Presidential elections are different from all the other elections we have in this country. If you aren’t familiar with the process, you’d better get familiar, and fast.
After Monday’s Iowa caucus, we have nothing but caucuses and primaries between now and summer, when the political parties get together for a week and then settle the question of which candidate(s) will represent their interests best. We’re done with pure speculation, though the media in general might think otherwise. Folks are finally exercising their right to vote. That is, as long as those rights haven’t been infringed.
While I could trot out all the ways in which campaigns smear candidates in service to proving their worth, I am only going to post two links and then I’m going to ask a lot of the questions I’m getting from Millennials on one hand and conservatives on the other.
With the demonizing of Muslims, backlash against African Americans and Central American refugees recast as “migrants,” Afghanistan, Iraq and (if the GOP get their way) Iran and Syria, we are in our own Wiemar Republic-style Liberal/Conservative war, bringing us to the Election of Exhaustion.
First, from Mother Jones: Here Come the Crazy Clinton Conspiracies of the 1990s
Second, from Amazon.com: The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton
Now that I have those things out of the way, let me make my own position clear: I support Bernie Sanders in the Primaries, including my own in Maryland, where I am a registered Democrat. And I support the winner of the nomination when the Democrats select their candidate in late July this summer. It will be hot as hell in Philadelphia, and oh, so appropriate for the election this time.
So, before New Hampshire’s primary next week, let’s have that conversation.
How does the President win an election?
Every state does it differently when it comes to primaries. Some states, like Iowa, hold caucuses, others have elections. Some of these are open–meaning a voter can cross party lines–but most are closed. No matter how the candidate is selected, at the party convention, where the candidate gets the official nod, we discover the running mates (Vice Presidential candidates) and from then on, the campaigns are all about which candidates will win. But here’s the thing. If you think you’re voting for your candidate, you’re not. You’re voting to select the members of the Electoral College, who will THEN vote for your candidate, assuming they do the job they were sworn to do.
This artifact of the original founding fathers and the first Constitutional Convention in 1787 is destined for retirement eventually. Until that happens, you’d better understand what your vote actually does, or you’re likely to regret your choice, come November.
If I don’t like a candidate I can just write in my own choice, can’t I?
Well, no. It’s not that simple. Sorry. If your write-in candidate isn’t registered in the state that way, your vote goes into the trash. Nice try, but that’s not how it works.
What else am I voting for in November?
Members of the US Senate serve six-year terms and are elected in thirds. One third of the Senate is up for election each two year cycle. In 2016, from (http://www.periodicalpress.senate.gov/reelection-2016/) these senate seats are up for grabs:
Michael Bennet (Colorado)
Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut)
Barbara Boxer (California) retiring in 2016
Patrick Leahy (Vermont)
Barbara Mikulski (Maryland) retiring in 2016
Patty Murray (Washington)
Harry Reid (Nevada) retiring in 2016
Brian Schatz (Hawaii)
Charles Schumer (New York)
Ron Wyden (Oregon)
Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire)
Roy Blunt (Missouri)
John Boozman (Arkansas)
Richard Burr (North Carolina)
Dan Coats (Indiana) retiring in 2016
Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
John Hoeven (North Dakota)
Johnny Isakson (Georgia)
Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)
Mark Kirk (Illinois)
James Lankford (Oklahoma)
Mike Lee (Utah)
John McCain (Arizona)
Jerry Moran (Kansas)
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Rob Portman (Ohio)
Marco Rubio (Florida) retiring in 2016
Tim Scott (South Carolina)
Richard Shelby (Alabama)
John Thune (South Dakota)
Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania)
David Vitter (Louisiana)
The House of Representatives is selected during every even year election. If you wanted to, you could replace every one of your House representatives every two years. Democrats only need 30 additional seats to take control back from the GOP.
Why should I care?
The Presidency is only one branch of government and the President doesn’t write law. He can ask for law to be enacted or, with strict limits, make executive decisions regarding legal interpretation, but it’s the House that writes the budget and only in cooperation with the Senate. If the House and Senate agree with the President and he sides with corporate interests (Oligarchy, Plutocracy), the people lose their rights to Democracy.
Theoretically, both the House and Senate should be providing laws that enhance or clarify the Constitution. In reality, there’s a wide margin of interpretation regarding what is and isn’t Constitutional, and a majority of law is now written to protect the wealthy and screw the poor and lower middle classes. And there is presently nothing to stop them from adding whatever riders (commonly known as “pork”) they want to bills that must pass, like the NDAA, which also pays our service members’ salaries.
So what? What does that mean to our current government?
Well, if the House and Senate disagree about what the President thinks will help the people of our country, they can stop legislation from reaching the President or, through a series of tacked on amendments, push through their own agenda by adding riders to bills that force the President to do things that aren’t in the best interests of the people. Without a majority on the side of the President, nothing gets done.
Some people are fine with that, but they’re generally not the ones who need help the most.
Well, if it’s not Constitutional, who fixes the problem?
Theoretically that’s where the third branch comes in. That’s the court system, led by the Supreme Court. And here’s the biggest problem we face today, in February, just as the 2016 election year gets underway.
Why is that a big deal?
The Supreme Court consists of nine lifetime appointments. It’s the Justice’s decision to retire if he or she doesn’t die in office first. While there is an impeachment process outlined, no Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached.
At present, the following justices are over the age of 67 (legal retirement age):
- Clarence Thomas (age 67)
- Stephen Breyer (age 77)
- Anthony Kennedy (age 79)
- Antonin Scalia (age 79)
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 82)
Five of the nine are old enough to retire from ordinary service. Three of these are on the liberal side of the courts. And there is virtually no chance whatsoever that the next President won’t be required to appoint at least one new member. The general age range of new court justices appointed is 50-55. They tend to serve at least 20 years on the bench, but Scalia is just 8 months shy of his 30th anniversary.
While the President can appoint a justice, the Senate and House have to agree on the appointment. So chew on this: If the House and Senate retain their GOP majorities, but the President is a Democrat, approval will be difficult at best. If the GOP wins the presidency, and the House and Senate retain their majorities, there is no chance whatsoever that the court will see another liberal appointment. Possibly ever.
What else is going on?
Well, now that you mention it, there’s that little matter of a Constitutional Convention. Remember when I mentioned it a few paragraphs ago? Did you know we are somewhere between two and five states away from having enough states to call one? True. It only takes 34, and Texas’ declaration is the most recent. Imagine the Constitution without any of the amendments beyond the Bill of Rights. That’s 17 additional amendments some conservatives would dearly love to see abolished.
So what does all this mean?
It means that if you choose to throw your vote behind any candidate except the one that wins the Democratic nomination, you are voting for the GOP. And if that happens, and they get control of all three branches of government, this could be the last time you get to vote on anything. Imagine what this country would be like under President McCain or President Romney. Now imagine President Cruz. It’s not terribly far-fetched.
Considering what the court system has done to eliminate voting rights protection, women’s rights to health and work, fair wages and so much more, what are you prepared to risk, to support your passion?