2009, Politics, Society

Palin is coming to Hamilton

I don’t know why she’s coming to Hamilton. I can guess. Supposedly she’s coming to speak at a hospital fundraiser. I figure she’s really coming because she’s already spoken everywhere in the US that would take her. Though she is probably the dumbest politician I have ever seen (dumber than Quale, and that’s saying something), I don’t worry about her being elected President. Here’s why:

A number of years ago I made bets with some fellow grad students. At the time, John Kerry and George Bush were vying to see who would become President. Most of my colleagues believed that Kerry should and would win the election. Personally, if I were an American, I would have supported Nader. But that’s another story. I said I would bet them that Bush would win. I said who should win was irrelevant. (It is always irrelevant.) I had spent more time in the US than many of my colleagues. I also knew something that some of them didn’t seem to realize: the system almost always favours the incumbent (except for Ford and Bush Sr.) but, more importantly, any system is almost always more important than any individual. To me the combination of the willful ignorance of much of the American population about Bush’s faults with the obvious preference many unthinking voters have for incumbents, and the systemic prejudice against new candidates made it obvious that Bush would win. Now it was close. But it should never have been close if these things were about the better candidate.

I think I am at the point now where I am willing to bet a few bucks to say that Sarah Palin will never become President of the US. Obviously, the time to really make this bet would be if she is nominated by the Republican convention (which will never happen) or if she runs as an independent (much more likely). Because right now the bet is kind of easy. Who knows what will happen in the next three years? I believe many Americans do indeed believe she would make a good President. But that isn’t exactly what wins elections, especially in the US, where the Electoral College is designed against the popular choice. By dividing the popular vote into fifty (or less) separate winner-take-all popular votes, what matters more is the location of the candidate’s support (provided that candidate has been nominated by the party, obviously). That’s why Al Gore could have more votes than Bush, but lose. Or why Nixon could have less than double the popular vote of McGovern and yet somehow win the Electoral College by a ridiculous 520-17 (hardly proportionate). Palin, if she were ever nominated, might win Texas (30-something votes) and Florida (20-something), but California (50-something)? New York (30-something)? Illinois (20-something)? Ohio (20-something)? Pennsylvania (20-something)? In order to make up for these large states, the candidate has to win tons of small ones. Alaska has as many votes as D.C. It’s not like this is based on geographical size.

But that’s only if she were ever nominated. That’s not going to happen. The Republican Party has many smart people in it, as much as we may be mystified at their positions. They have been hijacked by a particular minority, it’s true. But that minority has never been pleased with the performance of Republican candidates once in office. At some point they are going to get fed up. Further, the Republican bosses don’t want to destroy their party. There are a few long-term thinkers in there somewhere. Nominated the dumbest candidate of our time (ever?) might seem like a good idea in the short-term, but it’s disastrous in the long-term. The Democrats were plagued for most of a a few decades for their weak post-Johnson candidates, all of whom were far far better than Palin even if she spends the next three years in university. The one Presidential election they won was immediately post-Watergate. Picking Palin would cripple the party. They know this. They won’t let it happen. Even though these party conventions are far more open and far more democratic than they used to be, make no mistake, they are still part of the party machine.

So let’s say Palin runs as an independent. Need we worry? Absolutely not. Who is the most successful independent candidate of the last century? In terms of both popular vote and Electoral College votes, it was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912…a former Republican President. He got 88 votes, and 27% of the vote. Perot, the most successful indepdent recently, got 19% of the popular vote and no Electoral College votes (in Canada, by contrast 19% of the popular vote would definitely get you the odd seat in our Parliament).

One of the things I hate about the American political system is that it doesn’t admit independents…ever. However, in this case it’s a good thing. She will not be elected no matter how she tries. We need not worry. Now we can make fun of her without fear.

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