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Once again, it appears, subject to final reports, that the dangerously antiquated Electoral College has “trumpted” the will of the people by delivering the Presidency to the person who came in 2nd place in the popular vote — the real American vote, just as happened in 2000. When will we learn? When will we fix this travesty and blow against democracy?
Here’s the link to my essay on the Electoral College and what to do about it.
And here is what NPR is reporting this morning :
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton finds herself on the wrong end of an electoral split, moving ahead in the popular vote but losing to President-elect Donald Trump in the Electoral College, according to the latest numbers emerging Wednesday.
As of 10 a.m. ET, Clinton had amassed 59,299,381 votes nationally, to Trump’s 59,135,740 — a margin of 163,641 that puts Clinton on track to become the fifth U.S. presidential candidate to win the popular vote but lose the election.
Neither candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote — as of 10 a.m. ET, Clinton stood at 47.7 percent and Trump at 47.5 percent.
Thanks to the archaic Electoral College system of electing American Presidents and Vice Presidents, approximately 50% of votes cast are thrown out. Any my vote in Illinois is worth about 1/6th of a vote in Alaska. Corrupt? No, it’s the law. How could this be?
How to fix it? Rewrite the 24th amendment which established the Electoral College. Good luck with that. The other way is to support the National Popular Vote legislation in your state (Google it), which would at least assure the winner of the popular vote wins. You will hear a lot about the importance of the Electoral College between now and the election, as the campaigns game the system, but you won’t hear much now, and less after the election, about how it is stealing your vote.
Here’s how the EC works (from Wikipedia):
The United States Electoral College is the body that elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. Citizens of the United States do not directly elect the president or the vice president; instead they choose “electors”, who usually pledge to vote for particular candidates.
Electors are apportioned to each of the 50 states as well as to the District of Columbia. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled, while the Twenty-third Amendment grants the District of Columbia the same number of electors as the least populous state, currently three. Therefore, there are currently 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia. The Constitution bars any federal official, elected or appointed, from being an elector.
Except for Maine and Nebraska, all states have chosen electors on a “winner-take-all” basis since the 1880s. That is, each state has all of its electors pledged to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in that state. Maine and Nebraska use the “congressional district method”, selecting one elector within each congressional district by popular vote and selecting the remaining two electors by a statewide popular vote. Although no elector is required by federal law to honor a pledge, there have been very few occasions when an elector voted contrary to a pledge. The Twelfth Amendment, in specifying how a president and vice president are elected, requires each elector to cast one vote for president and another vote for vice president.
The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) for the office of president or of vice president is elected to that office. The Twelfth Amendment provides for what happens if the Electoral College fails to elect a president or vice president. If no candidate receives a majority for president, then the House of Representatives will select the president, with each state delegation (instead of each representative) having only one vote. If no candidate receives a majority for vice president, then the Senate will select the vice president, with each senator having one vote. On four occasions, most recently in the 2000 presidential election, the Electoral College system has resulted in the election of a candidate who did not receive the most popular votes in the election.
Tonight, Lester Holt of NBC-TV, launched a new network political anecdotal series on NBC Nightly News called “Red, White and You,” which immediately reminded me of my 2012 election-eve copyrighted essay for the Chicago Literary Club.”Red, White, Blue and You.” My essay was about the use of colors in political campaigns. Good title; odd coincidence.
Here is my essay:
RED, WHITE, BLUE AND YOU
Or, The Color of Politics
An Essay by Charles Ebeling
Presented at the Chicago Literary Club
Election Eve, November 5, 2012
Copyright 2012 Charles Ebeling
Dedicated to the memory of my good friend and neighbor Marshall J. Goldsmith
Who was my guest at the Literary Club, October 24, 2011
Some us recall a great 1986 film called “The Color of Money,” and no, cynics, it wasn’t about politics. That film earned Paul Newman the Oscar for Best Actor as a pool hustler and stakehorse, who enjoyed a glass or two of J.T.S. Brown Kentucky bourbon, my favorite beverage from college days.
But, unless I’ve missed a documentary or foreign film along these lines, I haven’t yet seen a dramatization called “The Color of Politics.” Yes, there is such a thing as “The Politics of Color,” but as social commentary, not as a film title.
“The Color of Politics” is equally real though, and has a long history. I first dabbled in the palette of politics on election eve, 2008, when I presented before the club on that occasion an essay I’d titled “One Collage Too Many,” painting a picture of the many problems inherent in the Electoral College system for electing American Presidents, an issue which still haunts us today.
I began that essay by reflecting these thoughts, and I quote myself: “Light begets color. And colors fan emotions. Facts and emotions churn together, and the resulting political party leanings are reflected in a patchwork painting – a colored collage of states on the map of America.” I discussed how that collage of strongly Republican red and equally reliable Democratic blue states left a relative handful of so-called purple battleground states where the election would really be fought out. As we all know from following the news, in this regard at least, over four years, nothing but the candidates has changed.
So now, amidst the final flames of another Presidential battle, I’m inspired to turn on a different political light – and I did say light, not right – and guide us into taking a closer and hopefully non-partisan look at the history and power of color in politics, not the ethnographic “Politics of Color,” but the just plain graphics of the “Color of Politics.”
We learned in school that the primary colors are normally thought of as red, green and blue. And what is color, you may be thinking? Victoria Finlay, author of a recent book called “Color: A Natural History of the Palette,” says this: “Color – like sound and scent – is just an invention of the human mind responding to waves and particles that are moving in particular patterns through the universe –
and poets should not thank nature, but themselves, for the beauty and the rainbows they see about them.” She goes on, “Just as a prism shows us a multitude of different wavelengths — which our brains call colors – so each color has produced a spectrum of personalities.”
Color psychology is about how color influences human behavior. How people respond to color stimuli varies from person to person. Each of us can think about how we respond to various colors. How about you? One study on the emotional reactions to colors by Americans shows that 35 percent prefer blue, followed by 16 percent green, 10 percent purple and just 9 percent red. The study’s author believes that the dominance of blue and green may be due to a preference for certain beneficial environments in the ancestral world. Other evidence shows that color preference may depend on ambient temperatures. If that is the case, preferences for cool colors like blue and green should have been on the upswing this year of record heat waves across our land, while warm colors like red and yellow could be on the wane. Some research also indicates that women respond more positively to warm colors and men to cool. I wonder if a woman did that study.
Color psychology is based on several key principles. The first is that color can carry a specific meaning, and that is either based on learned meaning, as in use of red for stop signs, or biologically innate meaning, such as studies that show that facial redness is associated with testosterone levels in humans and that male skin tends to be redder than female.
The next principle is that perception of color causes instant evaluation by the person who sees it. Hence the placebo effect in pills. “Hot-colored” pills work better as stimulus and “cool-colored” pills seem to work better as depressants. The evaluation process forces color motivated behavior. Red is believed to increase appetite, and is thus commonly used in fast food restaurants, hence McDonald’s long use of hungry red in its rooftops together with the richness of gold in its architecture. Color usually exerts its influence automatically. Red seems to make time pass more quickly and blue more slowly. Lastly, color meaning and effect has to do with context as well. Red lighting in casinos is part of a strategic
Page |5 plan to keep customers inside longer. Athletes wearing red uniforms have been
found to win more often than those in blue, even in the Olympics.
The power of color in politics might have begun with the Roman cult of purple, the hue associated with the ruling elite of ancient Rome. But it didn’t begin there, because the history of color and its association with power politics goes back much, much further.
Color and power go all the way back. Ochre – iron oxide – has been used for its symbolic purposes on every inhabited continent. Forty thousand years ago, natives in Swaziland mined red and yellow pigments for body painting. The word “ochre” comes from the Greek, meaning pale yellow, but somewhere along the way, the meaning shifted to suggest something more robust – earthier, browner and redder. Red became the first colored paint, and the most secret. Royal Aztec mummies were not only painted in ochre, but buried with pounds of it, for its magical power. The first white settlers in North America called the indigenous people “red Indians,” because of the way they painted themselves with ochre as a shield against evil. Red had for many centuries heralded the divine. Red still appears across Europe as a favorite color among the pageantry of the royals.
Mix energetic red with stable blue and there is the Roman or imperial purple, the symbolism of which is as associated with power and prestige as the color of royalty, and of the highest vestments of the clergy. Its presence at the center of both sexuality and power was played out at Cleopatra’s elaborate dinner feast for Caesar in 49BC, marking his victory in a key battle at Pompey. Her whole palace was lined with purple porphyry stone and satiny purple fabrics in what was described as “luxury made mad by empty ostentation.” On returning to Rome, Caesar had designed for himself a totally purple, sea-snail-dyed, full-length toga. Soon anyone else found wearing purple might be killed for their impertinence, and as time went by, at least considered militarily or politically important or perhaps just wealthy.
The Byzantine emperors continued the Roman tradition of the exclusivity of purple. Purple shared with gold the very connotation of triumph. The Greek words for the purple cult of Rome and Byzantium seems, according to author
Victoria Finlay, to have a double connotation of the words “movement” and “change,” which to me seem to have some odd echoes in the political sloganeering of even today. “Movement,” “Change,” even “Forward?”
Then there is blue, derived from ultramarine, and the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. The stone is found only in Chile, Zambia, a few small towns in Siberia, and most importantly, in what is known as The Land of Blue – Afghanistan. If ever there was to be a country singing the blues, its Afghanistan. Ultramarine paint was so expensive and rare that Renaissance painters, including Michelangelo, had to wait for their rich patrons to give them the paint.
Mohammedan blue replaced the rare celadon in the art of China’s Ming Dynasty. What was called Prussian blue by photographic pioneer John Herschel gave us the modern “blueprint.” By the 1950’s when American children could no longer relate to Prussian history, its namesake blue gave way to what the modern crayon companies called Midnight blue. I repainted my first car, a 1957 Triumph TR3 with three hand-rubbed coats of glimmering midnight blue.
Where does this all lead us? The red, white and blue of the American flag represent our nation. George Washington believed the stars were taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes signified secession from the home country. The Continental Congress passed the “Flag Act,” which ordained a national flag with thirteen stripes, representing the 13 states, in alternate red and blue, with 13 stars of white on a blue background. Our founding fathers recognized the potential of colors to communicate meaning. The white was symbolic of purity and innocence, the red, hardiness and valor, and the blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice. Americans may not know this lineage, but they respond viscerally as the power of these colors evokes patriotic spirit and unity as a country.
You may already be aware that in most other long-established democracies, unlike in contemporary America, the color red represents left-wing and social democratic parties, and blue represents right-wing and conservative parties.
That use of red and blue emanated from the same institution that gave us the political terms left and right. At Westminster, England, the government, which is historically the conservative Tory party, sits to the right of the Speaker, and the opposition Whigs, which was first the Liberals and Socialists, later Labor, sits to the left.
Similarly, those who identified with tradition and the monarchy waved royal blue, while the rabble-rousing reformers waved the red flag. Green in most cultures is almost universally associated with environmentalist parties.
The practice of using colors to represent parties in the United States dates back at least to 1908. That year the New York Times and Washington Post printed color maps, using blue, yellow, red and green to represent state leanings.
While there were some bits of historical use of blue for Democrats and red for Republicans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the simple fact is that today’s Republican red and Democratic blue states, that we see, are an invention of the news media. It does not reflect any “official” color choices made by the parties. The advent of color television prompted political news reporters to turn to color- coded electoral maps.
One source says that from 1976 to 2004, the broadcast networks tried to avoid color favoritism by alternating every four years between blue and red for the incumbent party. Another source credits NBC’s John Chancellor for asking for a large illuminated map, and when Jimmy Carter won a state it would light up red and when Gerald Ford won one it would glow blue. All the networks followed, using different approaches. NBC’s David Brinkley made a telling point when he referred to Ronald Reagan’s 1980, 44-state landslide victory as being as blue as “a suburban swimming pool.” The accepted contemporary terms red and blue states, as a sort of shorthand for an entire sociopolitical worldview, were finalized in the 2000 election, not by some cosmic decorator, but by the long-term host of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” the late Tim Russert.
The day of imperial purple may be far from over. The so-called battleground states, lately known as purple states, are swing areas where both Democratic and
Republican candidates receive strong support, without a traditional overwhelming majority for either. As we know so well, these are the states where the most political capital, in every sense of the word, has been spent.
If it weren’t for the archaic Electoral College, the entire national electorate would be divided into purplish communities and districts that are much, much smaller than states. As Princeton University’s Robert Vanderbei wrote when he unveiled his political map of a Purple America, “The electorate is not so highly polarized by geography. The U.S. is not as divided as the political pundits believe.” The so- called red and blue state standards may well be challenged again in this year’s election.
Cleopatra may have started something good after all, when she introduced Caesar to purple. With any luck, for the breadth and depth of opinions represented in our sprawling American democracy, that sumptuous blend of red and blue called purple could potentially become the newest and dominant “color of Politics.”
Then a bright young Senate candidate, Barack Obama, perhaps put the editorial color chart of America into an appropriately complex context at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when he described it this way, “We coach Little League in blue states and we have gay friends in red states. We pray to an awesome God in blue states and we don’t like federal agents sniffing around our libraries in red states.”
So, as modern politics continues to swing through the color spectrum, I hope that tonight’s reflections have shed just a little more eye-opening light on the convoluted and still evolving cultural history of “Red, White, Blue and You,” while adding some much-needed purple into the mix.
Chuck Ebeling has written and spoken on the need to reform the Electoral College. He is retired public relations executive at leading corporations, PR consultancies and not-for-profits, and the founder of the Ebeling PR-ize for cause-related communications at Bradley University and Loyola University Chicago.
Chances are, you will be screwed by the Electoral College in this fall’s Presidential election. 1. If you live in a relatively large population state, your vote may count as little as 1/6th of that in a small population state. Why? Because the number of Electoral Votes your state gets is determined by the total number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen you have. thus, smaller population states get a relative bonus of Electoral Votes. 2. If you live in a “non-battleground” state, chances are your vote may not count at all, because all the Electoral Votes of all states but two go to the popular vote winner in a state, and in all but the so-called 13 or so “Battleground States,” the given political majority in those states already means all those state’s Electoral Votes will go to the majority candidate for President. If your candidate is not supported by the majority, your vote is thrown away.
There is no way out for this fall’s Presidential Election, but there is a path to sanity in the future. Go to http://www.nationalpopularvote.com for the answers.
National Popular Vote
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire U.S. It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes, and will take effect when enacted by states with…
Well, now it’s been 15 YEARS since democracy failed in America, updating my post below of Dec. 13, 2010. And, as we of into another Presidential debate tonight, we’re heading toward another such electoral failure next fall. Thanks to the Electoral College, my vote in Chicago is worth one sixth of a Presidential vote in Alaska. Want to learn more about this ongoing travesty of democracy? Google National Popular Vote. Want to learn even more? Send me a message and I will email you my essay written for the Chicago Literary Club on the obsolete and dangerous Electoral College. Whatever party you support, or none at all, the Electoral College is distorting the popular vote in America, together with gerrymandered Congressional districts and national election funding that should be government funded only.
December 13, 2010 in Electoral College, government, History, Politics | Tags: Electoral College, National Popular Vote, Presidency | 1 comment (Edit)
It’s been exactly a decade since the outmoded Electoral College system of electing our Presidents, with the aid of the Supreme Court, handed the Presidency of the U.S. to a man who lost the popular vote in the nation by the population of Milwaukee. It was a close election all right, and the finger on the scale of history tipped the balance away from the people’s choice.
It’s happened three times before in our history, and it will happen again, and again, until the Electoral College is eliminated or marginalized. The electoral college was a political compromise made in the founding days of the republic, when it was feared that the common man, in the days before mass media, could not know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice. So now, in all but two states, electors unknown to the people cast all of each state’s electoral votes for the winner of the popular votes in that state, throwing out all votes cast for the opposition, and in effect dumbing down the national electoral votes, so they do not necessarily reflect the overall popular will. How dumb is that?
When Lyndon Johnson stepped before a joint session of Congress nearly 50 years ago, on March 15, 1965, to endorse the Voting Rights Act, he proclaimed,: “It is very deadly to deny your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.” Of course, he was referring to blacks.
Yet today, in 2014, the unwillingness of Congress to replace the dangerous and obsolete Electoral College system of electing our Presidents means that we are still far, far away from a one-person/one-vote democracy in America. Twice before, as recently as 2000, the candidate who got the lesser electoral votes was elected President. There is a path open to change that failure. Go to Nationalpopularvote.com to learn how.
States representing about half the electoral votes have already enacted legislation to enable a national popular vote. Has yours? Let’s bring true democracy to America in our lifetimes.
In today’s New Yorker, in an article about the NSA by Hendrik Hertzberg, he recounts how our calcifying government and political system is increasingly eating away at the core of democracy, as minority, economically-powerful interests co-opt the economic and social balances in our American society. He makes it clear how the antiquated Electoral College system of electing our Presidents is increasingly being manipulated to serve these undemocratic interests. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his article:
“The real danger to civic trust (and ultimately, perhaps, to our freedoms) is the calcification and unresponsiveness of our political and governmental machinery. The post-2000 Supreme Court is part of that long, sad story. So is the filibuster, which is a bigger threat to small-d democratic governance than the N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the I.R.S. put together. The same goes for the electoral-college status quo; the built-in, and increasing, malapportionment of the Senate; and the malapportionment of the House, both deliberate, via gerrymandering, and demographic, via population patterns.
“These structural horrors don’t make us a police state, encroaching or otherwise. But they do enable minorities—usually conservative, mostly monied minorities—to systematically thwart the will of the majority. They don’t necessarily require anybody to act in bad faith in order to do their damage. And they damage not just people’s faith in democracy but democracy itself.”
And, as to what we are losing as a society in the tightening national security state, which some describe as neutral to the interests of everyday Americans, the 5th Amendment itself is being neutralized. While the Amendment proclaims we may remain silent and not be forced to incriminate ourselves, the increasing surveillance in all aspects of our lives makes our option for “silence” unlikely to be possible, when cameras and monitoring of every kind of communications is pervasive. The anxiety alone that this sort of intrusion into our personal lives permits undermines the very sense of democratic self-determination upon which our modern society is built, and certainly undermines the essence of the 5th Amendment.
If you care about these issues, and you should, do something. Tell your family and friends, write your newspapers, blog about it, put your views on Facebook, and, of course, tell your representatives in government that you are on to the erosion of our personal rights to democracy and privacy.
Here’s a copy of a note to a friend who asked about my opinion of the recent Benghazi hearings:
Bottom line: I fear that our government structure and processes, including the current two-party system, is failing the republic, and us.
The archaic structure of the US. senate worked against the will of the vast majority of the American people yesterday when the Senate rejected legislation that would have required minimal background checks for purchasing a gun.
A 21st century democracy requires more of a Senate and Federal government than what we are getting.
Is it time for a new American government, one that is a 21st century evolution of our original American Revolution?
We need a government that reflects the popular vote, not the archaic Electoral College. We need a government with a Senate that reflects the population distribution in our country. We need a House of Representatives that is not gerrymandered to serve partisan political interests. We need a government where elections are federally funded and that rejects being purchased by special interests. We need term limits for Congress, to restore civilian rule of our country.
Our government is not doing its job. Both parties are failures. It’s time — we need a new government, a Constitutional convention, a re-invention of America.
Have you wondered how the red and blue states came to be? And why those colors? I wondered too, and discovered that we owe the current U.S. political color palette to Tim Russert. And I learned a lot more about the use of colors in politics, going way back in history.
The whole story can be found in my essay called “Red, White, Blue and You — or The Color of Politics,” which I presented before the Literary Club of Chicago on election eve 2012. And yes, Cleaopatra had a hand in the story, too. And so did the obsolete and dangerous Electoral College system of electing our Presidents. And why is purple in our nation’s future?
Read about all this and more in my essay at http://www.chilit.org, then search for the title “Red, White, Blue and You” under “Ebeling.”