Fixing Israel’s Broken Electoral System

An Israeli friend asked the other day how Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden could be in the same party. It’s not surprising that this seems odd to him. It reflects the difference between America’s two-party electoral system and Israel’s parliamentary model.

In a multi-party parliamentary system parties tend to be ideological in nature. In other words, they’re strongly committed to a specific set of principles and goals. On the other hand, because there are only two parties with a chance of winning presidential elections in the U.S., both are only moderately ideological. U.S. parties are informal coalitions of interest groups that have come together for a common goal. This system enables each interest group to achieve some of their goals without being able to blackmail their party after the election, which is what happens in Israel.

Israel needs to move to a system where coalitions are built before elections not after. To accomplish this, the percentage a party needs to gain seats in the Knesset should be increased from the current 3.25 percent to as high as 7.5 percent. If that were in place this past September, six of the nine parties that won seats would have been shut out. Knowing in advance that would be the likely result would have forced each of them to negotiate with the two major Jewish parties—Blue and White and Likud––before the election. They would have had to join one or the other or lose all influence in the election’s outcome.

Ideological purity has its pluses. In Israel, it means minority viewpoints are represented, and that’s good, BUT it also means those parties have inordinate power beyond the percentage of the public that supports their positions. Yisrael Beiteinu with only seven percent of public support is blocking the formation of a government the consequences of which can be disastrous.

Ideological purity is the enemy of coalitions. Ideological purity explains why the left-leaning Labor Party would not join in a coalition with Bibi Netanyahu’s right-leaning Likud Party. Their voters would be outraged if they were to do so. To abandon the platform they campaigned on would guarantee their supporters would never vote for those individuals in the future.

The two major parties in the American system are much less ideological than those in Israel or other parliamentary systems. In the American system coalitions are formed before the election not afterward as in Israel. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put together a coalition that lasted decades. It was made up of large city political machines, labor unions, white Southerners, and ethnic minorities including Jews and blacks. Barack Obama imitated F.D.R. and won twice easily.

Because coalitions in the U.S. are built in advance of elections, interest groups are confident of gaining some, but not all, of their goals if and when their party prevails. That keeps their members happy because there’s hope they’ll gain more of their platform if they keep coming out for their party.

The weakness of the American electoral system is the process of choosing presidential candidates. Candidates know primaries attract the most committed voters and thus are motivated to take extreme positions during the primary season, forcing them to move to the center if they win their party’s nomination.

Donald Trump stood out and easily won the nomination in 2016 despite his lack of political experience. This year the field of more than twenty Democrats seeking their party’s nomination is shrinking fast as candidates with moderate views find it hard to gain media attention and support.

Neither electoral system is perfect. In Israel, reforms will need to be passed after the current crisis is over in order to avoid a repeat. I recommend increasing the minimum percentage vote to 7.0 or 7.5 percent in order to reduce the number of parties with a chance to gain seats and gum up the works. This would force parties to form coalitions BEFORE the election instead of afterwards. This would reduce the minor parties to influence groups while still enabling them to gain some, but not all of the platform outcomes they desire. Combining the best of both systems can help Israel avoid future stalemates.

History Matters

If anyone needs evidence that what is taught in our schools impacts public behavior, look no further than the response to the results of the November 8 election. In the days after the election, when it became apparent more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, columnists, editorial writers, and social media posters trumpeted calls for the elimination of the Electoral College.

Learning that doing so would take a constitutional amendment and thus fail to impact the 2016 election, those who felt cheated turned to other panaceas, attempting to sway electors to betray their mandates and recount filings. That none of those has a chance of succeeding seems irrelevant.

Their efforts now focus on denying Trump’s victory legitimacy and undermining his ability to fulfill his campaign promises. The strength of the protest movement depends, however, on the lack of knowledge of its followers of the history of our country and how our political system works.

Every four years millions are shocked to learn that the person who wins the most votes is not automatically elected president. Every four years millions are dismayed to discover that America is not a direct democracy where the majority rules, but a representative republic. This can only be attributed to the failure of our educational system to teach those essentials or to have done so in a manner that sticks.

I can hear the protesters’ objections to my claim. What happened in the past doesn’t matter, they might say. We need a system for the present, they add, and of course, some will argue, as the man some Democrats have put forward to chair their organization once did, that the Constitution can be dismissed as a document of a rich, white, male elite, providing further evidence of the failure of our educational system.

If the past is irrelevant, there’s no need to teach about slavery or Jim Crow or women’s struggles for equality since those are all part of our past. Right? Either history is relevant or it is not, and I can’t imagine too many people coming down on the side of ignoring it altogether.

That said, what corrective can be offered in terms of our political system? Let’s start with a re-writing of the textbooks to go back to the core story––from the settling of the continent to the Revolution to the writing of the Constitution and the first ten amendments.

What a study of those events would disclose is that our system represents a compromise between competing interests. Let’s take the matter of slavery. Had those among the founders who objected to slavery been unwilling to compromise with the Southern states, there would have been no United States of America. Had the compromise failed, England would have found little resistance to re-conquering the continent since the colonies barely won the war and faced a future with depleted resources.

Further, had those in favor of a strong, centralized national government lessening the power of the states held out, the Constitution would not have passed, and once again the colonies would have been subject to conquest. The Electoral College is testimony to the compromise that established a central government for the protection of the country, but allowed states to retain a strong voice.

The notion that our system of government is the product of a compromise is something today’s protesters fail to appreciate. That it is the best political system mankind has yet created is something they don’t understand given how poorly history has been taught in our public schools and colleges, and by the willingness of some to ignore both the rationale for our present system and how well it has worked for 240 years.

Hillary Lost: Get Over It

All the post-election moaning, whining and carrying on by Clinton supporters is embarrassing to them and their followers. It’s time to face the facts of this election and to move on.

Some are whining because Hillary’s total popular vote topped Trump’s, but that’s irrelevant because that’s not the game they were playing. The Constitution says the winner is the candidate who wins a majority of the electoral college votes which are based on the population of each states as defined by seats in the House of Representatives plus two votes for the members of the Senate. That’s why Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota and Vermont each get three votes while California with 53 House members gets 55.

The losers want to change the rules of the game after it was played. Good luck, but it isn’t going to happen now or in the near future.

Should the electoral college be eliminated?

No! There are good reasons the person who gets the most “popular” votes should not be the winner. Not only would that make all but a few large states irrelevant, but it would change what campaigns are about, making it much easier for the person who raises the most money to win. That would be bad for our republican (small r) form of government.

The results of the 2016 campaign reflected the current rules. Clinton campaigned in the closing days in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Why? At one point she thought she was going to win by a land-slide and thought of campaigning in red states to try to alter control of the Senate, but her own polling showed her to be in danger in those four states. It is significant that she LOST all four states where she made the greatest effort to win.

The Liberal Double-Standard

A double-standard is when you advocate something for others that you aren’t willing to do yourself. Liberals are past masters at doing so, and this election is a perfect example.

Some want enough GOP’s electors to vote for Clinton to reverse the results. Not only isn’t that going to happen, but what would it mean if it did? Are you really advocating someone go back on their word? Should electors betray the people who voted for Trump in their states? Is that something you’d tolerate had Clinton won? I don’t think so.

What about those who call for Trump to abandon his campaign promises and retain Obama’s policies? They advocate this claiming the popular vote should dictate. Again, we have to ask had Clinton won in a close race, would you have tolerated Trump supporters calling on Clinton to abandon her policies for Trump’s? Hardly!

For Crying Out Loud

There’s been a lot of moaning and whining about the election results. College professors gave students the day off, and students could get free puppies and coloring books at one college. Why not baby bottles filled with chocolate milk, too?

But face it people: all this crying is a result of the Clinton campaign strategy to try to win the election by going LOW, by focusing on Trump’s negatives––some of which he provided, others they simply made up or were responsible for, such as the violence at some Trump campaign events that were instigated by paid Democrat Party protestors.

Giving in to the fear your party created is not becoming nor is it rational. You may not like some of the policies Trump and Congress will bring about, but right now you don’t know what will happen. You don’t know which policies Trump advocated during the campaign will see the light of day or in what form or whether Congress will go along or whether the courts will upload them.

Take the Supreme Court for example. First, he has to nominate a candidate; the Senate has to consent and the person has to take his or her seat. Then any issue you are fearful about has to be brought to the Court in the form of a case passed up by the lower courts. Not only can that take years, but the outcome of any case cannot be predicted in advance. Despite Justice Roberts’ recent rulings, justices swear to uphold the Constitution, not advance a president’s agenda. Maybe a Trump appointee will be more honorable than Roberts and other liberal justices have been.

I don’t expect you Democrats to go away or stop advocating your positions, but I suggest you abandon the silly season issues of the electoral college and focus on why you lost before you try to prevent Trump and Congress from implementing the changes the public is demanding. You lost because people did not want more of your party’s policies. They did not want more economic stagnation, or more foreign policy set backs, or more expensive and intrusive government interference with every aspect of their lives. They wanted America to be great again, which means they realize America is not what it could be. Maybe you should listen and look for ways to help bring about a revival of our society, to lift people up instead of tearing them down, and to being once again a beacon on the hill for those less fortunate throughout the world.

Neither Deserves to Win

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump deserves to win the presidency. Here’s why:

Why Clinton Deserves to Lose

Hillary Clinton assumed the Democrat Party owed her its nomination because she had tolerated Bill’s infidelities, played second fiddle while he served as governor of Arkansas and President, and then lost to Barack Obama in 2008 mainly because of the latter’s patrimony. In her mind she had paid her dues and therefore was entitled to be the nominee. The problem is the divine right of queens went by the wayside two centuries ago. Today you have to earn the right to carry your party’s banner and she hardly did so, but what’s worse is how she conducted herself as Secretary of State and head of the Clinton Family Crime Foundation. She traded on her status as the likely nominee for $250,000 a pop speaking engagements for herself and Bill and for donations to her foundation. That’s taking the mafia’s manner of raising money by threatening to burn down a business unless the owner donates a percentage of its weekly take and modernizing it. Want a government contract? Want a job? Want an audience with the queen? Donate! Assuming she deserved to win, Clinton put forth a platform of platitudes, offering incremental changes and pandering to Sanders supporters. People are not enthusiastic about her candidacy, which meant she could only win by attacking Trump’s qualifications. Fortunately for her Trump made that part too easy. If Hillary loses, she has only herself and her arrogance to blame.

Why Trump Deserves to Lose

Trump tells us he’s a very smart man. Fact is he’s too smart for his own good. He assumes his success as a businessman is a reflection of his being smart, and while that’s undoubtedly true in part, it’s not the whole story. There are also the hundreds of people who worked for him who enabled him to make good deals and whose advice he failed to follow when he made bad ones. Seeing himself as smart he failed to understand the nature of the game he had interjected himself into. He failed to understand you don’t go out of your way to make enemies in politics. You don’t insult whole groups of people. You do build an organization capable of registering voters and getting out the vote. You do know you need money to compete with your opponent’s fund-raising capabilities. Trump could have won handily had he not alienated Ted Cruz by attacking him on a personal level. Had Cruz campaigned as a Trump surrogate, he would have cut into the Hispanic vote now going to Clinton making it unnecessary for Trump to spend so much time in Florida. Trump could have spent more time in Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. If Trump loses he has only himself and his arrogance to blame.

Anti-Religious Sentiment is Winning in the U.S.

This year’s presidential election is a test of the role religion will play in America’s future. In recent years, America’s highly secularized society has moved from tolerating people’s commitment to their religions to becoming anti-religion. The one exception is Islam, which sharia observant practitioners can confidently tell their followers will become the dominant religion in this country in this century.

What are no longer tolerated are Christian and Jewish based beliefs and values that interfere with government authority over all aspects of life––from the womb to the grave. People of faith are routinely portrayed as bigoted and as using religion as screens for their repressive conservative political beliefs.

Anti-religious teachings dominate college campuses where students learn to despise their parents and replace traditional religious values with an unquestioning adherence to the values of liberalism––faith in government and its leaders, disdain for capitalism and its bounties, disdain for America’s past in light of slavery and imperialistic dominance over third world countries, and a belief that climate change is the just reward for man’s arrogance and greed.

That this anti-religious ideology has become overtly anti-Christian can be seen on several fronts, including the failure of the Obama administration to do anything to protect the Christian sect being slaughtered in Syria by ISIS as well as documents uncovered from the Democrat Party which show the anti-Catholic, anti-Christian tendencies of its top officials. Obamacare’s running roughshod over Christian institutions with regard to birth control is another example.

The rise of anti-Semitism in American society over the past two decades is a direct reflection of the strength of this anti-religious ideology. Modern anti-Semitism, as opposed to that based on Christianity’s slanderous claim that Jews must be punished for eternity for having betrayed Jesus, reflects the view that Israel as a Jewish state is a remnant of Western colonialism, and thus is by definition repressive and undemocratic.

The entertainment industry has already well into promulgating anti-Christian and anti-Jewish stories and I predict the number and overtness of the attacks will continue to escalate.

On the agenda for those who see religions (except Islam) as inherently repressive and irrational will be an attack on first amendment grounds that prevents the state from taxing property owned by a religious institution. We won’t see a direct attempt to tax churches and synagogues, but school buildings and other property is too enticing for liberal government officials who need to keep filling their coffers to pay off constituents and donors.

Why tolerance for Islam? It fits the overall narrative. Islam is the religion of oppressed peoples. Anyone who has watched Quantico, the TV show about the FBI, has been given a taste both of anti-Israeli and pro-Islam story lines. Ironically, liberals admire Muslims’ devotion to their religion. Christianity and Judaism have been watered down so much in American society that people who have a need to commit themselves to something prefer liberalism, and they seem willing to make room for Islam because at least its followers are not wishy-washy.

It may be too late to reverse this trend and even should long-shot Donald Trump win the November election it’s unlikely he will be able to turn the tide. Conservative Supreme Court justices could engage in delaying tactics, such as preventing local governments from taxing religious property and ruling partial birth abortion unconstitutional, but secular anti-religion liberalism is America’s prevailing ideology. Better get used to it.

Declining newspaper circulation in a divided society

Despite the early, national interest to the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the circulation and advertising revenues of daily newspapers in the U.S. continued to drop precipitously over the past year according to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2016” report. The question is what’s causing the accelerating circulation decline and will owners do anything about it?

Let’s look at the numbers first: Weekday circulation fell 7% in 2015 while Sunday circulation dipped 4%. Further bad news is a decline in advertising revenue of 8% between 2014 and 2015. Even digital ad revenue declined, although only by 2%.

These numbers contrast with world media data, which show booming circulation, especially online. Print circulation worldwide grew just under 5% in 2015, confirming a trend that shows 21.6% increase in print circulation over the past five years. The majority of that increase comes from China and India. Print circulation for North America declined 10.9 percent during the same time period.

I doubt anyone has the data, but I suspect the percent of print and online newspaper readership among supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is much lower than the national average. Both groups are disaffected with the mainstream narrative as demonstrated by their support for candidates who challenged that narrative. If they do subscribe to a mainstream newspaper, my guess is the majority access that publication online and few receive the print edition.

One can’t blame these citizens from giving up on large daily newspapers. Much of the news they are interested in can be obtained faster and cheaper online or from the TV. Further, the editorial pages of most daily newspapers largely ignore the issues Trump and Sanders supporters feel important or present positions that contrast with their own. Further many editorials and columnists disparaged dissident voters as racists, homophobes, and worse.

Will owners make course corrections in light of the above data or tweak their current game plans? I’m convinced we won’t see any major changes. Why? The newspaper industry has already responded to projections of declining circulation by seeking revenue from its online product, by consolidating operations, and by generating revenue from other sources. Hence, they have no incentive to change their papers’ editorial focus, which today makes many columns and editorials appear as if they were written by the Democratic National Committee, if not by White House staff.

Buying into the Democrat/Liberal national narrative is the safest bet for media owners. They don’t need a crystal ball to see that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive winner and that little will change in Washington. Therefore to listen to dissidents or challenge the national narrative would only invite unwanted scrutiny and probably alienate their current readers, most of whom agree with their editorial outlook.

Media owners are probably correct in assuming being more critical of Washington would not result in disaffected citizens taking out subscriptions. All they need to do is print the occasional column by a conservative or an elected Republican, and they can maintain the appearance of neutrality.

There is an unfortunate consequence of the world of today’s newspaper industry, which is that they are playing a major role in dividing our nation in two. On one side with the newspaper industry is what we can call the Washington elite. These people are committed to increasing government’s reach into every aspect of daily life. On the other side are the average citizens whose views are not taken into account––people who resent Washington’s intrusion into every aspect of their lives, including which bathroom their children use at school. These are the people who lost their jobs or had them reduced from full to part-time by Obamacare, the war on coal and other environmental dictates, and by overregulation of every aspect of business practice. These are the people whose taxes provide more in cash and services to illegal immigrants than they can bring home from a $50,000/year salary.

From today’s divided society we got Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Many Sanders supporters feel he was robbed by undemocratic provisions of the Democratic Party’s primary system. They will stay home in 2016, but they will be looking for the next Bernie to run in 2020. Trump’s ego may have prevented him from having a realistic chance to win in November. I’ve talked to people who hate the Democrats, but will not vote for The Donald due to his failure to stay on message, but those people will also be around in 2020 looking for someone to challenge the mainstream narrative. All bets would be off if those two groups ever teamed up. Meanwhile, newspaper editors might do themselves a favor by listening to disaffected Americans instead of dissing them.

AIPAC’s new president wrong-foots her role

Coming off two days at my first AIPAC (American-Israel Political Affairs Committee) Policy Conference, I had nothing but good things to convey. That sentiment was shattered this morning when I received an extremely off-putting email from AIPAC’s new president Lillian Pinkus.

Pinkus objected to the standing ovation Donald Trump received when he said, “with President Obama in his final year––Yay!” She wrote that AIPAC does “not coutenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied at the President of the United States from our stage.”

Pinkus had already turned me off in her “acceptance speech” as AIPAC’s new president. She spoke to us in a condescending manner like a mother telling her children why they needed to eat their vegetables even before we had pushed them off the plate.

Later today, a new statement was issued by AIPAC. The only difference between the first and second versions was that she had claimed in the first to be speaking on behalf of the chairman of the board, the CEO and Vice Chief Executive Officer. Those names were missing from the second version, suggesting they had not been shown the document or agreed to have their names included and wanted to separate their names from her statement, which I applaud.

Jay Michaelson’s column in the Daily Beast explains Pinkus’ response as part of AIPAC’s attempt to restore its credibility with the Democratic Party after its strong condemnation of the Iran Deal. That may be, and in theory I am 100 percent behind AIPAC’s overall strategy of winning bi-partisan support for a “strong U.S.-Israel alliance, BUT to condemn the people who paid good money to attend the conference, many of them traveling a good distance to do so, for a spontaneous reponse to Trump’s comment is hitting below the belt.

Trump’s remark was an attack on the individual and not the office of the Presidency. So to write “While we have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the President of the United States and our President Barack Obama,” is a misguided attempt to suppress criticism of the individual because he is President. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and others tried that approach. It won’t work. It shouldn’t work.

Pinkus knows she can’t control Trump and let me advise her that she can’t control her members either. That’s not what good leadership is all about. Good leaders articulate a mission and set a good example. Slapping our hands when we deviate from what you think is proper, Ms. Pinkus, will not win you friends, members or contributions.