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November 03, 2008

American Landslide

One of the strangest things about US politics is how tiny differences in voting percentages turn into huge differences in party control, and then into gigantic differences in media narratives about Who We Are As A Nation.

For instance, in 2006, the Democrats took back Congress by improving their percentage of the popular vote total 5.4% over 2004, to 53.6%. This was supposedly such a gigantic repudiation of the Bush administration that they kicked out Donald Rumsfeld.

And in 1984, Ronald Reagan won with 58.8%. This was considered an enormous landslide and demonstrated America was deeply conservative. Yet imagine if the election had been decided by just ten voters: all Mondale would have had to do was persuade one of them to vote for him, and he would have been president.

Similarly, it's unlikely Obama will win tomorrow by more than 10% in the popular vote. Thus, all McCain needs to do between now and then is persuade one voter in 20 to vote for him, and Sarah Palin will be Vice President.

Meanwhile, this is the system we use to decide which person gets the opportunity to destroy human civilization. Perhaps we could invent something better.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 3, 2008 10:02 PM

Perhaps this is indicative of how closely these two candidates actually converge.

Posted by: Rachel at November 3, 2008 11:19 PM

Is this "human civilization" thing you're fretting about related to the one of which that famous Indian peacenik said "it would be a good idea?"
It likely always was what it still is: a thin veneer. And, always under assault. Problem is, we hardly know what's worth defending or preserving any longer.
That ends my silver lining segment.
Obama by a field goal. Or, McCain by a safety. But then, I never understood American football. Why do these 300-pounds men make a human pile on top of one guy? Is this a Norman Mailer sort of moment? Do you have to have done hard time to understand?

Posted by: donescobar at November 3, 2008 11:48 PM

I think the real lesson is that 9 in 20 Americans have less of a problem with Mrs. Palin as McCain's Vice President than they do with Obama as President.

Got prozac?

Posted by: James Cape at November 3, 2008 11:52 PM

We already know that anyone who wishes to have power over millions of people is likely already bonkers and shouldn’t be allowed any other job than say a city clerk or maybe dog catcher. Right now I am trying to imagine the immense ego of someone who thinks they can handle that amount of power but can’t quite picture it. Why is it that humanity is stuck in the rut of leaders and followers, why are people impressed by powerful people? I mean is the condition of leaders and followers written in stone somewhere as an immutable law of the universe and a given of the human condition? Do we really need leaders? Democracy is the holy of holies yet it is just a system of leaders and followers like other systems and therefore prone to all the corruption and misuse that humans can devise. Even if someone invented a more perfect system of governance it would not take very long before it was twisted and abused into something different. I don’t think it is merely the idea of government but the whole world view of the Western World that needs to be rethought.

Posted by: Rob Payne at November 4, 2008 12:06 AM

And why only one president? Why not 9 like the Supreme Court? Because nothing much would ever get done?

So what's the drawback?

Posted by: Paul Avery at November 4, 2008 12:09 AM

Actually, the Gandhi quote which donescobar refers to above was in reference to being asked about what he thought about "Western civilization" not "human civilization," making it far more pointed and acerbic.

Posted by: Rojo at November 4, 2008 12:48 AM

Yeah, that's why I wrote if it (human civ) was related to the one Gandhi (Western civ) made his remark about.
But I am not sure the other civs are entitled to claim superiority, moral or other, to the (sometimes but not always justifiably) much abused Western model.Depends on when and where you cast your eye.
"Hey,hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go" might have been fun to shout, but it is as dumb as Islamic clerics' similar rants today or Nazi ones in 1941. Nihilism was the essence of the Nazi revolution, and that sort of rubbish is only good for chasing away sophomores' blues.

Posted by: donescobar at November 4, 2008 01:07 AM

There were some North American Indian tribes that had no leaders. Everyone was on an equal footing men, women, children and they somehow survived just fine, that is until the much abused Western civilization slaughtered them. Also they weren’t Nazis so you see there may be something else besides either/or.

Posted by: Rob Payne at November 4, 2008 01:37 AM

i hope they have the first debate for 2012, this christmas. it's be a good boost for retailers' spirit... and help stimulate sagging television ad sales.

Posted by: hapa at November 4, 2008 01:49 AM

I'm not a constitutional absolutist, far from it, but I blame Lincoln anyway.

Posted by: abb1 at November 4, 2008 05:40 AM
Why is it that humanity is stuck in the rut of leaders and followers, why are people impressed by powerful people?

Because they get hot chicks to come to their parties? Or more specifically, people like to be flattered and have smoke blown up their ass by people hired to do so.

And because we're freaking animals just a few generations from swinging in the trees and bashing each other with branches to get what we want.

Posted by: Labiche at November 4, 2008 07:44 AM

I tried to post this a few days ago in response to What The Fucking Fuck but it got lost in the ether. Still applies so I'll try again.


The school board reflects the hatred of taxes and I expect that hatred will be passed down to other generations unless some fundamental change occurs. What would that change be? That we start teaching our kids that there's value in NOT grasping maniacaly to that dollar bill screaming, "Mine, mine, mine!!!", but instead focus on things that can get us to change that deals with some collective, transnational problems -- like climate change, like energy alternatives, etc -- and those children should be taught that the fruits of their labor aren't only tallied in dollars to hoard, but also in the results in solving the problems that don't necessarily equal the same rate of dollars accumulating in the bank.

I'm with Tim, but for a different reason. These people taught their communities an abject lesson in what happens when you try to cut off your nose to spite your face.

Secondly, the comment on American Landslide (and it's related to the first part above).

Suddenly, every fucking media asshole that talks about Obama starts tallying up, "But HOW will he pay for it?!?! Oppressive TAXES that's how!!!!"

Listen media assholes, where were you when the runup to the war was discussed? Did you ask how we would pay for it? I didn't hear shit and I paid attention. Did you ask how much deregulation of the banks and energy was going to cost and who was going to pay for it? Not much as I recall; you were the unabashed cheerleaders. Now, we're all about fiscal conservatism and that sudden thrift (and anti-tax meme) is being passed to the new generations.

We have to get over the aversion to tax, and frame it in the correct terminology; that there's nothing for free; that there's a cost to stability, predictability, equality of means and opportunity.

I've been impressed with Obama's ability to get the message out and to get people in line during this election. He has an opportunity window and a machine capable of swaying people in the right (actually left) direction if he chose to actually create a sea change in this nation. It's to be seen if he actually has interest in being post-nationalism leader that the rest of the world was waiting for or just the first black US President.

Posted by: Labiche at November 4, 2008 09:16 AM

I've always liked Gandhi's remark about Western civilization, but it applies just as much to Eastern civilization. Look closely sometime at the history of India, or of China. So generalizing it to "human" civilization strikes me as a perfectly proper move.

Posted by: Duncan at November 4, 2008 10:19 AM

"'Hey,hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go' might have been fun to shout, but it is as dumb as Islamic clerics' similar rants today or Nazi ones in 1941. Nihilism was the essence of the Nazi revolution, and that sort of rubbish is only good for chasing away sophomores' blues"

Really? I'm always fascinated by line of thinking particularly when applied to those who've opted to refuse western "benevolence" at gunpoint.

Posted by: Coldtype at November 4, 2008 02:25 PM

following Rob Payne & Paul Avery's line of thoughts:

I think the main argument against splitting the Presidency is to prevent what happened to the indians without a leader. The same argument for all of the new wartime powers some think the Pres. needs, to protect his flock. The CinC needs the powers to respond like Batman and defeat our foes.

Sadly, most of the "flock" wants it that way, and they prefer to stay ignorant and "protected".

Really, I think that ignorance of those "sheep" is the crux of the problem, and no solution or reworking of the system is tenable until it is addressed. I'm with James Cape on that, and I don't think all of those citizens would choose Palin over Obama just because of race either, but just because they are stupid. And Rachel is right too, because as long as We the People are so retarded, the "leaders" will try to sell us the same shit, some with a Pepsi label, some with a Coke label. Until enough people realize it's all the same trash, that's what we can expect.

Posted by: tim at November 4, 2008 03:15 PM

Of course, we have invented better systems (IRV, Condorcet, Range Voting, randomly selected representatives...). But all those systems have the same "problem" you mention, that the balance hangs on the few. Though I agree with you most of the time, I actually happen to think that this delicate balance is a feature, not a bug.

Posted by: homunq at November 4, 2008 03:28 PM