There is little about this election that is amusing, but there is Scott Adams

The Thinker by Rodin

Scott Adams, the force behind the phenomenally popular comic strip Dilbert has a blog and too much time on his hands. One thing I like about Scott is his Machiavellian detachment, which comes across in his comic strip, principally in the character Dilbert. Dilbert sees the systems around him for what they are: full of chaotic forces that make little sense and are frequently evil. Dilbert is rarely shown with a mouth in the comic strip, but he sure has one. He feels free to say whatever is on his mind. These are usually thoughts that you would not utter in the workplace. They are also frequently contrary to conventional opinion.

Scott claims to be apolitical and doesn’t plan to vote in the upcoming election. However, this hasn’t kept him from “endorsing” candidates for president. First he endorsed Donald Trump, a man he obviously greatly admires. I suspect his admiration for Trump comes from (like Dilbert) Trump feeling free to tell people what he really thinks, even if it comes off as crazy and abrasive most of the time. When you have Trump’s fortune and lawyers you have pretty much free speech without consequence, as long as you don’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scott’s fortune is smaller than Trump’s, but he is obviously very successful and likely has a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So Scott can say what he thinks too without much fear of consequence.

Scott of course has a right to his opinions. If he wants to support Donald Trump, more power to him. He discovered in the Bay area where he lives that it has some downsides, as in he is losing friends. So some months back he unendorsed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton instead. He did so because (as he said) he fears for his personal safety, not because he actually likes Clinton or her policies. The Bay area is obviously a liberal hotbed. Maybe he imagines hordes of liberals coming at him with hot pitch and pitchforks. While he was “endorsing” Clinton though he continued to plug for Trump, praising him as a “master persuader”. Based on his attending a hypnosis course, he was noting what he perceived to be Trump’s meta-messages that were persuading our hidden brains somehow. He felt certain that Trump would win the election. At one point he gave Trump’s odds of winning at 99%.

But as I noted back in June he seemed to have grasped the reality of Trump’s situation and conceded that Clinton was likely to win. And then there came the presidential debates. Most of us saw an unhinged Donald Trump but Scott saw a master persuader at work. Against conventional wisdom he said that Trump had “won” the first debate because of Trump’s master persuader power. It would be like a snowball going downhill and turn into a Trump avalanche at the end. Also around this time he decided that maybe he could endure the pitch and pitchforks and he decided to endorse Trump again. Those of us reading his blog breathed a sigh of relief. It was obvious that his endorsement of Clinton was insincere and that he was very much rooting for Trump, just not officially.

So Trump the master persuader continued to spin his magic by going completely off the rails by insulting pretty much anyone who was not a white male, leaving Scott to figure out whether to continue to support Trump’s losing campaign or unendorse him again before his face was completely covered in egg. Shortly after the first debate and particularly as the Alicia Machado debacle unfolded, Scott’s Machiavellian brain reasserted itself. However much a “master persuader” Trump was, it apparently was only with his base. Trump obviously had no clue how to persuade the rest of us, plus he ran the most ineffective and unorthodox campaign ever, eclipsing even George Wallace’s veiled-racist 1968 campaign. Woken to cold reality again, Scott withdrew his endorsement and endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson instead. Yes, that Gary Johnson who when asked did not know what Aleppo was and could not think of any foreign leaders that he admired. (At least Trump knows and admires Vladimir Putin.)

And so it will go probably through the remainder of this strange campaign. But with Scott you never know for sure whom he will endorse next, not that it matters in the least because no one is persuaded by his arguments. You do know though whom he would vote for, if he elected to vote and it would be Donald Trump. It’s transparent to all of us.

Meanwhile, to get away from all the flack he is receiving, he had “temporarily disabled” comments on his blog. Scott is at least consistent in being unorthodox. It does come at a price though since his income from paid speeches is declining, even though he gets the occasional TV interview to talk about Trump and his “master persuader” thesis.

While I am not surprised by Scott’s choice, I do think he would be better served by staying away from politics altogether. It’s not easy to be taken seriously in this arena. Even the highly polarized ones are at least wonkish policy nerds steeped in this subject. He would be much more persuasive if he had a degree in political science.

Scott’s opinions don’t matter at all as he is persuading no one at all. He is needlessly pissing people off who might like other stuff he blogs about and undercutting his brand. Since he already made his fortune, maybe it doesn’t matter. Stepping so forcefully out in an area where his knowledge is keenly lacking though is kind of amusing and sometimes hilarious. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck so sometimes you just have to look away.

I hope Scott changes his mind and actually votes. If he does I’m sure he’ll be voting for Trump, not Johnson. As appalling as Trump is he is at least better informed than Gary Johnson, although not by much. Trump needs all the votes he can get in California, and it won’t be many. Meanwhile, I can at least take some schadenfreude observing the way Scott so badly and repeatedly misses the mark.

The folly of voting third-party for president

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s post Labor Day and it’s a presidential election year. You know what that means. According to our press, it means people are now starting to seriously pay attention to the upcoming election.

I find this hard to believe. Granted that I am something of a political junkie but it must be a very, very remote corner of Appalachia that hasn’t heard the endless thoughts spewing from the mouth and Twitter feed of Donald J. Trump. He’s the mouth that has roared for over a year now. And Hillary Clinton has spent decades in the public spotlight. We all have firmly baked opinions about her.

Perhaps to stir up some excitement, the press is agog about tightening polls showing Hillary Clinton’s lead dropping. It’s still a rare poll that shows her numbers below Trump’s, at least nationally but polls are generally showing her numbers moving to within margin of error numbers. It’s clear that large majorities of Americans don’t particularly like either Clinton or Trump and wants someone else to vote for. Unsurprisingly some are looking at third party candidates instead: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Those voters who follow through seem to want to make a statement.

And they will make a statement if they don’t mind shooting themselves in the foot. This happened to me in 1980 when I voted for John Anderson for president. I hate to say our electoral system is rigged but when it comes to the presidential vote it certain is and it’s by design. This is because an Electoral College actually votes a president into office and because 48 of the fifty states have laws that whichever candidate wins a plurality of the votes in the presidential race gets all of the state’s electoral delegates.

This means the system is rigged so as to make it virtually impossible for any candidate not in a major party to win. But it also means that if you are voting third party, you are throwing away your vote. The only exception is if your third party candidate wins a plurality of the votes in your state. And while that may garner some electoral votes for your third party candidate, a whole lot of other states have to do the same for your candidate to actually win. In short, you have to bet that both the Democratic and Republican party candidates are so dysfunctional that a wholesale national voting rebellion is going to happen, something that has never happened in our country as best I can tell and probably can’t happen now in our polarized political environment.

In practical terms, this means to a Massachusetts resident like me that if I would have otherwise voted for Hillary Clinton and I vote for Jill Stein instead, I am effectively voting for Donald Trump since it will bump up his share of the votes as a percent of the state’s votes. And if I am a non-racist Alabaman that normally votes Republican but I am so disgusted by Trump’s racism that I vote for Gary Johnson instead, I am helping elect Hillary Clinton.

In my case in 1980 as a 23-year-old voting for third party candidate John Anderson, I was effectively voting for Ronald Reagan, the last candidate I would have voted for. Fortunately in the blue-state of Maryland, it didn’t matter as Maryland’s electoral votes went for Jimmy Carter. Nationwide though John Anderson took 6.6% of the popular vote. Conceivably had Anderson not run and those votes had gone to Carter instead (as research suggests) then that election would at least have been a lot closer. Carter lost by nearly 10% of the popular vote but where it matters, he received only 49 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Reagan’s election was a landslide by any standards, thanks probably to John Anderson’s spoiler effect. As bad as that was the 1984 election was worse. Walter Mondale garnered only 13 electoral votes (his home state of Minnesota and Washington D.C.) Reagan got the rest (525) and that was with no serious third party opposition. For a more recent event that shows the folly of voting third party, look at the 2000 election. Had the Green Party votes in Florida gone to Al Gore, there would have been no President George W. Bush.

Trump is right that the presidential voting system is rigged, but it’s always been that way. The Electoral College mess was designed by our founding fathers to get a commitment from southern states at the time the constitution was ratified. Without it, southern states would have probably never been able to elect a president. With slaves counting as 2/3 of a free person for a state’s share of electoral votes, with a few exceptions (like John Adams) for decades it made it virtually impossible for a non-southerner to become president.

So hopefully I’ve convinced you not to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. If still not convinced, consider that the Green Party and Libertarian Party are minority parties because their views are simply not mainstream views. I find a lot to admire about the Green Party but it’s a party of ideologues, not a party of pragmatists. For example, GMO foods are not going away and it’s folly at this time to try. Libertarians are easy to dismiss because it is wholly unworkable. Imagine selling all our roads, sewers and schools. Imagine no laws against pollution. It would be an unmanageable nightmare.

Which leaves you dear voter ultimately holding your nose while you vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (I realize there are some voters, particularly Trump voters who are actually enthusiastic about their candidate. Weird.) The other option is not to vote, but not voting is effectively the same as voting third party. You will effectively give more power to those that do vote.

So suck it up for democracy. Democracy ain’t pretty sometimes and it won’t be in this election. However, you have a duty to perform so do it mindful that the system is not perfect and your candidate won’t be either. If you really want the Green or Libertarian parties to grow, you have to do it the hard way by getting local and state candidates elected. With enough of them they may become a majority party in your state. Then you will have leverage, at least on the state level. Or you can work for a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Electoral College and make it based on actual votes.

Oh, and those polls? I’m still not worried. I think Clinton is still going to win based on state polls, which are the only ones that matter. With a majority of Americans saying they will never vote for Trump, the only way that Trump wins is if a lot of those voters stay home or vote third party instead of voting for Hillary. It’s unlikely but it can happen, and it could happen this year if you don’t vote with the left side of your brain instead of the right side.

I’ll be using the left side and voting for the imperfect Hillary Clinton.