I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Runner-Up Presidency: The Elections That Defied America's Popular Will and How Our Democracy Remains in Danger by Mark Weston

I should start off my saying that this book does not lean left, right, center, up, or down. Weston's main objective is to educate the reader on the electoral college, past elections, and possible solutions to fixing a system that is not fool-proof right now. Mark Weston, born in New York, graduated from the University of Texas Law School and lives in Sarasota, Florida right now and none of the craziness of both of those states have managed to rub off on him yet. He has spent most of his life working as a journalist at ABC Television and News as well as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angles Times. He's written two books: one on the history of Saudi Arabia and one titled The Lives of Japan's Greatest Men and Women. He even wrote a play about George Orwell. His book is filled with lots of interesting tid-bits of information that I will place (along with my own) at the bottom so as not to interrupt the review with them.

This book was published in early 2016, which means it was written in 2015. So, Weston did not know what we know now. But when you read this book you will wonder if he had some kind of crystal ball or has second sight, because when he explains about things that are probabilities, they can be in fact be quite possible now. At the beginning of the book he includes a chart of the probability of another runner-up president like we had in 1888 when Harrison beat Cleveland and 2000 when Bush beat Gore. In both cases the loser had the more popular votes, but lost because the other candidate had a majority of electoral votes. He says it's not a question of "if" but "when" this will happen again and that we must do something to try to stop this.  If this keeps happening the people will stop trusting the system even more than they already do.

"Six weeks after the November presidential election, on the Monday closest to the middle of December, the electors who supported the presidential candidate who won the most popular votes in their state meet in their state's capital...to officially cast their state's electoral votes for president and vice president."  In 21 states electors can vote however they please, but in 29 states they have to make a pledge to vote the way the political party wants them to, though it is not legally binding.  It is to be said that electors do vote for their party's candidate 99.9% of the time. Since 1820, only 11 have not, which is pretty amazing. Then the governor certifies the results and sends them to the president of the Senate. Some electors do get paid a fee somewhere between $10 or less for their services to what a legislator would make in a day. The state of Washington gives them $88 a day for lodging, $61 a day for meals, and 56.5 cents per mile for driving. On January 6, the House and Senate meet to count the votes and the vice president presides over this and announces the winner. This is why Gore had to announce that Bush won back in January of 2001.

Our system has two "quirks". One is pro-rural and one is pro-urban. The one that is in favor of the rural comes form Article II of the Constitution where it gives each state two votes automatically, representing the two Senators it has and then a vote for each Representative it has. This means that little populated and small states get at least 3 electoral votes no matter what. The second is "winner-take-all" which came about after a huge mud slinging campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1788. It should be noted here that candidates would not campaign themselves until Theodore Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryant in the 20th Century. Before then it was seen as very unseemly. You should be above the fray and let other do the dirty work. Also, there was no one day that the people voted. That would not happen until 1834. The people in the states voted anywhere from springtime to fall, with South Carolina (as usual) coming in last around December 2. At this time, a state's electoral votes could go to whatever candidate the elector chose, which meant that one state could have x number of votes go to Jefferson and any number of votes go to Adams. Virginia did not want this to happen again, so they changed their state election laws and made the state a "winner-take-all" so in four years Adams could not take any of their votes. This caused Massachusetts to do the same. Over time, other states would do the same because it was hurting them not to. The last one to do so was, of course, South Carolina, in 1868.

But that is not the end of the Jefferson and Adams story. In 1802 the two would be running again, so Jefferson was thinking ahead and he had help with Aaron Burr. He wanted to make sure all of his party was in control at the state and national levels. Of course the electors did vote the right way. Originally the Founders gave each elector two votes for president, so they could vote for someone from their state and someone outside of it. They hadn't thought of a national election or that people would want to vote for people outside their state, nor did they foresee political parties. So when Adams won, Jefferson was automatically his vice president, which made things rather awkward for the two men. Which is why the next time around the candidates would have their own vice presidential running mates. The problem came when the electors voted their two votes. They voted one vote for either Adams or Jefferson and then one for Burr or Pinckney, the two vice presidents. John Jay, another man running for president got one vote. This led to a count of Jefferson 73, Burr 73, Adams 65, Pinkney 64, and Jay 1[This all happened to be South Carolina's fault as they were the last one's to vote and someone did not vote for Pickney like he was supposed to, but for Burr]. A majority was reached, but it was reached by two men. Which meant that this would go to the House of Representatives to be voted on for president: one state one vote until a majority was reached. This was part of Article II of the Constitution and meant that the state of Deleware with only one representative had just as much say as New York with it's twelve Representatives.

Now, Hamilton really did not like either Jefferson or Adams by this time. Hamilton wanted a federal government so strong it would elect the governors. He was hoping that South Carolina's Pinckney would win. Now he was terrified that Burr would become president. He hated Jefferson, but he was the lesser of two evils. Hamilton quickly began his trash talking letter writing campaign  saying that Burr was power hungry and would have us at war in no time. The Federalists were working behind the scenes themselves to try to sway Representatives to vote for Jefferson, the Democrat-Republican Candidate (They were called Republicans for short, even though they would become the modern day Democrats. Yes, our government has been confusing us for a very long time.) as they were trying to convince Jefferson to agree to not renounce the national debt, disband the navy, or ally with France in the Napoleonic War. Jefferson was being the stubborn redhead that he was about the whole thing and time was passing quickly. If no president is elected by Inauguration Day (March 4 back then), then at this time, the Speaker of the House is sworn in as the temporary president until the House can get it's act together. All Burr had to do to prove that he was not power hungry person Hamilton said he was, was to say he did not want the presidency, but he could not do that. That was enough, along with Jefferson finally giving a weak promise to the Federalists, to end the election. It also gave us the Twelfth Amendment in 1802 which had electors cast one vote for president and one for vice president and that if no one gets a majority of votes the top three candidates will go to the House to be voted on for president. The Senate votes on the vice president. However, the one state, one vote was kept.

Another quirk that we could very well be looking at in this election, happened in 1824's election. Now, you may not believe me, but in my opinion, this election is the craziest one we have ever had. For one thing the four people running were all Democrat-Republicans. Those running were: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, General Andrew Jackson, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and  Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford. This was a rare time in our history when there was only one party. The Federalist has just died out, the Whigs were about to form, and the real Republicans wouldn't form until 1854.  On top of that, John C. Calhoun, the pro slavery man from South Carolina who would become a real firebrand later, but was now a lot tamer, was running as both Adams's and Jackson's vice president.  It was also the only election, I believe where there was no mud slinging as they were all of the same party as President Monroe, the outgoing president whom they all admired and did not want to offend. The popular vote was Jackson 41%, Adams 31%, Clay 13% and Crawford 11%. The electoral vote was Jackson 99, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. No one reached a majority so according to the Twelfth Amendment the top three candidates got to go to the House of Representatives for them to vote on who was to be president. One state, one vote until a majority is reached.

The author believes that it is a good thing that Clay did not make the cut, as he would have been voted president and this would have been disastrous, which I agree with. Clay was a great debater and negotiator and a great man to put band-aids on our nation that would keep the Civil War from happening sooner, but he was not president material.  As he was out of the race, the House re-elected him Speaker and Clay was in a position to influence who would be president and the person he wanted was Adams. With a lot of back room dealings and serious convincing of one New York Representatives that left the man in tears and the final vote on February 9, 1825 was Adams 18, Crawford 14, and Jackson 2. Jackson is the only person to ever to win the most electoral votes and the most popular votes and lose the presidency. Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the man who would be his vice president, went about destroying Adams in the press. The election of 1828 was the dirtiest in our history with the people of both parties hitting below the belt saying that Adams had "pimped for Czar Alexander I when he was Minister to Russia" and of Jackson that his wife Rachael was a bigamist, because when she married Jackson her divorce had not been finalized.  Jackson won in a landslide, but his wife died weeks after the election and he blamed the magazine that printed the story for her death and never forgave Adams for not putting a stop to it.

The last time we had a close call to having an election go to the House was in 1968 when Nixon, Humphrey, and George Wallace were all running against each other. This is another one of those people are complicated moments. I am not defending these people or their actions. I am also not condemning them with hell-fire and brimstone either. Wallace once rescued a black child from being beaten up by a group of white kids because he believed in a fair fight. He lost his first bid for the governor seat to a man who was connected to the KKK, an organization he wanted nothing to do with. In 1968 the peaceful race movement had turned militant and race riots erupted across America. Wallace told a reporter that whenever he tried to talk about things like roads and schools no one seemed interested, but once you started in on n****** they would stomp their feet.

Whites from all four corners did not want their kids bused to black schools. There were long haired hippies protesting against the war becoming more violent, as seen at the Democratic convention. The crime rate had risen, which was due to many variables, including such things as poverty, living in close quarters, drugs, etc... But the people saw the violence on their TV and here was George Wallace saying he was for law and order and stopping busing and desegregation. None of them considered themselves racists [Keep in mind they are a product of their time.] they just wanted things to be safe and normal again. So he was appealing to a wide demographic in both the North and the South as well as the Midwest. 

Wallace had an agenda, though. He knew he would never have enough votes to get elected president, but he knew he could get enough to get it kicked to the House. His plan was to bargain with one of the candidates before the election day, offering his support if they would guarantee to support some of his ideas. And he would have succeeded if it hadn't been for the man he had just chosen as running mate at the beginning of October. A seven minute talk with the press on October 3, 1968 would pretty much torpedo his plan. He had the choice between Albert "Happy" Chandler and retired four-star general Curtis LeMay, who agreed to run with him once Wallace assured him he wasn't a racist and that he was in favor of staying in Vietnam. LeMay's problem was that he was pro-nuke and before the announcement in front of the press they emphasized to him how he was not to talk about nukes under any circumstances. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he did (He said he would rather "be killed by a nuclear  bomb than a rusty knife.") and that was it. Humphrey pulled ahead in the polls closing the gap on Nixon. The final count was Nixon 301 (43.4%) Humphrey 191 (42.7%) Wallace 46 (13.5%).  Of course the author does a "what if" Wallace had chosen Chandler as a running mate how might it have shaken down.

The author covers the Bush v. Gore election, the Rutherford B. Hayes election of 1876, Benjamin Harrison election of 1888 and how Obama nearly became a runner-up president himself. Actually, he goes back and covers many elections over the years and how close they really were. He also offers some solutions to how to fix the electoral college so that the chance of having another runner-up president could be cut down by an extensive margin including graphs which show how elections would have gone on a state-by-state basis for certain close elections. He makes a very good argument and he is right about the electoral college needing to be fixed. He is also right in the likelihood of this happening being slim as the last time we changed it was back in 1804 with the 12th Amendment. It would take another Constitutional Amendment to do so and many have tried and failed, the last time being thirty-five years ago. We should have done something after the Bush/Gore election, but we did not and now we are faced with not only the possibility of another runner-up president in this very election, but also, if a third party candidacy enters, of the whole three-ring-circus going to the House. It is too late to do anything for this election, but we do need to think about what to do in future elections if we want to keep our faith in a system that we can trust.

Two Redheaded Presidents: Thomas Jefferson had a temperament like mine. When our redheaded temper flared it was like a volcano, but it did so not very often. Jackson, on the other hand, WAS a walking volcano. He fought in more than a dozen duels (mostly to avenge his wife's honor) and would defend any woman who had been slighted. He fired his whole Cabinet, except the Postmaster General, when they refused to apologize and accept one one member's wife because she had a (well deserved) shady reputation that they and their wives gossiped about and refused to invite to events.  When a man made the mistake of trying to assassinate him by shooting a gun that misfired twice, Jackson took his wooden walking stick (He used a walking stick because he had been shot in the leg at least once. During his first duel he had also been shot close to the heart.)  and nearly beat the man to death with it. This is a lesson on not to tick off a redhead. If I had not had a walking stick I would have beaten him roundly about the head with his own gun. His men pulled him off the guy. Yes, Jackson does deserve to be taken off the $20 for what he did to the Native Americans. Keep in mind, though, that he has a real beef with the Brits who were awful to him as a teen in the Revolutionary War and it was the Brits who were egging on the Tribes to attack Americans. When the Creek massacred the men, women and children at Fort Mims in Alabama, Jackson and his men were sent in to deal with it and when  they did they were enraged and killed 900 Creek (Adopting one of the orphan boys) themselves and took their land, which, yes, Jackson believed belonged to America. He was a man of his time. And wrong. Later he would be sent in to fight the Seminoles (Yes, the Brits had gotten to them too.) in Florida, which was a fight he would lose. So during his presidency he would send the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, which is unforgivable. But you can see why he didn't like Native Americans. Some say he believed that the whites were just going to take the land anyway. It was still no excuse. He also created the National Bank and got rid of our National Debt. Yes, we were debt free for the entire time Jackson was president. He as also the first president to really use the veto and he kept South Carolina from succeeding and watched while Texas fought for Independence from Mexico and almost got us into a war with France over an unpaid debt and his hot temper. We are fiery, us redheads. Oh, and North and South Carolina fight to this day over where he was born. Jackson was born in the middle of nowhere at a time when the borders were a bit blurry. Neither state will ever give him up.

Chester A. Arthur: He was nicknamed the "Dude President", which makes you wonder if he had a carpet in the White House "that really tied the room together."

When Harrison was president he tried to make sure that the Blacks were being allowed to vote by fighting for a bill to hire inspectors to watch congressional elections. "The House passed the bill in 1890...In the Senate, however, Republicans from the West saw a chance to win new allies in their quest for a silver-backed currency, and joined southern Democrats to defeat the bill on a procedural vote, 35-34. Colorado's Senator Edward Wolcott said, 'There are many things more important and vital to the welfare of our nation than that colored citizens of the South shall vote.'"

Adlai Stevenson: My whole life I thought there was just one Adlai Stevenson who was vice president and who ran for president from the early 1900s all the way to the 1950s. I just thought he was a very old man. It turns out the first one, the vice president to Glover Cleveland was the grandfather to the second one who would run for president in the 1950s. There ought to be a law about using the same name to run for office. In Hollywood you are not allowed to use the same name as another actor. It should be the same for politics. Less confusion. I did the same with the English Moores and Cromwells.

Gouveneur Morris: Bronx-born Gouveneur Morris (Three neighborhoods in the New York City borough are named after him: Morris Heights, Mirrisania, and Morris Park) is a little known Founding Father. It was his idea that the people vote for the president rather than the legislature (Blame Sherman's grandfather for the electoral college idea). He was also known to improve documents and add a little style. Madison and Hamilton gave him the Constitution to work on and he witteled it down from 12 articles to 7 and wrote the famous Preamble ("We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...").  He also had a peg leg from jumping out a lady's window when her husband came home. He was quite the ladies man.

Why your vote counts: Some say Hitler won with a vote. Some say Kennedy won with a vote. Kennedy beat Nixon in the popular vote by 1/6 of 1%. So, maybe not one vote, but it was awfully close. And, by the way, no one really knows the true popular vote count in that election due to Alabama. They had 5 pro-Kennedy electors and 6 unpledged, pro-segregation electors. The six unpledged have always hinted that they would have voted for Kennedy, even though they cast their votes for Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia. So it is unclear what the exact popular vote was in Alabama. This book gives numerous accounts of elections where the candidate won by less than a percentage point or even by only a few thousand.  Your vote matters.

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Runner-Up-Presidency-Elections-Americas-Democracy/dp/1493022571/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465223898&sr=1-1&keywords=the+runner+up+presidency

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