Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Nov 05, 2012

Attention readers: Due to election coverage, this update was posted Monday, at Noon ET. Gene's chats and updates will go back to their regularly scheduled day, Tuesday, next week. Thank you!

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

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On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

Greetings, update readers!

I just have a few election-related morsels for you today.  

The first is something I just discovered that kind of fascinates me.  It turns out that Sarah Palin was NOT the least qualified major-party vice presidential nominee in history.   That distinction belongs to a man nominated by the Democrats in 1920 to run beside their colorless candidate, newspaper publisher James M. Cox.   

It was a completely cynical choice, based not on his accomplishments but on the fact that he had a famous name.   He was only 38 years old -- making Paul Ryan look positively wizened at 42 -- and his resume was nearly empty.   He was an assistant secretary of the Navy. 

Know who it was?

Franklin Roosevelt.

Second, as hand-wringers are wringing their hands over the possibility of a tie in the Electoral College (there are teeth being gnashed, too), and everyone in the know is in agreement about how awful and outmoded the Electoral College is, and how it illegitimizes election results and what have you, including this piece by Adam Liptak that got a lot of play...

... I thought I'd tell you why this is all hooey.

The Electoral College is absolutely the worst possible way of electing presidents, except for all the others.   

Yes, it does mean that the candidates wind up campaigning in only a few states, but that's not so bad; it's not as though we need them in our living rooms 24/7 to know what they stand for. We are not living in times of limited information. 

The fact is, the electoral college is messy but far superior to counting the simple popular vote.    I've made this argument before, but do so now in a more sedate and coherent form.

The College is good for two reasons:

Reason One is true, if not intuitive:  In most cases it has the effect of legitimizing the results more than the popular vote would, by exaggerating them. This, of course, is a most-case scenario, but in general a fairly close election winds up looking much more one-sided.   A good example would be Kennedy-Nixon, which was hairs' breadth close in popular vote, but which Kennedy won 303-219 in college.   Sounds like a clean win!  Which it was!  Sort of! 

The more persuasive argument is this:

The electoral college makes very close elections, where re-counts are needed, much more manageable.   As horrific as 2000 was, imagine if there were no electoral college system, particularly if the popular vote was just a little closer than it was.   Everything would not have focused on Florida.  Everything would have focused on everything.  Suddenly, it would have been strategically important to find votes ANYWHERE.  Or lose them for your opponent.   It wouldn't matter that Gore lost Texas by 8 million votes, or whatever.   Texas would still be in play, as would any other state. If you could find a Texas county that had a 20,000 reporting error in favor of Bush, that would have been HUGE.  The whole map would have been in play.  Lawyers in every state would be litigating every ballot. We'd still be litigating.   Clinton would still be president or something. 

(What WOULD we have done if there'd been no decision by January 20?)

The electoral college makes this far less likely.  Sure, you might have a recount nightmare in one state, or even two, but it will focus the nightmare.

And to address the argument that it doesn't feel right if the popular vote winner loses the election -- nonsense.  We all know the rules, and play by them.  Yes, a ground-rule double often would score an extra run that is called back just because the ball bounced into the stands, and not off the scoreboard.  It's doofy, but fans know that, though, and they don't grouse about it. 

I don’t recall any lasting contention that Bush wasn’t the legitimate president because he lost the popular vote thing; the lasting contention had more to do with the Supreme Court’s political decision that stopped the counting.  

So.   Shut up, please.   The electoral college works.  Thank you.

And finally, are you voting tomorrow?   I'd ask you to read a piece I wrote in 2004.   My father died two years later, almost to the day. 


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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.
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