“I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman ... I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
— Peter Finch as Howard Beale, “Network,” 1976
I understand Howard’s frustration. When, in the entire history of the United States, has our electorate been so disgruntled — yes, disgruntled — by the candidates for both major political parties? In the most recent CBS poll, Hillary Clinton is seen as being dishonest and untrustworthy by 68 percent of voters. Trump was judged the same by 63 percent in May, but that declined to 55 percent after he got a “bounce” in the polls following the Republican National Convention. Clinton will probably get a similar boost. Yet, both candidates are being shoved down our throats by a corrupt system that makes a mockery of the concept of representative governance.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken a week ago, only half of all voters believe that Clinton is prepared to be president, and an astonishing two-thirds judge Trump as being unready for the job. Even more, 69 percent believe that Trump does not show good judgment; 52 percent say the same of Clinton. These verdicts may not be correct, but — in politics — perception is everything. Nevertheless, one of the candidates will be sworn in to the nation’s highest office in January, 2017.
I don’t think that our system was ever really designed to give us the best possible person for the job of president. But, there was a time when the candidates for both parties were, at least, acceptable. What happened? My answer: Political parties became more concerned with the good of the party than with the good of the country. Of course, from their own viewpoints, they may think that the party’s goals are the same as the nation’s. That has hardly ever been the case.
Other political parties have come and gone as possible alternatives, and a few have occasionally made measurable inroads to the electoral process. In 1968, George Wallace was the candidate of the American Independent Party. He received almost 10 million popular votes and 46 electoral votes. He has been the only candidate outside the Republican or Democratic parties to win any electoral votes by vote of the people.
In 2000, Ralph Nader was the candidate of the Green Party. He won nearly 3 million popular votes, about 2.75 percent of the votes cast. Some people opine that he was a third-party spoiler for Al Gore’s Democratic Party campaign, but Nader disputes that claim, pointing to a Supreme Court ruling that halted a recount of the votes in Florida and Gore’s loss in his home state of Tennessee.
This year, the Libertarian Party is offering Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, as its candidate for president. A number of political analysts believe that he could pull votes from both Clinton and Trump in the general election. Clinton could lose the votes that might have gone to Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Republicans who espouse #NeverTrump might cast their votes for the Libertarians. By mid-July, the Johnson-Weld ticket was polling 13 percent, certainly enough to have an effect on the November outcome. But, the bottom line is that either a Democrat or a Republican will win, ultimately.
There are other factors that make our electoral process undemocratic. One factor goes all the way back to the earliest years of our nation. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, it was decided that each state would have a number of electors determined by each state’s population and “in such manner as its Legislature may direct.” This last clause was chosen because the southern states had many slaves, and each slave was counted as three-fifths of a person. So, the “Three-fifths Compromise” was adopted to be sure that only white electors would vote for president of the United States.
Originally, the term “electoral college” was not used, but it became a common part of the political lexicon during the 1840’s, and it is still used today. In fact, when we vote for a presidential candidate, we actually are voting for an elector (a person unknown to the vast majority of voters) who will cast a ballot after the general election.
Since the 1980’s, the Democratic Party has reserved a certain percentage of its delegates to uncommitted delegates, also known as “super delegates.” These delegates are not selected by voters, but by the party. For the most part, they are distinguished party leaders and elected officials, like governors, mayors, and members of the Congress. This year, they make up about 20 percent of the delegates. Although the Republican Party did not adopt this system initially, the GOP designates three delegates in each state (the state chairman and two RNC committee members) as automatic delegates. But, these delegates are required to vote according to the result of their state’s primary election, if the state holds a primary.
Finally, there is the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 split, the court interpreted the “free speech” clause of the First Amendment to allow corporations and unions to spend money both on “electioneering communications” and to advocate for the election or defeat of candidates, directly. However, these wealthy entities (as well as individual billionaires) cannot give money directly to candidates or their parties. Hence, the creation of PACs (Political Action Committees).
When we add up all the factors that are stacked up against our individual voice or collective roar, it may seem futile to participate in the electoral system. But, here in Madera in the twenty-first century, the outcome of the election for one of our county supervisors was determined by a single vote . So, each time we have an election, I fill out my ballot, and I hope that you do, too. Afterward, we can stick our heads out the window and release our frustration.