The Election of 1888

The election of 1888 was all about tariffs. There were other issues, to be sure, and the usual amount of mudslinging, but it was mostly about tariffs. Tariffs may not seem to be an issue to get especially excited about, but in those days before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. Moreover, many people believe that high tariffs were essential to protect American industry for foreign, particularly British, competition. President Grover Cleveland had come out in favor of lower tariffs in his message to Congress in December 1887, arguing that the high tariff was an excessive and unjust level of taxation that hurt consumers. Some of the president’s advisors had fretted that his stand on lowering the tariff would hurt his chance of reelection, But Cleveland simply replied, “What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?”

The Democrats held their national convention in St. Louis, Missouri from June 5-7. Grover Cleveland was nominated for a second term by acclamation, the first Democratic president nominated to run for a second term since Martin Van Buren back in 1840. Since President Cleveland’s Vice-President, Thomas A. Hendricks had died on November 25, 1885, the Democrats needed to select a new Vice-Presidential nominee. They picked Allen G. Thurman from Ohio after only one ballot. Allen G Thurman had had a long and distinguished career in politics, serving in the House of Representatives from 1845 to 1847 and was the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court from 1854 to 1856. Thurman was a Senator from Ohio from 1869 to 1881 and was on the commission to resolve the contentious election of 1876. Thurman was also known for opposing land grants to railroad companies and was said to have left the Senate as poor as when he had entered it.

The Republicans met in Chicago from June 19-25. James G Blaine was the front runner, but he withdrew, deciding that he was too controversial to defeat Grover Cleveland. Instead, the Republicans nominate Benjamin Harrison from Indiana on the seventh ballot. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. He had fought in the Civil War helping to raise a regiment and rising to the rank of brevet brigadier general. After the war Harrison worked as a lawyer and became involved in Indiana politics, serving as a senator from 1881 to 1887. The Republicans went on to nominate Levi P. Morton from New York for the Vice-Presidency. Levi P. Morton had served in the House of Representatives from1879 to 1881, as Minister to France from 1881 to 1885 and the Governor of New York from 1895 to 1896. As the American Minister to France, Levi Morton had officially accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty and had placed the first rivet in the statue.

 

The Greenback Party had faded away, but there were some minor party candidates. There was the Prohibition Party nominated Brigadier General Clinton B. Fisk for president and John A. Brooks for Vice-President and ended up getting 249,819 (2.2%) votes.

 

The Union Labor Party nominated Alson Streeter and Charles E. Cunningham and got just 146,602 (1.31%) votes.

 

The campaign was mostly about the tariff question with Cleveland and the Democrats supporting lower tariffs and Harrison and the Republicans in favor of higher protective tariffs. It wouldn’t have been an American election, however, if there weren’t at least some personal attacks. The Republicans accused Cleveland of abusing his young wife, Frances Folsom who he had married in the White House in 1886. She denied the story, assuring everyone that Grover was a kind and considerate husband. The Democrats retaliated by accusing Benjamin Harrison of being anti-Catholic, anti-labor, and wanting increased immigration from China to force wages down. The Republicans accused Cleveland of being pro-British and wanting to adopt the British system of free trade to assist British manufacturers at the expense of American industry.

The Murchison Letter was an election dirty trick worth mentioning. “Murchison” was a California Republican named Charles Osgoodby who wrote a letter to the British Minister to the United States, Sir Lionel Sackville-West. In this letter, he pretended to be a former British citizen named Charles F. Murchison, who wanted to know which candidate would be better for his old homeland. Sackville-West was imprudent enough to reply that, in his opinion, Cleveland would be the better candidate for British interests. The Republicans gleefully published “Murchison’s” correspondence with Sir Sackville-West, probably costing Cleveland the Irish vote and the state of New York. Sir Sackville-West ended up getting fired for his interference in American politics.

The Murchison Letter

It was a close election, but in the end, the Republicans turned out to be better organized and better funded than the Democrats. Cleveland won the popular vote with 5,534,488 votes (48.6%) to Harrison’s 5,443,892 votes (47.8%), but Harrison won in the electoral college with 233 votes to Cleveland’s 186. As the election of 1884, the results were regional with the Republicans sweeping the North and the Democrat winning the South, along with Massachusetts. Only two states switched sides from 1884, New York and Indiana. If Cleveland had won those two states he would have been reelected.

The Election of 1888

So, Grover Cleveland left the White House in March 1889, but he would be back.

Jerry Springer, Trump and Civility

When I saw the headline “Jerry Springer Blames Trump for Society’s Lack of Civility“, I thought it must be from the Babylon Bee. Surely only a satire website would post an article with a title like that. I was wrong. It was the Huffington Post, and they were serious.

It’s no secret that Jerry Springer has seen more examples of the decline of civility in society than probably anyone.

So when he blames Donald Trump for the current rise in rudeness, maybe he’s onto something?

He thinks so anyway, as he told MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle during a segment on Friday.

“I used to joke and say that my anger at the president is that he took my show and brought it to the White House,” Springer said.

He then talked about civility in a manner familiar to anyone who has seen one of his “final thoughts” that used to end his talk show.

“Civility is critical in terms of our norms, and we can’t function as a society unless we have norms of how to behave,” said Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati. “You can’t pass enough laws to take care of every human interaction.”

I have to wonder if Jerry Springer has ever actually watched his own show. No president, not even Donald Trump has behaved in any way even remotely comparable to the sad wretches that Jerry Springer has had as guests. Perhaps Springer is somewhat aware of the irony of his complaining about a lack of civility as he went on to defend his show.

He’s one to talk about civility

“First of all, our show was about dysfunctional behavior, so obviously everyone who’s going to appear on the show is acting dysfunctionally,” Springer said. “That was the point of the show. But no one ever suggested, never did I do a final thought, and say, ‘This is the way you ought to behave.’”.

Springer then pointed out the folly of saying that because there’s “a crazy television show where you’ve got people that admittedly are dysfunctional” on the air, that “therefore, it’s OK to have an administration that’s dysfunctional.”

He then pointed out how “The Jerry Springer Show” was a step above the current administration in terms of class.

“When you have the president of the United States using language that even on our crazy show we’d bleep out, then society’s in trouble.”

The fact is that the standards of civility have been declining for decades before Donald Trump got into politics and Jerry Springer’s show has played no small in lowering those standards. For years, the Jerry Springer Show showcased people exhibiting deviant, dysfunctional, and just plain weird behavior for the amusement of his viewers. Jerry Springer is deluding himself if he thinks that a short final thought can mitigate the impact of forty-five minutes of degenerates fighting and throwing chairs at each other.

Donald Trump is not the cause of our nation’s increasing incivility, he is a symptom or more accurately the result. Donald Trump is what happens when the people who have been all too often the targets of this incivility decide to fight back. For too long, the normal people of this country, the humble people in flyover country who make the country work have been the targets of disdain and the incivility from an increasingly insular and out of touch elite. It has been perfectly acceptable to attack these people as ignorant, racist deplorables who are too stupid to know what’s good for them. It is only when the Deplorables begin to fight back that there is this sudden concern about civility.

The Deplorables tried to be civil when we formed the Tea Party and humbly asked that the governing elites actually follow the constitution and try to keep the country from going bankrupt. Tea Party protestors behaved peacefully and civilly. They did not smash windows and attack people. They even cleaned up after themselves. For their trouble, the media called them political terrorists, while praising violent, anarchist thugs. We have asked that the government do its job and protect our borders only to be called racists and compared to Nazis.

We tried being civil

We tried being civil and it didn’t work. So, we elected an uncivil man to the presidency. For all his faults, Donald Trump has been the only major political figure to really understand what the people in middle America really feel. He has been one of the few politicians who has actually tried to keep his campaign promises and has generally managed to do a good job. For his troubles, Trump has been attacked as few presidents have ever been attacked. He is on the verge of being impeached for no other reason than he won an election he was supposed to lose. Our own federal government, the people who are supposed to be working for us, has been conspiring against him. If Donald Trump falls, I think we are all about to become a whole lot less concerned with civility. People like Jerry Springer will be longing for the more civil time when Trump was president.

Jerry Springer ought not to blame Trump for a situation that was years in the making. If he must blame someone, he should look in a mirror.

Red State Blue State

I have started to read Kurt Schlichter’s “People’s Republic” and its prequel “Indian Country”.  The premise of these two stories is that the United States has split up between the red states and the blue states. The red states have retained the name, and presumably the constitution of the United States of America. The blue states have named themselves the People’s Republic of North America and have adopted a new, progressive constitution. The protagonist, Kelly Turnbull, a former soldier who now assists people fleeing the tyranny of the People’s Republic, is charged with rescuing a young Texan woman who has defected to the People’s Republic, and may not want to come back.

Indian Country is a prequel, telling the story of a previous adventure of Turnbull’s, in which he engaged in an undercover operation to assist people in southern Indiana who are fighting against the tyrannical regime of the People’s Republic. Here is where I begin to have some problems with the story.

Here is the cover of People’s Republic, which presumably shows how the United States is split between red and blue.

 

Now, as a life long Hoosier, I can attest that there is no way that Indiana would voluntarily be part of anything called the People’s Republic. Indiana happens to be one of the redder, more conservative states. We are the home state of Mike Pence. Don’t be fooled by the fact that we currently have a Democratic Senator and have sent some Democrats to Congress. In Indiana, particularly in southern Indiana, even the Democrats are red.

Perhaps Kurt Schlichter believes that in the give and take of the Split Indiana has to go with the blue states because we are surrounded on three sides by blue states and the Ohio River would make a logical border between the two states. That really doesn’t work, however. Ohio is not a blue state but a purple state. That is, Ohio is a swing state that can go either way in presidential elections. The state is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but I suspect that there are just as many rednecks and hillbillies in southern Ohio as there are in Kentucky and West Virginia. Illinois is a deep blue state, but that is mostly due to the densely populated region around Chicago in the north. The Illinoisans in other parts of the state tend to resent Chicago’s domination and there is even a movement for the rest of the state to secede from the Chicago region. Like Indiana, Illinois becomes redder as you move south. It is not unlikely that if Chicago dominated Illinois seceded from the Union to join the People’s Republic; the southern half of Illinois would secede to form South Illinois, just like West Virginia in the first Civil War.

The truth is that few states are entirely red or blue. California is another deep blue state, perhaps the most liberal state in the Union. The whole state of California is not populated by the loony left, only the urban coastal regions from San Francisco to San Diego. The more rural interior of California is conservative, by California standards anyway. Texas is a very red state, but it turns blue along the border and in Austin. Indiana is, as I have said, red, but there are blue enclaves in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and the northwest corner adjacent to the Chicago area.

Here is a map of the 2016 election results by country.

What we see here is a country divided between a small, densely populated region and a large, sparsely populated region. The division between red and blue is not so much a division between red and blue states as a division between red rural areas and blue urban areas. What this means is that any split between red and blue would not occur along neat, geographical lines, as was the division between the Union and the Confederacy. Actually, even the results by county map is somewhat misleading. In every red or blue space, there are still a number of people of the opposite color.

A split between red and blue would be messy. In the preface of People’s Republic, Kurt Schlichter that his story is not any sort of fantasy he wants, but a warning of what could happen if present trends continue unchecked. He is being overoptimistic in assuming a neat, relatively peaceful division. The Civil War is often described as, “brother against brother”. This was not true, except in a metaphorical sense. Except for the inhabitants of the border states, and the small, pre-war officer’s corps, few of the soldiers who fought were related to anyone fighting on the other side. The new civil war would be literally brothers fighting brothers, neighbors fighting neighbors. It would be less Grant and Lee meeting at Appomattox Court House and more Bosnia or Rwanda.

A red-blue split would be messy not only in political terms but also in economics. Part of the reason Kurt Schlichter wrote People’s Republic seems to be to demonstrate the superiority of the Red economic model over the Blue. The capitalist, free market United States is shown to be prosperous, while the People’s Republic has adopted Venezuelan-style socialism with predictable results, an increasingly impoverished country unable to feed its people. This seems fair enough. When you compare North and South Korea or East and West Germany, cases in which both sides share a common language and culture, the superiority of free market capitalism to provide needed goods and services is evident. The problem is that I do not see how it would be possible to divide a country with an economy as interconnected as America’s into two separate states, with no trade between them, without causing massive economic dislocations. I would think that even a peaceful separation would bring about a depression. A civil war would cause an economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look like the height of prosperity. Nor is it clear that the red states would flourish on their own. Losing the coasts, with their population centers and wealth would be a terrible blow. It seems likely that even a decade after the split both sides would be trying to recover.

Kurt Schlichter wrote these novels as a warning. The future he describes is an unpleasant one, but not all that realistic. The actually consequences of a red-blue split would be far worse than anything in these books, which is good reason to extend any effort to make sure nothing like this scenario every takes place. We really need to tone down the rhetoric we use with each other and stop thinking of our fellow Americans as the enemy. We have to accept the results of elections, provided there is no provable fraud, and not delegitimize our elected officials for political gain. Everyone has to start playing by the same rules and not change them whenever they are inconvenient for one side. Most of all we have to learn, or relearn the practice of disagreeing with someone without hating them. If we can’t manage this, then we are all in for a very bad time.

A Venerable Holiday Tradition

The Holiday Season is here and coming with this joyous season are the various traditions we keep. Among the more venerable of these annual traditions are the handy lists of talking points provided by the Democratic National Convention and assorted left wing groups for the aid of young progressives who might want to ruin a holiday gathering with friends and family by starting arguments over politics.

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The holiday season is filled with food, traveling, and lively discussions with Republican relatives about politics sometimes laced with statements that are just not true. Here are the most common myths spouted by your family members who spend too much time listening to Rush Limbaugh and the perfect response to each of them.

These talking points are arranged by subject in the form of simple scripts to use in response to statements by a Republican uncle. These subjects include Obamacare, climate change, immigration, “equality”. and various presidential candidates. Thus if the Republican uncle says something like:

We should repeal Obamacare.

They provide a handy response.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans who were uninsured a few years ago have coverage today — that’s more than 17 million people. If the ACA were repealed, millions of Americans would lose access to quality, affordable healthcare. And none of the Republican candidates for president have a plan to solve that problem.

There are smiley faces and frowny faces to ensure that the young progressive doesn’t become confused over which line to use.

I don’t know what someone is supposed to do if the Republican uncle departs from the script by using different arguments or answering the responses with facts of his own. For instance, the Republican uncle might note that if Obamacare has provided coverage for 1 in 3 uninsured Americans, this means that 2 in 3, a majority for the progressives who might not understand math, are still not covered, hardly a rousing success, not to mention that Obamacare co-ops in Oregon and Colorado have collapsed putting the future of the whole program in jeopardy. For climate change we have:

Climate change is just a liberal scare tactic.

And the response:

Why are conservatives more likely to believe that climate change is a conspiracy than to acknowledge what 97% of climate scientists-and the majority of Americans-believe? Climate change is real, and it’s man made. The Republican presidential field is living in denial.

He might point out that citing polls of climate scientists or the the general population is worthless unless you know how the poll was conducted, what were the precise questions were, how large was the sample size, etc. He might also point out that the same sort of dodgy statistical methods were used to generate the 97 % consensus as Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick, and given their past history of scientific malpractice and outright deception, there is no reason to believe anything that the proponents of climate hysteria have to say.

I don’t think that the people who have written these scripts have had very much real contact with their Republican uncles. They mostly seem to be set up to deal with strawmen or a liberal’s caricature of what a conservative might say. They have a section on  Jeb Bush. I have never heard any conservative who supports Jeb Bush’s candidacy. I am not really sure who wants him for president, except for a group of big donors who are RINOs.

I have to wonder what the actual point of all of this is. Surely they don’t really believe that someone’s Republican uncle is going to experience some sort of epiphany and conversion after hearing their Democratic nephew spout off a memorized script? Do they really imagine a life long conservative smacking his forehead and saying something like, “By God you’re right! I have been misled my whole life by Rush Limbaugh and Faux News but now thanks to you I see the light!”. Somehow I doubt it.

I suppose the real purpose this exercise is to build loyalty and conviction in the people who are already Democrats, by giving them a feeling that they are part of the team fighting for the right. The Democratic nephew can read through and recite these talking points that he already agrees with and feel that he is part of the struggle to bring social justice to America, even if he doesn’t manage to convince his Republican uncle. All sorts of organizations from cults to corporations like to use this sort of technique and I see it in fundraising e-mails from both parties; send money to us and be part of the fight.

I have a suggestion for any young progressive who might want to have a political discussion with his Republican uncle. Instead of reciting bite-sized talking points intended for idiots incapable of thinking for themselves, why not try listening to your Republican uncle. He might have good reasons for believing the things he does. If he is older, he might have life experiences more valuable and relevant than what you might read on the internet. Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, you might still learn something and might be able to better understand why you believe the things you do. Try thinking for yourself for a change. Maybe you might both learn something.

The Election of 1844

Slavery was once again the issue that no one wanted to talk about during the presidential campaign of 1844. What people did want to talk about was the territorial expansion of the United States all the way to the West Coast. Manifest Destiny were the words on everyone’s lips, the destiny, nay duty, of the United States to take in as much of the North American continent as allowed by Divine Providence. This expansion could be accomplished in two areas. In the South, the expansionists wanted to annex the Republic of Texas, which had gained its independence from Mexico only a decade earlier and was eager to become a state of the Union. In the  North, there was the Oregon Territory with its disputed border with Great Britain’s Canadian territory. The more ardent expansionists wanted the United States to gain all of the Oregon territory under the slogan “54-40 or fight” referring to the latitude of the northernmost boundary of the territory and Russian Alaska.

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Although no one wanted to mention slavery in connection with the territorial expansion of the United States, in fact much of the impetus for expansion was due to the desire of the slave holding South to expand the territories open to slavery. The Missouri Compromise had restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º 30′with the exception of the state of Missouri. Since most of the states that could be carved out of the territory gained with the Louisiana Purchase were North of this line, eventually the free states would outnumber the slave states, upsetting the careful balance that had been maintained between the number of free and slave states. Already the northern states with their greater population had more seats than the slave states in the House of Representatives. An imbalance in the Senate would give the North control of both houses of Congress. President John Tyler had submitted a treaty for the annexation of Texas in April 1844 but he was unable to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate that was needed for ratification, largely because because of opposition from anti-slavery Whigs. Tyler simply resubmitted the treaty as a joint resolution of Congress requiring a simply majority in both Houses, making annexation the major campaign in the election of 1844

There was no question of either party nominating the incumbent John Tyler for a second term. Although he had been a Whig as William Henry Harrison‘s running mate in the previous election, Tyler had been a Democrat before breaking with Andrew Jackson back in the 1830’s. Tyler had never really been a strict party man and while president he had managed to offend the leaders of both political parties. Tyler did make some effort towards building a third party of his supporters, but nothing came of it and he eventually agreed to drop out in favor of the Democratic nominee.

The Whigs met in Baltimore on May 1 and nominated their long time party leader and 1824 presidential candidate Henry Clay. Clay had initially opposed the annexation of Texas as he believed that any such action without an agreement with Mexico would surely provoke a war between the United States and Mexico. Clay also understood that the annexation of Texas would only increase the sectional tensions between the North and South and might well split the Whig Part and the nation. This stand was not particularly popular in the South and Clay almost immediately began to backtrack, stating that he would support the annexation of Texas, even in the absence of an agreement with Mexico provided both North and South supported it. Then, he changed his mind again, and finally stopped talking about annexation altogether, campaigning on domestic issues. It didn’t work.

For Clay’s running mate, the Whigs nominated Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Senator from New Jersey. The Whigs felt that the devout, Northern Frelinghuysen would provide a nice balance with Henry Clay, the Kentuckian who had become notorious for his drinking, gambling, and dueling. Frelinghuysen was perhaps too devout as his Evangelical Christian faith led him to oppose slavery, he wanted to send them all back to Africa, and Indian removal. Neither position was apt to win him support in the South and West. Frelinghuysen also happened to believe that Catholics should be encouraged to convert to Protestantism, which cost the ticket votes among the small but growing Catholic population in the North.

Martin Van Buren was, at first, the prospective nominee of the Democrats, who met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Baltimore late in May. Van Buren lost his support because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. There was no other front runner for the Democratic nomination until the little known James Knox Polk was introduced on the eighth ballot. Polk had been Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841. He had acquired a reputation for being quietly competent and had made few enemies and this along with his strong support of the annexation of Texas caused Polk to be nominated on the ninth ballot. The Democrats, at first, had wanted Silas Wright from New York as Polk’s running mate, but Wright was a supporter of Van Buren’s and declined the honor. Instead, the Democrats nominated Senator George M. Dallas from Pennsylvania.

The election of 1844 had the usual amount of personal abuse which was becoming common in American presidential politics. The Democrats had ample material to denounce Clay for his loose morals, declaring him unfit to lead a Christian nation like America. The Whigs found it difficult to reply in kind, since Polk had apparently done nothing fun in his entire life. Instead, the Whigs emphasized Polk’s lack of prominence in national politics, implying that he lacked the experience to be president. The Northern Whigs tried to portray Polk as slave trader and a creature of the Southern Slavocracy. For his part, Polk cleverly linked the annexation of Texas with the Oregon Territory dispute, making the question one of national expansion rather than the expansion of slavery. In the end Polk won by a fairly narrow margin. The Democratic ticket gained 1,339, 494,  popular votes, or 49.5%, against the Whig’s 1,300,004 votes or 48.1%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty party got 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, enough to have made a difference in some Northern states. In the Electoral College, Polk got 170 electoral votes, winning states both in the North and South. Manifest Destiny proved to be a popular platform. Clay won 105 Electoral Votes, winning his home state, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and a few Eastern states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The Election of 1844
The Election of 1844

The United States formally annexed Texas in March 1845, just before Polk took office. As expected, The Mexican War broke out the following year. Despite the bluster of the expansionists with their cry of 54-40 or fight, Polk was not so foolish as to fight both Mexico and Great Britain at the same time and negotiated a compromise with the British over the Oregon Territory extending the border at the 49th parallel to the Pacific Coast. As for Polk, he served one term, during which he worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion. He declined to run for a second term and died within three months of the end of his administration.

The Election of 1840

People often complain that modern presidential politics is more about personalities than issues. The news media and the readers and viewers they serve seem less interested in what the candidates plan to do once in office and more interested in personalities, slogans, and sound bites. Political debates have devolved from the stately, informative Lincoln-Douglas debates in which the issues dividing the country were discussed at length to opportunities for politicians to deliver focus group tested zingers and one liners. People who idolize a past in which presidential candidates earnestly discussed detailed solutions for resolving the issues of the day had best not look too closely at the election of 1840. This was an election singularly devoid of any discussion of any issue except which candidate was born in a log cabin and drank hard cider. Actually, there was one serious issue which was beginning to divide the nation between North and South, but no one wanted to talk about it. Hint: it began with “S” and ended with “lavery”.

By 1840, the Jacksonian revolution was complete. Property requirements had been abolished in every state and every White male had the vote, beginning a new era of mass politics in the United States. The Whig Party had gotten its act together to form a truly national party and they learned enough from Andrew Jackson’s victories in 1828 and 1832 to understand the necessity of developing an organization for stirring up mass enthusiasm for their candidate and ensuring a good turnout at the polls on Election Day. The Whigs also learned to cast their candidate as a military hero and a man of the people. As events turned out, the Whigs had learned these lessons all to well as far as the Democrats were concerned.

The Whigs met in their national convention at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in December 1839, and nominated a military hero, William Henry Harrison over his rival Henry Clay. Harrison had been a senator from Ohio and governor of the Indiana Territory and had fought against the Indian leader Tecumseh, defeating his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He had been one of the three Whig candidates in 1836 and since he had gotten the most votes of the three in that election, he seemed a good pick for 1840, even though at 68 he was the oldest man to be elected president until Ronald Reagan. Although Harrison had been born in Virginia, he was associated with the North so, in order to balance the ticket, the Whigs nominated the Virginian, John Tyler as his running mate. Tyler had served in both houses of Congress and as governor of Virginia. As a Democrat, he had supported Andrew Jackson at first, but turned against the president over state’s rights and the spoils system, and had joined the Whigs by 1835. His selection as the Whig’s vice-presidential candidate later proved to be not a particularly good idea.

 

For their part, the Democrats met at Baltimore in May, 1840, and easily nominated Martin van Buren for a second term as president. Van Buren’s Vice-President, Richard Mentor Johnson was still very unpopular in the South because of his romantic relationship with his slave Julia Chenn. Van Buren was reluctant to drop him from the ticket, but the Democrats simply refused to nomination Johnson for another term as Vice-President, so no running mate was nominated at the convention. They had an understanding that each state would vote for its own candidate and the Senate would pick the Vice-President, if van Buren won. Undaunted Johnson went ahead and campaigned for the vice-presidency as if he had been nominated.

Van Burn was fairly unpopular throughout the country as the economy was still in recession as a result of the Panic of 1837, so the election was Harrison’s to lose, provided he did not do anything divisive or unpopular like making any statements about the issues of the day, particularly the one involving the “S-word”. So, Harrison and his supporters made it a point to say very little. Instead, they promoted their candidate as a humble man of the people. It was one of Clay’s supporters who gave them the idea for their campaign theme. During the convention, he had said derisively of Harrison that  he would be perfectly happy living in a log cabin and drinking hard cider. Harrison’s supporters took this and ran away with it, tirelessly depicting their man as born in a log cabin and drinking simple hard cider, as opposed to the aristocratic van Buren who lived in luxurious mansions and drank only the finest and most expensive wines. The Whigs organized parades demonstrations, and gatherings with a log cabin theme and served hard cider while praising Harrison for his simple lifestyle. Along with the log cabin went the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”.

It was all a lie, though. Harrison had, in fact, been born into one of the wealthiest and politically prominent Virginia families with plantations and slaves. He had attended college and studied medicine, but it was not a field that appealed to him and upon the death of his father, he had left college to join the army. The aristocratic van Buren was the one who had been born in humble circumstances and had worked his way up in New York politics. But, politics and truth seldom intersect.

The Democrats responded by attacking Harrison’s age and military record. He was old and senile, they claimed and a vulgar, profane man who slept with Indian women while in the Army and then resigned his commission just a year before the War of 1812, abandoning his country in its hour of need.

It was not a close election. The Democrats were never able to muster enough enthusiasm for their candidate to match the Whigs and the faltering economy weighed down van Buren’s efforts at re-election. The popular vote was 1,275,390 to 1,128,854 or 52.9% to 46.8% in Harrison’s favor. A third party, the anti-slavery Liberty Party, with James G Birney as its candidate gained 6,797 votes, This was utterly insignificant at the time but the Liberty Party was a harbinger of the anti-slavery movement which would create the Republican Party and tear the nation apart. In the Electoral College, Harrison won 234 votes from all over the country, while van Buren only got 60 votes, winning New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

The Election of 1840
The Election of 1840

William Henry Harrison did not have long to enjoy his presidency. After giving the longest inaugural speech in history on March 4, 1841 and a month later had died of pneumonia making the Harrison administration at only thirty days, the shortest in American history. Harrison was the first president to die in office, causing something of a constitutional crisis as it was not clear to what extent the vice-president assumed the powers and responsibilities of the presidency. Most of Harrison’s cabinet assumed that Vice-President John Tyler was only an acting president until such time as new elections could be arranged. Tyler, however, insisted that he was the new president upon taking the oath of office and with the support of  Chief Justice Roger Taney, his view prevailed. Tyler was not a particularly successful president since his political views were not much aligned with those held by his fellow Whigs in the cabinet or in Congress, or for that matter with the Democratic opposition, and this along with the then unprecedented manner in which Tyler became president made it difficult for him to get much done.

 

Don’t Let the Hippies Shower

It used to be that the hippies were easy to identify and avoid. Covered with mud and behaving like drugged animals, it was easy to see that their hippie ideas were very bad ones that could not possibly work in the real world. As long as that was the case, the hippie was a harmless beast, useful as examples to the young on what bad decisions and lack of responsibility could lead to. But then the hippies started to shower. Once they were cleaned up, they discovered that they could infiltrate normal society and spread their hippie ideas on an unsuspecting population. They became educators in order to indoctrinate our children with hippie ideas like sports where everybody gets a trophy, or their parents are destroying the Earth by using plastic bags.

This is the premise of Stephen Kruiser’s Don’t Let the Hippies Shower. Under the cover of humor, Kruiser writes about real problems afflicting our culture based on ideas from the seemingly harmless like the EGAT principle in sports mentioned above and the contemporary campaign against bullying, to the annoying and unworkable like much environmentalist nuttery and the strange idea held by too many young people that they are entitled to whatever they want, paid for by the evil rich, to the malignant totalitarianism increasingly found on college campuses and in the culture at large. Don’t Let the Hippies Shower is that rare book that makes you think, while you are laughing out loud. I recommend you give it to all your conservative friends to encourage them to fight back against the Invaders in the only way that is really effective, by laughing at them. You should also give copies to your liberal friends, and watch them gaze with incomprehension as they try to make sense of such foreign concepts as facts, logic  and humor.  And if you happen to know any hippies, for goodness sake, keep them out of the shower.

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Stamping Out Freedom of Speech

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has a new project he’s been working on. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with ice cream but involves repealing or amending the first amendment to end our free speech protections. This might seem like a stretch and certainly Ben doesn’t believe that he is doing any such thing, but he may not have thought through what his efforts to get the money out of our politics might actually entail.

Hi, fellow MoveOn member!
This is Ben Cohen, the “Ben” of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. For the past few years, I’ve run a national, grassroots campaign to get Big Money out of politics.
It’s called Stamp Stampede. And the way it works is simple: activists around the country stamp—and then spend—dollar bills with a simple message, such as “Amend the Constitution—Stamp Money Out Of Politics.” Want a stamp?

Just click here, donate $10 or more to help MoveOn’s campaigns to stamp money out of politics, and I’ll send you a stamp!

Stamping dollar bills is one of the most fun—and subversive—ways you can demand a revolution in the way we fund campaigns. (And yes, it’s totally legal. Our lawyers have confirmed it.)

It’s also like a petition on steroids. The math is pretty incredible. Here’s how ordinary people can give billionaires a run for their money:

  • Every bill we stamp is seen by over 875 people.1
  • If just 5,000 MoveOn members (out of 8 million of us) get a stamp—and stamp one bill every day for one year—our message will be seen 1.6 billion times.
  • Each dollar bill that’s stamped directs people to a website where they can join the fight to overturn Citizens United.

Together, we can get our message in front of millions of Americans and bring in droves of new money-in-politics activists each year—which is what it’ll take to win this long-term fight.

Click here to get your stamp for a donation of $10 or more—and help build the movement.

Once you start stamping money, you’ll find it’s pretty addictive. You can spend your stamped money with pride. And let people know that this dollar is not to be used for bribing politicians (you’ll be surprised by how many new friends you’ll make!)

Thanks for all you do.

–Ben Cohen, Stamper-In-Chief

What does money have to do with free speech and why would getting the money out of politics threaten it? Well, to start with, it costs money to run for public office. Either an aspiring candidate may spend his own money to fund his campaign or he may solicit others to donate money. There are not many people wealthy enough to spend their own money to fund a political campaign on the national or even the state level and most people would consider a government made up of only the very wealthy to be undesirable, therefore there will always be a need for politicians to request donations from those who for various reasons are willing to give them money. No campaign finance legislation can change that simple reality. In fact, most proposals for getting the money out of politics seem to be aimed at getting the other side’s money out of politics. We are funded by small donations from ordinary people who wanted to make this country a better place. They are funded by millionaires and billionaires who want to protect their own greedy interests. Somehow, for all the fuss the progressives make about the nefarious Koch Brothers, they never seem to be bothered by the money George Soros spends on politics.

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The first amendment guarantees our freedom of speech. It does not require anyone to provide us a forum for our speech. If an individual or a group wishes to have some impact on the political process by speaking for or against a given policy, law, or candidate for office, they must spend money to get their message out. They must purchase advertisements in printed periodicals or on broadcast media. They must print pamphlets, create audio visual media, etc. They may have a staff of volunteers, but at some point, they may find it desirable to have people working full time on the cause. These people have to be compensated for their time and efforts. More recently the rise of the Internet and digital broadcasting and published has made the process of getting a message out cheaper and more democratic. You do not need to own a newspaper or television station to influence events anymore. Still, if you want to be really effective, you still need to spend some money.

Free speech is not free.
Yes it is. Free speech is not free.

 

Like the politician seeking office, an individual or group seeking to get a political message out can spend their own money or solicit donations from people who support the individual or group’s goals. If the government can control and limit the funding of any political advocacy organization, it can effectively control and limit its speech. It does little good to guarantee freedom of speech if you prevent people from using that freedom in any sort of really effective manner. Indeed, this is a far more effective method of controlling dissent than the gulag. What good does it do to have the freedom to speak out if the only audience you are permitted to reach is a small circle of acquaintances? A dissident in a gulag may still be somewhat dangerous since he gets some attention and can even be regarded as a hero. A dissident who no one ever hears of is no danger to anyone.

Ben is probably sincere in  his desire to limit the influence in our politics but there will be money in politics as long as their is politics simply because politics requires money. Attempting to control the flow of money in politics will always tend to benefit some factions and parties at the expense of others. Controlling the money used to publish speech can be used to control the speech. This is not to say that we should have no campaign finance laws, but, as in everything else good intentions do not justify bad results and you must be on the lookout for unintended (or intended) consequences. Ben should stick to making ice cream.

The Great Tsunami of 2014

I expected the Republicans to make some gains yesterday, the opposing party usually does in midterm elections. In my more optimistic moments, I even considered the possibility that there would be a Republican wave. This didn’t seem too unlikely considering the unpopularity of President Obama at the moment. My optimism was tempered by the knowledge that the GOP has an uncanny knack for screwing up elections at the last moment. Still, a wave seemed possible. I never expected what actually happened, a complete rout of the Democrats. This was not just a wave but a tsunami.

Here are some numbers. The Republicans gained at least seven seats in the Senate gaining the majority. Previously, the Democrats held 55 seats to the Republican’s 45 but now the ratio is 52 Republicans and  45 Democrats. The race in Alaska has not been called yet and there will have to be a runoff in Louisiana. Also, in Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner has apparently won reelection in a close race but his opponent Ed Gillespie has not conceded and there may be a recount. There is then the possibility of the Republicans picking up three more seats in the Senate.  In the House of Representatives the Republicans  gained 12 seats expanding their majority from 233 Republicans to 199 Democrats to 244 Republicans to 180 Democrats. This is the largest majority the Republicans have had in the House of Representatives since 1946.

 

On the state level, the Republicans have increased the number of Republican governors by two. Previously there were 29 Republican governors and 21 Democrats. Now there will be 31 Republicans and 17 Democrats. The Republicans made impressive gains in state legislatures. Of the 98 chambers, two per state (except for Nebraska which has a non-partisan and unicameral legislature), the Republicans controlled 59. Now they will control 67 chambers and in no fewer than 24 states the Republicans will control both the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion. This is the best they have done since the 1920s.Winning control of  state governments is even more significant than the federal government since most of the real “action” in law making still takes place at the state level. The national media, based in New York and Washington tends to over emphasise the importance of Washington D C and does a real disservice by tending to neglect the actions of state governments.

Mere numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Republicans made serious inroads into what should have been safe Democratic territory. There are new Republican governors in Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland. All of Arkansas’s seats in the House of Representatives are held by  Republicans for the first time in 141 years. There seem to be more Black Republicans this year. Mia Love from Utah was the first Black Republican woman in the House and Tim Scott was the first Black  from South Carolina to be elected to the Senate since the Reconstruction era. Also from South Carolina, the Indian Republican Nicki Haley was reelected. Republicans also made gains with the Hispanic vote. Perhaps the idea that the Republican Party is doomed to irrelevance because of demographics should be reexamined.Need I remind the reader that Alan West, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz are all Republican heroes despite not being White?

Well it was an amazing election, perhaps even a historical one, but I hope the Republicans don’t blow it over the next two years. They should keep in mind that 2016 could be just as bad for them as 2014 was good. In the meantime, while gloating is unseemly and I certainly shouldn’t do it, I hope I can be forgiven for enjoying what is best in life, just a little.

 

There was a lot of lamentation of Democratic women, and men, last night.

Did the IRS Win the Election for Obama?

Official photographic portrait of US President...
The President? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One rather alarming possibility of the consequences of the IRS delaying tax exempt status and otherwise harassing Tea Party groups is that they were unable to organize as effectively in 2012 as they had been in 2010 and so were less able to bring needed voters to the polls and defeat President Obama. In this article in RealClearMarkets, Stan Veuger discusses the possibility that the White House was behind a deliberate attempt to neutralize political opponents using the power of the state.

The controversy over the IRS’s harassment of conservative groups continues. President Obama’s team continues to blame low-level bureaucrats. Some conservatives suspect a more sinister explanation: that the levers of government were used to attack an existential threat to the president’s 2012 reelection. The president and his party dismiss this as a paranoid fantasy. The evidence, however, is enough to make one believe that targeting Tea Party groups would have been an effective campaign strategy going into the 2012 election cycle.

It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous “shellacking” in the 2010 mid-term election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered-and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been de-mobilized by the IRS.

In a new research paper, Andreas Madestam (from Stockholm University), Daniel Shoag and David Yanagizawa-Drott (both from the Harvard Kennedy School), and I set out to find out how much impact the Tea Party had on voter turnout in the 2010 election. We compared areas with high levels of Tea Party activity to otherwise similar areas with low levels of Tea Party activity, using data from the Census Bureau, the FEC, news reports, and a variety of other sources. We found that the effect was huge: the movement brought the Republican Party some 3-6 million additional votes in House races. That is an astonishing boost, given that all Republican House candidates combined received fewer than 45 million votes. It demonstrates conclusively how important the party’s newly energized base was to its landslide victory in those elections, and how worried Democratic strategists must have been about the conservative movement’s momentum.

The Tea Party movement’s huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.

The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes-more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5 – 8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.

President Obama’s margin of victory in some of the key swing states was fairly small: a mere 75,000 votes separated the two contenders in Florida, for example. That is less than 25% of our estimate of what the Tea Party’s impact in Florida was in 2010. Looking forward to 2012 in 2010 undermining the Tea Party’s efforts there must have seemed quite appealing indeed.

 

The emphasis is mine. Is it possible that the Obama White House and the Obama reelection campaign (which were really the same thing) used the power of the government to suppress voter turnout? Liberals are always accusing conservatives of seeking voter suppression. Given their habit of projection, isn’t it possible that this was their strategy for the 2012 campaign?

Veuger goes on.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election. In March 2010, the IRS decided to single Tea Party groups out for special treatment when applying for tax-exempt status by flagging organizations with names containing “Tea Party,” “patriot,” or “9/12.” For the next two years, the IRS approved the applications of only four such groups, delaying all others while subjecting the applicants to highly intrusive, intimidating requests for information regarding their activities, membership, contacts, Facebook posts, and private thoughts.

As a consequence, the founders, members, and donors of new Tea Party groups found themselves incapable of exercising their constitutional rights, and the Tea Party’s impact was muted in the 2012 election cycle. As Toby Marie Walker, who runs the Waco Tea Party, which filed for tax-exempt status in 2010 but didn’t receive approval until two months ago, recounted recently: “Our donors dried up. It was intimidating and time-consuming.” The Richmond Tea Party went through a similar ordeal, and was only granted tax-exempt status in December, right after the election–three years after its initial request. Its chairman explained the consequences: the episode cost the Richmond Tea Party $17,000 in legal fees and swallowed time the all-volunteer network would have devoted to voter turnout, outreach in black and Latino neighborhoods and other events to highlight the constitution and “the concept of liberty.”

We certainly can’t have outreach in Black and Latino neighborhoods. That might conflict with the narrative that the Tea Party is composed of middle-aged White racists.

It might be purely accidental that the government targeted precisely this biggest threat to the president. It may just be that a bureaucracy dominated by liberals picked up on not-so-subtle dog whistles from its political leadership. Or, it might be that direct orders were given. In any case, it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to note that the president’s team was competent enough to recognize the threat from the Tea Party and take it seriously. The Obama campaign has made no secret of its efforts to revolutionize turnout models for the most recent campaign. Its remarkable competence turning out its own voters has been widely discussed, and it seems quite plausible that efforts to suppress the Republican vote would have been equally sophisticated.

We may never know to what exact extent the federal government diverted votes from Governor Romney and thus, how much it influenced the course of a presidential election in the world’s oldest democracy. At the very least, however, Americans of all political persuasions can be forgiven for a little cynicism when the president has the nerve to say, as he did on May 5th in his commencement address to graduates of the Ohio State University: “You’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. You should reject these voices.” And that cynicism, that lack of trust in the country’s governing institutions, becomes harmful quite easily: when the people are asked to have faith in the NSA’s efforts to protect the nation from terrorist threats, for example.

Concerning the revelations of the massive surveilance programs of the NSA, I would think that some such program would be necessary to protect us from terrorists, yet the obvious disdain that the current president has for the concept of liberty and the temptation that any president would have to abuse the access to the kind of information that the NSA has been gathering makes me wonder which is the greater threat, the terrorists or our own government. Also, with the analyses that show that President Obama won re-election by harassing his opponent’s supporters,can we regard the election of 2012 as a stolen election and Obama as illegitimate?

 

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