August 20, 2016

Democracy and the vote

Union soldiers take time from fighting to vote in presidential election of 1864
“Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.” ~ John Adams
Just when you think you have a handle on American history, up grow thorny weeds in our early-day planting of the seeds of democracy.
One of the founding tenets prior to the American Revolution was that of colonists’ self-proclaimed lack of a voice in who represented them in government.
King George III and British Parliament basically told the American Colonies how the cow ate the cabbage, and democracy was something that only could be attained with open revolt, at the point of a bayonet and crack of a musket.
Oklahomans, indeed Garfield Countians will be voting Tuesday and looking on into the November general elections, and are no different than any other Americans in their misconception of the history of voting in America.
We like to think everyone, save a few who have yet to attain the proper age, and current and many former felons, can vote — and should vote.
But at our nation’s founding such was not the case. Voting rights have been quite spotty and uneven throughout our history.
John Adams, a Founding Father, obviously was not a fan of everyone voting in elections. For wanting to spill blood during the Revolutionary War, he was downright British in his view on granting those rights to common people.
Why this view from a Founding Father? Why this reluctance to allow everyone that would be governed by elected officials, who would be subject to their rule, a voice — a vote?
This snippet from
“Colonial voting restrictions reflected 18th-century English notions about gender, race, prudence and financial success, as well as vested interest. Arguments for a white, male-only electorate focused on what the men of the era conceived of as the delicate nature of women and their inability to deal with the coarse realities of politics, as well as convictions about race and religion. African-Americans and Native Americans were excluded, and, at different times and places, the Protestant majority denied the vote to Catholics and Jews. In some places, propertied women, free blacks and Native Americans could vote, but those exceptions were just that. They were not signs of a popular belief in universal suffrage.”
That’s not the democratic ideals we generally gather from the American Revolution. In grammar school and even in high school, we all learned that independence from England was a democratic ideal that everyone was equal, that everyone would have a say in things, that everyone was entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But, that was in theory. In practice, democracy for everyone still has — after 241-plus years — a long way to go.
The computer and Internet age is changing the way democracy is practiced and perceived.
For most of our nation’s history, only a select few had access to vast areas of knowledge, of information if you will.
Today, you are a click on a keyboard away from attaining information and knowledge, you are a turn of a newspaper page from reading and gaining insight into news of local import to your life.
In 1775, at the outbreak of the Revolution, information was only a dream for most American colonists.
A right today’s American takes for granted — the vote — still is not unfettered. There are 50 different individual state qualifications to vote in an election, to register to vote, in your method of casting a ballot.
And, it is ever-changing.
I’ve always felt everyone should not only have the right to cast a vote, but everyone should. That, in the final analysis, is the only way for a democracy to attain the true feeling of every voter.
If only 40 percent of eligible voters bother to cast a ballot next week or come November, then in essence, that 40 percent has a tremendous say in the lives of the other 60 percent.
I know, sometimes it is a pain to go and vote. Sometimes, our work or our kids or our inability to drive to the polls gets in the way.
We live in a society that is free, within our laws, to make our own choices.
That any American citizen never bothers to vote, or is hindered in their right to vote by too many rules, for me, is un-American and indefensible.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

August 13, 2016

The first Olympiad

We have been given somewhat of a reprieve from the monotony and sometimes foolishness of another four-year presidential campaign, as the protagonists from our two main political parties joust and spar and churn through the mud.
And, that reprieve comes from an every-four-year event called the Olympic Summer Games.
Ah, the best in the world, the best from America, competing in the ultimate of sporting events.
Of course, it’s every two years in reality, as the Winter Olympics will be back in 2018. The world got so big and with so many athletes and events they had to divide between summer and winter.
Anyway, looking back upon ancient history, while some might consider it rather dry and uninteresting, the tale of the Olympic Games is full of drama and outright surprises.
For me, the marathon is the ultimate Olympic sport — find me a more grueling test of a person’s ability, endurance, mental toughness and survivability.
Unleashing my inner-Okie ... there ain’t none.
I was a fairly serious runner once upon a time. I really was a better sprinter, but I ran in probably a dozen-odd distance races over the years beginning in my late-20s.
I don’t know about all you present-day runners, or you non-runners — the position I today sadly count as a member — but to be able to go out and run on an Oklahoma 100-degree late-afternoon summer day for four to six miles, for me seemed like the thing to do.
Some called me crazy, and there is some truth to that, but I relished running every day. Made me feel great after I had rehydrated and stopped sweating. It was almost like a drug, an hour to hour and a half struggle of just me against the foot pounding on a rural road, the searing heat and my own body’s endurance.
I was doing what hundreds of millions of Americans either couldn’t or wouldn’t do.
Felt good, I was in great shape and I certainly discovered the limits of what my body — and particularly my mind — could handle.
So, when I pulled up the marathon on Google to research this column, I had at least a fairly reasonable idea of what it takes to run the 26 miles, 385 yards of a marathon.
I never ran one, nor even a half-marathon. I was strictly a 5K and 10K guy.
I knew my limits.
Anyway, the traditional story of the first marathon is of the Greek Pheidippides, an Athenian soldier and special courier, who was sent to Sparta to request help when the invading Persians landed at Marathon, Greece.
He was said to have run 150 miles in two days, then the final 25 miles from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens to announce the victory over the Persians.
He is supposed to have said “hail, we are the winners,” then collapsed and died.
Now, that is a great story. Whether historically correct or simply another Greek tale of heroism and inspiration isn’t the point. I wasn’t there and neither were you. And, the Greeks had an entire culture based around mythical gods and goddesses, so you get my point.
Whatever, the story of the first marathon inspired a great civilization.
Of course, they already had the Olympic Games, which began in 776 B.C., well before the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.
The ancient Olympic games began when Coroebus, a cook in the city of Elis, Greece, won the stade, a running event of 600 feet on a track at Olympia. According to tradition, it was the only event for the first 13 Olympic festivals that honored the Greek god Zeus.
The games were then held every four years for nearly 12 centuries, from Aug. 6 to Sept. 19.
Rome conquered Greece in the second century B.C., but the games continued, although they declined in both standards and quality.
As an example, infamous Emperor Nero entered the Olympic chariot race (yes, chariots used to be in the Olympics) but disgraced the games when he fell off his chariot during the race but still declared himself the winner.
Hmmm, as we are involved in a presidential race, maybe things haven’t changed over all those centuries.
The Olympics ceased in the year 393 A.D., when Christian Emperor Theodosius I called for a ban on all pagan festivals, ending the ancient Olympic tradition.
The Olympic Games were revived in 1896, and fittingly held in Athens.
Some 60,000 spectators watched 280 male participants from 13 nations compete in 43 events, all of which still are held during the Olympics.
The marathon was run at the first Olympiad, instituted in honor of the Greek soldier — in myth or legend — who ran and died so many years before.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle.

August 6, 2016

Gallup: End of an era

According to a Public Policy Polling survey, most Americans find lice and colonoscopies more appealing than Capitol Hill. ~ Ron Fournier
Got a chuckle from this quote by journalist and former Associated Press bureau chief about our nation’s seat of government in Washington, D.C.
Many Americans like to cuss and discuss politics, and since we are enmeshed (or is it imprisoned?) in another of our nation’s four-year-cycle presidential campaigns, I thought it was a good time to look at polling.
Don’t know about you, but I grew up in an era where there was pretty much just one polling organization that kept tabs on presidential elections.
OK, today we are besieged by polls. It seems everyone has a poll and touts theirs as the best, most accurate.
Shoot, you are polled daily, hourly and don’t even know it.
When you get on your cellphone, your laptop, home PC or Mac, you are being polled.
Post something on Facebook, you are being polled about your likes and dislikes.
And, God forbid, you click on just about anything a person posts on their Facebook page or you order from Amazon or you are just checking on a football or baseball score on your ESPN app, you are being polled.
Ever notice all the ads that suddenly appear surrounding whatever site you are on? They are tailored to you.
“Hey, didn’t I just buy that do-dad last week on the internet?”
They got ya — they are looking for your likes and dislikes, polling your movement around the internet, sometimes subtly but sometimes not so subtly, and bombarding you with advertising.
I’m not saying it’s all good or all bad, it’s just a fact of life.
Now, my grandpa used to say (don’t ALL grandpas have a lot of sayings to say) that you never question another person’s religion or their politics.
Those things are one of the very few areas each of us as Americans individually have left to ourselves.
So, I never question them. They are my beliefs, they are your beliefs, so back off!
That’s a bit strong, but as the balloons from the two political conventions have all lost their air, and we slog through months of political ads, posturing and promises from two or more political candidates with enough money to get their ads into our houses on a daily basis, we are compelled to bemoan the political artillery barrage.
George Gallup was THE polling guy way back when I was growing up. You hear the words Gallup Poll, and you knew it was weighty, you were getting a real slice of the presidential race and it seemed new and fresh and pretty darned accurate.
Historically, Gallup began polling in 1936, when Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and Republican Alf Landon faced off for the White House.
This was smack dead center during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, the Nazis were emerging in Germany and there was a great economic cloud over the United States.
Other than the American Civil War, it was a time this nation and its future hung in the balance leading up to the Second World War.
Gallup began polling in July 1936, employing statistical and common- sense ways of getting into the minds of potential voters.
Now, Americans long have been averse to telling strangers how they feel. Guess it’s something we are born with.
Of course, this was an era where the telephone still was a relatively new concept, and not everyone could be reached by phone — only mail or door-to-door sampling of opinions.
That July 1936, Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans favored Roosevelt, 45 percent Landon — a pretty darned close election you might infer.
That margin stayed fairly constant through September, before Gallup found Americans moving toward Roosevelt.
In the end, what looked like a close election in July, after the conventions, turned into one of the great landslides in presidential history, with FDR trouncing Landon 61 percent to 37 percent — 523 to 8 in the Electoral College.
The only polling done other than Gallup that year was by Literary Digest, based on mail-in cards from readers.
Literary Digest had successfully predicted elections since 1920 with this method, and felt it sound. They predicted Landon in a landslide.
The people who mailed in cards turned out to be more affluent with an overwhelmingly negative view of Roosevelt. But, they were not representative of the voting public, and it showed in the final results.
Gallup had used statistical random sampling to make a sound prediction, even if it turned out to be off base in the final poll numbers.
Sadly, Gallup is sitting this presidential election on the sidelines, because of massive changes in the polling industry and the internet age.
And … history marches on.

Christy is news editor at the News & Eagle. 

July 23, 2016

Third-party candidates

Former President Teddy Roosevelt runs as a candidate on the Bull Moose Party ticket

Had a question posed to me some time ago, and as we leave this past week’s Republican National Convention, and head into the Democrats same offing, here it is: What is the most successful third-party candidate in U.S. political history?
Well, since Americans as a general rule avoid looking too far back in history (like what happened before they were born) and dwell on the now and the future, that’s a valid question.
We hear constant rumblings every election cycle of a fairly substantial part of the electorate dissatisfied with one or the other party nominees.
That’s certainly not novel.
The two-party system of American politics, whereby the two major parties hold primaries or caucuses, actually never was meant to be, as I have written about in the past.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all delivered cautionary words about the evils of political parties taking over the American political system they had fought so hard to create during and following the Revolutionary War.
Political parties were anathema to the Founding Fathers.
Yet, George Washington really was our only president who never was part of a political party. Jefferson and Adams finally succumbed to the lure of political parties — Jefferson became a Democratic-Republican, or Democrat, and Adams a Federalist.
Almost from the outset of the American political experience, third-party presidential candidates appeared in our democratic system.
Seemed inevitable.
Early in post-Revolution history, the two political party system quickly formed, and there was no turning back on the party system — we’ve had it ever since. And it’s been a long and sometimes rocky road.
And, there have been some extra-ordinarily influential third-party candidates in American history.
Of late, as many of today’s voters still may remember, there’s been candidates who — while not coming close to sniffing the air of the Oval Office — have basically decided which Democrat or Republican would hold sway in the White House for four-year terms.
Remember Ross Perot, back in 1992?
His Reform Party candidacy actually had him leading some early polls in that year’s presidential race. He dropped out of the race in July of that year, but re-entered in October and secured nearly 19 percent of the votes.
Incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush was hurt badly at the polls by Perot’s candidacy, and newcomer Bill Clinton won the White House for Democrats with a landslide 370 electoral votes.
In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader garnered only a very small 2.74 percent of the votes that year, yet, that small amount affected the outcome of the most tightly contested race in U.S. history.
George W. Bush took back the White House for Republicans with a razor-thin 271 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, despite losing the popular vote by 500,000.
The final result hinged on Florida and a mandatory voter recount, which ultimately ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court and a contentious 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore that determined the election’s outcome.
In 1924, the Progressive Party played role of spoiler, when its candidate Robert La Follette took advantage of a huge split in the Democratic Party to win 16.6 percent of the votes and push Republican Calvin Coolidge into the office of president.
In 1860, the still-fledgling Republican Party and candidate Abraham Lincoln only garnered 39.7 percent of votes cast in perhaps this nation’s nastiest election. Third-party candidates John Bell and John C. Breckinridge won 30.7 percent of the vote that year, splitting further a fractured Democratic Party amid slavery — ending with states seceding from the Union.
In American history, it is the only time a presidential election actually sparked a war, and the Civil War very nearly destroyed the country in four years of spilled blood, burned homes and the death of a Southern agricultural system based on slavery.
Fast-forward to the year 1912, after many years of healing the wounds wrought by the Civil War.
The two principal candidates were Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Republican William Howard Taft.
But it was a rare four-way election as well, with third-party candidate and former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt splitting from the conservatives in his party and running as the Progressive Party — nicknamed the Bull Moose Party — candidate, and Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist Party candidate from Indiana.
While Debs did poorly in the voting, the still very popular Roosevelt had an impressive showing, capturing six states, 88 electoral votes and 27.4 percent of the vote that year.
Roosevelt helped turn the election for Wilson, and the Republican Party was split wide open, with Taft finishing third in the race — historically unprecedented that a third-party candidate had done so well in an American presidential election.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle.