The Democrats’ sweep­stakes of fri­vol­ity threat­ens to show that 2016 can be re­peated

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

WASH­ING­TON – The Democrats’ pres­i­den­tial aspi­rants seem de­ter­mined to prove that their party’s 2016 achieve­ment – the elec­tion of the cur­rent pres­i­dent – was not a fluke that can­not be re­peated. But the Re­pub­li­can Party, whose last re­main­ing rai­son d’etre is to frus­trate Democrats, seems to be think­ing: We are de­ter­mined to lose the 2020 elec­tion in or­der to foil Democrats’ at­tempts to lose it.

The Demo­cratic aspi­rants ra­di­ate un­se­ri­ous­ness about things they speak about with no­table solem­nity. By their words of en­dorse­ment, many of them said that the Green New Deal is a mat­ter of life and death – for the planet, no less. But their ac­tions – zero Sen­ate votes for the GND – say some­thing else.

Among the rea­sons th­ese aspi­rants give for promis­ing to abol­ish the Elec­toral Col­lege is one rea­son that vir­tu­ally guar­an­tees that it will not be abol­ished: Be­cause each state gets two elec­toral votes for its sen­a­tors, the sys­tem ad­van­tages the least pop­u­lous states. Op­po­si­tion by 13 states will ex­tin­guish any con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. If the leg­is­la­tures of any of the 13 least­pop­u­lous states (Wy­oming, Ver­mont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Is­land, Mon­tana, Maine, New Hamp­shire, Hawaii, Idaho, West Vir­ginia) fail to op­pose an amend­ment abol­ish­ing the elec­toral-vote sys­tem, other leg­is­la­tures – those of, for ex­am­ple, Ne­braska, Kansas, Arkansas, Utah, Mis­sis­sippi – prob­a­bly will en­sure de­feat.

Com­pe­ti­tion in the Democrats’ fri­vol­ity sweep­stakes is in­tense. Beto O’Rourke con­tem­plates amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion “to show that cor­po­ra­tions are not peo­ple.” Con­ceiv­ably, he has not thought through why cor­po­rate per­son­hood has been in An­glo-Amer­i­can law for cen­turies: For-profit and non­profit (in­clud­ing al­most all pro­gres­sive ad­vo­cacy groups) cor­po­ra­tions are ac­corded rights as “ar­ti­fi­cial per­sons” (Wil­liam Black­stone’s phrase) to en­able them to have lives, iden­ti­ties and mis­sions that span gen­er­a­tions and pro­duce a ro­bust civil so­ci­ety of freely co­op­er­at­ing cit­i­zens.

Don­ald Trump must se­cretly ad­mire Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s thor­oughly Trumpian pro­posal – made where pan­der­ing is per­fected: Iowa – to ban for­eign­ers from buy­ing U.S. farm­land. Lest di­a­bol­i­cal for­eign­ers take our loam home? No, War­ren says for­eign­ers threaten “food se­cu­rity,” hence “na­tional se­cu­rity,” too. War­ren and Trump – he who sees a na­tional se­cu­rity threat from im­ported Audis – are to­gether at last.

“I wore my Planned Par­ent­hood pink!” ex­claimed Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at a re­cent Wash­ing­ton cat­tle call for Demo­cratic can­di­dates. She, who is sup­posed to rep­re­sent the sen­si­bil­ity of fly­over coun­try in her dis­pro­por­tion­ately coastal party, told the con­clave that a “ma­jor pri­or­ity” for her, one that she would em­pha­size in her pres­i­dency’s first 100 days, is state­hood for the Dis­trict of Columbia, a pe­cu­liar prom­ise to fa­cil­i­tate re­tak­ing Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia. Julian Cas­tro – for­mer mayor of San An­to­nio, for­mer sec­re­tary of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment – said that when he is the 46th pres­i­dent he will fa­vor mak­ing Congress sub­ject to the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act. This is per­haps a good goal but not up­per­most in the elec­torate’s mind.

The Fi­nan­cial Times notes that in 2018, exit polls showed that a plu­ral­ity of vot­ers – 41 per­cent – ranked health care as their fore­most con­cern. That was the year when it be­came oblig­a­tory for all can­di­dates to prom­ise that health in­surance shall not be de­nied be­cause of a per­son’s pre­ex­ist­ing health prob­lems. But Trump (“No­body knew health care could be so com­pli­cated”) ev­i­dently is go­ing to seek re­elec­tion say­ing: Trust me, there will be “a re­ally great” Re­pub­li­can health care plan – af­ter the elec­tion, and af­ter my ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­vinced a court to over­turn the en­tire Af­ford­able Care Act (in­clud­ing guar­an­teed in­surance cov­er­age for those with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions), which now en­joys the sup­port of a nar­row ma­jor­ity.

Vot­ers might won­der why the com­ing health plan’s great­ness will not be un­veiled as an elec­tion as­set. And vot­ers might re­mem­ber that in 1968 Richard Nixon said: Trust me, I have a plan to end the Viet­nam War. When, seven years later, in April 1975, the last he­li­copter lifted off the roof of the U.S. Em­bassy in Saigon, more than 21,000 Amer­i­cans had died in com­bat since Nixon’s in­au­gu­ra­tion – ap­prox­i­mately 37 per­cent of those killed in the war since the early 1960s.

The even­tual Demo­cratic nom­i­nee is prob­a­bly among the many al­ready run­ning. So the party, with its mo­saic of fac­tions to pla­cate (af­flu­ent pro­gres­sives, fac­ulty club so­cial­ists, sub­ur­ban women, African Amer­i­cans, His­pan­ics, cli­mate wor­ri­ers, iden­tity-politics war­riors, etc.) and its aver­sion to win­ner-take-all pri­maries, should re­mem­ber 1972 or 1984. Its nom­i­nees, Ge­orge Mc­Gov­ern and Wal­ter Mon­dale won 25 per­cent and 38 per­cent, re­spec­tively, of the nom­i­nat­ing elec­torate’s votes. In the two gen­eral elec­tions, they lost 98 states.

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