Tag Archives: Politics

Election 2016, Reflections

Election 2016, Reflections

by: john harrison

Even before the 2016 presidential election the GOP controlled 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers — the highest number in the history of the party. Republicans held the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 23 states, while Democrats had that level of control in only 7 states. In political terms the Republican Party had much more to lose in this election than the Democratic Party did.

This widespread strength gave the Republicans control over the redistricting process of House districts across the country. This control has enabled Republicans to entirely restructure the House of Representatives in their favor, but it has also resulted in the election of many very independent, only nominally Republican, House members that are not responsive to the Republican leadership. However, the initial large number of viable Republican presidential candidates in 2016 also reflected the Republican party’s geographically broad based, deep, political strength.

The entirety of the popular vote difference of about 2.5 million votes in Sec. Clinton’s favor comes from California. It signifies nothing, but it helps hide a distressing truth for the Democratic Party. Essentially in at least this election, the Democratic Party has withered to a very large, regional political party with its strength concentrated mainly in large cities generally located in the Northeast and far West coasts and particularly in three of the most populous states, California, New York and Illinois. The Democratic Party has fought also populous Florida to a virtual tie in the last two presidential elections, but it has not a chance in Texas, the remaining member of the top five states in population.

In spite of raising and spending an incredible amount of money, far more than the Republicans, and creating a superb professional political machine focused on getting out the Democratic vote, Sec. Clinton nonetheless posted the lowest Democratic vote total since 2008. This should be very disturbing to the party, but all that most Democrats seem to want to talk about is that she won the popular vote nationwide. On the other hand, but more important even though it too makes no difference, Mr. Trump scored the largest Republican popular vote total ever.

A vote comparison that is useful, is that in only 14 states did Sec. Clinton receive more than half or the votes cast, while Mr. Trump exceeded that goal in 24 states. In a republic with an electoral college these numbers have much more significance than the total popular vote.

Reflecting intense voter dissatisfaction with both major party candidates almost 6 million votes went to third party candidates. Unlike several years ago when Mr. Perot ran, my view is that almost nobody voted “for” any of the 3rd party candidates this time. They voted against both major party candidates, but more apparently voted against Sec. Clinton than against Mr. Trump.

This seems clear from the vote totals. Mr. Trump substantially increased his party’s vote totals while Sec. Clinton was unable to repeat even the lowest of President Obama’s vote totals in spite of a huge and very successful effort to register new, presumably Democratic, voters.

This voter apathy, sometimes antipathy, toward Sec. Clinton and her running mate was also visibly reflected during the campaign in the lack of crowds at their events unless a rock star or President Obama also attended. Although conspicuous, this lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate was ignored by her campaign and deprecated by the media as “not important” or at least, over shadowed by the great Democratic “ground game” coming in the general election.

The numbers in gross should be even more distressing for the Democratic Party. Starting in 2000 about 101 million Americans voted in that year’s presidential election. In 2004 about 121 million voted. In 2008 President Obama’s first term a record 129 million voted. In 2012 about 126 million voted. However, in 2016 in another record, 134 million Americans voted. Mr. Trump’s total vote of almost 63 million set a new record for the Republican Party, but Sec. Clinton’s 65 million was well below President Obama’s total vote in both of the two preceding presidential elections. That is, even though the total votes cast in 2016 increased by about 8 million votes, the total vote for the Democratic nominee actually went down for the second straight election.

In the main these new voters went to either Mr. Trump, or to the two major third party candidates who received almost 6 million votes in 2016. Clearly whichever party can capture the allegiance of these new voters will win the presidency in 2020 and both parties have ample room to broaden their respective bases.

While many, particularly in the media, talked of the apparent disintegration of the Republican Party during the campaign, it appears that it was the Democratic party that did not succeed in uniting or broadening its base. If this persists it is in real danger of becoming nationally irrelevant as a political party. Structurally, for the same reasons that Mr. Trump won the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote, the Republicans hold a distinct advantage in the House. They have resurrected in part the “solid South” which formerly belonged to the Democratic Party. These were very real Republican advantages in the 2016 election, and will likely continue.

This time the traditional wedge issues of the past, particularly gun control, women’s reproductive rights, immigration, etc., apparently produced more active opposition for Democratic candidates than they did active support for Democratic candidates. The key here is the word “active” because active supporters vote. A close race, such as the 2016 election was in many states, gives such single issue voters, active voters, even more importance. In 2016, they held the balance and then they gave it to Mr. Trump. Why?

Never have the pundits and professional politicians been proven more uniformly wrong. Say what you will, Mr. Trump first defeated a large Republican group of well financed, experienced, successful politicians many with national recognition. Then, he went on to beat the Democratic nominee handily in the electoral race which is the only one that counts. How did that happen?

2016 was not the first time the Democratic Party has suffered a humiliating loss when led by a politician named Clinton. After the similar disaster at the polls in 1994 people in the Democratic Party began looking for the reason. It was not hard to find. Everybody agreed then that the assault weapon ban had cost the party at least 40 seats in the House, including that of the Speaker of the House, Tom Foley.

The political price for passing the assault weapon ban in 1994 was the loss of Congress to the Republicans. Not only that, but it endangered all of Bill Clinton’s and therefore the Democratic Party’s, agenda for the rest of his presidency. In large part the aftermath of election of 1994 was the partisan conditions on Capitol Hill that produced Clinton’s own impeachment. Even Clinton himself, looking back on the assault weapon ban in his memoir, My Life, concluded that he had likely “pushed the Congress, the country, and the administration too hard.” Thereafter for Bill Clinton, gun control became the deadly third rail of politics.

How then did gun control arise again in a Clinton campaign? Probably it can be traced back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which occurred on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as 6 adult staff members that began the resurgence of gun control as a national political issue. On the one hand are the parents of the slaughtered children. On the other hand was a follower of political activist and theorist Saul Alinsky who taught that even the most horrible tragedy should be used, and who stated:

“The despair is there; now it’s up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change.”- Saul Alinsky

For a big part of the country, the problem had a simple solution—protect the schools, post armed guards. This is the rational and so far only effective way to protect anything. This is why both large amounts of money and presidents always travel with armed guards.

Again for a large part of the country, they wondered in light of all of the previous shootings at schools why there had not already been an armed guard there at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Who could be dumb enough to think that a “Gun Free Zone” sign on an all glass door would work?

That is when they found that they were not dealing with reason. Many in Connecticut and elsewhere protested against posting armed guards at schools even after the shooting at Newtown. Rather than sue the officials who had left their children and teachers entirely unprotected even though schools were a well recognized risk, the parents sued the gun manufacturer. They were undeterred that all of the guns used had been stolen in course of a homicide where the killer had murdered his own mother.

A large part of the country found this reaction of demonizing guns rather than the murderer to be completely idiotic. More important, it scared them. They want their children to be protected, and they do not much care how it is done, as long at it is done.

While reason, as they viewed it, ultimately prevailed, the Connecticut schools finally hired armed guards and the suit against the gun manufacturers was thrown out of court, the horrific memories remained for both sides. They still produce almost Pavlovian responses.

For example, former Vice Presidential candidate and current Democratic Senator Tim Kaine recently posted:

“Deeply saddened by the senseless act of gun violence at Ohio State this morning. Praying for the injured and the entire Buckeye community.” (Emphasis added)

However, the only “gun violence” was when an alert policeman, an armed guard employed by the university, shot and killed the knife wielding terrorist who had first used his car as a weapon.

People who want their children protected, by guns if necessary, are deathly afraid of people like Senator Tim Kaine. In 2016, like in 1994, in their view the Democratic Party rejected them. The Democratic candidate for president literally, deplored them.

The next issue was abortion. If anyone wondered how a woman could vote for Donald Trump they need look no further than the abortion issue.

The voices of reason on this issue, and there are few, said that abortion must be looked at realistically. Realistically, the wealthy have always had access to safe, sometimes even legal, abortions. However, those that did not have access to legal abortions often died. The rational said that if you are with the idea of a legal abortion in the cases of rape, incest and/or the health of the mother, then abortion can no longer be a black and white, moral issue. As soon as you agree to exceptions, you are no longer talking about right and wrong, you are weighing options. It can no longer be a moral choice.

All of this ignored that for many voters, abortion is a black and white issue, and this includes many women voters. While exact numbers will never be available since for many this is a distinctly private issue, some women are in favor of abortion regardless of the circumstances, a point that Sec. Clinton endorsed in the last debate, and some women are opposed to abortion, again regardless of the circumstances.

Even between these two extremes, a lot of women are still single issue voters. That is why nothing that Mr. Trump, generally an opponent of abortion, said in the campaign swayed many women in particular from voting for him.

Because they believed that voting for a man like Mr. Trump to be clearly irrational behavior, Sec. Clinton’s advisors discounted it. They simply did not believe that any woman could vote for such a misogynist.

They forgot that this particular misogynist opposed abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest and health of the mother. In contrast to all of the other Republican candidates, he opposed shutting down Planned Parenthood as well. That is Mr. Trump took the more or less middle ground, the most generally acceptable anti-abortion position. While Sec. Clinton was on the extreme end of the debate, Mr. Trump got a lot of votes because of his much more moderate position.

What’s troubling for the future is that a wide swath of supporters on both sides of abortion and gun control still view these particular issues as moral imperatives, as matters of basic human rights. In this view, gun control and abortion are not clashes of competing political and legal issues, to be sorted out with data and evidence. It is Good vs. Evil; Enlightenment vs. Barbarism; Life vs. Death.

Phrasing them this way makes the advocates of stricter and looser laws feel better. We all need a villain. But unlike truly moral issues, claiming the moral high ground on these issues makes it less likely to pass better laws, less likely to end the logjam in Congress, even less likely to win elections because the attitude itself motivates both sides.

If Sec. Clinton had moderated her party’s stand on gun control or abortion, or had at least taken a more nuanced approach, like Mr. Trump did, as strange as that is to say that about Mr. Trump, when he refused many times to endorse the idea of ending Planned Parenthood, it is hard to say what would have happened. That is why these issues have been called the third rail of politics. There is no safe side.

In 2008 President Obama accurately if disparagingly identified the Democrats’ 2016 problem with the voters:

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Eight years later, now President elect Trump played repeatedly on those issues. He played on them just like Jimi Hendrix played the guitar, with originality and power. They propelled him straight to the White House.

The Democratic party must find an acceptable answer on these issues. If the Democratic Party is going to return as a truly national party it is going to have to change its approach to something different on at least some of these issues. There are very real political risks if it does not.

For example, in the 2016 presidential election the Democratic Party enjoyed an immense lead with Hispanic voters. However, while Hispanics have favored the Democratic Party over the Republican Party in every presidential election since at least the 1980s, their electoral impact has long been limited by low voter turnout and much more important as this election has proved, a population concentrated in non-battleground states. This support was so even though Hispanics are generally Roman Catholic and the Catholic Church takes a very dim view of abortion. This creates a huge opportunity for Republican politicians like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to penetrate Democratic strongholds just as Mr. Trump penetrated traditional Democratic states in 2016 with his message on job losses.

As for Trump and the Republicans, I was as dumbfounded as most were by his nomination and then by his election. He tapped into long simmering voter anger and exploited it ruthlessly. It remains to be seen whether this compulsive dealer can retain his support as he actually begins to make choices, to make deals. It will also be interesting to see if Speaker Ryan can deliver the votes necessary to create a Trump Administration program.

For my part, I remain as doubtful of the success of a Trump presidency as I was of his candidacy. As an American I hope that I am wrong again.


Why We Need Presidential Electors

Why We Need Presidential Electors

by  john harrison

Every four years some people express surprise to find out that they live in a republic rather than a democracy. This year as in in several other presidential elections they express surprise that it is not only possible but happens fairly often that a candidate for president will win the popular vote but still lose the election.

It was designed that way on purpose. If we did not have such a system; if it was a straight question of majority rule; then, a candidate might only campaign in California, Texas, Florida and New York since those four states alone comprise over one third of the total population of the United States, and they vote. You would never see such a candidate in North Carolina, Virginia or any state where the election was close because already about half of the votes in such a state are in effect already “taken”. They would only go to states where they had a huge base because that is only place they could go that would make a difference in the success or failure of their campaign.

Simply stated, that would be bad for our democratic republic. In fact, her failure to satisfactorily confront her problems was at least part of Sec. Clinton’s problem in the last campaign. Our current system requires candidates to go to exactly to the places in the country where the real issues of that campaign are being fought out. That is why they are called “battleground ” states. These states change fairly regularly as new states, like Michigan, come into play.

Finally, the people in the small states are not dumb. They know the only reason the candidates ever stop by during a campaign is because of their electoral votes. Any change would require them to agree to give that up. Not likely.

Have you ever been the target of a hit man?

What Would You Do?

I Was on Ruthann Aron’s Hit List

By: John Edwards Harrison

Sunday, March 8, 1998

Washington Post

Page C01

Our family was in Florida. We were staying in a nice Holiday Inn near West Palm Beach. It was June. We’d just had a good breakfast. The sun was shining. So I was curious, but not worried, when I took a telephone call from a woman identifying herself as an assistant state’s attorney for Montgomery County, Maryland.

“Mr. Harrison,” she asked on that day last year, “Are you the attorney Harrison who had a case a few years ago with Ruthann Aron?”

“Yes,” I said. “But who are you?”

“My name is Savage,” she said. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.” Bad news? My mind recycled to another phone call six years before when I was told that my oldest daughter had been killed by a drunk driver. In the fraction of a second pause between my words and hers, everything shifted into slow motion. Who could be dead, I thought, looking out the open door of the room and seeing one of my children jumping into the crystal blue swimming pool, laughing all the way.

“Well, it appears that Ms. Aron may have been trying to kill you, or to have someone kill you.”

In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is indeed the same Ruthann Aron now on trial in Montgomery County, Maryland charged with attempting to hire a hit man to kill her husband and a lawyer. But when I received this phone call, word of her arrest had not gotten to me.

The prosecutor’s news, compared with what was going through my head, was good news. Only someone who has received one of those awful calls can know, or feel, or understand, how happy I was to learn that this time, it was only about someone who might be trying to kill me.

Savage told me of Aron’s arrest that morning. She told me that my name was on what authorities believed to be a “hit list” found in her car, along with a silencer, and that they had found a number of automatic weapons, including a military style, assault weapon of hers, and several how-to books on assassination and making silencers.

I suppose I should have felt immediately afraid, but I didn’t. After all, the Montgomery County Police had found out about Aron’s murderous plans and she was in custody. What did I have to worry about?

Plenty, Savage suggested.

She pointed out that Aron may have hired more than one “hit man.” She asked me what I knew about Aron — wife, businesswoman, politician. I told her that I had had one case against her about a decade ago; that she was the most calculating woman I had ever met; that she really planned ahead; and that no matter what happened, she always had a plan and a fall-back plan.

Savage’s parting comment was chilling. She asked me to keep her name and telephone number in my pocket so that if anything bad happened to me, it could be immediately linked with Aron by investigators.

Put yourself in my situation. You’ve been told someone may be out to kill you and that it’s not a joke. How do you protect yourself? What do you do?

I began to think about the threat more seriously, but as it happened though we were on our way to Disney World (really). And, as it happens, Disney World is about as good a place as any to hide since it is hard not to be anonymous there. Like everyone else, we had three kids and two cameras, wore sandels, shorts and colorful T-shirts. A hit man would be hard-pressed to find us in that happy crowd

However, my devil-may-care attitude faded fast when we arrived home in Washington, D. C. and I listened to the 22 messages on my answering machine. The arrest of one-time Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ruthann Aron had hit the news big time.

The first eight messages were supposed to be funny. They had been left after Aron’s arrest but before any public mention of my name. They were from friends who knew that I’d handled a case against Aron and they were harassing me for not having made her final cut.

Then news reports had come out saying that I was on Aron’s hit list. The humorous messages stopped and were replaced by messages of concern. (“Are you all right?”) Jokes changed to pleas to call back immediately

Later, I learned that Aron habitually roamed her expansive Potomac, Maryland home with a loaded automatic pistol strapped to her hip, in quick-draw, cowboy style. News reports described her unconventional but long-term fascination with guns (she owned several), and her very accurate marksmanship that came from practicing regularly with the Montgomery County police pistol team at a local pistol range.

It feels silly to even write the words “hit list” but that’s what I had been told it was. She was not charged with hiring a hit man to kill me because for some reason at the last minute she substituted her husband’s name on the list she gave to the undercover officer who was posing as a hit man

The case I had tried against Ruthann Aron had been concluded almost 10 years before. Eventually she had to pay back several hundred thousand dollars to my client. The only unusual aspect of the case was that the jury had chosen to believe that she had taken money from her partner on the testimony of a man previously convicted of nineteen counts of fraud

I talked to friends about what they thought I should do. One, a trusts and estates lawyer, asked me if my will was up to date. He wasn’t kidding, though he immediately apologized for the question, which was a good one. So I got a new will. That’s $500 Aron has cost me so far.

Then I went on “Fox Morning News” with Lark McCarthy. As I was leaving the studio, I heard a news segment reporting that a security guard at those very studios in Northwest Washington that I was in had been attacked in broad daylight; a security guard. That was just before a D.C. police officer was gunned down in his police cruiser. Who’s safe?

Go price a bodyguard. With benefits, they cost $40,000 or $50,000 a year, per guard, and you would need at least four guards to cover three shifts of a 24-hour day. With overtime, that’s a cool quarter of a million dollars a year. That only gives you one guard at a time. Several very good guards were not enough to shield President Reagan. If John Hinckley, a certified nut case, could put a bullet into Reagan and another into a Secret Service agent, in broad daylight, in spite of the best protection in the world, what could I really do to protect my family or myself

When I returned from Disney World, I went over to the Montgomery County state’s attorney’s office to talk about what I knew. They showed me the “hit list.” I had not known that my home address was on it. I suppose she wanted me killed right in front of my family. For the first time, I got really angry.

Even if I could legally own a gun for protection, and get a permit to carry it in the District of Columbia, no courthouse would let me bring one to work. But a courthouse is where I do my legal work. My bodyguard, assuming I could afford one, couldn’t carry a gun into a courthouse, either.

What about my law practice and my clients? Would I have to argue their cases from behind a bulletproof shield, or by long-distance telephone? You can tell where I’m going to be at any given time pretty much by looking at a few docket sheets publicly posted in various courthouses. Could I tell my clients that I was going to become their “phantom lawyer”?

All I could think to do was worry and stuff Savage’s name and phone number into my back pocket. Small comfort.

I read a couple of newspaper columns that were meant to be humorous. The general tenor was that two lawyers dead was at worst a good start. At about that time, another friend pointed out that possibly the reason I was not among those she had asked the undercover Montgomery County police officer to kill was that she was probably saving me to do all by herself. He suggested that’s what the M-16 that was in her car was for when she was arrested. He laughed.

I suppose these columns and comments might have seemed funny to me under other circumstances. But my kids and my wife did not see any humor at all in Ruthann Aron, or in people who think real stories about people trying to kill lawyers are funny. The worst thing of all was explaining to our children why daddy’s name was in the news — without terrifying them.

“She is a bad guy,” satisfied the 4-year-old. But my two older children, particularly my 18-year-old daughter, required somewhat longer explanations.

All of this, I supposed, was at least partly academic as long as Aron was in jail awaiting trial. But in November 1997, she was released from a state psychiatric hospital and allowed to live in the Silver Spring home of a new friend she had met at the psychiatric hospital. After they argued, Aron was asked to leave. She moved to the home of one of her attorney’s secretaries. Later, she asked for and received permission from the court to be allowed to live, unsupervised, in her own Potomac home, pending trial. She has an electronic bracelet and must stay near her phone, except when she is visiting her lawyers or doctors or when she is on the six hours of unsupervised “personal errands” that were approved for every week until trial.

When I heard she had been released on bail, I remember hoping that all of her guns had been removed from her home and that she did not pick up any more guns on one of those “personal errands.”

Her release on bail still makes no sense to me. A friend of mine who handles criminal cases told me hardly anyone charged with solicitation to commit murder is released on bail, for obvious reasons. It seemed to me this would be particularly true with a person, as Aron was, charged with hiring a hit man to kill witnesses.

Even before she pled it, many believed that Aron must be insane. I think because most people do not understand the nature of an insanity plea, that there was an almost reflexive belief in her claim that she is insane. These people find it hard to believe that a sane, 55-year-old, wealthy, Potomac resident, doctor’s wife, mother of two, would try to kill her husband and a lawyer or two. They find it hard to believe that a well-educated, female, lawyer really made up a hit list and tried to hire a hitman. They want to believe that “one of us” couldn’t be a killer. Since these little fictions make them feel safer, they can not bring themselves to believe that Ruthann Aron is sane.

An African American friend says this is all unconscious racism. He says that if Aron were black, they would all say she was guilty as hell and Aron would be in jail, perhaps under the jail, until a trial was concluded. I think he has a point

On the one hand, Aron is claiming to be so insane that she is not responsible for trying to hire a hit man to kill people. On the other hand, she has already convinced the judge trying her case that she is sane enough to stay free on bond. I find this at best, strange.

If, in fact, she is correct in her insanity defense, since it is based on the idea that she does not know the difference between right and wrong, she is a danger to everyone. If she is not crazy, then she has admitted to trying to have at least two men killed, one because he was a witness against her in a court case and one who is the father of her two children. With a trial pending, it seems to me that any sane judge would have wanted all the witnesses to feel they could testify in safety and thus would have kept her locked up. Either way, I figured all along she would be in jail at least until the conclusion of the trial. Obviously, I was wrong.

So, once again, imagine that a serious person calls you one day and tells you that someone, perhaps even a professional killer, was trying to kill you. What do you do? What can you do?

Sadly, not much, except carry around a state attorney’s telephone number and hope for a police department as good as Montgomery County’s.


John Edwards Harrison is an Alexandria lawyer.

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The Rest of the Story (https://johneharrison.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-rest-of-the-story/) tells what happened at Ruthann Aron’s trial and the aftermath.