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Friday Talking Points -- Special Election Edition

Welcome back to Friday Talking Points. We went on our annual hiatus last Friday, to bring everyone two chilling Hallowe'en nightmares, but we found that it was actually quite hard this year to come up with anything more terrifying than "the other candidate wins" -- for either side of the aisle. Such has been the 2016 election season.


However, regular readers of this column are going to have to wait yet another week for a standard Friday Talking Points offering. This week we are throwing out our format entirely, and instead providing an explanation of who we're voting for, followed by a call for reform in an effort to inject a possible silver lining to what promises to be a very contentious Election Day (no matter who wins). Yes, there will be optimism at the end of this column, specifically provided for people who are tired of the apocalyptic tone of the final pre-election week. So there's that to look forward to.


As we sat down today to write our usual talking points, we realized that it would be an almost pointless exercise. By this point, Democrats already know what to say about Donald Trump -- and they've been loudly saying so to anyone who will listen. Our attempts to add to this cacophony would be virtually meaningless now. So too would rehashing the past two weeks, since America has been breathlessly following this storyline on an almost hourly basis.


Instead, we're going to first explain who we're personally voting for, and then we're going to attempt to interject a little optimism for the near future at the end. We promise that next week we'll return to our usual format (either in triumph or in sorrow), after the election is over. And we didn't want to disappoint regular readers, so we have managed to fill roughly the same amount of pages as we normally do on Fridays (translation: get ready for an insanely long column, as always).


 


Why I'm voting for Hillary Clinton


This column has always had a rather obvious partisan bias. It's not actually in the title, but it has always been understood that these are weekly Democratic talking points, to put it another way. So it should come to no surprise to anyone that I'm voting for Hillary Clinton next Tuesday.


[Editor's note: we are eschewing our traditional use (abuse?) of the editorial "we" for the rest of this particular section, because it solely concerns one man's vote, and is not an editorial endorsement or anything.]


The choice seems pretty obvious, and can be summed up as: Hillary Clinton is not Donald Trump. No matter what you think of Hillary, she is not a dangerously unstable individual with a propensity for obsessing about her enemies and wreaking vengeance. That right there is all I really needed to contemplate in order to make my choice.


Hillary Clinton might disappoint, but she probably won't launch nuclear weapons if some other country's leader personally insults her. The same cannot be said with any degree of confidence about her opponent.


Eight years ago, I voted for Barack Obama knowing full well he was going to disappoint me on at least a few issues. His craven vote on government surveillance during the 2008 campaign was an omen for how he'd govern, I thought at the time. Since then, the Obama administration has brought more criminal cases using the Espionage Act (passed during World War I) than all other presidents combined, so it looks like that was a fair assumption.


Obama has disappointed me in plenty of other ways as well, some of them quite shocking. Who would have ever expected that Obama's biggest weakness would have been his inability to communicate well -- with either the public or with members of Congress (including those from his own party)? And yet, that's exactly what happened. Obama hasn't played the Washington game very well when it comes to relations with Capitol Hill, and he has never used the "bully pulpit" anywhere near as well as some people expected him to (me included). His negotiating skills with Republicans in Congress were also atrocious, and consisted of giving away half the store before the bargaining even began. Thankfully, the radical Right shot down his most egregious giveaways to the GOP, because they wanted 100 percent of their agenda and were perfectly content to hold out on any compromise the GOP leadership came up with which fell short of their absolutist goal. This saved Social Security from drastic cuts, so it is no small thing. Obama's close ties to Wall Street were also evident from the moment he announced his economic team, and his disdain for the Left was vocally expressed by Rahm Emanuel for years. However, having said all of that, I'm pretty satisfied overall with what he's managed to accomplish. On a scale of ten, I'd give his presidency an eight or nine, personally.


My eyes are even wider open with Hillary Clinton. I know she's going to disappoint me in a number of ways. I can pretty much guarantee that her foreign policy will lead to a big disappointment, although I couldn't say where this will take place. I could easily see Clinton marching America off to a new war somewhere, just to prove she's as tough as Maggie Thatcher, for instance.


I think Hillary Clinton will be even more disappointing than Barack Obama in two big areas. I think she'll also be way too close to Wall Street -- even more so than Obama. So if she's elected, I am already prepared to cringe when I hear who her economic team will consist of. To put this another way, I don't expect Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to have a whole lot of influence on Clinton's economic agenda. The other area I fully expect Hillary to disappoint me on is bargaining with Congress. Bill Clinton had the same problem, which is where we got "end welfare as we know it" and all the rest of his dealmaking with Newt Gingrich and company. Hillary even campaigned on being "pragmatic," which I read as: "willing to give Republicans a whole lot more than they deserve when negotiating on the budget," for example.


All of that I fully expect. I suspect I am not alone in these concerns, either. Ask any Bernie Sanders primary voter, and they'll probably echo the same worries. But what may be more surprising (to a whole lot of folks) is that I also fully expect Clinton to pretty much ignore (or just give the most minimal lip service) to a long list of her campaign promises -- specifically the ones where Bernie forced her to a more progressive position.


Hillary bills herself as a politician who can "get things done," but I just don't see her fighting very hard for (to name just one) free college for all. Or doing anything more than slapping a Band-Aid on the problem of income inequality. I'd be willing to bet that at the end of her term, Warren Buffett's secretary will still pay a higher income tax rate than he does, to put this another way.


In short, I expect Hillary Clinton to become very good at explaining why the progressive agenda just isn't possible at the moment, and that she fought as hard as she knew how but it just isn't going to happen. She will toss some breadcrumbs to the Left, but they will likely be very small and miserly indeed. I also fully expect Hillary Clinton to do not much of anything that improves the lives of the millions of average Joes who voted for her. She'll become an expert at explaining why their needs are impossible to fill at the present time, because she will get so much practice at doing so.


I just re-read all of that, and it sounds a heck of a lot more like a list of reasons why not to vote for Clinton. Except, you know, for that whole "President Trump" nightmare scenario. I should really attempt to be more positive, so the following are the real reasons I am voting for Clinton (and not throwing my vote away on a write-in candidate).


The Supreme Court is first and foremost on this list. The next president (unless the Senate confirms Merrick Garland in the lame-duck session) will get to nominate a Supreme Court justice on their first day in office. I fully trust Hillary Clinton to make a much better choice than Donald Trump ever would. I even trust her to make a better choice than Obama's Merrick Garland nomination. I trust she'll nominate someone a lot younger, for one, which will bode well for the next few decades. It has already been decades since liberals had a clear majority on the Supreme Court, and I for one am ready for that to change for the better. Of course, in order to do this, Democrats also will need to win control of the Senate, otherwise Republicans will block any Clinton nominee for the next four years. But assuming Democrats do take back control, Hillary could shift the court to a 5-4 or even a 6-3 liberal majority. The older I get, the more I see the importance of the Supreme Court in actually bringing about concrete change to average Americans' lives. The power of Congress and the president actually pales in comparison to what the court can accomplish, with just one test case. Look no further than marriage equality, if you need proof of this. How long would it have realistically taken to get to where we are now, if gay marriage had been left up to the states? Twenty more years? Thirty?


So that's the biggest reason I will have to cast my vote for Hillary Clinton. In a normal election cycle, it's always sort of a background issue, but not a pressing one -- because nobody knows when Supreme Court justices are going to either die or retire. This time around it is different, because not only is there an open seat, but the open seat will change the balance of power on the court -- for the first time in a very long time. I want a future with a liberal Supreme Court, and I would vote for just about any Democrat to make it a reality.


The second big reason I'm willingly voting for Hillary Clinton is that she will preserve, protect, and improve upon Barack Obama's legacy. Clinton is not going to stand for repealing Obamacare, just to state the most obvious. Clinton will not roll back any of Obama's major achievements, and she will actively seek to build upon Obama's legacy in multiple ways. In fact, I could even see Clinton being more forceful on her use of the power of the pen to reform the executive branch than Obama was. Also, I don't think Clinton will have the unrealistic expectations for bipartisanship which so hobbled Obama for his entire first term in office. Clinton knows what she can expect, and I think she'll act more decisively as a direct result.


I also trust Hillary Clinton will do the right thing in all sorts of policy areas, for the most part. Obama disappointed me, but at the same time I knew that in general he was genuinely on the right side of history (with a few very notable exceptions). I also trust Hillary in the same limited way. I think she will be an absolute champion on issues she has cared deeply about for her whole adult life (women's rights, to name the most obvious), and I think she'll be persuadable on a number of issues she has only recently gotten behind, as well. I expect incremental progress, at best (a minimum wage hike far short of $15 an hour, for instance), but progress in the right direction, at least.


Part of this is trusting that Progressives will not make the same mistake they made with Obama. The Left is not going to give Hillary Clinton any sort of benefit of the doubt. They're going to bring all the pressure they are able to bear to keep her campaign promises -- even the ones Bernie forced her to make. They won't always be successful at doing so, but the Left is not just going to take a big vacation after the election's over (the way they kind of did with Obama).


While both Clintons have been living with a sort of "bunker mentality" for decades, I truly think the whole email episode has taught Hillary a lesson. I sincerely hope she's learned from her mistake. I think if the email scandal hadn't happened she would have been a lot less transparent in the White House than she will now be forced to be. All in all, I think that's a good thing.


Do I think Hillary Clinton will make mistakes as president? Yes, I do. But then I'd say that about anyone, really. Nobody's perfect. Will Hillary be hounded from her first day in office by Republicans in Congress? Yes, she will. But perhaps if both she and her husband work hard to open better lines of communication with Congress, in the end she'll be able to accomplish some things. Nowhere near what she is now promising, but a lot more than total and absolute gridlock.


If Obama's presidency rated an eight or nine from me, I think I'd be happy if Hillary Clinton left office only scoring a six or a seven. If she does the right thing more times than not, then I will not wind up regretting my vote, to put it another way. Actually, to be honest, I don't foresee anything (short of World War III breaking out over Ukraine) that could cause me to have second thoughts about voting for Clinton over the alternative. So I end where I began -- Hillary Clinton is a sane and intelligent individual. She is, in fact, the only sane and intelligent choice for president. And that's enough reason right there to vote for her. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton, at the end of the day she is not Donald Trump. Case closed.


 


A bit of optimism


As promised, today we'd like to end on a somewhat positive note. It's a wonky idea, but no matter how the election comes out, we fully believe it is a possibility. So if you're tired of all the steaming piles of negativity from this election cycle, here's something to (possibly) look forward to.


Without a doubt, 2016 will go down in American history as one of the ugliest election years we've ever had. After eight years of Barack Obama, most people will be voting this time against a candidate, rather than wholeheartedly for their candidate of choice. It's impossible to even count how many traditions and norms have been tossed out the window in the wake of Donald Trump's candidacy. Will America revert back to these norms the next time around, or will the Trumpian campaign truly become he new normal? It's impossible to predict.


No matter who wins on Tuesday night, roughly half the country is going to be enraged (or just terrified) by the result. The normal feelings of defeat will be amplified beyond anything the country's seen, at least since Bush v. Gore. The invective directed towards both candidates has been downright apocalyptic, and nobody has any idea how the endgame is going to play out. Will there be violence at the polls? It's a real possibility, this time around. Will the loser graciously concede? Hard to tell. The most frightening nightmare scenario yet is that several states (enough to flip the race in the Electoral College) are so close that recounts are demanded, court cases are filed, and two such cases both make it to the Supreme Court -- which is divided 4-4, meaning they cannot issue a ruling which is binding on the entire country. It'll depend on what the appellate courts have ruled -- even if there are two rulings which contradict each other. If even the Supreme Court is powerless to step in and adjudicate the election (as they did in 2000), what happens next? Pitchforks and torches in the streets? "Nightmare scenario" doesn't adequately describe what could happen.


It's incredibly hard to paint a more optimistic outcome, but we're going to make the attempt. Because we can see a possible silver lining to how the 2016 election plays out. And this scenario could even happen no matter who wins -- which is why it's even a possibility to begin with.


This election could -- in much the same way as happened in 2000 -- put a spotlight on how antediluvian some of our election process has become. This has been exacerbated by the Supreme Court's decision a few years ago which nullified large sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It's an astonishing fact, but while many rights are given an iron-clad guarantee by the United States Constitution, the right to vote is not actually among them. This is the foundation upon which a new voting rights act can be built, in a bipartisan way. Whichever party wins the White House and whichever party wins control of the houses of Congress should join together in a call to modernize and update our voting process, in every state. First and foremost among the reforms would be a clear statement in federal law that each citizen has the right to vote in federal elections. Period.


Upon this foundation, both parties could address their concerns with the voting process. Minimum federal elections standards should be clearly spelled out, forcing every state to come into compliance before the 2020 election (at the very least). The first and foremost of these should be a requirement that a paper trail be generated for each and every vote. Currently, there are still several states who cannot perform any sort of accurate recount because there simply is no paper trail for each vote. Pennsylvania is one of these. The entire election could come down to who wins in Pennsylvania. If this is the case, and if the vote is very close, there is sure to be a good deal of outrage when everyone realizes that a "recount" just means reading the totals off all the voting machines, and trusting that they're right. This is, in a word, unacceptable.


Start with a requirement that every vote be recorded on paper in some fashion, and build from there. We are halfway through the second decade of the twenty-first century, and technology exists which can solve all sorts of problems, both real and perceived. So mandate the use of such technology! Republicans have only themselves to blame for Trump's insistence that the vote will be "rigged," because they've been chasing the phantom fear of "voter fraud" for a long time now. They've instituted "voter ID" laws to counter this supposed rampant cheating, and it is sure to be a big item on the Republicans' wish list, if a new federal voting rights act is drawn up. So go one step further -- mandate some sort of biological record for registration. When you register, a thumbprint should be provided (using an electronic thumbprint reader -- this is the twenty-first century, after all), and then require thumbprints at the polls or a thumbprint on an absentee ballot. This not only removes all question of voting multiple times, it also means non-citizens will not even attempt to vote (thumbprints are already on file for all legal immigrants -- and any undocumented immigrant would be told that they would never be allowed to apply for legal residence if they ever attempt to vote illegally).


All voters should be registered automatically every time they interact with their state's motor vehicles department, unless they specifically state they don't want to be registered to vote. A few states have already passed such laws, and they have been working wonderfully. Registration rolls are up, and people's information is updated automatically (when most people move house, they'll usually update their drivers' license or vehicle registration but many forget to update their voter registration too). Tie in the voter registration rolls to death records as well -- so that anyone who dies is automatically removed from the voter rolls. This stuff ain't rocket science, it just involves modernizing each state's computer networks.


Speaking of computers, federal law should dictate that no voting machine anywhere be plugged into the internet at any time. None. Ever. Votes from each machine should be recorded locally, and then phoned in to the state capitol. This precludes any and all attempts to hack voting machines via the internet, permanently. It's a pathetically easy fix to make, in fact.


A new federal voting right act should also mandate that absentee ballots are each citizen's right, if they choose to vote this way -- for any reason under the sun. All they should have to do is request a mail-in ballot, and they should be automatically provided with one. It's a little-known fact (outside of such states) that many states tightly restrict who may use an absentee or mail-in ballot. In some states, the voter must actually prove they will be physically absent from their precinct on Election Day in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. This is ridiculous. It should be each and every citizen's right to make their own mind up about how they want to cast their ballot -- in person on Election Day, or sitting at home in their pajamas, a week earlier. The state should have no say in this decision whatsoever. Period.


Likewise, there should be federal standards for provisional ballots. If you show up to vote and your name (for some reason) isn't on the voter rolls, you should be able to cast a provisional ballot and then prove later on that you have indeed registered to vote. Such rules should be uniform, across all states.


Election Day needs to become Election Days. The reason we vote on Tuesdays is a historical hangover we have long since outgrown. Back in the eighteenth century, when the date was set in stone, America was rural and the fastest transportation available was the horse. Instant communications did not exist. Time have changed. The workweek has changed. There simply is no problem with farmers getting to market anymore (one big reason Tuesday was chosen). All states should be required to open polling sites on both the Saturday and the Sunday immediately preceding the traditional Tuesday. There is no reason not to expand the election in such a fashion except to make it harder for many citizens to vote. States could continue to have early voting on other days before the election, but the weekend before the traditional date would also be set in stone -- everyone should be able to vote on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.


Polling sites should be convenient, as well. Federal minimum standards should be set which dictate the number of polling stations for all population densities. If there are X many people per square mile, then there need to be Y polling sites in that precinct. This requirement should even dictate how many polling booths are available at each site, based on population density. Take the decision for where to locate polling stations out of the hands of partisan election officials, and we will never again see 4-hour lines in precincts full of the opposite party's voters.


The right to vote should be absolute. States should be forbidden from permanently barring anyone from voting unless that person is currently in prison or on parole -- in other words, still serving out a sentence for a crime. Once the sentence is over, they should automatically be allowed to vote once again. When their debt to society has been paid, it should be paid in full. The only people who deserve to have their voting rights taken away from them forever should be people serving life sentences. Period. When a felon's time is served, they should become a full member of society again, with a vested interest in who represents them in government, and not relegated to some permanent non-represented underclass for the rest of their lives.


Some of these ideas (that last one, in particular) will generate some partisan opposition. But most of them shouldn't. Voting should be every citizen's right, and that should be guaranteed in an iron-clad federal law. State-level hanky-panky with polling sites or absentee ballots or early voting should be done away with forever. Every citizen should also be fully confident that their vote will be accurately counted, and documented on paper. They should also be confident that nobody who isn't a citizen in good standing will be able to vote, and that each citizen will only have one vote counted.


These are basic guarantees that really should already exist. For the most part, building confidence in the election process and the election's result should be wholeheartedly supported by both parties. The voting process should be easy and convenient, with as few hoops to jump through as possible. Everyone should be confident that the process is in no way "rigged" at all.


This is probably too optimistic to hope for. Partisanship will undoubtedly rear its ugly head. But it really shouldn't. If half the country is outraged over the result of an election, the obvious answer is to reform the election process so that in the future everyone will at least be confident the process is fair and transparent. The impetus for proposing legislation to guarantee this will probably come from whichever party loses next Tuesday. But even the winning party should have valid concerns over how creaky and outdated our election process as been allowed to become. If both parties come together with a list of problems they want to see fixed forever, then perhaps compromise legislation could actually be possible.


No matter which half of America is outraged at the result next Tuesday, Congress should immediately begin work on reforming the election system so that, in the future, the only outrage even possible will be over who won and who lost. There simply should not be any concerns over the voting process at all. No candidate should ever again be able to plausibly warn of a "rigged" election, period.


Ironically, the messier the results next Tuesday, the easier it might be to pass such legislation. If there are recounts and court challenges, it will only serve to expose how outdated and insufficient federal election laws have become. Government is always the last to adopt technology (because it's expensive, and often easier to use older machines), but in this case reform should be mandated by Washington no matter what the cost (the federal government should help defray such costs, it almost goes without saying). We went through a spate of such reforms after the 2000 election, and many states got rid of voting systems that didn't work very well. Unfortunately, many of them turned to paperless electronic voting as a result -- and some of these haven't changed since.


Having another close election -- one guaranteed to outrage millions -- would open the door for enacting a new voting rights act for the twenty-first century. It would be the silver lining on a very contentious race, and it would allow the losers to at least be convinced that any problems -- real or perceived -- are being addressed and dealt with before the next presidential election happens. Such an outcome would at the very least provide even the losers with some optimism for the future. No matter who wins, bipartisan legislation is going to be very tough to put together on all sorts of pressing issues. Passions are still going to run very high in Congress. But fixing the flaws in our voting system should be an opportunity for Congress to actually do some good. If both parties' concerns are addressed, it could be the biggest bipartisan reform effort undertaken in a very long time. After such a vicious election, it could indeed be the only thing that the parties could possibly agree upon. Which is why we're cautiously optimistic that some good could actually come out of the 2016 election.


 


Chris Weigant blogs at:


ChrisWeigant.com


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


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