, still time for a 2020 Texas Senate race.

 

The secret history of the Electoral College

Okay, it’s no secret, it’s entirely public.  But in all my ranting against the electoral college (since I first taught Intro to American Government in 1998) I somehow never came across this history that makes me all the stronger in my opposition.

The New York Times’ Jesse Wegman is writing a book about efforts to undo the electoral college and uses the occasion of Birch Bayh’s death to look at the relevant history:

Between 1966 and 1970, Senator Bayh led a vigorous national campaign to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president by a direct popular vote.

He was far from the first to try. Our system of presidential electors — an antidemocratic relic of the late 18th century — has been targeted for reform or abolition roughly 700 times, more than any other part of the Constitution. No one has ever come as close to eliminating it as Mr. Bayh.

In a remarkable speech on May 18, 1966, Mr. Bayh said the hearings had convinced him that the Electoral College was no longer compatible with the values of American democracy, if it had ever been. The founders who created it excluded everyone other than landowning white men from voting. But virtually every development in the two centuries since — giving the vote to African-Americans and women, switching to popular elections of senators and the establishment of the one-person-one-vote principle, to name a few — had moved the country in the opposite direction.

Adopting a direct vote for president was the “logical, realistic and proper continuation of this nation’s tradition and history — a tradition of continuous expansion of the franchise and equality in voting,” he said.

He then explained how the Electoral College was continuing to harm the country. The winner-take-all method of allocating electors — used by every state at the time, and by all but two today — doesn’t simply risk putting the popular-vote loser in the White House. It also encourages candidates to concentrate their campaigns in a small number of battleground states and ignore a vast majority of Americans. It was no way to run a modern democracy… [emphases mine]

In September 1969, the House voted overwhelmingly to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a direct popular vote. President Richard Nixon got onboard, and polls of state legislatures suggested strong support throughout the country. All signs pointed to another successful amendment for Mr. Bayh and a radical change in the way Americans chose their presidents. All signs but one.

As soon as the amendment reached the Senate, it was blocked by Southern segregationists, led by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who were well aware that the Electoral College had been created to appease the slaveholding states. They were also aware that it continued to warp the nation’s politics in their favor, since millions of black voters throughout the South were effectively disenfranchised by restrictive registration and voting laws. Even those who were able to vote rarely saw their preferences reflected by a single elector. A popular vote would make their voices equal and their votes matter — and would encourage them to turn out at higher rates.

The Southerners delayed and filibustered the amendment until it died, finally, on Sept. 29, 1970. The last attempt to end the filibuster failed by five votes.

Whoa.  I had no idea that we had actually had an amendment passed in the House amid widespread public support only to see it killed (don’t get me started on the filibuster) by segregationists (read “racists”) in the Senate.  Ugh.  That is sure going to be a major part of all my future rants against the electoral college.  Imagine the alternate history of this country had that amendment passed.

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