Antidemocratic Democracy in Three Videos

CGP GreyI continue to be amazed that we in the west live in democracies and yet we don’t experience much democracy. And I thought it might be useful to go through a number of videos by the great CGP Grey that deal with these issues. He has a great way of explaining the problems with these system. And one thing I like about him is that he isn’t clearly partisan. I assume he is a liberal, but that doesn’t come from his videos. He seems to be a liberal because: (1) he is interested in facts; and (2) he believes in democracy. Those are two things that conservatives — in American anyway — are against.

We will eventually get to the United Kingdom, but let’s start with the United States. There are lots of antidemocratic aspects of our system. There is money in politics and there is gerrymandering. But we also have it cooked into our system in the form of the US Senate. The people who live in Wyoming get 66 times as much representation in the Senate as I do in California. That isn’t just a quirk; that’s thoroughly antidemocratic. There is no way that one can justify it, except for the lame, “It was the only way the Constitution got ratified!” That’s an explanation, not a justification.

Of course, we also have presidents elected via the electoral college, which is potentially deeply antidemocratic. Think about the 2000 election. In that case, it is clear that if a recount had been allowed, and the Supreme Court had not found that the Constitution contained some equal protection clause that only applied to George W Bush, Al Gore would have won the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Gore won over a half million more votes but still lost 266-271. But luckily, Bush governed in a humble manner. (Note: sarcasm!)

But it’s worse than that. As CGP Grey notes in the following video, it is possible for someone to win the presidency by getting less than 22% of the vote. This is totally unacceptable:

He also points out that three people who won the popular vote lost the electoral college vote. That’s a 5% error rate. Would we accept this kind of thing in any other place in our lives? As it is, Republicans go around saying we must have voter ID laws based upon a tiny faction of that. But they don’t care about the electoral college because at least right now, they think it is to their advantage. It turns out it is currently to the advantage of the Democrats. But as I am fond of saying: I believe in democracy. I want it changed.

Another great CGP Grey video is, The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained. It is about another aspect of our system: winner take all elections. We really should be past this. During George W Bush’s term, we heard a lot from Karl Rove about “50% plus 1 vote.” The idea was that it didn’t matter that one represent everyone; just get the bare minimum you need to win the election, and then lower taxes on the rich and start pointless wars. Well, there are better systems as explained here:

There are a number of other videos that he mentions in that one, and they are well worth checking out. But I want to move onto another video, which focuses on the recent UK election, Why the UK Election Results are the Worst in History. The situation is screwed up. I wrote about it at the time. The Conservative Party managed to win 51% of the seats in Parliament — a straight majority, so no coalition government — but they only got 37% of the vote. That’s unacceptable, yet there was almost no one writing about it. It was just a given that this is the way it ought to be. I was glad to see CGP Grey as outraged as I have been:

Our problem is that the people managed to get democracy and to expand it. The power elite never liked that. So over time, they’ve managed to make democracy anti-democratic. And they’ve tricked most us into accepting it. But it isn’t right. And if we have any hope for the future, we must change it.

No, Democrats Are Not the Party of the Rich

Thomas EdsallI am often reminded of Joe Biden’s finest moment. It occurred during the 2012 vice-presidential debate. Paul Ryan was using the usual deceptive claim that Obamacare took money away from Medicare. It was deceptive because while it was technically true, it wasn’t actually taking resources away from the program. But what was flat out wrong was Romney and Ryan’s claim that this meant that the Democratic Party was trying to destroy Medicare. Biden didn’t get into the weeds, as I just did. He simply said, “Folks: use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!” That’s the thing: we don’t need studies, we know what the Republicans are all about, because they tell us all the time.

One of the great supposed ironies that I’ve been hearing my whole life is, “Actually, the Democrats are the party of the rich!” There are reasons to think this might be true. For example, Democratic support is more clustered in cities. And it may have been true at one time — at least if you massaged the data and squinted the right way. But it certainly isn’t true today and it hasn’t been true for a long time. All you have to do is use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!

But Jim Naureckas over at FAIR did more than that, Democrats Depend on Affluent Voters? That’s Rich. It appears that Thomas Edsall has been pushing a slightly different narrative: the Democrats are as dependent upon the rich as they are the poor. This comes from the 2012 election, where Obama got as many votes from the upper two quintiles as he did from the lower two quintiles. Now this is a bit of a trick, because it depends upon the fact that richer people vote at greater percentages than poor people do. As you can see below, Obama killed it with the poor.

Voter Income Winner
Less than $30,000 Obama: 63%
$30,000 – $49,999 Obama: 57%
More than $50,000 Romney: 53%
More than $100,000 Romney: 54%

Naureckas noted something else that is critical: “elections aren’t won by getting a lot of votes, but by getting more votes than your opponents.” So it doesn’t matter the total number of votes of one group compared to another. The critical issue is how well the two parties do with any given group. And on that score, it is simply wrong to imply that Democrats are the party of the rich, as Edsall’s headline does, “How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?” But let’s be clear, Edsall’s intent — as a New Democrat — is to say, “Stay away from Bernie Sanders because the Democratic Party still needs the votes of those upper two quintiles!”

Jim NaureckasThere may be reason to think that, although as always, I think most people — even a fair number of Republicans — agree more with Bernie Sanders than anyone else. But it’s just so ridiculous to talk about Democrats in this way. When people talk about Republicans being the party of the rich, they aren’t talking about voters; they are talking about policies. The Republican Party pushes policies that preferentially help the rich. That’s true to some extent of the Democrats too. But not nearly to the same extent. And based on last week’s debate, the party is moving away from that.

Regardless, no one is making that argument when claiming that Democrats are the party of the rich; they are just pushing some idea of what Democratic voters are. What they are talking about is what Geoffrey Nunberg lampooned in the subtitle of his book Talking Right, “How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.” But as the table above shows: the strongest Democratic support is not from “latte liberals”; it’s from lower class workers. There are a whole lot more “crème brûlée conservatives” than than “latte liberals.”


Nunberg documents in his book the fact that most of the stuff in his subtitle are actually done more by conservatives. For example, conservatives are more likely to drive Volvo cars than liberals. Myth is powerful.

Morning Music: Tiny Tim Does Pink Floyd

I Love MeIn the Jim Carroll song “City Drops Into The Night,” there are a couple of lines that I really like:

It’s when the body at the bottom
That body is my own reflection
But it ain’t hip to sink that low
Unless you’re gonna make a resurrection

That’s a reference to drugs and the drug life. But the words are eternal, because everyone has their low points. It’s nice to end strong. And that was very true of Tiny Tim. He went through a couple of decades of nothing much — at least in recorded music. But then he came back in the 1990s and showed that he had plenty left to offer the world.

In 1995, he released I Love Me. It is such a great album that it really is hard to pick one. For example, you really should hear, I Saw Mr Presley Tip-Toeing Through the Tulips. It’s hilarious and could well have been recorded by Mojo Nixon. There is “The Laughing Policeman” — which sounds like it could have been written for him, even though it is from the early 1920s. The title song is fantastic. It even has a charming (and sad) song of his own, She Left Me With the Herpes.

But we have to listen to his cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2).” I just lover it. He has an amazing ability to interpret other people’s music. We are going to see that for the rest of the week. Be prepared to be impressed:

Anniversary Post: Electric Light Bulb

Light BulbSupposedly, on this day in 1879, Thomas Edison got his first electric light bulb working. According to James Burke, it wasn’t him but his team of assistants. I don’t know or particularly care. The truth is that I’ve never been that fond of him, because by the time I was old enough to think anything, I learned all about his battle with George Westinghouse. America was going to get electrified and the question was whether we were going to use direct current (which Edison owned all the patents to) or alternating current (which Westinghouse owned all the patents to). So there was a battle between the two men.

That would be fine under most circumstances: two rich men trying to game the system to become even more rich. But the truth is that direct current is terrible for transmitting electricity over even modest distances, much less long distances. This isn’t open to debate. But Edison worked incredibly hard to foist a totally inappropriate technology on this nation in the name of more wealth for himself. Remember: this is long after the light bulb. Edison had a ridiculous number of patents and the wealth that went along with that. His fight with Westinghouse should never have occurred.

This something I don’t think is mentioned enough: our business leaders are profoundly anti-American. I’m okay with that. I think America should be a free country. But we should be aware of this. And we should call out conservatives most especially for all their claptrap about loving this country when all they want to do is funnel our shared resources to these amoral business interests.

Anyway, let me end with a little Bob’s Burgers live performance of “Electric Love.” This was a song that Gene wrote during the show for Louise’s science fair project about Edison’s electrocution of Topsy the elephant in his continued efforts to show that alternating current was dangerous. It was one of a great many animals he did this to. Of course, given various states have done the same thing to humans, maybe it isn’t that big a deal. Humans are horrible. Thomas Edison was a human. Therefore Thomas Edison was horrible.

If you want to listen to the song from the episode: Bobs Burger’s Electric Love.