The Real Reason to Support the Democratic Nominee

Most of the Hillary Clinton Supporters I’ve spoken with, would have no problem voting for Bernie Sanders, but the reverse isn’t quite as true, and that’s a sad statement.  As it seems virtually certain that Clinton will be the democratic nominee (Sanders won’t have enough delegates even if he were to take 60% of the remaining delegates and flip 40% of the superdelegates) this seems like the perfect time to underscore why Democratic Party unity is of utmost importance in the general election.   

There are three interesting quirks of the constitution that we need to underscore: presidential elections are every four years, congressional races are every two years, and a census is held every ten years.  This means, of course, that all censuses (censi?) correspond with a congressional election but only half of them correspond with a presidential election.  

It’s an unfortunate truth that presidential election years have higher voter turnout than mid-term election years.   I wish I could give a better explanation for this fact but I guess some people don’t consider local representation as important as the presidency, despite where the true constitutional power actually lies.  

Depressed voter turnout favors republican candidates since their constituents vote more consistently than their democratic counterparts.   When you figure that half of the censuses correspond to mid-term election years, this enables gerrymandering to favor the Republican Party at least half of the time.   This is how, for example, my home state of Pennsylvania, which has more registered democrats than republicans in the general population, skews heavily republican in terms of congressional representation (5 democrats vs 13 republicans).   The Wikipedia page on Pennsylvania’s congressional districts, at present, shows how the five democratic districts are all overwhelmingly “blue” but none of the republican ones are anywhere near as “red”.  

The other half of the time, the eventual victor of the presidential race will usually have a direct impact on down ticket races.   A democratic presidential victory generally means more success for the other democratic races, and a republican presidential victory generally means more success for the other republican races.  

But if you look at recent history, the gerrymandering has more consistently favored the GOP in all census years.   Look at this set of trends:

2010 — Barack Obama was the sitting president in a mid-term election year.  This favors the republicans. 

2000 — Bill Clinton was constitutionally ineligible to be re-elected and the presidency shifted from the democrats to the republicans.   This favors the republicans. 

1990 — George H W Bush was the sitting president in a mid-term election year.   This favors the republicans. 

1980 — Ronald Reagan swept into the presidency in a landslide.  This favors the republicans.  

1970 — Richard Nixon was the sitting president in a mid-term election year.  This favors the republicans. 

1960 — Dwight Eisenhower was constitutionally ineligible to be re-elected and the presidency shifted from the republicans to the democrats.   This favors the democrats.  

1950 — Harry Truman was the sitting president in a mid-term election year.  This favors the republicans.  

1940 — FDR was the sitting president and was re-elected to what was, at the time, an unprecedented third term in office.  This favors the democrats.  

Of course, any historian would be quick to point out that the republicans didn’t actually control both houses of congress for most of this time period until 1994 and I acknowledge this point.  It was a slow climb for the GOP as the odds favored them more consistently.   They knew that they could only test the waters and it was a gradual shift.   

But it’s still noteworthy that, if we assume a democratic victory in the 2016 elections, the 2020 census will be the first opportunity to shift the congressional representation away from the republicans in what will be, at the time, 60 years.  

Am I getting a little bit ahead of myself?  Sure.  But when you consider that the current electoral college map very strongly favors the democrats (and will for at least this year and 2020), isn’t this something worth recognizing?


The Greatness of America

It was April, 1988.  I was 16 years old.  I don’t recall the exact date but it’s a matter of public record if I wanted to research it.  Pennsylvania’s primary was approaching and Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis made a campaign stop in my high school.   I was in one of the classes chosen to attend his speech.  

It was a good speech: rousing and energetic.   I also appreciated that this was a politician who actually came out to speak to us, even though the majority of the people in attendance couldn’t actually vote for him because they weren’t yet 18.  

I don’t remember much of what he actually said, but he did make a comment aimed at the scandal-plagued administration of outgoing president Ronald Reagan: he said he would make America great again.  

With a two-party system, it’s certainly not uncommon to see presidential candidates for the party not currently occupying the White House argue that the sitting president is somehow taking away from America’s greatness and thus, if you vote for me, America will become great, like it was at some vaguely defined, and probably overly-romanticized point in the past.  

I want to make it clear before I proceed, that I do not subscribe to the notion of American exceptionalism.  We are human beings and no better or worse than anyone else on the planet, either as individuals or groups.  The accident of our birth in the USA is just that: an accident or a stroke of luck.   I can go through a laundry list of things about this country’s history and modern appearance that are worthy of criticism, if not outright disgust or shame.   (Easy example: why did it take a war to end slavery?)

But the USA is a product of the enlightenment.   As a social experiment, I think the general success of the idea of self-rule has proven more successful than the expectations even the most optimistic of the architects of our national identity.   We were, after all, the first such attempt anywhere in the world in modern times, and certainly at the largest scale ever.  (The Greek city-states before the Roman conquest were first…) 

And since then, authoritarianism, divine rights of kings, empires, and oppressive regimes have gradually fallen away, replaced by some of those very same ideas that were so new and novel 240 years ago.   Not everywhere.   Yet.  But in more and more places.  And in some cases, other places have simply implemented it better than we have.  

Yes.  That is something great.  Something to be proud of.   It hasn’t always been easy.  And the outcomes have been far from certain.   But it’s the promise of what America can be that is the source of her historical and current greatness.  

As always happens, though, some people might feel left by the wayside as things don’t go their way, and they tend to romanticize a time when the conditions might have been more favorable to them personally.  But I would ask them: when was this time?   Is greatness merely a time when you might or might not have gotten a better hand than you’ve got now?  How much of your problems are your own fault?

If there’s something going on in the country — culturally, economically, or politically — that you don’t like, it’s easy to see it as a decline in greatness.  But if you can step away from that, you should ask yourself what truly defines our greatness.   And it shouldn’t take much to realize that it’s the same thing that it was when we first wrote the constitution.   In fact, 27 amendments later, it’s even greater.   If all men (and women) were created equal, then we are more equal today than we were at a time when slaves were only 3/5 of a person.   

Make America great again?   Please.  I’d rather hear someone talk about how we can work to build on her already great promise.  

How about taking a song like this to heart:

Phil Ochs — Power and the Glory

Bathroom Bills

I’ve lost count (or more accurately, I’ve never bothered to keep a count) of the number of times I was at a public event — concerts, sporting events, conventions, etc — where the I was in the men’s room at a time when it was “liberated” by one or more women who didn’t want to wait in the noticeably longer lines for the ladies room. 

One particular event does stand out in my memory: a Tori Amos concert in the late 90s in New Brunswick, NJ.  It’s memorable for the sheer number of women who went into the men’s room.   I didn’t count, but it must’ve been at least ten.   

I didn’t engage them in any real capacity, other than to make sure I didn’t bump elbows with any of them while I was washing my hands and maybe holding the door for one of them behind me as I walked out of the bathroom. 

In other words, they were no different from any other fellow public restroom users to me.  

On the flip side, when I’m in a small place where the only difference between the two genders’ bathrooms is the sign outside the door, I honestly don’t know why they need to be gender segregated at all.   This is really noticeable when you need to use the bathroom, and one of them is going unused but you can’t use it because it’s not your gender.   

These bathroom bills that are being pushed by religious conservatives are a solution to a nonexistent problem.  They’re worried that sexual predators might target children in the bathroom and try to excuse it by saying they’re transgender and therefore entitled to use a bathroom despite different genitalia.   

I’m not trying to argue that pedophiles might look for different ways of targeting children if you’re not careful, but really?   If a stranger — regardless of gender or gender identity — tries to engage my children in the bathroom, they know to stay away from him or her.   It’s really that simple.  

But there is a real history of attacks on transgender people in bathrooms because they used the restroom suited to their identity and not to their genitalia.   Even murders.   If we want to have bathroom bills, how about protecting an already vulnerable and poorly understood subset of the community?   

I’ve previously written about how there are times when we might not want to play the roles that society might dictate to us for any reason, including gender roles.   I concede that  this is a gross oversimplification of the issues that transgender and genderfluid people have to deal with every day.   But I’d like to think it’s a good start.  

Also worth asking, is what the proponents of these bills are really worried about.   I think of the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis.   After they eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they become aware of their nakedness and are ashamed of it.  I think very few children are naturally ashamed to be naked, and the rest are quite comfortable being naked.   In other words, if we didn’t have that story, very few people would actually be ashamed of their bodies.  Maybe these bathroom bills are really just another way of shaming people for having to expose the lower halves of their bodies.  

Edukayshun in Pencilvainya

My parents bought a house in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, when I was five months old, and my mom still lives in that house. Langhorne is located in the Neshaminy School District and my entire undergraduate career was spent in the schools of that district.

Earlier this week, the Neshaminy School District School Board voted to close two of the schools in its district, including the elementary school that I attended from Kindergarten through 4th Grade, and then 6th Grade as well.

My interest in the fact of this closing is more sentimental. If I still lived in the district, I would probably oppose the closing on the grounds that the plans to replace the closed schools involve building a massive, sprawling school that would have far too many students in it. But as a resident of a different school district in the state of Pennsylvania, I’m simply watching it closely and hoping that something similar doesn’t happen where I live. But yeah, I’m sad that the school where I have so many memories soon will be no more.

The decision to do so is undoubtedly a cost-cutting measure. I would like to believe that, no matter what else might or might not be true about this vote, the long term results will be some degree of cost savings, regardless of the question of whether or not it would actually improve what the students actually learn.

On the same date as the vote to close those two schools, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee approved House Bill 1640 and sent it to the greater PA House of Representatives. I don’t know when they’ll vote on it, but I’ve already called my local representative to tell him to vote against it.

This bill, if passed, would compel the phrase “In God We Trust” to appear in every school in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

I’ve written before about the phrase “In God We Trust” as our national motto and feel that it’s shameful that it is our motto.

I think it’s interesting that the text of the bill that’s coming up for a vote lays out in no uncertain terms that the person who first pushed for the usage of the phrase on our currency, Pennsylvania Governor James Pollock, was known as “The Great Christian Governor”.

Doesn’t this fact alone contradict the 1970 Federal Court Ruling in Aronow v. United States, which held that

It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. …It is not easy to discern any religious significance attendant the payment of a bill with coin or currency on which has been imprinted ‘In God We Trust’ or the study of a government publication or document bearing that slogan. In fact, such secular uses of the motto was viewed as sacrilegious and irreverent by President Theodore Roosevelt. Yet Congress has directed such uses. While ‘ceremonial’ and ‘patriotic’ may not be particularly apt words to describe the category of the national motto, it is excluded from First Amendment significance because the motto has no theological or ritualistic impact. As stated by the Congressional report, it has ‘spiritual and psychological value’ and ‘inspirational quality.'”

No. It’s not obvious that the national motto has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. In fact, it certainly seems to push for exactly that.

As I said above, I called my local representative and asked him to vote against the bill. I gave three reasons, actually.

I maintain that direct references to any deity in official government writings is absolutely an establishment of religion as not all religions worship the same deity. It effectively excludes any different religion as well as non-religion. It shouldn’t be our national motto but as long as it is, there’s no compelling need to post it everywhere unless you want to pander to Christians who are pushing for their religion in places where it doesn’t belong.

Second, it actually wouldn’t do anything to improve education in the state. At best, it would do nothing (positive or negative) in a given school. At worst, it could create two classes of students as officially recognized by the state: those to whom the statement applies in their day-to-day religious life and those to whom it doesn’t.

And finally — and probably most importantly — is the cost. I hardly think that the Neshaminy School District is unique in having budget issues. Why waste scarce educational resources on something like this?

If it’s a foregone conclusion that my elementary school will be little more than a pile of rubble in the near future, let’s at least not let the same thing happen to the concept of education itself.

If you live in Pennsylvania, call your representative and ask him or her to vote against it, just like I did.