Working for it (just a little)…

I’m not a stranger to staking out unpopular opinions. It’s why I’ve never fit comfortably in such descriptive categories as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. I take a bit from each, apply my own logic and analysis, and come up with a position that makes purists in all categories somewhat uncomfortable. I’m fine with their discomfort.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I also have what I’m sure will be an internet-unpopular take on voting.

I simply believe that requiring a bit of effort to exercise the vote isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Republic. 

There. I said it. I don’t think voting should be turned into a sacred quest, but participating in an election should require at least a minimal amount of work. Showing up on the appointed day and time or needing to request a ballot isn’t a high bar to cross, but it does demonstrate personal commitment to the process. It’s a small, perhaps only symbolic gesture that someone is taking their role of citizen seriously… and we put a much higher burden on exercising other essential liberties.

Needing to work for it, if even just a little bit, implies a level of commitment to the idea that your vote is the matters not just to the process, but also to you as an individual… and that doesn’t sound like the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

Not the first, nor the last…

Politics is one of those wonderful lands where how it looks is far, far more important than what it really is. As much as we like to think of our presidents as paragons of health and virtue, our history is filled with examples of dire medical conditions that were kept from the public because admitting the seriousness of their various conditions would have been an admission of weakness. 

President Trump’s forging ahead to return to the White House despite ongoing treatment for COVID-19 is hardly an exception to the age-old rules of American politics. Wilson’s debilitating stroke was hidden from the public through the last year of his presidency. While campaigning for a 3rd term, Theodore Roosevelt was literally shot in the chest, but refused to surrender the podium. Jack Kennedy was regularly jammed full of painkillers to relieve a chronic backache. Franklin Roosevelt was dying of heart disease when he was elected to his 4th term. 

There’s nothing new going on here, with the obvious exception of 24-hour professional and social media coverage that the American president receives day in and day out. Donald Trump might like to sell himself as the businessman president, but in the end he’s as much just another professional politician as the rest of them now… and in the last 30 days of an election, in a tight race, you’d be hard pressed to find a professional politician who wouldn’t rather die on the trail than stay in the hospital.

This isn’t the first time a president has pushed their health way past the breaking point in pursuit of their brass ring and I dare say it won’t be the last.

Breaking news or: What puts eyes on screens…

The President of the United States has contracted the Great Plague.

There’s very little I can say about that that hasn’t been pummeled to death by the media in the last sixteen hours. What I am interested in, though, is the approach to covering this news story. I very quickly lost track of how many “below the fold” stories, tweets, and talking heads were taking great pains to spin it not so much as a health or politics story, but as a “national security crisis.” 

Yeah, about that. 

Look, I know that makes for sexy, sexy headline, but let’s not pretend this is a Cuban missile crisis or Berlin blockade. It’s not a foreign decapitation strike that knocked out the first 47 people in the line of succession. It’s not a cyber-attack against our critical infrastructure. It’s an old man who’s come down with a nasty bug. 

Yes, that means we dust off the succession planning and continuity of government documents. It might even mean we hustle someone off to set up housekeeping at Dick Cheney’s secure, undisclosed location. It could even mean ginning up the military to conduct a few small display of strength exercises as a reminder that we don’t turn off the lights just because the current occupant of the Oval Office has the sniffles, has heart surgery, or even gets shot.

The president having COVID-19 is a legitimate news story, but it hardly heralds the collapse of the institution of the presidency let alone causes the entire executive branch to seize up… but I don’t suppose that kind of story fills column inches or puts eyes on screens.

The news cycle has its priorities, and I have mine…

So… What do you want to talk about today?

The screaming banner headlines on every new site in the western world say the topic is tax returns. Maybe it’s tomorrow’s presidential debate if you read the more subtle, non-72 point font headlines a bit further down the page. Maybe it’s another day to rage about COVID-19, or Russia, or protests turned riot.

Any one of them could, theoretically, be a good enough topic to meet my word quota for today’s post. They’d fill the gap… and my eyes would likely roll completely out of my skull even before I added the final period.

I’m increasingly aware of the limits of my span of control, or at least on those things where I can exert some level of actual influence. If it doesn’t take place wholly within the confines of the woods and lawn of Fortress Jeff, that kind of control is just about non-existent and any pretense of influence is shaky at the very best.

I was first attracted to this phrase years ago when I heard it on the series finale of The Tudors – when an ailing Duke of Suffolk declines to intervene among those jockeying to take advantage of Henry’s quickly approaching death. The duke, in one of his most pragmatic moments says, “I’m not sure if this is any answer, my Lord Hertford, but I’ve always been drawn to a phrase used by the French peasants: ‘Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.’

I’m not a particularly religious man. My praise and prayers, to the best of my knowledge, have always gone unheeded, so I can’t speak to that bit, but the rest seems to make perfect sense in its simplicity. The older I get, the more I see of people and politics and the world, the more convinced I am of the wisdom of taking care of my own, spending money for the good gin, and letting the rest of the world bugger directly off.

I’m sure that’s not at all what the talking heads want me paying attention to at the moment, but the desires of pols, activists, and news readers plays a more and more insignificant role in setting my agenda these days. It may be a decade or more off yet, but spending my time keeping an eye on large acreage plots coming available and working on my perfect floor plan feel like a far better use of time than anything CNN or Fox could possibly spew in my direction.

Pox Americana…

It’s convention season… whatever that means here in the belly of a plague year. When I was a kid, I’d watch both party’s conventions from gavel to gavel, utterly fascinated by the process. I still have a morbid fascination with how we go about formally selecting our candidates, but the chances of me watching more than the highlights reel this year are stuck firmly between slim and none.

It’s not just that this year’s conventions are going to be devoid of the flash and show that are typical. It’s more that there’s just not that much new to learn about the parties or the candidates.

I’ll hate every tax increasing, gun grabbing, self-righteous woke-ism spewed from the Democrats. I’ll loath and despise the Republicans for every step they take away from the small government, low taxes, and anti-deficit positions that use to define the party. 

For the two weeks of political infomercials, I expect to see almost nothing that would convince me to vote for a candidate instead of a litany of why I should vote against the other guy. Maybe I’m too cynical a man in too cynical an age, but I’m going to need more than that if anyone wants me to get excited about politics again.

Feel free to ring me up when they start talking about any of my issues. Until then it’s a pox on both their houses.

Friendly reminder…

I don’t get too wrapped up in it, but I do keep a partial ear towards the ongoing coverage of this year’s election. I feel like I’m going to repeatedly deliver a reminder to everyone that despite what they may think they learned in their freshman civics class, we don’t have a national election for president in this country.

We have fifty state elections for president – or more technically we have 50 state elections to select the electors who will, in turn, vote for president. 

This is why I grit my teeth every time I see some news prognosticator talking about who’s up or down in national polls. How a candidate is playing across the vast sweep of the American continent is interesting to know, but mostly irrelevant to telling us who’s most likely to win election as president. 

The fact that election to the highest office in the land currently requires winning the majority of electors and not the majority of votes on election day is the crux of the argument for those who want to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct national vote for president. Those have been the “rules of the game” the dawn of the republic. While the average citizen may not be clear on that point, no one who seriously follows politics has any confusion about how the system works.

The Democratic Party managed to dominate elections through large swaths of the 20th century – while playing by those long-established rules of the game. In the 21st century their party platform has been structured in such a way as to consolidate strong support in costal and urban areas – while largely doing nothing to speak to their historic rural and rust belt bases of support. That runs the total number of votes up in these stronghold areas without broadening the base of support in any meaningful way. The Republican machine, not being operated by political idiots, crafted their message to pick up as many of those formerly Democratically leaning voters as possible. Republicans have had a decade or more of running the table in areas that would have been a no contest win for the average Democratic candidate of yore. 

So, here’s the thing. Instead of pitching a hissy fit that the same rules everyone has played under for more than 200 years are suddenly no longer fair, maybe take a look at the party platform and figure out why you’re mostly attracting voters along the coasts and in the big cities while finding little support in the other parts of the country. The problem isn’t the rules – it’s a failure to connect with voters “out there” in flyover country and to gather up some of the electors that go with them.

If the goal isn’t to win elections by appealing to a broad subset of voters then the crusade to abolish the Electoral College is far more about gaining power than it is about the sanctity of the electoral process. At least have the stones to admit it.

At the risk of drawing the wrath of the wokes…

I couldn’t help but notice that Chicago was the latest city seemingly brought to its knees by what their behavior indicates is a semi-organized criminal element. Large retailers as well as small businesses and restaurants were the target of looting throughout the downtown section of Chicago on Sunday night into Monday morning. The Tribune reports that some of the criminals responsible were seen loading their loot into the back of waiting rental trucks and other large vehicles. That hardly sounds like a spontaneous protest of social-minded reformers. A hundred looters, a small minority of those the video clips show participating in the pillaging, were arrested.

Last night, Black Lives Matter Chicago held a rally supporting those who were arrested… if one can use the word “rally” to describe the act of surrounding a police station and threatening violence if the group’s demands aren’t met. One of that organization’s leaders noted that the ongoing looting was simply “reparations,” further asserting that “Anything they wanted it take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.” So, it turns out that theft and destruction are just fine as long as you call them something else.

The incident was triggered when a 20-year old suspect opened fire on the police, who had the unmitigated audacity to return fire when fired upon. Shocking. That particular detail was, of course, buried well down below the lead in most of the sources I read this morning.

I don’t know how long we’re collectively supposed to pretend that violent criminals are in possession of the insurmountable moral high ground in these incidents. At least a few media outlets are starting to report on these events more objectively rather than trying to sell the story of saintly and peaceful protestors versus the wicked and evil police. 

Look, you want to protest, sing your songs, clap your hands, wave your signs, whatever it is that legitimately peaceful protestors spend their time doing, fine. I’m happy for you. Do your thing. Whatever. The moment you use that platform as a cover for violence and criminal behavior, any credibility you may have had with moderate observers is pretty much null and void.

I’m sure this post runs the risk of drawing down the wrath of the internet wokes and getting me cancelled for having the temerity to break with their received truth. As long as it’s my name up there on the masthead, though, you can always trust that I’ll keep saying what I think rather than what’s simply in fashion.

Pen and ink…

This weekend I visited the Maryland Board of Elections website and applied for a general election absentee ballot. I know, I know, my hard right friends will be sure I’m throwing my ballot into a swampy morass of leftist vote rigging. My leftist friends will be offended that I had to actually apply for the ballot instead of them being airdropped from one end of the state to the other. When both sides are pissed off, I generally feel like I’m getting something right.

Due to circumstances, I’ve voted absentee in presidential elections at least twice previously. Licking a stamp doesn’t give me the same warm fuzzy that I got from walking into the old-fashioned voting booths, throwing the lever, and closing the curtain behind me, but then again neither does the little scantron forms used with “modern” voting machines. Still, when possible, I like voting in person when it’s possible. It makes me feel like I’ve done something a little more important than sending in a rebate or paying the phone bill.

Look, you’re free to do whatever you want, but the idea of standing around for half an hour or more with several hundred of my closest neighbors, touching all the same things they touch, breathing in the recirculated air, and watching them argue for their “right not to wear a mask” has very little appeal. That’s especially when there’s a simple and effective alternative – although how effective it will be across each of the 49 other states remains to be seen. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that we don’t have national elections in this country – but rather a host of state elections by which we decide who represents us and forms that national government. 

Frankly, influencing an election to determine who makes up that government by hacking into an electronic machine feels a lot more likely to than doing so via pen and ink ballots, so I’m a little perplexed at why it’s even a thing we’re supposed to worry about. Then again, everything has to fit someone’s narrative so I’m sure there will be plenty of coverage about how both options are awful and we’re all doomed.

That’s not how any of this works…

This morning, President Trump suggested via tweet that the general election in November should be delayed. Dude, seriously. That’s not how any of this works.

The United States has held its regularly scheduled elections through the Civil War, through the depths of the Great Depression, through two globe-spanning world wars, and yes, through past pandemics. 

Notwithstanding the fact that suspending elections is not among the powers of the president, the suggestion that doing so is necessary or proper flies in the face of both history and common sense. Suggesting that we as a country are somehow incapable of electing a leader in times of adversity defies the reality of the American electoral experience.

Let us assume for a moment that the election is delayed (something that would require changing current law that establishes election day as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November”) – past November – past December – past January. Even in the absence of an election, an inauguration will take place on January 20th, so it’s not as if President Trump simply stays in office. His term expires on January 20th at noon. The office and powers of the presidency would then devolve to the next duly elected official in the line of succession – in this case that would most likely be the President pro tempore of the United States Senate since he’s in the middle of his term of office. We’ve skipped over the Speaker of the House of Representatives since her term would have expired along with President Trump’s on January 20th.

A suspended election doesn’t create an eternal Trump presidency, but it does make the creaking machinery of our Constitution work much harder than it needs to. Suggesting that such a thing is even a possibility belies both a tremendous lack of understanding of how elections in this country work and a fundamental disregard for the foundational institutions of the republic.

Lowest common denominator…

I’ll admit it. I’m vaguely fascinated by news reports of some of the fringe actors in the modern “protest” movement – particularly the ones that define themselves as being “resolutely anti-capitalist.”

The Cold War kid in me has definite feelings about that. 

The middle aged adult me, the one with a vested retirement and decades of proven growth a tax advantaged savings account, has big feelings about it.

Far from seeing capitalism as the disease, I’ve always viewed it as the cure, though it’s far from a magic pill. I took my lumps back in 2008 just like everyone else – maybe a little more because I was determined to make good on my debts rather than just walking away from them or expecting someone else to foot the bill. Even after taking those lumps, though, I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I opted out of capitalism to chase a Marxist pipe dream. Color me an enemy of the state for that, I guess. 

I’ve long mistrusted people as individuals – and have had virtually no trust at all of large groups of them who are convinced beyond reason that they have uncovered the One True Way. I don’t have the time or energy to do anything with fanatics other than mock them mercilessly. Life experience tells me that expecting everyone around the globe to link arms, sing happy songs, and do everything out of the goodness of their collective hearts is going to do not much more than shatter the hopes and dreams of a bunch of idealistic youngsters when the realize the world truly doesn’t give two shits about them or whatever cloud castle they’re trying to build. 

The history of our species is a long list of violence and blood-letting. If we pull back the curtain far enough on this wave of “anti-capitalists,” I’d speculate what we’ll find is just another group of elites who are inching along what they’ve identified as a newly feasible path towards gathering up the reins of power into their own hands. 

Me? I prefer the market-based approach. It doesn’t pretend to be kinder and gentler – but a system that rewards personal initiative and risk seems infinitely preferable to one that wants to smash everyone into the mold of lowest common denominator “equality.”