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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 1:04 am | Overcast 59º


Mark Shields: Happy New Year, and Presidential Election Reflections

As regular readers may remember, I have long insisted that Jan. 1 — smack in the middle of winter and completely overshadowed by Christmas, just a week earlier — makes no sense as to when to begin the year.

Labor Day — the first Monday in September, when days grow shorter and weather cooler, when vacations end and schools reopen and summer gives way to autumn — is the more logical New Year’s Day.

If Labor Day is to become the real New Year’s Day, then it will need some resolutions, predictions, even semi-reflections.

Given the unfavorable personal ratings both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump get from voters in every poll, 2016 could turn out to be a Mae West election.

For those too young to recall, the earthy and occasionally profane West was Hollywood’s original blonde bombshell, and she once observed in a film, “When caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.”

This presidential campaign, sadly, has been almost humor-free. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP VP nominee, is earnest but not publicly witty.

Mitch Daniels, the current Purdue University president and former budget director under President George W. Bush, was Pence’s statehouse predecessor. It was Daniels who humorously introduced himself to a roomful of reporters this way:

“I bring greetings from my beloved Indiana, a land of surprises where, as we say, South Bend is in the north, North Vernon’s in the south and French Lick is not what you hoped it was.”

Since Harry Truman left the White House some 63 years ago, the United States has elected six presidents to two consecutive terms (Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama), but only once since then — in 1988, with the election of George H.W. Bush to succeed Reagan — have voters given a party a third consecutive term.

If Hillary Clinton does win a third White House term for the Democrats in November, then it’s a good bet that the overriding reason will be that the 2016 election turned out to be a referendum on Trump.

I resolve to put on my car’s bumper the campaign sticker of the candidate who in the first presidential debate, on Sept. 26, can, in 60 seconds, make a direct case for her/his election without once mentioning his/her opponent.

How was the United States — without either a gluten-free cuisine or quinoa anywhere on the menu — ever able to win both World War II and the Cold War?

Since the end of World War II, well over 100 countries have become democracies. It is fair to say that the American democratic experience has inspired millions around the globe.

But what does it tell us that not a single one of the world’s new democracies, when choosing how to elect its national leadership, even considered copying our uniquely irrational Electoral College system?

How irrational is the Electoral College? Consider this: California, the largest state, has approximately 39 million residents, and having 53 U.S. representatives and two U.S. senators entitles it to 55 electoral votes.

This means that California gets one electoral vote for every 700,000-plus of its citizens, while Wyoming — which has a total population of just 584,000 but two U.S. senators and one U.S. representative — is awarded three electoral votes, translating roughly to one electoral vote for every 195,000 Wyomingites.

It remains mathematically impossible to over-tip a waitress at breakfast.

Happy Labor — New Year’s — Day.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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