Saturday, November 03, 2012

Jonathan Zasloff usefully reminds us of what happened in 2000 ... and what it means for 2012

Some highlights from Jonathan Zasloff's post on Monday about Obama’s “Legitimacy” and a Popular-Electoral Vote Split:
Lots of chatter throughout Blogistan if President Obama is re-elected with more than 270 Electoral votes but with fewer popular votes than Mittdrake the Magician.  Much of it is silly.

First silly meme: Democrats were outraged when Bush lots the popular vote in 2000.  How can they defend swearing in a non-popular vote winner now?

Let’s get this one straight.  Democrats were not outraged that Bush lost the popular vote and won the electoral college.  Democrats were outraged that Bush lost the popular vote and stole the electoral college.

If Bush had won Florida by 5,000 votes, then Democrats would have grumbled and protested the unfairness of the system, but would not have questioned Bush’s legal right to assume the presidency.
I'll go one step further. If there had been a fair and comprehensive recount of the votes in Florida, and Bush had won the state by 500 votes, I would have grumbled but accepted his election as legitimate under the rules of the game. (Bush's officially certified, but almost certainly inaccurate, margin of victory in Florida was 537 votes.) And that's despite all the other irregularities and acts of electoral malfeasance that marked the 2000 election in Florida, including the pre-election purge of supposedly ineligible voters ordered by Secretary of State Katherine Harris that, no doubt coincidentally, wound up removing thousands of entirely eligible (and disproportionately black) voters from the rolls of registered voters.

Instead, as we know, the Republicans did everything they could to prevent a recount and to sabotage it while it was going on ... and then the Supreme Court stepped in with a historically unprecedented, shockingly unprincipled, and blatantly partisan intervention that shut down the whole process and delivered the election to Bush.  Whatever the outcome of a fair and complete recount might have been—even if we assume for the sake of argument that the result might have given Florida to Bush, which is probably not correct—this outcome means that, in actual fact, Bush did not fairly win the election.
Republicans might want the rest of us to forget the Brooks Brothers riot, the shutting down of vote-counting, the hackery of Katherine Harris, and the lawless grotesquery of Bush v. Gore, but those of us with an interest in facts will not.  Republicans stole this election by getting their hand-picked judges to violate the basic norm in a democracy, viz. count the votes.
To suggest that one party "stole" a presidential election is not the sort of language that should be used casually or carelessly. But I agree with Zasloff that, with respect to the 2000 election, a sober assessment of the facts supports that conclusion--and I've felt that way since 2001.  For some further details, see Jonathan Chait's characteristically incisive discussion here.

Zasloff adds another critically important point:
If Obama wins an electoral vote majority, he will do so not because of these tactics but in spite of them, as Republicans have worked hard to once again suppress voting and voter registration, especially in key states like Ohio and Florida.  (Credit where it is due: the Supremes, for once, decided to allow for some democratic decision-making here).  If Obama triumphs only in the electoral college, there will simply be no cause for comparison.
Right.

(For the long term, though, we should nevertheless be thinking about whether there's any way to reform the process of presidential elections to remove the possibility of a divergence between the electoral-vote and popular-vote winners.)

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Later in his post, Zasloff adds another historical tidbit that may interest some of you who were not already aware of it. It concerns one of the icons of the right on both sides of the Atlantic, Margaret Thatcher, who was Britain's Prime Minister from 1979-1990 and in the process pushed through some fairly radical policies:
Mrs. Thatcher never won more than 44% of the popular vote, and the Conservative Party’s percentages declined in every subsequent election with her at the helm.
That’s right.  In 1979, the Tories got 43.9% of the vote. In 1983, supposedly the year of her greatest triumph, she led the Conservatives to a smashing 42.4% share. Four years later, she continued her downward spiral with a 42.2% share.
Obama’s answer to reporters at press conferences is simple: if it’s good enough for Margaret Thatcher, it’s good enough for me.

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