Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not." -- Millard Fillmore
I watched part of last night's Democratic debate with a longtime friend and liberal activist (we were both in Washington Park when Eugene McCarthy spoke there in 1968). He supports Secretary Clinton, and I support Senator Sanders, but we both agreed that we were hearing a debate of ideas and not just sound bites. It occurred to me that we were watching the equivalent of a mid-level playoff game; in fact, our process to select a president is similar to a sports playoff. Candidates are divided into the Left League and the Right League, go through some prequalification process (organizing a committee, raising some money, and giving trial-balloon speeches), then start the playoffs. Iowa and New Hampshire eliminate about half the contenders, Super Tuesday eliminates about half of the remaining contenders, and the ones that remain battle it out for the championships of their respective leagues (or in this case, parties). The Left League and Right League champions then face off in November for the title.
One difference between sports playoffs and this year's campaign struck me. In sports playoffs, all of the contenders are playing the same game. They may have different styles -- one football team might pass a lot and another might prefer to run -- but the teams all share the same basic objective, which is to outscore the opponents. By contrast, this year the Left League and the Right League are aiming at different goals. Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton talked about their experience in foreign and domestic policy, each trying to persuade the audience that he or she was the better and more experienced candidate. They both larded their speeches with facts and figures.
The Republican campaign has been the opposite. The Candidates of the Right are wooing the voters by bragging about how little they know about government. Two of the four leading Republican candidates have never held elective office, and a third is a newly-minted senator. Their campaigns play up how little they've been sullied by Washington. That's akin to a football coach saying that his team deserves to win the championship because the players haven't been spoiled by too much time on the gridiron.
Thus the quirk in the 2016 election. The two parties are not only not on the same field, but they aren't even playing the same game.
I've enjoyed the debate over whether Ted Cruz, now running for the Presidency, is eligible to serve. The Constitution requires that the president be a "natural-born citizen" of the United States, a phrase that the Supreme Court has touched on three times, most recently in 1875. In those three early cases (The Venus, 1814; Shanks v. Dupont, 1830; Minor v. Happersett, 1875), the Court suggested that citizenship extended to persons born in the United States to parents of whom at least the father was a United States citizen, without, however, explicitly defining the constitutional term.
Senator Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. Under the law of the United States, he became an American citizen at birth. So he is a "natural-born citizen." Yes?
Not so fast, maybe. It's possible that not all persons who are citizens at birth are natural-born citizens. The wrinkle is the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, which includes as its first sentence: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." A court might find, if it undertakes to decide the question, that the Fourteenth Amendment defined natural-born citizens to be only those persons born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction (so excluding children of foreign diplomats). Congress, the court might say, has the power to extend citizenship at birth to other classes of persons, including children born abroad to American citizens, but has not the power to change what has been from 1868 the only constitutional definition of "natural-born."
I imagine that if someone sues a secretary of state to keep Senator Cruz's name off the ballot on the ground that he is not a natural-born citizen and therefore not eligible to serve, any lower court faced with the case will hold that it is a political question and not one for the courts. If the question is political, then elected officials would have to rule; for example, had Senator Cruz run four years ago and faced a challenge to be listed on the Oregon ballot, the question would have gone first to Oregon's secretary of state, our now-Governor Kate Brown, who was born in Spain.
During the Democratic debate Saturday, Hillary Clinton returned late to the podium from a bathroom break. Yesterday Donald Trump said, "I know where she went - it's disgusting, I don't want to talk about it." Then today Post columnist Zachary Goldfarb said that in using the word "disgusting," Mr. Trump had played a clever trick, describing research showing that conservatives react far more strongly to disgusting or repellent images than liberals and moderates do. Mr. Goldfarb summarized the research as follows:
Consciously, liberal, moderate and conservative participants showed no significant differences in rating these pictures [such as pictures of dead animals and dirty toilets], although conservatives “had marginally higher disgust sensitivity than the liberal group.” But things changed when the subject had their brains scanned using fMRI machines as they saw the images.
With a more than 90 percent success rate, the researchers were able to predict whether the participants were conservative or liberals based on how regions of their brains lit up while viewing the images. And it turned out that conservatives had a much stronger reaction to disgusting images than liberals. Reactions to other types of images were not predicted by political views.
“Disgusting images … generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation,” the authors write. “Remarkably, brain responses to a single disgusting stimulus were sufficient to make accurate predictions about an individual subject’s political ideology.”
The delightfully ironic kicker: immediately below this portion of the online version of the article, the Post ran this apposite image. Someone in Washington has a sense of humor.
Having been bemused by the "Hillary is IN for 2016!" messages that I've been receiving and not having received anything similar from the Sanders camp, I tried an experiment this morning by Googling "Hillary is in for 2016." Google gave me 10 results, of which 5 were from a site called biggsforkansas.com and one was my own blog post.
This seemed low, so I tried "Clinton is in for 2016," and also got only 10 results. Then I tried "Bernie is in for 2016," which produced only one result. However, "Sanders is in for 2016" produced what Google claimed to be 2,290 results, of which Google shared just 28 with me -- low, but still nearly 3 times as many as the similar search for Secretary Clinton.
I'm not sure what to make of this result -- treating a Google search as an opinion poll risks falling victim to the Literary Digest syndrome -- except to note that Senator Sanders must be running an efficient campaign if Google associates his lead opponent's tagline with the Sanders campaign more strongly than with the Clinton campaign.
My Facebook feed occasionally shows a sponsored post from the Democratic Governors Association, which chirps "Hillary is IN for 2016!" and invites me to add my name to a list to "welcome Hillary to the race!"
As Secretary Clinton was the first to announce her candidacy, nearly five months ago, I'm bemused by the DGA's slow reaction to the news. I am, however, pleased to see her enter the race, because the moneyed classes now have candidates from both sides of the aisle. The plight of the billionaires who might otherwise go unrepresented terrifies me.
As the Republican party attempts to formulate a respectable position on immigration, several of its presidential candidates are responding to Jeb Bush's use of the term "anchor babies" in an interview a few days ago to describe the children of non-citizens who enter the country while pregnant and then give birth here. The children are citizens of the United States, even though the parents aren't, and (in Governor Bush's view) give their parents a leg up on obtaining legal immigrant status. Donald Trump has defended using the term.
Donald Trump was born in the United States, but two of his three wives were born abroad and became citizens only after marrying Mr. Trump. I await with great interest the day when Governor Bush or another GOP candidate will tag Mr. Trump as a two-time anchor husband.
Not having sold his research on motivating factors for presidential voters, John T. Molloy is offering it free. Today he posted some of his thoughts, based on research and not personal preference, about what arguments Republican candidates might use to appeal to black and Hispanic voters. His suggestions are informal, pithy, grossly politically incorrect -- and possibly a path for the bravest of the one-percenters in the Republican field to break away from the others. I recommend reading the whole thing. Here's an extract from Mr. Molloy's advice:
Finally, point out that illegal immigration hurts those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. But don’t use the word socio-economic. That’s a problem with the Republicans [,they] often sound like high school or college debaters. Democrats on the other hand are very effective communicators and they can convince people to vote for them because they make emotional arguments. Emotional arguments change votes intellectual ones, seldom do. If you point out that undocumented aliens take jobs mainly from Hispanic American citizens because they work for less you’ll be believed. Almost everyone in the Hispanic community knows someone who has lost their job to an undocumented alien.
John T. Molloy has turned his attention to researching voter patterns. The author of "Dress for Success," a book on business dressing based on research instead of opinion, took 18 months away from his blog, resurfacing on July 5 with the intriguing news that he had been training a Democrat and a Republican (not competitors) to speak to large groups. A large store closed down in the district of one candidate, who asked what effect that would have on voters. The other candidate said he wanted to know also, and that he'd pay for half the research, which Mr. Molloy carried out over the next several months.
Mr. Molloy's first post on the subject contained this teaser: "If the Republicans wish to capture a larger part of the black vote it is counterproductive to ask blacks to vote Republican. Republicans would be much better off asking them to vote for the right Democrat. Obviously that takes more explanation but the key issue is education."
Why is he disclosing his research now? The two candidates both dropped out of politics, but had imposed restrictions on what he could do with the information. Mr. Molloy has concluded that he can't sell the information he gathered, so he's giving it away. Watch his blog for more.
Texas has some solid citizens, including Mary Lou Miller, who turned 21 in 1934 and has proudly voted ever since. This year, Mrs. Miller applied for a vote-by-mail ballot but forgot that she'd recently changed her residence. The county sent her ballot to her old address, but as ballots are not forwarded, she did not receive it. When she discovered that she needed to re-register, she went down to the county clerk's office to fill out a new poll card, where she was asked to provide a government-issued photo ID.
She had no driver's license, for she gave up driving in her early 80s (she's 101 now), and she had no other government-issued photo ID card. So she found a ride to an office of the Texas Department of Public Safety, where she could apply for a photo identification card -- except that she didn't have a recent driver's license, a passport,military identification (the army isn't a haven for centenarians), or sufficient alternate identification to qualify. (One form of acceptable identification is called a "parole document," something that a person gets when released early from prison after doing time for a crime. She told her story well to the San Antonio newspaper: here's where you can read her own words.
Delicious Texan irony! If only Mrs. Miller had committed a petty crime and been granted parole, she would have received a "parole document," one of the forms of identification that Texas will accept. So if she had forged a voter ID card (a crime), pleaded guilty, and been released on parole, Texas would have given her the ID that she needs to vote.
She can't be the only Texan caught in this situation: too old to have a current photo ID, and too honest to have been paroled. An enterprising county could provide a public service to the aged and patriotic: set up, perhaps, a junker car owned by some stranger, provide some spray paint, invite senior citizens to spray the car in violation of Section 28.08 of the Texas Penal Code, and have a judge on hand to accept the oldsters' guilty pleas, sentence them to two hours in jail, and immediately parole them. Each stalwart citizen would then have a parole document, which they could then use to register to vote. The junker cars could be auctioned off afterwards as pieces of performance art, which might bring in enough money to pay for the whole program.