No, Donald Trump Can’t “Burn It Down.” Washington Would Go On The Same.

RS: No, Donald Trump Can’t “Burn It Down.” Washington Would Go On The Same.

The wrong man for the job.

Of all the arguments made in favor of a vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States, or at any rate the Republican nominee, probably the most seductive is the argument that Trump will “burn it down”: replace the business-as-usual Washington political establishment with a bull-in-a-china-shop outsider who will do something different. A great many Americans across the political spectrum are deeply frustrated with our system, for many reasons – some of them very good reasons, others understandable ones. Trump speaks to their frustrations, which is a major reason why he has won 37.1% of the popular vote so far in the Republican primaries; so does Bernie Sanders, which is a major reason why Sanders has won 41.1% of the popular vote so far in the Democratic primaries. But even setting aside the many reasons why Trump is highly unlikely to win a general election, anyone who understands the problems with how Washington works also knows that Trump is almost uniquely unsuited to actually change them.

Continue reading No, Donald Trump Can’t “Burn It Down.” Washington Would Go On The Same.

The Vindication of Rick Perry

RS: The Vindication of Rick Perry

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, the state’s highest criminal court, today threw out the entirety of the bogus criminal indictment against former Governor Rick Perry. The indictment was always a farce, and worse. Farce, because it suggested that Democrats would go much further than Republicans ever would to destroy a political opponent; worse, because it actively sought to criminalize good government by charging Perry with a crime for attempting to use his power of the purse to compel Democrats to get rid of a corrupt, alcoholic District Attorney who tried to abuse her office to get out of a drunk driving rap. The entire episode is a vivid reminder of why Rick Perry has been one of this nation’s most admirable leaders over the course of his career, and a man who deserved better in his runs at national office.

A lower appeals court had thrown out half of the indictment, but the Court of Criminal Appeals opinion disposes of the whole abusive case, and is worth reading if you’re into the kinds of separation of powers issues that Justice Scalia championed for years on the U.S. Supreme Court, and which the Texas courts take more seriously as a result of explicit language in the Texas Constitution:

The powers of the Government of the State of Texas shall be divided into three distinct departments, each of which shall be confided to a separate body of magistracy, to wit: Those which are Legislative to one; those which are Executive to another, and those which are Judicial to another; and no person, or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly attached to either of the others, except in the instances herein expressly permitted.

The court began by ruling that it would make an exception to its normal rules regarding “as applied” pretrial constitutional challenges to an indictment (i.e., arguments that the statute was unconsititutional only as it applies to this situation, not as to every possible set of facts) because of the importance of separation of powers to good government:

If a statute violates separation of powers by unconstitutionally infringing on a public official’s own power, then the mere prosecution of the public official is an undue infringement on his power. And given the disruptive effects of a criminal prosecution, pretrial resolution of this type of separation of powers claim is necessary to ensure that public officials can effectively perform their duties.

Turning to Count I of the indictment’s charge that Perry misused public money by vetoing the budget of the DA’s Public Integrity Unit in order to require it to show some public integrity of its own, the court emphasized that the public purposes to which a veto is put cannot be criminalized without destroying the veto power:

The Legislature cannot directly or indirectly limit the governor’s veto power. No law passed by the Legislature can constitutionally make the mere act of vetoing legislation a crime…the governor cannot by agreement, on his own or through legislation, limit his veto power in any manner that is not provided in the Texas Constitution…When the only act that is being prosecuted is a veto, then the prosecution itself violates separation of powers…A governor could be prosecuted for bribery if he accepted money, or agreed to accept money, in exchange for a promise to veto certain legislation, and a governor might be subject to prosecution for some other offense that involves a veto. But the illegal conduct is not the veto; it is the agreement to take money in exchange for the promise.

Count II charged Perry with “coercion of a public servant” for threatening the veto before he issued it, in order to pressure the DA to step down, as she should have. The lower appeals court had concluded that this statute applied in this manner would be massively overbroad in criminalizing completely legitimate politics:

The court of appeals recited a number of hypothetical situations offered by Governor Perry to illustrate the improper reach of the statute:

• A manager could not threaten to fire or demote a government employee for poor performance.
• A judge could not threaten to sanction an attorney for the State, to declare a mistrial if jurors did not avoid misconduct, or to deny warrants that failed to contain certain information.
• An inspector general could not threaten to investigate an agency’s financial dealings.
• A prosecutor could not threaten to bring charges against another public servant.
• A public university administrator could not threaten to withdraw funding from a professor’s research program.
• A public defender could not threaten to file a motion for suppression of evidence to secure a better plea bargain for his client.

The court agreed that the statute would indeed criminalize these acts. The court also offered its own hypotheticals: that the statute would appear to criminalize a justice’s threat to write a dissenting opinion unless another justice’s draft majority opinion were changed, and the court’s clerk’s threat, when a brief is late, to dismiss a government entity’s appeal unless it corrects the deficiency.

A cynic would note that these examples cut rather too close to home for the judges.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be violated by the prosecutor’s broad view of what could be criminalized in a public official’s veto threats. The court noted that more specific situations of real misconduct like bribery were already covered by other statutes, and added its own list of real-world political give-and-take (which it linked to news reports of ordinary Texas politics) that would become crimes:

Th[e statute covers officials who] include[] the Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, Secretary of State, Land Commissioner, tax-assessor collectors, and trial judges. Many threats that these public servants make as part of the normal functioning of government are criminalized:

• a threat by the governor to veto a bill unless it is amended,
• a threat by the governor to veto a bill unless a different bill he favors is also passed,
• a threat by the governor to use his veto power to wield “the budget hammer” over a state agency to force necessary improvements,
• a threat by the comptroller to refuse to certify the budget unless a budget shortfall is eliminated,
• a threat by the attorney general to file a lawsuit if a government official or entity proceeds with an undesired action or policy,
• a threat by a public defender to file, proceed with, or appeal a ruling on a motion to suppress unless a favorable plea agreement is reached,
• A threat by a trial judge to quash an indictment unless it is amended.

Of these, the only example involving anything unusual is the one in which the comptroller actually followed through with her threat not to certify the budget. At least some of these examples, involving the governor and the attorney general, involve logrolling, part of “the ‘usual course of business’ in politics.”

Another indication of the pervasive application that the statute has to protected expression is that the last example we listed above occurred in this very case. Concluding that quashing Count II would be premature, the trial court ordered the State to amend Count II of Governor Perry’s indictment. But a trial court has no authority to order the State to amend an indictment; the State has the right to stand on its indictment and appeal any dismissal that might result from refusing to amend. The trial court’s order that the State amend the indictment was, in practical terms, a threat to quash Count II if it were not amended. And the trial court’s exact words are of no moment because the statute refers to a threat “however communicated.”

The regular and frequent violation of the statute by conduct that is protected by the First Amendment suggests that the statute is substantially overbroad.

In theory, because the dismissal of Count II was on federal Constitutional grounds, the prosecutor could appeal that ruling to the 8-member U.S. Supreme Court, but it appears that this is the end of the line. Rick Perry stood his ground for honest government and was branded a criminal for doing so, long enough to help hobble his 2016 Presidential campaign. Everyone involved in that effort should be ashamed of themselves. But tonight, Governor Perry can hold his head high, as he has been completely vindicated.

Bomb Aladdin!

RS: PPP Polls Shows Why Issue Polling Is So Unreliable

One of the favorite shticks of Democrat pollster Public Policy Polling (PPP) is to ask questions designed to make Republican voters look bad. This kind of “troll polling” flatters all the usual sorts of people who love to laugh at what yokels the GOP’s supporters are, and as yet no Republican-leaning pollster has gotten into the regular business of giving Democrats a taste of the same medicine. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s not to trust individual polls that can’t be checked against a polling average, but by definition these are all one-off polls. But there’s a deeper issue here that the latest PPP trolling question illustrates: that average Americans are far too trusting of pollsters, and the ability of pollsters to exploit that trust shows why polling on individual issues is untrustworthy.
Here’s the latest poll question that has PPP’s followers floating on a cloud of smug this morning:

Continue reading Bomb Aladdin!

How and Why Ronald Reagan Won

RS: How and Why Ronald Reagan Won

Fifty-one years ago today in Los Angeles, a 53-year-old political amateur, Ronald Reagan, gave a half-hour nationally-televised speech, “A Time For Choosing,” on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s campaign in the following week’s presidential election. 16 years later, Reagan would win 44 states and an almost double-digit popular vote margin of victory, kicking off the most successful and conservative Republican presidency in U.S. history, leading to a 49-state landslide in 1984 and the election of his Vice President for a “third Reagan term” in 1988, the only time in the past 70 years that a party has held the White House for three consecutive terms.

Given the extent to which Reagan’s legacy still dominates internal debates within the GOP and the conservative movement, it’s worth asking ourselves: What did he accomplish? How did he do it? And what can we learn from him today?

Continue reading How and Why Ronald Reagan Won

The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

RS: The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting, held a press conference Monday with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and legislators from both parties calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from its place on the grounds of the state capitol. This is a good thing. Despite persistent efforts to use the flag as a partisan club, it is worth recalling some history on the matter.

Continue reading The Rise & Fall of the Confederate Flag in South Carolina

The Breakers Broke: A Look Back At The Fall 2014 Polls

RS: The Breakers Broke: A Look Back At The Fall 2014 Polls

As promised in my first cut after the election, a more detailed walk by the numbers through the 2014 Senate and Governors race polling and my posts on the subject to illustrate that the election unfolded pretty much along the lines I projected on September 15, when I wrote that “[i]f…historical patterns hold in 2014, we would…expect Republicans to win all the races in which they currently lead plus two to four races in which they are currently behind, netting a gain of 8 to 10 Senate seats.
This was not a consensus position of the models projecting the Senate races at the time; Sam Wang, Ph.D. wrote on September 9 that “the probability that Democrats and Independents will control 50 or more seats is 70%” and described a 9-seat GOP pickup as “a clear outlier event.” On September 16, the Huffington Post model had a 53% chance of the Democrats keeping the Senate, while the Daily Kos model on September 15 had the Democrats with a 54% chance of retaining their Senate majority. Nate Cohn at the New York Times on September 15 gave the GOP just a 53% chance of adding as many as 6 seats, with Republicans having just a 35% chance of winning in Iowa, 18% in Colorado and 18% in North Carolina, and a 56% chance of winning in Alaska. The Washington Post on September 14 had the Democrats favored in Alaska, with a 92% chance of winning Colorado and a 92% chance of winning North Carolina. Even Nate Silver and Harry Enten’s FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast, which was more optimistic than some of the others for Republicans at the time, gave the GOP just a 53% chance of making it to a 6-seat gain as of September 16.
In this case, at least, my reading of history was right, and was a better predictor of the trajectory of the race than the models or the contemporaneous polls they were based on. That won’t always be true; it wasn’t in the 2012 Presidential race. It may or may not prove true in the 2016 Presidential race, where the historical trends overwhelmingly favor Republicans. But after 2012 we were greeted with an onslaught of triumphalism for polls, poll averages and poll models, and what 2014 illustrates is not only that – as we already knew – the models are only as good as the polls, but also that there remains a place for analysis and historical perspective and not just putting blind faith in numbers and mathematical models without examining their assumptions (a point that some of the more cautious analysts, like Silver and Enten, tried to their credit to stress to their readers during the 2014 season).
It also validates my broader view that subjects like polling are best understood when you have an adversarial process of competing arguments rather than deference to a consensus of experts. Because poll analysis down the home stretch involves a high degree of emotional involvement in partisan wins and losses – and most people who get involved in arguments about polling have strong partisan preferences – it’s next to impossible to avoid the pull of confirmation bias, the tendency to credit arguments you want to see win and discredit those you want to see defeated. Certainly mathematical models and poll averages can offer a check against bias, but inevitably they also rest on assumptions that incorporate bias as well. It remains broadly true, as I pointed out repeatedly in and after the 2012 election, that liberal poll analysts and Democratic pollsters tend to do a better job in years when Democrats do well, and that conservative poll analysts and Republican pollsters tend to do a better job in years when Republicans do well, because in each case they are more likely to credit the assumptions that prove accurate. Nate Silver just published a fascinating post on how the 2014 pollsters tended to “herd” towards each other’s results, which tends to exacerbate the problem of being skewed in one or another direction in any given year – more proof of streiff’s view of the herd mentality of pollsters and Erick’s view of polls weighting towards 2012 models without an adequate baseline, and another strike against expert “consensus” thinking and in favor of the virtues of examining your assumptions. The best corrective for the reader to apply to these biases is to listen to both sides, examine the plausibility of their assumptions, and then go back later and evaluate their results.

Continue reading The Breakers Broke: A Look Back At The Fall 2014 Polls

A Sad and Desperate Attack on Chris Christie

Things Only Democrats Are Allowed To Say

The Online Left, in its customary fashion, has contrived to feign outrage over RGA Chairman Chris Christie for saying this at a Chamber of Commerce event in DC:

“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?”

Progressives claimed to be shocked, shocked by these remarks. Steven Benen of the Rachel Maddow Show Blog suggested that “Christie almost seemed to be endorsing corruption” and quoted the always credulous Norman Ornstein characterizing Christie as secretly meaning, “How can we cheat on vote counts if we don’t control the governorships?” Benen followed up with a second piece, quoting this Christie clarification

“Everybody read much too much into that,” he said. “You know who gets to appoint people, who gets to decide in part what the rules are, I’d much rather have Republican governors counting those votes when we run in 2016 as Republicans than I would have Democrats. There was no specific reference to any laws.”

Benen’s hyperventilating conclusion?

[T]aking the two sets of Christie comments together, it’s difficult to think of a charitable interpretation… Christie…wants an elections process in which Republicans control the “voting mechanisms,” Republicans appoint the elections officials, Republicans help dictate “what the rules are” when it comes to Americans casting ballots, and Republicans are “in charge of the state when the votes are being counted.”

In other words, Christie doesn’t want a non-partisan elections process. The governor and likely presidential candidate wants the exact opposite…It might very well be the most controversial thing Christie has ever said in public. That he sees this as unimportant – his intended “clarification” only added insult to injury – speaks volumes about Christie’s cynical, partisan vision of how democracy is supposed to work.

A “non-partisan elections process,” as if the Republicans Christie named were running against…well, something other than Democrats.

Racing to outdo Benen, Brian Beutler of the New Republic wailed, “Chris Christie Just Exposed His Entire Party’s Deceitful Voter Suppression Plan,” and asserted the usual Democratic shibboleth that voter fraud or other improprieties by Democrats in the voting process are impossible and inconceivable.

The most ridiculous part of this garment-rending is the implicit suggestion that Democrats don’t say exactly the same sort of thing that Christie said – that they don’t trust the other side’s conduct of elections, and want their partisans to vote to give them a greater role in protecting their side in the process. No sentient adult could claim with a straight face that Democrats never say this – indeed, the whole point of both Benen’s and Beutler’s articles is to suggest that only Democrats should be trusted to govern the elections process. Nor does one need to look hard for evidence. Consider Bill Clinton, surely still a prominent Democrat, stumping in June for the hapless Ohio Democrat Ed FitzGerald:

“Would you rather have a governor who wants to shift the tax burden onto the middle class, has aggressively pushed this voter-suppression agenda, and done a variety of other things, or one who was an FBI agent, a mayor, a county executive …?” he asked, holding up a sheet of paper as if it were a resume.

…Bemoaning the low election turnout of 2010 that saw the narrow defeat of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, he said the party has to make the case that midterm elections matter just as much as presidential elections.

“[Republicans] want to make every presidential election look more like the mid-term election by restricting the electorate, and if at all possible, want to restrict the midterm elections even more,” he said. He was referring to Republican-passed legislation that, among other things, has reduced early and absentee voting days.

Democrats say this kind of thing all the time on the stump. But it goes much further than rhetoric. Democratic fundraisers have not been shy about bankrolling efforts to win control of state election offices for precisely the purpose of controlling the vote counting process. Between 2006 and 2011, the Soros-funded Secretary of State Project existed for that explicit purpose:

A small tax-exempt political group with ties to wealthy liberals like billionaire financier George Soros has quietly helped elect 11 reform-minded progressive Democrats as secretaries of state to oversee the election process in battleground states and keep Republican “political operatives from deciding who can vote and how those votes are counted.”

Known as the Secretary of State Project (SOSP), the organization was formed by liberal activists in 2006 to put Democrats in charge of state election offices, where key decisions often are made in close races on which ballots are counted and which are not.

The group’s website said it wants to stop Republicans from “manipulating” election results.

“Any serious commitment to wresting control of the country from the Republican Party must include removing their political operatives from deciding who can vote and whose votes will count,” the group said on its website, accusing some Republican secretaries of state of making “partisan decisions.”

Eventually, as is the way with such organizations, the SOSP faded after some sunlight was shed on it, but in 2014, its heirs live on:

[T]he Democratic group…iVote, [is] part of a highly partisan and increasingly expensive battle over an elected position…Thirty-nine states elect their secretary of State, and because the job includes overseeing the administration of elections, Republican and Democratic PACs have emerged to fight for control of the position. In addition to iVote, a second Democratic PAC called SOS for Democracy and a Republican group named SOS for SOS have also begun raising money for secretary of State races in November.

The election-year focus on secretaries of State results from the flood of outside political spending that began in earnest in 2012 and is now flowing to races further down the ballot. It also grows out of a wave of controversial GOP-led voter identification legislation, challenged in court by Democratic groups arguing that they are intended to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

The PACs’ effort also is part of a growing political belief that no detail is too small to be ignored in gaining an edge on an opponent. If that means trying to elect your candidate as Ohio secretary of State so that he or she can set early voting hours in Cuyahoga County, that is worth the effort.

“It is the long game. And it’s really important. These are the kind of things that we need to do instead of sitting back and playing defense,” says Jeremy Bird, former field director for the 2012 Obama campaign and now one of the organizers of iVote.

Secretaries of State “have a pivotal role to play in how elections are run,” says Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of Election Law Blog. “It’s very inside baseball, it’s very esoteric, but for people who are inside it makes a big difference.”

Left-wing blog DailyKos has touted these efforts and sought to enlist its readers in funding them:

Want to make sure every vote counts? Get involved in these key races for secretary of state…While their powers vary considerably from state to state, secretaries of state have a good deal of influence over how voter ID laws are carried out, who gets to vote early, what areas may or may not have enough voting machines on election day, and who gets to stay on the voter rolls….

Secretary of state races were largely ignored for years, and they still tend to attract low voter interest. However, both parties have begun to understand how important these elections are. This cycle, the Republicans have a PAC called “SOS for SoS” that will spend millions to try and win these offices in critical states. Democrats have two main committees, “SoS for Democracy” and “iVote.” Both sides understand that it is essential to get involved now in secretary of state races now, before it is far too late. As then-Florida Secretary of State Kathrine Harris proved in 2000, these races can often resonate far beyond state lines.

For progressives looking to fight back in the War on Voting, this is the central battleground.

It seems that Benen and Beutler believe that it’s entirely legitimate for Democrats to want partisan Democratic control of the voting mechanism, and to organize, campaign and fundraise to ensure partisan Democratic control of the voting mechanism, but wholly illegitimate when Republicans do the same thing. This is premised not only on the idea that Democrats are trustworthy vote-counters and Republicans are not, but also, at the level of lawmaking, on their assumption that there can be no possible legitimate policy debate over the balance between ensuring the integrity of elections by preventing illegal votes from being cast that dilute the votes of legal voters, and ensuring the right of all legal voters to vote (once).

Which is a ridiculous position, in addition to being one that is out of step with public polls that consistently show things like voter ID to be overwhelmingly popular, even among every racial and ethnic segment of the population (voter ID was endorsed by a bipartisan national commission co-chaired by Jimmy Carter in 2005, and upheld by the Supreme Court in an opinion by the liberal Justice John Paul Stevens in 2008). American history is littered with cases of widespread fraud in the elections process; within living memory, we had the notorious 1982 Illinois governor’s race (decided by 0.14 points after the Republican candidate had led by 15 points in the polls), in which a federal investigation that resulted in 63 convictions found that at least 100,000 fraudulent votes had been cast in Chicago alone, some 10 percent of the city’s entire vote. Chicago was long so notorious for voter fraud that only yesterday, President Obama – who himself won his first election in Chicago by having his opponent thrown off the ballot through a signature-challenging process – joked to a Wisconsin audience that “You can only vote once — this isn’t Chicago, now.” Going further back, biographer Robert Caro has detailed how no less a figure than Lyndon Johnson won his first Senate election in 1948 through some fairly brazen forms of fraud:

Mr. Caro confirmed the charges made at the time by Stevenson supporters that county officials had cast the votes of absent voters and had changed the numbers on the tallies. For example, he said, Jim Wells County provided an extra 200 votes for Johnson merely by changing the 7 in ”765” to a 9.

And in “1984, Brooklyn’s Democratic district attorney, Elizabeth Holtzman, released a state grand-jury report on a successful 14-year conspiracy that cast thousands of fraudulent votes in local, state, and congressional elections….The grand jury recommended voter ID, a basic election-integrity measure that New York has steadfastly refused to implement.”

Every year, year in and year out, there are documented cases of fraud and corruption in the election process. The 2005 Baker-Carter Report noted “that the U.S. Department of Justice had conducted more than 180 investigations into election fraud since 2002. Federal prosecutors had charged 89 individuals and convicted 52 for election-fraud offenses, including falsifying voter-registration information and vote buying.”

Now, fraud on the scale of the 1982 Chicago case is not something we’re likely to see again, at least not on a regular basis. As Jim Geraghty notes, there’s an element of defeatism bordering on paranoia that surfaces among conservatives this time every year, convinced that Democrats are just going to steal the election anyway no matter what we do and no matter how many votes it takes, and that’s just not borne out by the facts. The reality is that election fraud matters only on the margins. But the margins do matter. Florida 2000 is the most famous case – the presidency turned on a 537-vote margin of victory, and Bush won the Election Day count, the automatic recount, and the legal challenges in the trial court, the intermediate appellate court and the U.S. Supreme Court, but not without the Florida Supreme Court trying to rewrite the state’s election laws to give Al Gore a shot at yet another different count, an experience that left many Republicans deeply suspicious of efforts to just keep counting the votes until a different result turned up. And that’s more or less what happened in the recounts in the 2004 Washington governor’s race and the 2008 Minnesota Senate race. You want consequential? Had Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) not won that Senate race, there would never have been a 60th vote in the Senate to pass Obamacare.

Recount mischief wasn’t the only problem in Florida in 2000:

One of the most comprehensive studies of the 2000 presidential election, “Democracy Held Hostage,” was conducted by the Miami Herald — it found that 400 votes were cast illegally in heavily Democratic Broward County when poll workers allowed voters to vote who were not on the precinct voting rolls. And another 452 were cast illegally by felons in Broward. In Volusia County — which supported Gore — 277 voters voted who were not registered, including 73 voters at predominately black Bethune-Cookman University, which voted heavily for Gore.

The Herald review of votes in 22 counties (with 2.3 million ballots) found that 1,241 ballots were cast illegally by felons who had not received clemency. Of these voters, 75% were registered Democrats. And the Herald study counted only those who had been sentenced to prison for more than a year.

The Washington race was an agony of recounts – there were three counts, and only when Democrat Christine Gregoire pulled ahead of Republican Dino Rossi after a bunch of extra ballots turned up in Democrat-controlled King County (Seattle) did they stop the count. Gregoire won by 129 votes, and subsequent investigation revealed that more convicted felons voted in that race than the margin of victory.

The 2008 Franken-Coleman race in Minnesota, again, saw the Republican Election Day leader lose to the recount-winning Democrat, and by a margin of 312 votes – but “a conservative watchdog group matched criminal records with the voting rolls and discovered that 1,099 felons had illegally cast ballots. State law mandates prosecutions in such cases; 177 have been convicted so far, with 66 more awaiting trial [as of 2012].” As Byron York noted, “that’s a total of 243 people either convicted of voter fraud or awaiting trial in an election that was decided by 312 votes.”

Then there’s the 2010 Connecticut governor’s race:

In the close governor’s race in Connecticut in 2010, a mysterious shortage of ballots in Bridgeport kept the polls open an extra two hours as allegedly blank ballots were photocopied and handed out in the heavily Democratic city. Dannel Malloy defeated Republican Tom Foley by nearly 7,000 votes statewide — but by almost 14,000 votes in Bridgeport.

Even aside from endless controversies over chicanery with poll-closing times and recount mechanisms, there’s plenty more evidence out there showing that the opportunity exists to game the system (both legally and illegally), and that people have a sufficient incentive to do so that some get caught every year – the prosecutions alone (which almost always end in convictions) illustrate that this is more than just partisan propaganda:

-Just last month, a Democratic legislator in – yes – Bridgeport was arrested and charged with 19 counts of voter fraud.

-This month, a former Democratic member of the LA City Council was convicted of voter fraud along with his wife.

In 2013, a former Maryland Democratic congressional candidate pleaded guilty to voting illegally in Congressional elections in 2006 and 2010 while living in Florida.

Also in 2013, a former Hamilton County, Ohio poll worker and Obama supporter pleaded guilty to “four counts of illegal voting – including voting three times for a relative who has been in a coma since 2003.” She “admitted she voted illegally in the 2008, 2011 and 2012 elections.” She was recently honored by Al Sharpton at a “voting rights” rally.

Hans von Spakosvsky summarized some of the other recent prosecutions in Monday’s Wall Street Journal:

In the past few months, a former police chief in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to voter fraud in a town-council election. That fraud had flipped the outcome of a primary election….A Mississippi grand jury indicted seven individuals for voter fraud in the 2013 Hattiesburg mayoral contest, which featured voting by ineligible felons and impersonation fraud. A woman in Polk County, Tenn., was indicted on a charge of vote-buying—a practice that the local district attorney said had too long “been accepted as part of life” there.

This Pocket Full of Liberty post from February rounds up other examples, including a Milwaukee man prosecuted for voting five times, 12 indictments of Georgia Democrats for absentee ballot fraud, a dozen arrests in New Jersey, and more than 80 referrals for prosecutions in Iowa.

-Soren Dayton has covered a number of these cases here at RedState, including multiple indictments and guilty pleas in a voter fraud scandal involving Democrats in Troy, New York in 2009eight arrests by the FBI for absentee ballot fraud in Florida in 2011, a series of voter fraud convictions in Alabama, a 65-count indictment in Indiana, and these two classics (click through for the links):

My favorite example is the 2003 East Chicago (Indiana) Democratic mayoral primary. There were 32 convictions. The election results were also thrown out by the Indiana Supreme Court. Note that that last link is to a story in the Chicago Tribune, my home-town paper, that discusses the conviction of the “reform” candidate in that election, with the splendid sentence, “On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced former Mayor George Pabey to five years in prison, the third consecutive East Chicago mayor to come to grief in a federal courtroom.” This case galvanized support for a voter ID law in Indiana that was eventually argued in the US Supreme Court, where the opinion upholding the law was written by former Justice Stevens. Some noted at the time that Justice Stevens, who was normally a reliable liberal vote, grew up in Chicago.

Then there’s another favorite case, that of Ophelia Ford. Mrs. Ford is the sister of former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Sr., sister of former State Rep. John Form, now serving time in federal prison for bribery, and the aunt of former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr….In this case, Mrs. Ford, a Democrat, defeated an incumbent Republican by 13 votes. The local newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, smelled something and dug. In the end, the State Senate vacated the election on a vote of 26-6, and three people plead guilty to felonies. In that case, the judge noted that the guilty plea actually prevented a full record of the fraud from being documented. But the guilty pleas did involve both dead and moved people voting.

-East St. Louis has had repeated issues with voter fraud, justifying its entry on this lengthy list:

Nonaresa Montgomery was found guilty by a jury late today of perjury in a trial in St. Louis Circuit Court in the St. Louis vote fraud trial…Montgomery, a paid worker who ran Operation Big Vote during the run-up to 2001 mayoral primary, …part of a national campaign — promoted by Democrats — to register more black voters and get them to vote in the November elections.

Montgomery is accused of hiring about 30 workers to do fraudulent voter-registration canvassing. They were supposed to have canvassed black neighborhoods and recorded names of potential voters to be contacted later to vote in the Nov. 7 election. And they were paid by the number of cards they filled out. Instead of knocking on doors, however, they sat down at a fast-food restaurant and wrote out names and information from an outdated voter list.

-In a 2013 New York City investigation, “undercover agents claimed at 63 polling places to be individuals who were in fact dead, had moved out of town, or who were in jail. In 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, they were allowed to vote.”

-A recent academic study found some evidence that significant numbers of non-citizens may have voted in recent elections, although the study’s methodology suggests its findings should not be treated as conclusive.

A 2014 analysis by the Providence Journal found that “20 of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities, from the largest city to the smallest town, had more registered voters than it had citizens old enough to vote.”

-The new state elections director of New Mexico shocked observers in 2007 when he “recounted several conversations he’d had over the years with people who told him they’d used other people’s identities to cast multiple votes.”

A 2011 report by the Milwaukee Police Department noted why voter fraud is so hard to detect and prosecute:

Although investigators found an “illegal organized attempt to influence the outcome of an election in the state of Wisconsin,” nothing was done to prosecute the various Democrat and liberal staffers who committed the vote fraud [because b]ased on the investigation to date, the task force has found widespread record keeping failures and separate areas of voter fraud. These findings impact each other. Simply put: it is hard to prove a bank embezzlement if the bank cannot tell how much money was there in the first place. Without accurate records, the task force will have difficulty proving criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Joe Biden’s neice, who worked in New Hampshire in 2012 just for the election, voted there, and her case raised concerns about the state’s lax residency requirements.

-A 2014 North Carolina investigation of the voter rolls found that:

765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election.

35,750 voters with the same first and last name and DOB were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in both states in the 2012 general election.

155,692 voters with the same first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state – and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.

I could go on and on, but you get the point.

I recently analyzed close statewide elections from 1998 to 2013 (elections for Senate and Governor as well as the statewide contests in the Presidential races) and found that, while Democrats and Republicans were split 50/50 in winning races decided by 1-4 points, Democrats won 20 out of 27 races decided by less than 1 point. Election fraud, even in combination with manipulation of the recount process and other elements of control of the voting mechanisms, is not necessarily the only possible explanation for this disparity; it could be partly the disparity in operational competence at getting the vote out, or it could be a statistical fluke. But certainly the pattern is one that justifiably raises concerns among Republicans about getting a fair shake at the margins of vote-counting.

There’s a structural irony here. Democrats often argue that they need more federal involvement in elections because they mistrust the states. But Republicans tend to seek state supervision of local handling of elections because of the fact that, in almost every state, Democrats tend to depend on winning big margins in areas (usually urban areas) where a lot of Democratic voters are packed together, and consequently the local officials are not just Democrats, but the kind of Democrat who has never had to answer to a Republican voter for anything. And there is a long history, going back to the early 19th Century, of urban Democratic political machines being the worst offenders in any review of electoral shenanigans. Thus, even in deep-red states, the real issue is not Republican monopoly of control over elections, but having Republicans somewhere in the process who can act as a check on local Democrats.

And the hyperbole over voter ID and other election-law issues obscures the fact that the burden they impose is quite minimal and unlikely to keep very many people from the polls, as even President Obama conceded in an interview last week on Al Sharpton’s radio show:

“Most of these laws are not preventing the overwhelming majority of folks who don’t vote from voting,” Obama said during an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton. “Most people do have an ID. Most people do have a driver’s license. Most people can get to the polls. It may not be as convenient’ it may be a little more difficult.”

…”The bottom line is, if less than half of our folks vote, these laws aren’t preventing the other half from not voting,” Obama said. “The reason we don’t vote is because people have been fed this notion that somehow it’s not going to make a difference. And it makes a huge difference.”

This is why Obama’s own Justice Department is reduced to arguing that eliminating same-day registration causes black voters to stay home because they “tend to be . . . less-educated voters, tend to be voters who are less attuned to public affairs” and early voting is “well situated for less sophisticated voters, and therefore, it’s less likely to imagine that these voters would — can figure out or would avail themselves of other forms of registering and voting.”

None of this is to say that these issues are all one-sided in favor of the Republican arguments. There are many aspects of voting law, election law and election practice that involve weighing competing concerns about integrity versus access, about low-tech human error versus less transparent and more tamper-prone machine counting, about voter convenience versus taxpayer expense (where I live in New York City, we have vast numbers of polling places and a cop or more at every one, but you couldn’t possibly afford to run the system like that if we had early voting, much less weeks of it; and every day of early voting multiplies the expense and burden of any system to supervise the integrity of the vote). And there’s a fair argument that Republicans around the country have been too easily satisfied with pushing voter ID laws as a solution to in-person voter fraud, without giving adequate attention to the integrity of mail-in or absentee ballots, which present a greater risk of fraud and tend to result in more prosecutions.

But then, Republicans and conservatives aren’t the ones whose arguments depend on the assumption that the other side has no legitimate case to make and no legitimate role in these debates. Make no mistake: that is the assumption at the core of the hysteria directed at Chris Christie for daring to say what Democrats say and do constantly.

Originally posted at RedState

Mid-September Polls Are Not The Last Word On Senate Races

RS: Mid-September Polls Are Not The Last Word On Senate Races
The perennial question about election polls is back again, if ever it left: how far can we trust them? Should we disregard all other evidence but what the current polling of individual Senate races tells us – which is, at this writing, that if the election was held today, Republicans would gain 6 seats in the Senate to hold a narrow 51-48 majority? As usual, a little historical perspective is in order. It is mid-September, with just over seven weeks to Election Day, and as discussed below, all the fundamental signs show that this is at least a mild Republican “wave” year. A review of the mid-September polls over the last six Senate election cycles, all of which ended in at least a mild “wave” for one party, shows that it is common for the “wave party” to win a few races in which it trailed in mid-September – sometimes more than a few races, and sometimes races in which there appeared to be substantial leads, and most frequently against the other party’s incumbents. Whereas it is very uncommon for the wave party to lose a polling lead, even a slim one, after mid-September – it has happened only three times, one of those was a tied race rather than a lead, and another involved the non-wave party replacing its candidate on the ballot with a better candidate. If these historical patterns hold in 2014, we would therefore expect Republicans to win all the races in which they currently lead plus two to four races in which they are currently behind, netting a gain of 8 to 10 Senate seats.

Continue reading Mid-September Polls Are Not The Last Word On Senate Races

Reflections on the American Revolution, Part III of III: The Militia


How did thirteen colonies, with a barely functioning central government and a thrown-together, underfunded and poorly supplied army of constantly fluctuating size and composition, win the Revolutionary War? One reason was the colonies’ ability to rely on their common citizens to supplement the Continental Army with local militia. I’ve looked previously at the demographic and physical conditions and foreign alliances that shaped the war and the generals who led the armies. Let’s conclude this tour of the American Revolution with the militia.

The Militia: Americans then and now have had a romantic attachment to the citizen militia, epitomized by the Massachusetts “minutemen.” The importance of the militia as both a bulwark against tyranny and a line of national defense was, of course, famously the backdrop for the Second Amendment and other militia-related clauses in the Constitution (including allowing Congress to arm them and the President to command them at need “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”). Yet it was ultimately the Continental Army, not the militia, that had to do the bulk of the work needed to win the war. Nonetheless, the story of the American victory cannot be told without the militia.

Massachusetts: The militia’s finest hour came at the beginning, before there was a Continental Army: Concord and Bunker Hill. At Concord, in April 1775, the sudden appearance of the Massachusetts militia in significant force, firing largely from behind the cover of trees and stone walls, drove the (mostly inexperienced) redcoats back to Boston with surprising casualties. At Bunker Hill two months later, Massachusetts militia entrenched largely on high ground and firing from behind fortifications and stone walls inflicted a staggering casualty rate of almost 50% on the British regulars (even higher among the officer corps); the militia then beat a mostly orderly retreat when they were finally overcome. Those two battles left the British besieged in Boston, where they would remain for nearly a year until dislodged by Henry Knox’s artillery in March 1776. Bunker Hill also traumatized the British command, haunting their thinking about attacks on entrenched positions for the rest of the war. When the Continental Army was assembled to carry on the siege, much of its manpower and officer corps was drawn from the militia, including key leaders like Knox and Nathanael Greene. Moreover, the artillery that liberated Boston had been seized by militia in 1775 when Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, leading the Vermont militia (the Green Mountain Boys) in an expedition supported by Massachusetts and Connecticut militia, captured the lightly-defended Fort Ticonderoga. And without the militia, the army in 1775 would have been unarmed. The Continental Army being chronically short on supplies and having no official, standard weapon, recruits early in the war fought with whatever guns they brought to the army, either their own or those supplied by the state governments – but while that system was essential to forming an army from scratch, Washington found it unsatisfactory to carry on the war. As a 1981 U.S. Army study described the situation:

It was the policy of the Continental Congress in 1775 to “hire” arms, which meant encouraging each new soldier to bring his own gun, a practice that had been common in militia service. Having established this policy, Congress then left the task of equipping the troops to the Commander in Chief. More often than not, however, the men arrived at camp without arms. When Washington undertook to form a Continental Army from the forces before Boston in 1775, he initiated the first of several measures designed to arm his troops. He began by seeking to retain for the use of the new Continental force the muskets that the men hurrying to the defense of their country had brought to Cambridge. He ordered that no soldier upon the expiration of his term of enlistment was to take with him any serviceable gun. If the musket was his private property, it would be appraised, and he would be, given full value for it. All arms so taken and appraised were to be delivered into the care of the Commissary of Military Stores. To make doubly sure that the weapons would be retained for Army use, Washington threatened to stop the last two month’s pay due a soldier if he carried away his gun.

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Among the factors contributing to the shortage of arms in the spring of 1776 was the carelessness of the soldiers in maintaining their arms in good working order. An examination of the weapons of the army in New York revealed them to be in shocking condition. Washington issued an order to the regimental commanders to have the arms put in good order as soon as possible and to see that each musket was equipped with a bayonet. Those soldiers who had lost the bayonets they had been issued were to pay for new ones, and if any soldier had allowed his gun to be damaged by negligence, the cost of its repair was to be deducted from his pay. This order by no means eliminated negligence in caring for weapons. It persisted throughout the war….
To promote better care of weapons, Washington substituted a policy of purchasing arms for that of hiring them. During the first two campaigns of the war, it was the custom to encourage both the enlisted soldier and the militiaman to bring their own guns. But Washington soon came to link that policy with the lack of care the soldiers gave their muskets, for under it “a man feels at liberty to use his own firelock as he pleases.” Owners of guns took little care of them, retained them when their service expired, and even disposed of them whenever they pleased. As early as January 1776 Washington had indicated that he was ready to purchase any arms offered by a colony or an individual.

The system of hiring, however, continued until February 1777 when Washington initiated preparations for the next campaign. He informed Governor Trumbull of Connecticut that he now wanted guns purchased from owners on the account of the United States. Purchase, he wrote, would result in better care of the weapons and would eliminate many of the bad consequences of hiring arms.

There were other warning signs of the militia’s limitations in 1775 as well: the militia at Bunker Hill had strategic depth but failed to use it, being too poorly organized to bring reserve units into the fight in time, and the Green Mountain Boys didn’t linger to garrison Fort Ticonderoga once its liquor supplies had run out. An army constituted for the long haul would have to do better.

New Jersey: Problems persisted, but so did the militia’s contributions. Washington was disappointed when more New Jersey and Pennsylvania militia didn’t show up to assist his campaigns in the region between late 1776 and the summer of 1778. But the New Jersey militia played a valuable role in the series of skirmishes known as the New Jersey Forage War in the winter of 1776-77. Acting sometimes alone and sometimes with modest support from the Continental Army, the militia repeatedly staged ambushes and opportunistic attacks on British and Hessian detachments looking for food and forage for their animals, inflicting a slow bleed of casualties and leaving the enemy jittery and under-supplied: a classic guerrilla campaign, although the word hadn’t been coined yet. The New Jersey militia would eventually even draw praise from Washington, long a critic of militia, for its ongoing role in assisting Greene in turning back the final Hessian efforts in 1780 to assail Washington’s position in Morristown; Washington wrote of the militia after the Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield that “The militia deserve everything that can be said on both occasions. They flew to arms universally and acted with a spirit equal to anything I have seen in the course of the war.”

Saratoga: Militia were also important to the pivotal Saratoga campaign. Allen and Arnold’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga had cut the British lines of communication in two, severing Guy Carleton’s Canadian forces from the Thirteen Colonies. General Burgoyne’s expedition, marching south from Canada, was designed to turn the tables. His aim was to seize control of the Hudson River valley and link up with Howe and Clinton in New York, reuniting the British forces while cutting New England off from the rest of the colonies. It started well, as such things often do; Burgoyne seized the forts in early July and scattered the Continental Army’s forces in the region with barely a fight. But Burgoyne didn’t count on the patriot militia.

Burgoyne’s plan called for him to link up with Barry St. Leger, who was marching southeast down the Mohawk River that runs through Western and Central New York and flows into the Hudson just north of Albany. The plan – and reason for the two British forces to march separately – was for St. Leger to gather with him the Iriquois Six Nations and the Loyalist militia. St. Leger laid siege to Fort Stanwix, which controlled the Mohawk River; to relieve the siege, local militia leader Nicholas Herkimer hastily raised about 800 militia, a few dozen Oneida Indians (one of the two Iriquois tribes that sided with the colonists) and wagonloads of supplies. St. Leger chose to meet Herkimer with a thousand men, the bulk of which were Mohawk and Seneca Indians, who ambushed Herkimer as his column wound through a densely wooded ravine on August 6, 1777. The result was the savagely bloody Battle of Oriskany, depicted above. The militia was caught by surprise, several key officers were killed in the opening volley, and Herkimer had his leg broken falling from his horse (he would die of the wounds a few days later). But the militia fought on, Herkimer directing the battle while propped against a tree and regrouping his men to counterattack after a downpour. The battle ended in a British victory, with enormous American casualties that broke Herkimer’s militia. But heavy losses from the battle demoralized St. Leger’s Indian allies and Loyalist militia, who had expected to play a support and ambush role and let the British and Hessians do the heavy lifting, and instead found themselves fighting a desperate, cornered militia at close quarters. Most of St. Leger’s support melted away, greatly weakening his force and leading to its ultimate failure to capture Fort Stanwix (which was relieved by Benedict Arnold on August 22).

While St. Leger was bogged down on his right, Burgoyne faced a second militia threat from his left that ultimately cost him nearly 1,000 casualties, more than 10 percent of his expedition. Approximately 2,000 New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont militia under John Stark (a veteran of Bunker Hill who had served for a time under Washington in the Continental Army before returning home), who raised this force in a little over a week, set out to harass Burgoyne’s advance. Burgoyne sent a detachment of Hessians – considered some of Europe’s best professional troops – to gather supplies and intercept Stark before he could do more damage or link up with the Continental Army. At the ensuing August 16, 1777 Battle of Bennington (actually located in present-day New York near Bennington, Vermont), Stark’s militia faced the Hessians in a pitched battle, albeit with the advantage that the Hessians arrived in two groups of around 600, allowing Stark to defeat them in detail with a large numerical advantage. Stark’s militia surrounded the elite Hessian dragoons holding an elevated redoubt; the Hessian commander, Friedrich Baum, was mortally wounded in a last, desperate saber charge, and hundreds of his men surrendered. Few of the Hessians made it back to Burgoyne’s army.

As Burgoyne marched south, weakened by the failure of St. Leger, the loss of the Hessians and the defection of his Native American allies and with the Americans felling trees in his path, the Continental Army under Horatio Gates was bolstered by the arrival of thousands of militia, to the point where Burgoyne may have been outnumbered more than two-to-one at the second and final Battle of Saratoga. Militia units fought in the line of battle with the Continentals at Saratoga, which rivals Yorktown as the most important American victory of the war. More important than anything the militia did at Saratoga itself, their presence on the battlefield gave weight to the Continental forces that Burgoyne could not overcome. His surrender on October 17, 1777 permanently ended the effort to divide the colonies and link up with the British forces in Quebec, and was crucial to bringing France into the war.

The South: In the South, the militia had to come more directly to the rescue of the regulars. When the British moved the focus of their offensive operations to the South in 1779, they found a Continental Army much less well prepared and led than Washington’s army in the north. Cornwallis routed the defenders of Savannah in 1779 and Charleston in May, 1780, followed shortly by Tarleton’s massacre of a smaller Continental Army force at Waxhaws. Horatio Gates attempted to replicate his victory at Saratoga by rallying the militia around a new Continental Army force, but was wiped out by Cornwallis’ army (under Lord Rawdon) at Camden on August 16, 1780 (Washington regarded Camden as another foolhardy attempt to rely on militia). Between Charleston and Camden, Cornwallis had captured over 6,000 prisoners, including most of the Continental Army left in the South. The road seemed open to claim the prizes of North Carolina and Virginia.

It didn’t work out that way. Heavy-handed Loyalist militias, first under Christian Huck and later Patrick Ferguson, combined with Tarleton’s brutality at Waxhaws, enraged the population of the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee. The first militia victories, at Ramsour’s Mill in North Carolina in June and the killing of Huck in South Carolina in July, were small, almost spontaneous engagements (although a study of the records of the militia who fought Huck showed that a number were Continental Army veterans and most had been fighting the British in one form or another since 1775). A landmark of the growing resistance came in October 1780, when a muster of nearly a thousand militia from the Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee cornered Ferguson in the forest at King’s Mountain near the North/South Carolina border, killing Ferguson and destroying his Loyalist militia. In November, Tarleton’s feared British Legion – including hundreds of British regulars – were bloodied and beaten by the militia at Blackstock’s Farm, South Carolina. There were scores of other, smaller ambushes and militia-on-militia engagements in this period, some with the character of a blood feud.

The militia’s victories in the Carolinas begat more American recruitment and more caution for Cornwallis, buying time for Greene to enter the southern theater in late 1780 and re-organize the regulars. But with only a small regular force of a few thousand men, Greene still needed plenty of help from the militia. At Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781, a combined force of militia and Daniel Morgan’s crack riflemen broke the back of Tarleton’s British Legion, killing or capturing more than 80% of Tarleton’s 1,150-man force and effectively ending British control over South Carolina. Probably less than half of the American force at Cowpens was Continental regulars. The major engagement of the campaign came at Guilford Court House, North Carolina on March 15, 1781, at which Greene (while nominally losing the battle) inflicted sufficient casualties to convince Cornwallis (himself down to less than 2,000 men) to fall back to Virginia, where he would consolidate his forces only to meet his great defeat. As at Saratoga, while the fiercest fighting was done by the Continental regulars, the militia were important at Guilford Court House for their sheer numbers; Greene outnumbered Cornwallis more than two-to-one with a force that was probably around 70-80% militia.

The West: Finally, the Western theater of the war was almost entirely conducted by militia; beyond Western New York and Pennsylvania, there simply wasn’t much the Continental Army could do to support operations in the West. The one time in 1781 when the army sent a detachment to assist George Rogers Clark in his campaigns in what became the Northwest Territory, they were defeated en route. This left Clark, a Virginia militia commander, to seize outposts in present-day Illinois and Indiana using Virginia and Kentucky militia. The militia also conducted both offensive and defensive campaigns in the West against the Native American tribes. (The Spanish also made use of militia in the West and South during the war, both in the defense of St. Louis and in Bernardo de Galvez’ campaigns in Louisiana and the Floridas).

The Militia, Assessed: The militia were never an adequate substitute for a regular army. Bennington and Bunker Hill notwithstanding, they were often not useful in conventional engagements, especially offensive operations. They maneuvered poorly (e.g, the failure of the militia to arrive in proper position to support the Continental Army at Germantown and Trenton), a key weakness in 18th century warfare, and when not fighting from cover like stone walls or trees they were notorious for breaking formation and running when charged by the enemy. Continental Army commanders had no end of frustration trying to get militia companies to carry out orders and assignments, or even to determine in advance how many militia would show up when mustered. Washington himself had despised the militia as useless ever since his experiences with the Virginia militia in the French and Indian War (beware of Washington quotes about the militia and the right to bear arms that you may see on the internet; several of these are apocryphal and at odds with his actual thinking). Militia units were usually more effective fighting other militia or Native Americans than regular soldiers. And being amateurs who often had families to support, they preferred to stick close to home; Clark was never able to get enough volunteers from the Kentucky militia to carry out his grand plan of a march on Detroit.

The 1779 Penobscot expedition, in which a force composed mainly of Massachusetts and Maine militia (supported by a small detachment of marines) was to make an amphibious landing in Maine and assault a British fort, was a textbook example of the kind of complex operation completely unsuited to militia: despite superior numbers compared to the enemy and some initial momentum, the unwieldy joint command co-ordinated poorly with its Continental Navy support, the Maine militia turned out in smaller numbers than expected, and the militia maintained an ineffective siege and cut and ran when counter-attacked. The commanders of the expedition, including Paul Revere, ended up being hauled before a court-martial, and Maine remained in British hands the rest of the war.

Getting the most out of militia units in battle required tactical flexibility. Daniel Morgan, at Cowpens, ordered the first line of the North Carolina militia to fire two volleys from an advance position and then make an orderly retreat to the rear, with the second line firing three volleys then doing the same; the regulars in the third line would absorb the British charge. Morgan had no faith that the militia could withstand a charge without breaking, and quipped that he made sure not to make a stand near a swamp so the militia couldn’t disappear into it at the first sign of the enemy. Herkimer, at Oriskany, had to order his men in the midst of battle to start fighting in pairs, taking turns shooting while the other reloaded, because they were vulnerable to tomahawk attacks while reloading.
But for all their drawbacks, the ability to put militia units in the field was undeniably important, at times crucial, to the colonial cause. The main reason is the balance of manpower. The British, as I noted earlier, usually had 25-30,000 soldiers to work with, of whom 22-25,000 were either British or Hessian regulars. The size of the Continental Army at various points in time can be hard to ascertain due to spotty records, desertions, illness and short enlistments, but its main body seems to have peaked with about 20,000 around the Battle of Brooklyn, and Washington usually fought with about 10-12,000 men at his larger engagements; aside from the large force assembled at Saratoga, the army rarely had more than 5,000 men in any other place, and more often the commanders outside Washington’s immediate vicinity had only a few thousand regulars to work with. The Continental Army usually fought with smaller groups of regulars than its adversaries, it lost more battles than it won, and when Washington’s main army wasn’t present, it almost never won a significant engagement without the presence of militia. The army simply couldn’t defend most of the countryside. The militia was a force multiplier that prevented the British from consolidating control, which in turn would have forced Washington to seek active battles he couldn’t win. But with the support of the militia, the Americans had the advantage: the British couldn’t easily replenish their manpower, which had to be requested from London and shipped across the ocean (this is why they relied on their own Loyalist militia), while the Americans could do so on short notice whenever local authorities felt the need, without even consulting Congress. Besides numbers, the militia harassed the British supply lines, also a vulnerability for an army operating thousands of miles overseas.

And the militia bought time. In the North, the militia confronted and bottled up the British in Boston and seized their Hudson River forts at a time when there was no regular army. In the South, the militia kept up the fight after the regulars had been crushed, buying time for Greene. In New York, the decentralized ability to rapidly raise militia companies to bleed and eventually outnumber Burgoyne’s army was essential to the pivotal Saratoga campaign after the regulars had been dispersed by Burgoyne’s advance.

The militia didn’t win the war, and would never have won it alone. But it is hard to see how there is a Yorktown, a Treaty of Paris and an independent United States without the efforts of thousands of militia from 1775 to 1782.

Reflections on the American Revolution, Part II of III: The Generals


How did America win its independence? In Part I of this essay, I looked at the population trends, foreign alliances, and equipment and weather conditions under which the American Revolution was fought. Let’s add some thoughts on the leaders of the principal combatants: the American and British generals. The American command was far from perfect – but the war could have turned out very differently if the American side had not had the advantages of leadership it did, first and foremost the singular character of George Washington.

Washington, Washington: Any history of the Revolutionary War has to consider the unique leadership of George Washington. 43 years old when he assumed command, Washington came to the war with combat leadership experience from the French and Indian War, training as a surveyor that prepared him well to deal with maps and terrain, a decade of active fox hunting that had made him an excellent horseman, and experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses that had educated him in practical politics. Physically, Washington was a man of great strength, vigor and endurance and almost supernatural good luck. Washington’s robust constitution survived smallpox, diphtheria, multiple bouts of malaria, pleurisy, dysentery (in 1755, the 23-year-old Washington had to ride to Braddock’s defeat on a padded saddle due to painful hemorrhoids), quinsy (an abcess of the tonsils that laid him out in 1779) and possibly typhoid. In the rout of the Braddock expedition, Washington had two horses shot from under him and four bullet holes in his coat, yet neither then nor at any time during his military career was Washington wounded despite often being in the thick of battle and presenting an enormously conspicuous target (one of the tallest men in the Continental Army, in the most brilliant blue uniform, mounted on horseback).
But he had his weaknesses: he’d never had command of anything as large, diverse and complex at the Continental Army (whose very name bespoke its ambitions), and while Washington was smart, adaptable, detail-oriented and sometimes inspired, he was not a naturally brilliant military mind: his errors throughout the New York campaign would illustrate that he was no Napoleon, just as – in more fateful ways – Napoleon was no Washington.

I’ve noted before the success of Washington’s frequent tactic of hit-and-run attacks followed by retreats and more retreats. Washington’s overall long-term strategy ended up being one of simply enduring in the field, never putting his whole army at risk until he had the enemy trapped. But it’s crucial to always bear in mind that this strategy ran contrary to everything in Washington’s temperament. By nature, he was an aggressive, audacious military man who loved the offensive. Frequently throughout the war, Washington developed complex and daring offensive plans. Sometimes, as at Trenton in December 1776 and the following year’s effort at a coup de main at Germantown in October 1777, he put those plans in action. The attack at Germantown was designed to catch Cornwallis’ 9,000-man army by surprise with a numerically superior force and destroy it while it was divided from the rest of Howe’s army quartered at Philadelphia. The plan, calling for four columns to fall on the British more or less simultaneously, was too complex and ambitious (the largest Continental Army column arrived late and the two militia columns had little effect) and ended in defeat. But like the 1968 Tet Offensive, it was a morale and propaganda winner for the Americans just to mount such an assault. It raised the Continental Army’s morale, stunned the British command (which had thought Washington beaten and in retreat after the prior month’s defeat at Brandywine that had cleared the way for the occupation of Philadelphia) and, together with the victory at Saratoga, it helped persuade the French that the American war effort was serious and had staying power. Washington’s audacity on this occasion paid dividends even in defeat.

But at least as often, Washington allowed his war council (composed of his subordinates and, after the arrival of the French, Gen. Rochambeau, who made clear that he would defer to Washington’s ultimate decisions) to talk him out of his own overly ambitious plans even after he had drawn them up at length: a hazardous amphibious assault on Boston during the 1775-76 siege (complete with, in one version of the plan, a vanguard of soldiers on ice skates attacking across the frozen harbor); a march on the British war purse at New Brunswick with an army exhausted after Trenton and Princeton in January 1777; an attack on New York in 1780 or 1781 when Rochambeau wanted to chase Cornwallis to Yorktown instead. His willingness to listen to the counsel of cooler heads is what separated the practical Washington from more tactically brilliant but ultimately undone-by-hubris generals from Napoleon to Robert E. Lee.

Relatedly, Washington learned from his mistakes. The desire for decisive battle and protection of politically important turf had led him to risk annihilation of the largest army he would have during the war at the Battle of Brooklyn; thereafter, he would not stage a do-or-die stand to protect any particular spot of land. Washington had signed off on the disastrous 1775 invasion of Quebec; he would resist all further entreaties to stage a second offensive.

If Washington’s decision-making was sometimes imperfect, his temperament and leadership were flawless. Washington was neither deluded nor emotionless; time and again, his correspondence showed him verging on despondency at the condition of his army and the perils it faced, and we know he was capable of towering rages. But in the presence of his men (who were apt to get too high after heady victories and too low in defeat) and occasionally his adversaries, he never projected anything but steady confidence and endurance. Washington was not, perhaps, a nice man; even his close associates tended to regard him as the same distant marble statue we see him as today (Hamilton once bet a colleague at the Constitutional Convention a dinner if he’d go slap Washington on the back and act familiar with him; Washington pried his hand off and froze him with such a stare he told Hamilton afterwards he wouldn’t try it again for anything). But Washington put tremendous, conscious effort into acting the part of a great man at all times in order to become one. Washington had his vices, chief among them his ownership of slaves, but his virtues were almost a textbook of the qualities needed of the leader of a long, dangerous struggle through major adversity: perseverance, discipline of himself and others, attention to detail, fairness, integrity, resourcefulness, physical courage, endurance of hardship, and an unblinking practicality. There’s a great story about Washington breaking up a snowball fight that escalated into an enormous brawl between soldiers from Massachusetts and newly-arrived Virginia riflemen in Harvard Yard during the siege of Boston, possibly with racial overtones due to the presence of black soldiers in the Massachusetts regiment; a young observer recounted:

Reinforced by their friends, in less than five minutes more than a thousand combatants were on the field, struggling for the mastery.
At this juncture General Washington made his appearance, whether by accident or design I never knew. I only saw him and his colored servant…both mounted. With the spring of a deer, he leaped from his saddle, threw the reins of his bridle into the hands of his servant, and rushed into the thickest of the melee, with an iron grip seized two tall, brawny, athletic, savage-looking [Virginia] riflemen by the throat, keeping them at arm’s length, alternately shaking and talking to them.
In this position the eye of the belligerents caught sight of the general. Its effect on them was instantaneous flight at the top of their speed in all directions from the scene of the conflict. Less than fifteen minutes time had elapsed from the commencement of the row before the general and his two criminals were the only occupants of the field of action.

You didn’t mess with George Washington. But men would follow him anywhere.

Greene and Knox: The Continental Army’s leaders were a mixed bag, and more than a few of those who served with distinction are largely forgotten today. If there are two names besides George Washington that every American schoolchild should learn from the Revolutionary War, it’s Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox. Of all the Continental Army’s generals, only Washington, Greene and Knox served the entire duration of the war. While men like Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold contributed more than their share of ego, drama, and backbiting, both Greene and Knox were unswervingly, uncomplicatedly loyal both to Washington and the cause he fought for. In the long run, that served them better than any thirst for glory. Greene was offered the post of Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation; when he declined, Knox took the job and continued to hold it under Washington’s presidency.

As soldiers, Greene and Knox were emblematic of one of the major characteristics of early America: they were self-educated, learning most of what they knew of military matters from books. Formal education was spotty in the colonies; even Washington, as a wealthy Virginia planter, never went to college and was mainly what we would call today “home schooled.” Yet early Americans didn’t let a lack of schooling bar them from the quest for knowledge. Ben Franklin had nearly no formal education at all, but by the closing decades of his public life was arguably the world’s most respected intellectual. Knox was educated at Boston Latin, but unschooled in war; his military experience was five years in an artillery company of the Massachusetts militia. Greene had neither schooling nor military experience, but read whatever he could get his hands on. At the outset of the war, they were young small businessmen: Knox a 25 year old bookseller from Boston, Greene a 32-year-old Quaker from Rhode Island who ran the family forge. Both prepared for combat by reading books on military strategy and tactics; had there been a “War for Dummies” in 1775, they would have read it without embarrassment. (Washington, too, ordered a number of military volumes when heading off to Philadelphia in 1775; as Victor Davis Hanson has noted, one of the distinctive features of Western civilization is a long written tradition of military science, allowing the widespread dissemination of the latest ideas about warmaking). Yet, self-educated though they were, they knew what they were missing: Knox spent years agitating for the establishment of an American military academy to teach the art of war, which would eventually be founded at West Point under the Jefferson Administration.

Knox pulled off perhaps the most remarkable and dramatic feat of the war in the winter of 1775-76, when a team led by he and his brother made the long, snow-covered trek from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, loaded up all its heavy artillery, returned with every single artillery piece intact, and then in one night in March set up the guns on Dorchester Heights, the peninsula overlooking Boston from the south. The British were staggered, and forced to evacuate. The full tale, as told by David McCullough in 1776, is as amazing as anything in American history, and I can’t hope to do it justice here. Knox would go on to prove himself time and again as the chief artillery expert in the Continental army from Boston to Trenton (where his guns commanded the center of the town) all the way through Yorktown (where the shelling of Cornwallis’ encampment brought him to his knees), and would be present for all of Washington’s major engagements. Knox’ amateurism led him astray on occasion; a few of the guns under his command exploded on their handlers in Boston and again later in New York, and he is generally credited with the misguided decision to send waves of troops against a barricaded position at Germantown on the basis of an inflexible application of the maxim (which he’d probably picked up from a book) about not leaving a fortified position to your rear. But his overall record was one of practicality, resourcefulness and unwavering dedication to the cause.

As for Greene, he too can be found at all Washington’s major battles of the first half of the war, as Washington’s operational right-hand man; the Quartermaster General of the Army after Valley Forge; the commander (with Lafayette) of the first joint operation with the French, a failed effort to break the occupation of Newport, Rhode Island; and finally Washington’s choice to assume command of the southern theater of the war after the serial failures of Robert Howe at Savannnah, Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston and Horatio Gates at Camden. The fiasco at Camden ended the military career of Gates, the victor of Saratoga, and left the Continental Army in the South in shambles, but it would prove Greene’s finest hour. Greene had little time to rebuild the shattered army; he rarely commanded more than a few thousand men, and often had to rely on the aid of the local militia. And yet, with a major assist from those militia, he staged a brilliant series of retreats and maneuvers to keep Cornwallis from taking control over the region or from capturing and crushing his army. It was Greene who said of this campaign, “We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again.” After the costly March 1781 Battle of Guilford Court House, Cornwallis came to the decision that he needed to stop chasing Greene around the Carolinas and head north to Virginia, setting in motion the fateful chain of events that led to Yorktown.
Unfortunately, and characteristically of life in the 18th century, many of the leading figures of the Continental Army and Revolutionary militia did not live that long after the war’s end, including Greene, who died of sunstroke at age 43. Charles Lee died in 1782, Lord Stirling in 1783, Greene in 1786, Ethan Allen in 1789, Israel Putnam in 1790, John Paul Jones in 1792, John Sullivan and Francis Marion in 1795, Anthony Wayne in 1796, and Washington himself in 1799. While numerous places in the United States today bear their names (here in New York, Greene as well as Putnam, Sullivan and militia leader Nicholas Herkimer are the namesakes of counties), their popular memories today are less vivid than Revolutionary War figures like Alexander Hamilton who had more prominent political roles. But nobody aside from Washington himself contributed more to victory than Greene and Knox.

The European Adventurers: The American cause was, of course, aided as well by a handful of Continental European volunteers – Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Casimir Pulaski, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Baron de Kalb (this is aside from some of the American leaders like John Paul Jones and Charles Lee who were native to the British Isles). Two of those, Pulaski and de Kalb, were killed in battle in the early unsuccessful battles of southern campaign, Pulaski at Savannah and de Kalb at Camden. Both Lafayette and Kosciuszko would return to try – with mixed success – to lead their own homelands to a republican future; Jones would serve in Catherine the Great’s navy after the war, terrorizing the Turkish navy and becoming an honorary Cossack in the process. Only von Steuben would enjoy a quiet life in his adopted country.

Lafayette’s exploits, especially during the Yorktown campaign, were significant and memorable, and in a general sense he contributed to the cementing of the alliance with France. And Pulaski played a key role in organizing the American cavalry. But von Steuben was likely the most important to the Continental Army’s victory.

In contrast to the self-educated citizen soldiers running the American army, von Steuben came from the opposite end of the 18th century military spectrum: born a sort of aristocrat and a Prussian army brat, he had served as a staff officer on the professional Prussian general staff, the first of its kind in the world, and been instructed by Frederick the Great himself. Unlike some of the other Europeans – but like Jones, who fled to America because he was wanted for the murder of a sailor he had flogged to death – von Steuben was no starry-eyed idealist. He was an unemployed professional soldier, deeply in debt, who came to the American cause only after running out of prospective employers in Germany, and was trailed by an unverified rumor that he was fleeing prosecution for being “accused of having taken familiarities with young boys.” He was passed off to Congress, perhaps knowingly and possibly with the complicity of Ben Franklin (who recognized his value), as one of Frederick the Great’s generals rather than a captain on the general staff, and even his aristocratic title had been inflated and possibly invented. He spoke little or no English and often asked his translator to curse at the soldiers on his behalf.

But whatever his background, von Steuben’s discipline and professional rigor was crucial. He established badly-needed standards for sanitary conditions in the army, introduced training in use of the bayonet, and taught the men the sort of manuevers that were essential to 18th century warfare. He is, on the whole, credited with the improved drill and discipline that emerged from Valley Forge and was displayed in the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. Monmouth, in combination with the French entry into the war, induced the British to mostly abandon the strategy of trying to hunt down Washington’s army and focus instead on offensive operations in the South. Von Steuben’s field manual was still the U.S. Army standard until the War of 1812. If Greene and Knox are emblems of traditional American virtues, the Continental Army’s debt to von Steueben and the other Europeans is emblematic of America’s adaptability and openness to the contributions of new arrivals.

The British Command: While there were many important figures on both sides of the war – I’ve only scratched the surface here on the American side – essentially all the important decisions on the British side were made by six generals: Gage, Howe, Clinton, Cornwallis, Burgoyne, and (in Quebec in 1775-76) Guy Carleton (Carleton also briefly commanded the British evacuation of New York in 1783 at the war’s end). Where they went wrong provides an instructive contrast with Washington’s command.

All six were professional military men, veterans of the Seven Years’/French and Indian War: Clinton, Cornwallis and Burgoyne had fought only in Europe, while Howe and Carleton had fought in the Quebec campaign that culminated in Wolfe’s capture of the fortified city, and Gage had been a part of the Braddock expedition and thus seen Washington up close in action. And by and large, with the arguable exception of Gage, they fought with tactical skill and professionalism against the Americans. Yet they have gone down in history as architects of a great failure, weak in comparison to predecessors like Wolfe and dwarfed by the likes of Wellington who succeeded them. Aside from Carleton, only Cornwallis really survived the war with his domestic reputation and career intact, going on to years of highly influential service as a colonial administrator in Ireland and India that shaped the Empire in important ways. Howe was the only other one of the six besides Cornwallis to command troops in combat again, for a time during the early Napoleonic Wars.

The British failure was partly a matter of the personalities involved, but also one of basic strategic incoherence. They never really had a fully thought-out strategy. Only Clinton and Cornwallis really seemed to understand the paramount importance of putting Washington’s army out of business early in the war, and their aggressive plans of flanking attacks and hot pursuits were frequently overriden by Gage and Howe, who were less apt than Washington to heed the good advice of their subordinates. Washington learned from his mistakes; Howe, in particular, did not, on multiple occasions settling down to stationary positions when he should have been finishing off Washington.

The British could have adopted a scorched-earth approach like Sherman in the Civil War; General James Grant urged the burning of major cities in the North, and in the southern campaign Banastre Tarleton’s forces (including Loyalist partisans) did what they could to spread terror in the countryside, including some notorious examples of bayoneting wounded or surrendering Americans. Cornwallis near the end of the war in Virginia would set thousands of slaves free as a foreshadowing of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, albeit solely for tactical purposes. But, as regular forces facing guerrilla insurgencies often do, they took a halfway path that was the worst of both worlds: heavy-handedness and occasional atrocities were crucial to raising the militia against Burgoyne in New York and Cornwallis and Tarleton in the Carolinas, yet they failed to pursue a sufficiently merciless approach to annihilate the Continental Army or destroy its economic base of support.

Like the Americans, the British were riven by petty jealousies and contending egos; unlike the Americans, they never had a Washington to keep those divisions from impeding operations, and unlike the Americans, their civilian government was too far away to provide supervision. Burgoyne’s appointment to lead the Saratoga expedition alienated both Carleton, who resigned in protest, and Clinton. In the case of Clinton, while he was usually right about tactics (notably his preference for outflanking the militia from the rear at Bunker Hill and for encircling Washington in New York), his flaw (which probably contributed to his advice being ignored) was his inability to work well with others. Though not entirely through faults of his own, it was Clinton’s failure to arrive with timely reinforcements that led to the surrenders of Burgoyne at Saratoga and Cornwallis at Yorktown.

The human element of good generalship can be fortuitous, but it is also a product of the civilian and military cultures that produce armies. In the long run, the Americans had a clearer strategy, greater unity of purpose and command and more adaptable leadership, and that made the difference.

In Part III: the role of the militia.

Reflections on the American Revolution (Part I of III)

I’ve recently been reading a fair amount on the American Revolution, especially David McCullough’s 1776 (which should be required reading for every American).* The more you read of the Revolutionary War, the more there is to learn, especially about the vital question of how the colonists pulled off their victory over the vastly wealthier and more powerful Great Britain. The standard narrative of the American Revolution taught in schools and retained in our popular imagination today overlooks a lot of lessons worth remembering about where our country came from.

The Population Bomb: In assessing the combatants and indeed the causes of the war, it’s useful – as always – to start with demographics. There was no colonial-wide census, but this 1975 historical study by the US Census Bureau, drawing on the censuses of individual colonies and other sources, breaks out the growth of the colonial population from 1630 to 1780, and the picture it paints is one of explosive population growth in the period from 1740 to 1780:


The black population was principally slaves and thus – while economically and historically important – less relevant to the political and military strength of the colonies. But as you can see above, the main driver of population growth was the free white population rather than the slave trade.

Authoritative sources for the British population during this period are harder to come by (the first British census was more than a decade after the first U.S. Census in 1790); most sources seem to estimate the population of England proper between 6 and 6.5 million in 1776 compared to 2.5 million for the colonies. Going off this website’s rough estimated figures for the combined population of England and Wales (Scotland had in the neighborhood of another 1.5 million people by 1776), the colonies went from 5% of the British population in 1700 to 20% in 1750, 26% in 1760, 33% in 1770, and 40% in 1780:

It was perhaps inevitable that this shift in the balance of population between the colonies and the mother country would produce friction, and of course such a fast-growing population means lots of young men ready to bear arms. Men like Franklin and Washington were already, by 1755, envisioning the colonies stretching across the continent for the further glory of the then-nascent British Empire; 20 years later, both were buying Western land hand over fist and picturing that continental vision as a thing unto itself.

The distribution of population among the individual colonies was somewhat different from today. Virginia (encompassing present-day West Virginia) was by far the largest colony and, along with the Carolinas, the fastest-growing, while Massachusetts, Maryland and Connecticut were much larger – and New York much smaller – relative to the rest of the colonies than today:

This is one reason why Maryland gained a reputation as the “Old Line State”: it had the manpower to supply a lot of the Continental Army’s best troops. Connecticut was, in fact, seen as a crucial economic engine of the war, the most industrialized of the colonies at the time and mostly undisturbed by combat. That said, when you look solely at the white population, the southern states loom less large, and the crucial role of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts comes into focus:

The smaller colonies present a similar picture:


Note that Rhode Island, alone, lost population during the war, due to the 1778-1780 British occupation of Newport. That occupation had lasting effects. According to a 1774 census, Newport’s population before the war was more than twice that of Providence (more than 9,000 to less than 4,000) and it was a booming seaport; the city’s population dropped by more than half to 4,000, and it never really recovered its status as a port, losing business permanently to New York and Boston. Another lasting side effect: Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams as a haven of religious tolerance and welcoming even to Jews and Quakers, forbade Catholics from living in the colony, but after the British abandoned Newport in 1780 and the French garrison took up residence, the grateful Rhode Islanders permitted the French troops to celebrate the first Mass in Rhode Island; today, it is the most heavily Catholic state in the union.

Britain’s population would surge in the 1790s, and by about 1800 there were a million people in London alone, the first city in world history confirmed to exceed that threshold. But that remained in the future; at the time, France’s population of 25 million and Spain’s of some 10 million would easily exceed that of George III’s domain. Moreover, like its colonies, England had a longstanding aversion to standing armies; while the Napoleonic Wars would ultimately compel the British Army (including foreign and colonial troops) to swell to a quarter of a million men by 1813, a 1925 analysis found that “[a]t the outbreak of the Revolution, the total land forces of Great Britain exclusive of militia numbered on paper 48,647 men, of which 39,294 were infantry; 6,869 cavalry; and 2,484 artillery,” with 8,580 men in America. And those forces were always stretched; according to this analysis of Colonial & War Office figures, the British never had much more than 15,202 redcoats in the American theater (including the Floridas, where they fought Spain), and never exceeded 30,000 troops in total, counting “Hessians” (companies of professional soldiers hired from the Hesse-Hanau, Hesse-Kassel, Brunswick and other German principalities) and American Loyalists (a/k/a “Tories”):

The Close Call: More modern American wars like the Civil War and World War II eventually developed a momentum that made victory effectively inevitable, as America’s crushing material advantages came to bear on the enemy. By contrast, the Revolutionary War was, from beginning to end, a near-run thing (to borrow Wellington’s famous description of Waterloo). At every stage and in every campaign of the war, you can find both British and American victories, as well as a good many battles that were fought to a draw or were Pyrrhic victories for one side. The length of the 7-year war in North America was a burden for the increasingly war-weary British, for a variety of reasons, but a long war was also a great risk for the Americans: the longer the war ran on, the harder it was in terms of both finances and morale to keep the all-volunteer Continental Army in the field. Whole units dissolved en masse at the end of their enlistments throughout the war, and there were mutinies in the spring of 1780 and again in January 1781. As late as 1780, Benedict Arnold’s treason and debacles at Charleston and Camden, South Carolina put the American cause in jeopardy of being rolled up by the British, causing America’s European allies to strike a separate peace. At one point or another in the war, the then-principal cities of most of the colonies – Massachusetts (Boston), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), New York (New York), Virginia (Richmond and Charlottesville), Rhode Island (Newport), South Carolina (Charleston), Georgia (Savannah), Delaware (Wilmington) and New Jersey (Trenton, Princeton, Perth Amboy, New Brunswick) were captured and occupied by the British. Only Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina and New Hampshire remained unconquered, as well as the independent Vermont Republic (Maine, then governed by Massachusetts, was also under British control for much of the war; the failed Penobscot Expedition was aimed at its recapture, and ended with a disastrous naval defeat). In the spring of 1781, Thomas Jefferson – then the Governor of Virginia – escaped capture by Cornwallis’ men by a matter of minutes, fleeing on horseback as the government of the largest colony was dispersed. It was only the complex series of events leading to Yorktown in the fall of 1781 – Cornwallis retreating to Virginia after being unable to put away Nathanael Greene’s Continentals and the North Carolina militia, Washington escaping New Jersey before the British noticed where he was going, Admiral de Grasse bottling up Cornwallis’ escape route in the Chesapeake by sea, Henry Clinton failing to come to Cornwallis’ aid in time – that created the conditions for a decisive victory and finally forced the British to throw in the towel.

Moreover, a great many individual battles and campaigns throughout the war turned on fortuitous events ranging from fateful decisions to apparently providential weather. It is no wonder that many of the Founding generation (like many observers since) attributed their victory to the hand of God.

Weather and Suffering: Both the Continental Army and its British and Hessian adversaries endured conditions that no armies before or since would put up with, including a staggering menu of extreme weather ranging from blizzards to colossal thunderstorms to blazing summer heat. Ancient and medieval armies would not campaign in freezing cold and snow; modern armies (like the combatants at Leningrad and the Marines in the retreat from Chosin Resovoir) would at least face them with something closer to proper clothing and shelter. But both sides in the war suffered chronic shortages: the British from lack of food for their men and forage for their animals, the Americans from lack of clothing (especially shoes), shelter and ammunition. The British lost more sailors to scurvy in the war than soldiers to combat, and during the long siege of Boston they had recurring problems with their sentries freezing to death at night. Smallpox, malaria and other diseases were endemic and especially hard on European troops with no prior exposure (one of Washington’s great strokes of good judgment was having his army inoculated against smallpox, a disease he himself had survived and which left him pock-marked and probably sterile**). The British were rarely able to make use of their cavalry due to a lack of forage, and their infantry had other equipment problems:

[T]he flints used by the British soldier during the war were notoriously poor. Colonel Lindsay of the 46th lamented that the valor of his men was so often “rendered vain by the badness of the pebble stone.” He exclaimed indignantly against the authorities for failing to supply every musket with the black flint which every country gentleman in England carried in his fowling piece. In this respect the rebels were acknowledged to be far better off than the king’s troops. A good American flint could be used to fire sixty rounds without resharpening, which was just ten times the amount of service that could be expected from those used by the British forces. Among the rank and file of the redcoats, the saying ran that a “Yankee flint was as good as a glass of grog.”

The war was conducted during the Little Ice Age, a period of low global temperatures (it’s a myth that “climate change” is a new phenomenon or must be caused by human activity), and the winters of the period (especially 1779-80) were especially brutal. American soldiers and militia forded waist-deep icy rivers to reach the Battle of Millstone, marched miles without boots in snowstorms on Christmas Night after crossing the icy Delaware to reach the Battle of Trenton, and even tried (insanely) to lay siege to the fortified Quebec City in a driving snow on New Year’s Eve. These were only a few of the examples of Americans marching great distances in weather conditions that would defeat the hardiest souls. The British performed their own acts of endurance and valor; drive over the George Washington Bridge some time and look at the cliffs of the Palisades, and picture Cornwallis’ men scaling them at night to attack Fort Lee. Other battles were fought in heavy wool uniforms in the broiling heat, from Bunker Hill to much of the southern campaign, or in rains that left gunpowder useless, or – on the eve of the Battle of Brooklyn – colossal lightning strikes that killed groups of American soldiers in Manhattan. In the 1776 siege of Sullivan’s Island, the British were shocked to discover that their cannonballs wouldn’t splinter the soft palmetto wood from which the American fort was constructed, leaving the British ships to take a pounding from American artillery.

Except for Quebec, the weather – however hostile – nearly always managed to favor the American cause, rescuing the Americans when the hand of fate was needed most. McCullough recounts the especially significant shifts in the wind and fog that allowed Washington’s army to escape in the night, undetected, across the East River after the catastrophic Battle of Brooklyn, while the blizzard at the Americans’ backs was key to their surprise at Trenton.

The Allies: Most educated Americans still recall that France came to the aid of the fledgling nation after the victory at Saratoga, and played a significant role in tipping the scales in the war. In World War I, Pershing’s refrain of “Lafayette, we are here” was still a popular invocation of that collective memory. Besides French money and supplies and French land and naval combat at Yorktown, the French also stretched the British defenses with extensive campaigns in the Caribbean and with a threatened invasion of England. But as important as the French alliance was, the emphasis on France understates the role that other of America’s allies and Britian’s enemies played in the Revolution.

First and foremost, at least as history is taught here in the Northeastern U.S., the Spanish role in the Revolutionary War is scandalously underplayed. There are reasons for this: Spain was a less impressive international power in the late 18th Century than France and would become drastically less so by the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and unlike the French, the Spanish rarely fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans or within the Thirteen Colonies. But Spain performed three vital roles in the war. First, under Bernardo de Galvez (namesake of Galveston, Texas, among other places), the Spanish Governor of the Louisiana Territory, the Spanish shipped significant war materiel up the Mississippi River through the American agent Oliver Pollock, supplementing the French aid that kept the American cause afloat. Second, after Spain’s 1779 declaration of war against Britain, Galvez opened a significant second front against the British-held Floridas (which then included, in the territory of West Florida, much of what is now the Gulf Coast of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi). Galvez was arguably the most successful commander of the war in North America, his multi-national, multi-racial force sweeping through the British defenses, preempting any British move on New Orleans and culminating the capture of Pensacola (then the capital of East Florida) in the spring of 1781. This campaign resulted in the Floridas being transferred from Britain to Spain in the resulting peace treaty; the absence of a British foothold on the southern border of the U.S. would have lasting consequences, and the Floridas would end up being sold by Spain to the United States in 1819. And third, the Spanish played a pivotal role in the Yorktown campaign, not only raising more funds in Cuba for the campaign but also providing naval cover in the Caribbean that allowed Admiral de Grasse to sail north and close off the Chesapeake just in the nick of time. (Spain also conducted a long, costly siege of Gibraltar that ended unsuccessfully and a successful assault on Minorca, both of which spread British manpower thin between 1778 and 1783).

The other main fighting allies of the American colonists were two of the Iriquois Six Nations in upstate New York, the Oneida and Tuscarora (the other four fought with the British), as well as a few other tribes on the western frontier. But other sovereigns caused the British additional problems. The Kingdom of Mysore, a French ally in Southern India, went to war with Britain (the Second Anglo-Mysore War) in 1780, inflicting thousands of casualties with innovative rocket artillery at the September 1780 Battle of Pollilur. The Dutch, who frustrated John Adams’ efforts to arrange financial assistance and an alliance until after Yorktown, nonetheless ended up dragged into the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War beginning in December 1780. (Some things never change: Adams was accused of unilateral “militia diplomacy” for ignoring diplomatic protocols and negotiating with the Dutch without consulting the French, but crowed after inking the deal in 1782 that “I have long since learned that a man may give offense and yet succeed.”). The Russians, then moving towards an alliance with Great Britain against the French, nonetheless pointedly refused to get involved; Catherine the Great refused a 1775 request in writing from George III that she send 20,000 Cossacks to America (necessitating the hiring of Hessians instead) and eventually joined the League of Armed Neutrality with the Dutch and others to resist British naval embargoes (the step that brought the British and Dutch to blows). Catherine II thought the British were fools for provoking the conflict and predicted from the outset that the Americans would win. All in all, the international situation by the end of 1780 left the British increasingly isolated and drove the strategic imperative to seek out a decisive battle in Virginia – an imperative that led Cornwallis directly into a trap of his own devising but which the American, French and Spanish forces sprung with great skill and coordination.

In Part II: Washington and the other American and British generals. In Part III: the role of the militia.

Continue reading Reflections on the American Revolution (Part I of III)

The Integrity Gap, Part III of III: John McCain and Joe Biden

III. John McCain: The Zeal of the Convert
Given the length and public nature of John McCain’s career on the national stage, I won’t go here through his record in the depth that I explored those of Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama. But I will lay out a number of examples that show the sharp contrast between McCain’s approach to situations calling for integrity and Barack Obama’s.
Senator McCain’s former, false friends in the media used to paint him as some sort of secular saint, a man who infused politics with a unique brand of noblity that elevated the grubby business of Washington to a higher plane of bipartisanship, reform and self-sacrifice. St. John the McCain was always a myth; we should put not our faith in politicians, and nobody gets as far as McCain has in national politics wholly unsullied by politics and all that comes with it. But if McCain the saint is a myth, McCain the public servant is nonetheless an admirable figure who has passed many tests of fire (in some cases, literally). McCain looks more rather than less impressive when we view him through the justifiably jaded eye that should be cast on any politician.
McCain has been, in his words “an imperfect servant” of this country; I will not try to convince you otherwise, and will deal up front with the two major and deserved blots on his reputation. I will not try to convince you that over 26 years in politics he’s been above consorting with lobbyists, accepting endorsements from unsavory people, pandering to constituencies, or changing positions when it suits his needs. But however you define the negative features of “politics as usual,” we expect our Presidents to have that quality that allows them to rise above it – perhaps not every day on every issue, but often enough, and forcefully enough, and in spite of enough slings and arrows that we can have confidence that they can be trusted to stand up for us even when it’s hard to do so, even at great cost.
There is no question that McCain has shown, over and over and over again, his ability to do just that. He’s publicly called out waste and corruption, even in his own party. He’s taken on powerful vested interests on the Left and the Right – not just wealthy and well-connected ones but grassroots interests as well. McCain may not fight every battle that needs to be fought, but he will always be fighting, and he will not be afraid to take on targets that can hit him back.

Continue reading The Integrity Gap, Part III of III: John McCain and Joe Biden

Two Cheers For The Hypocrites

A few weeks back, Washington DC buzzed with the news that Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a conservative Republican, admitted (a step ahead of public disclosure, possibly by hard-core porn magnate Larry Flynt) that he had frequented a prostitute. The response on the left was numbingly predictable, attacking Vitter not for his immorality but on grounds of hypocrisy because of his socially conservative campaign themes and voting record, such as his opposition to same-sex marriage. A common theme was the idea that Vitter should not be able to argue again for such positions, because his private sins compromised his public positions. Even Glenn Reynolds got into the act, suggesting “How about moving to make prostitution legal in the District instead [of apologizing]? It would be an appropriate penance, and D.C. would be a . . . fitting . . . place to start.”
This is wrong, and dangerous. Our politicians and civic leaders have never been saints, but the punishment for their sins should not fall on the rest of us. I would much prefer to see a wicked man be a hypocrite and vote for what is right and good, rather than choose consistency and advocate for wrongdoing.
The left’s argument on this front – usually implicit, sometimes made explicitly – is that immoral behavior, especially in matters sexual, proves that moral standards are impossible to satisfy, and thus that the whole project of promoting virtue is a fool’s errand. Go and do what feels good, you can’t be expected to know better.* But nobody ever said that moral standards are easy, or the history of human behavior and philosophical and religious thought wouldn’t be littered with battles over what is right and wrong and how to get people to choose the former.
Moreover, the critics set an impossibly high standard when they claim that a moral failing in one area should cause a man to abandon the advocacy of virtue in others. Thus, we hear that Bill Bennett, because he has had a gambling problem, should not be heard to speak on other issues of public and private morals, ranging from sexual mores to drugs to obstruction of justice. But with rare exceptions, the same logic isn’t applied to the champions of vice. The left never argues that figures like Madonna or Hugh Hefner, just to pick two examples of people who have built decades-long careers on championing sexual immorality, are hypocrites because they don’t also have gambling problems. Pursuing this asymmetrical line of reasoning can only have the result of unilaterally disarming one side. If only saints can defend right and good and virtue, they will be undefended, while the ranks of the defenders of wrong and sin swell to bursting.
In any event, the left’s champions are no less frequently guilty of advocating standards they don’t follow or impose on themselves. They call for limits on the use of energy, while galavanting around in private jets and high-powered SUV motorcades. They argue that society benefits from keeping poor kids in public schools without a choice to leave, while sending their own kids to expensive private academies. They hire picketers and leafleters to protest low wages and benefits, and pay them a pittance and no benefits. They press for strict gun controls, then hire armed private bodyguards of their own. The greatest moral controversy in recent memory, the Clinton impeachment, came about when a variety of rules created by moralizing liberals – the independent counsel statute, sexual harrassment litigation, liberal rules of discovery in civil litigation – were turned against one of their own, with predictable howls of outrage.
None of this is to suggest that a man’s private immoral or illegal behavior is irrelevant to his fitness for public office. Voters certainly have to judge the totality of a candidate’s character – moreso in the case of candidates for executive or judicial positions, who exercise broader individual discretion, but it’s not irrelevant for legislators either – and the private and public behavior are all a part of this. The fundamental question Louisiana voters will need to ask about Sen. Vitter is whether this changes their view about his ability to do his job, keep his promises and avoid misusing his office. You don’t take the public man in isolation, but neither do you take the private man in isolation; the whole must be examined and judged as one.
But in asking that question, Sen. Vitter’s continued willingness to fight for the things he campaigned on should be a plus. If you are a Louisiana voter who thinks prostitution is bad for your community, why should you have to live with it because of a Senator’s private sins? If you are a Mississippian who thinks racial preferences are bad policy, why should you have to live with them because of Trent Lott’s mouth? In fact, the courage to stand up for the right thing to do even when it exposes you to the hypocrisy charge is one of the most important attributes of a leader, the facet that makes it possible to pursue justice and virtue without constantly checking to trim your positions to fit your own failings. Consider the “chickenhawk” charge, the assertion that Presidents Clinton and Bush should have been hesitant to use military force, not having served in combat themselves. It was apparent, watching Clinton at work, that while he sent the military hither and yon on ‘humanitarian’ interventions, he was nonetheless hypersensitive to the argument that he should avoid using the military, precisely because of his own personal history; it is equally obvious that Bush does not put stock in such arguments, and makes his calls as he sees them. I much prefer to see Republicans who will stand up against abortion, for example, regardless of the state of their private lives, than those who feel that they have to take a squishily pro-choice position because they fear the scrutiny of the anti-moral scolds.
It takes a truly twisted perspective to see a man who commits private sins while arguing in public for virtue, and choose to take issue with the latter.
So, two cheers for the hypocrites. Even if they don’t do right by themselves or their families – even if, at times, they deserve to be punished by the law or defeated at the polls – they should still be proud to have done the right thing in their time in public service.

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Baseball’s Most Impressive Records

You often hear discussion of what are baseball’s most unbreakable records; it’s a hardy perennial of the barroom or talk radio debate (I recently got a marketing email from a company selling a video on the topic).
But “unbreakable” isn’t really the yardstick for a great record. Let’s use the most glaring example: in 1879, Will White threw 680 innings. By modern standards, that’s almost beyond comprehension; pigs will fly before you see a pitcher throw 681 innings in a single season. But is it really that impressive? The previous record was 622, in a 66-game season (by 1879 the schedule was 80 games for White’s Reds). Five years later, Old Hoss Radbourn threw 678.2 innings, and Guy Hecker threw 670.2. White deserves a tip of the cap for out-working his contemporaries, but his record was set at the best possible time – the historic high-water mark of starting pitcher innings – and narrowly survived a challenge just 5 years later.
No, what I’m interested in is the baseball’s most impressive records. So I bring you this list. First, the parameters. No team records, just individual feats. No single-game records – if the name “Mark Whiten” doesn’t remind us that anybody can have a great day, I don’t know what will. No postseason records, since the opportunities to set those are very unevenly distributed. No fielding records, for a long list of reasons regarding the nature and availability of fielding stats. No managing records, although Connie Mack’s 53-year managing career is impressive under any definition, as is Joe McCarthy managing 24 years with three different franchises without having a losing record once. And no negative records – Nolan Ryan’s career walks record is perversely impressive, but not worthy of honor. All I looked at was career and single-season hitting and pitching records, and streaks.
Second, my criteria for choosing and ranking the records. I looked at three factors. One, how far the record stands out from the #2 (and for measurement I compared to the second-best by a different player, rather than, say, compare two Barry Bonds seasons). Two, the level of skill, consistency or exceptional endurance involved – winning games and hitting home runs is more impressive than at bats or hit by pitches. Relatedly, I gave more emphasis for higher-profile stats, and didn’t look at really obscure records or metrics (no VORP record here). And three, I gave extra credit to players who – unlike Will White – set their records under less than the ideal conditions for setting that particular record.
Finally, in a few cases I consolidated in a single “record” multiple records a player set in a single season or career that basically flow from the same cause, such as Barry Bonds’ walk and intentional walk records.
This doesn’t claim to be a scientific list; I have my opinion, you have yours. But my justifications and the facts are provided.
Honorable Mention
A. Johnny Vander Meer, Consecutive No-Hitters, June 11 & 15, 1938.
Vander Meer’s is more in the nature of a single feat than a streak, but the fact is, Major League Baseball has been around for 131 years, and in all of that time, only one man has pitched back-to-back no-hitters. The rarity of the thing, given that many opportunities, argues for its impressiveness.
B. Carl Hubbell’s 24 Regular-Season Wins Without a Loss, July 17, 1936-May 27, 1937
Hubbell’s win streak is impressive and tops the #2 on the list (Rube Marquard) by 20%. On the other hand, it’s somewhat artificial because (1) it overlaps two seasons and (2) during the streak he lost Game 4 of the 1936 World Series. If the streak was longer (see below) I might have listed him, but either way it is still an impressive feat.
C. Ed Reulbach, two shutouts in one day, September 26, 1908.
Granted, doubleheaders have always been somewhat rare and it’s been decades since anybody pitched both ends of one, so Reulbach, unlike Vander Meer, didn’t have as much potential competition. Even so, it’s a significant accomplishment to be the only one to do it.
D. The Consecutive Complete Games Record
The record for consecutive starts with a complete game is commonly thought to belong to Jack Taylor, variously attributed as 185, 187 or 188 between 1901 and 1906 (the most thorough examinations seem to support the 185 number; when I was younger I recall it being listed as 176). But back before they moved the mound in 1893, Jack Lynch seems to have thrown 198 straight in the American Association in 1883-87 and 1890, although the one in 1890 after a 3-year absence involved him absorbing 18 runs on 22 hits, and I have no idea what he’d been doing in the interim.
Even with the uncertainties and the prevalance of complete games in those days, though, finishing that many in a row over a period of 5-6 years is really hard work. So these guys get the Honorable Mention. Now, for the list – the number in parentheses is the percentage by which the record exceeds the next best total by another player:
20. Tris Speaker, 792 Career Doubles (6.2%)
Speaker’s doubles record is a mountain few have approached. #2 on the list is Pete Rose, and he needed 15,000 plate appearances (a good 30% more than Speaker) to get within 50. Craig Biggio hits gobs of doubles, has been incredibly durable and is in his 20th season, and Biggio still needs 131 doubles to catch Speaker. Speaker did play the second half of his career in a good era for doubles, and played nearly his whole career in two great doubles parks – Fenway and League Park in Cleveland, which also had a high, close fence (60 feet high and 290 feet away in right) you could bounce doubles off.
19. Ichiro Suzuki, 225 Singles in 2004 (9.2%)
If you look atop the single season singles record list, you will find it dominated by 1890s hitters Willie Keeler and Jesse Burkett, from an era when league batting averages ranged from the .290s to as high as .309. Yet, in an age of the longball, Ichiro the Throwback left Keeler’s record in the dust. Swimming against the modern offensive tide, and in an extreme pitcher’s park no less (Ichiro that season hit .338 at home, .405 on the road) makes his accomplishment more impressive.
18. Nolan Ryan, 7 Career No-Hitters (75%)
The no-hitter is something of a flukey one-game achievement, or this record would rank higher, but only two pitchers have thrown 4 no-nos, and Ryan almost doubled the total of #2 man Sandy Koufax, throwing no-hitters in three decades.
17. Billy Hamilton, 192 Runs Scored in 1894 (8.5%).
Hamilton played in the best of circumstances for the scoring of runs – the highest-scoring season ever, a loaded lineup that set the all-time record by hitting .349 as a team and including three other .400 hitters. But then, he still scored 8.5% more runs than anyone else in his era, and his record has never been seriously challenged even though it was set in a 129-game season. And, of course, scoring runs is the whole point of the game, and you get a lot less help from teammates than with RBIs; this is the most prestigious sort of record.
16. Rickey Henderson, 130 Steals in 1982 (10.2%)
Rickey’s single-season steals record stands out, but further than it did at the time; Brock had stolen 118 nine years earlier, and Vince Coleman would steal 110 three years later as a rookie, the first of three straight 100+ seasons. I’d rate Rickey higher but for the fact that he was caught a record 42 times; he would have helped his team more if he’d attempted 120-130 steals instead of 172. That said, the 1982 A’s were a team that had rapidly collapsed from a contender, so Rickey gave a lot of excitement to fans who had little else.
Either way, the record was partly a matter of choice, and less impressive for being so.
15. Owen “Chief” Wilson, 36 Triples in 1912 (16.1%)
Not only did Wilson set the triples record by a comfortable 36-31 margin, but he finished 10 triples (38%) ahead of the nearest 20th century competitor. It’s rare to see anybody reach mid-May anywhere near Wilson’s pace. It’s just a freakish accomplishment for a guy who played seven seasons as a regular and cracked 20 triples only the once.
14. Walter Johnson, 110 Career Shutouts (22.2%)
And note that Johnson is 39.2% ahead of the #3 guy, Christy Mathewson (Grover Alexander is #2). 110 shutouts is an astonishing figure, a shutout every six starts and more than a quarter of his 417 career wins (he needed them too – Johnson played for good teams and bad, but the latter were sometimes appalling, like the team where the team leader in RBI drove in 44 runs). Johnson did pitch in the best time for shutouts, the era when ERAs were low and unearned runs were rarer than in the 1880s, and when aces finished their starts. He did throw 24 shutouts in 8 years from 1920-27, though.
13. Cal Ripken, 2,632 consecutive games played, May 30, 1982-September 19, 1998 (23.6%).
Ripken’s streak is commonly listed at or near the top of lists like this, but it’s not by any means unbreakable – you just need to want it badly enough, be healthy and lucky and a good enough player not to get benched. Unlike the pitching workload records, it’s not a feat of spectacular physical endurance, nor does it require any particular skill or accomplishment.
All that said, 16 years without missing a game – including several years of not missing an inning – is nonetheless an impressive feat of willpower and durability, and Ripken left Lou Gehrig three seasons in the dust. That deserves some recognition here.
12. Hank Aaron, 6856 Career Total Bases (11.8%)
Aaron’s homer record may be under seige, but his career total bases record, held by a margin of some 700 over Stan Musial and nearly a thousand ahead of #4 Barry Bonds, remains safely out of reach. Aaron had 3771 hits, 98 triples and 624 doubles to go with 755 HR. To do that required durability (15 straight seasons of over 600 plate appearances, 19 straight of over 500, and the first year he fell short he still hit 40 homers), consistency, tremendous power and a good batting average, and he did it despite playing more tha half his prime years in a pitchers’ park and running his career straight accross the low-scoring 1960s.
11. Old Hoss Radbourn, 59 Wins in 1884 (11.3%)
Unlike the innings record, winning a huge number of games in a season requires more than just showing up for work. Even at the height of the everyday starting pitcher’s era, only three pitchers ever won 50 games in a season, and Radbourn beats the next closest (John Clarkson in 1885) by six wins despite having pitched, much unlike Clarkson, for a team that finished fifth in the league in runs scored. The man ended the 1884 season 47 games over .500 in a 112 game season, almost singlehandedly winning his team the pennant, and he did it the hard way, by posting a league-leading 1.38 ERA in a near-the-record 678.2 innings, and topped it off by winning all three games of the first-ever postseason ‘world’s series’ without allowing an earned run.
1884 was the pinnacle of high-inning starting pitching (average innings started falling off sharply within two years), and talent was spread thin that year due to the upstart Union Association at a time when the two leagues barely had enough talent as it was. So, that counts against ranking Radbourn’s feat even higher. But it’s no exaggeration to say that he did more to help his team win that season than any player ever in any season.
10. Ty Cobb, .366 Career Batting Average (2.2%)
Cobb’s margin over Rogers Hornsby is the narrowest of any record on the list, but he well deserves the high ranking. The lifetime batting average record is one of the game’s most important and prestigious, and Cobb has held it wholly unchallenged for eight decades. I believe Hornsby and Al Simmons were the last significant players to crack .360 more than a season or two into their careers, and I don’t believe anyone has actually been ahead of Cobb at the end of a season at any point since (Joe Jackson was above .370 through age 24, Willie Keeler through age 30). Plus, Cobb did most of his damage before the high-average 1920s arrived; at the end of 1919 he was a 32-year-old lifetime .372 hitter. Plus, unlike other percentage record-holders like Ed Walsh’s career ERA record, Cobb held his pace over an extraordinarily long career, 24 seasons and more than 13,000 plate appearances.
9. Eric Gagne, 84 Consecutive Saves, August 28, 2002-July 3, 2004 (39.2%)
Gagne’s streak, like Hubbell’s, was sort of interrupted, albeit by a blown save in the All-Star Game. And yes, saves are somethingof an artificial stat. But still, Gagne’s whole job was to close out wins, and for nearly two years he did that every time he was asked without fail, surpassing the prior record (Tom Gordon with 54) by a margin of 30 saves.
8. Pedro Martinez, 0.737 WHIP in 2000 (4.3%)
Baserunners per inning, or WHIP, is a bit of an obscure stat – or was until the dawn of rotisserie baseball – but it’s a real measure of pitching excellence to hold the all-time record for it. Pedro’s also third on the career list, surrounded entirely by a top 10 of deadball-era pitchers like Walsh and Addie Joss and Three Finger Brown. His single season record is 4.3% ahead of #2 Guy Hecker in 1882, but Hecker pitched just 104 innings; he’s 5.8% ahead of Walter Johnson’s 1913 season.
I rate Pedro this highly because, while other players on this list reached their accomplishments under less than ideal conditions, nobody else set one so much in the teeth of hostile conditions. Pedro did this in Fenway Park in 2000, in a hitters’ park (Pedro’s road WHIP was 0.680) in a league with a 4.91 league ERA; he led the league in ERA by a margin of two runs and Mike Mussina at 1.187 had the only other WHIP in the league below 1.200.
7. Barry Bonds, .609 OBP, 232 Walks, 120 Intentional Walks in 2004 (10.2%, 36.5%, 266.7%)
All three of these records are integrally related, so I rate them as a single accomplishment. Bonds busted Ruth’s walk record by 63 and Ted Williams’ OBP record (set in his .406 season) by more than 50 points, and he did so in good part because he surpassed the second-highest non-Bonds IBB total (Willie McCovey’s record) by a margin of 120-45. (Note that they didn’t keep IBB in Ruth’s day, he almost assuredly beat that in the years before Gehrig came up).
Yes, steroids. But still, taken on its own merits, those are mind-blowing margins on a couple of records I’d never thought would be broken.
6. Babe Ruth, .690 Career Slugging Percentage (8.8%)
Only 34 times in the game’s history has anybody but Ruth slugged above .690 in a season; aside from Albert Pujols, who is still early in his career, only five other players have career figures above .600. Bonds is 82 points behind Ruth. The Babe sustained this pace over a 22-year career, leading the league 13 times in 14 years and only once having enough at bats to qualify and finishing lower than third.
5. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hitting Streak, May 15, 1941-July 16, 1941 (27.2%)
Joe D’s streak – unlike Gagne’s – would be 57 if you counted the All-Star Game. What makes it even more amazing, as you probably know, is that he started a 17-game streak the day after this one ended. Another player could get hot and break this one, and I don’t list it quite as high as the season and career records that follow, but it is nonetheless a sustained accomplishment of consistency, and the margin compared to the next-closest streak (Keeler and Pete Rose at 44 apiece) places it very high on this list.
4. Mike Marshall, 106 Games and 208.1 Relief Innings in 1974 (12.8%, 23.8%)
Unlike White’s innings as a starter, Marshall’s workload passes the “wow” test – it was recognized as a jaw-dropping accomplishment at the time it happened, and nobody else has tried anything like it since. The innings is the real whopper here (if you are wondering, the #2 non-Marshall total is Bob Stanley; the Steamah threw 168.1 innings in relief in 1978). Some LOOGY may yet challenge the games record a third of an inning at a time, but that relief innings record, though not set really so long ago, will never again be approached.
3. Nolan Ryan, 5714 Career Strikeouts (23.3% and falling)
Ryan’s margin is being eaten away by the #2 man, who as of this morning is Roger Clemens, 17 Ks ahead of Randy Johnson. But both are ancient – Clemens is 44, Johnson is 43 – and more than a thousand strikeouts behind Ryan. Ryan maxed out the record in every direction – he started very young (19), set the single-season record at his peak, and pitched until he was 46. He threw heavy workloads at a very high strikeout rate. Yes, Ryan pitched in a great era for power pitchers, but he buried the record far from his most impressive contemporaries and way out of reach of anybody before or since.
2. Rickey Henderson, 1406 Career Steals (49.9%)
Rickey’s record is just preposterous – nobody could have imagined when Lou Brock set the career steals record that somebody would not just blow by Brock but get halfway to lapping him. Like Ryan, Rickey started early, peaked above everyone else and stayed ridiculously late, and ended by putting his record so far out of reach that nobody will even talk about it again.
1. Cy Young, 511 Career Wins, 7354.2 Career Innings, 749 Career Complete Games (22.5%, 22.5%, 15.9%)
I’d be disinclined to rate Young at the top for mere durability, but first of all he ran off and hid with the career wins record, and hardly any record is more significant or prestigious; he did that in part by having the ninth-best career ERA relative to the league (by ERA+) of anybody with more than 2500 career innings, sixth-best among anybody with 3,000 innings, and he threw more than twice that. And second, while it’s true that plenty of guys carried heavy workloads in Young’s day, and while it’s true that by the end of his career Young was facing guys who would have long pitching careers, Young and Young alone was able to do both, which is why his records stand so far and away beyond anyone in his era, before or since.
Consider this illustrative chart. Among all the pitchers who threw 400 innings in a season even once, only 12 of them managed to stay in a rotation (100 or more innings or 20 or more starts) for more than ten seasons, and everybody but Cy hit the wall by 14 seasons. I list each pitcher with their number of seasons throwing 400, 200 and 100 innings:

Pitcher 400 IP 200 IP 100 IP
Cy Young 5 19 22
Pud Galvin 9 13 14
Kid Nichols 5 13 14
Tim Keefe 7 11 14
Bobby Mathews 7 9 14
Vic Willis 1 13 13
Adonis Terry 1 9 13
Mickey Welch 6 11 12
Tony Mullane 6 11 12
Old Hoss Radbourn 6 11 11
John Clarkson 6 9 11
Gus Weyhing 5 11 11

Note: Pud Galvin threw about 100 innings in the National Association; if you discount that, Young’s margin for Major League innings expands. The chart includes as well Bobby Mathews’ NA experience. Also, Kid Nichols, Young’s nearest contemporary, won 20 games twice in the minor league Western Association in mid-career and then returned to be a top major league pitcher without missing a beat, so he would be closer to Young than anyone else, but still far behind.
This is why Young stands alone at the top. Nobody can match his ability to carry those huge 19th century workloads and keep going into his 40s.

Unhealthy Fixation

Tuesday’s fun with the “chicken hawk” argument was, at first blush, about yet another of the stupid arguments you encounter (from Left and from Right) in political debates, an ad hominem that feels good to toss around but makes no logical sense. But this argument is much more than that: it’s political hemlock that the Left/liberals/Democrats can’t seem to stop imbibing, with catastrophic consequences in the 2004 election. You would hope that they’ve learned something from that. Let me count the ways:
1. The Wesley Clark Boomlet: One of the problems the Democrats faced, once Howard Dean flamed out, was the absence of meaningful alternatives to John Kerry that anti-Kerry voters could rally around. One reason for that was the time wasted in the fall of 2003 fawning over Wesley Clark, whose only qualification for running was his military experience. The willingness of Democratic pundits, bloggers and (for a time) voters to swoon over Clark’s military pedigree was a bad early sign of their confusion of military experience with good ideas on foreign policy. Significantly, some of the biggest Clark boosters in the blogosphere, like Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman, were the same people who went ga-ga over the “AWOL Bush” story. Coincidence? I think not. They convinced themselves that you could defeat Bush in a foreign policy debate by comparing Clark’s distinguished service record to Bush’s.
2. The Rise of Michael Moore: Moore had been on the political scene for some time, with his books and movies. But you may recall that his first direct insertion into the campaign came in January 2004 when he endorsed (who else) Wesley Clark and, in the process of his endorsement, called President Bush a “deserter.” In retrospect, that was the best opportunity then and there for somebody to smack down Moore and keep the debate focused on things that happened less than 30 years ago. Nobody did; to the contrary, Moore kick-started a blog and media frenzy over the previously dormant AWOL story, setting off, among other things, comments from DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe on the subject. This created a monster, as Moore quickly learned that he could say whatever he wanted and still be embraced by the party’s leadership.
3. The Kerry Nomination: Of course, the biggest debacle of all was the decision to nominate John Kerry. I believe, and I doubt too many people would disagree with me on this one, that Kerry would never have won the nomination had it not been for the widespread perception that he could take advantage of the distinction between his own combat record and Bush’s military service record. That calculation wound up overcoming a wealth of reasons, well known to many Democrats, why Kerry could be a terrible candidate.
Now, Kerry did have a decent resume at first glance (two decades in the Senate) and did have his strengths as a candidate, notably his startling aggressiveness as a debater. And he didn’t get blown out in November. But he did lose a lot of ground Al Gore had held, and as more than a few people pointed out during the primaries as well as later on, he was a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of bad candidate traits: in a Senate divided between work horses and show horses, Kerry is a show horse who doesn’t show well, a faux populist who’s bad with people, an orator who gives deadly dull speeches, a guy who’s all image and no substance . . . and his image is as a guy who’s dull, condescending, mean, arrogant, and insincere. A glass-jawed bully who picks fights and boasts “bring it on,” yet whines when attacked back. He’s basically spent thirty years living off youthful exploits that he himself denounced, hiding behind medals he pretended to throw away. And, of course, there was his famous inability to take a clear position and stick to it.
All of this was well known to Democrats. But they overlooked it all in their obsession with proving that Bush was a chicken hawk and Kerry a noble war hero.
4. The Convention: You know the story: the Democratic Convention produced almost no bounce in the polls, and turned out to be a missed opportunity to lay out a coherent message. Why? Does the phrase “reporting for duty” ring a bell? Yet another blind alley, as the Democrats stressed over and over the contrast in Kerry’s and Bush’s service records at the expense of talking about a winning strategy in the war on terror or even laying out a stronger and more detailed critique of Bush’s.
5. The Swift Boat Vets: We knew all along that Kerry would take some heat from Vietnam veterans over his conduct after the war. But nobody had really expected Kerry to suffer such damage from attacks on his service itself. There’s no question that those attacks were motivated and given more visibility by the extent to which Kerry sought to play the “I served and you didn’t” card.
6. Rathergate: The final way Bush’s critics went astray over their obsession with hunting chicken hawks was the fiasco of the 60 Minutes hack job on Bush’s National Guard service. Once again, the zeal of Bush critics who had pursued this story for five years overbore their judgment about the credibility of their sources, and led to a humiliating reversal that symbolized, for many voters, the media’s mania to get Bush by any means necessary. Worse for the Democrats, the report coincided to a high degree of coordination with attack ads rolled out by McAuliffe. (And I’m leaving out here the roles of Tom Harkin and Max Cleland)
Could Bush have been beaten in 2004? It’s a debate that can rage on through political history, but those of us who lived through it, on either side of the fence, certainly thought it was at least possible, and at any rate a stronger race against him might have salvaged some of the down-ticket disasters for the Dems.
Most of us who supported Bush recognized that Kerry’s service record compared to Bush’s was a positive for Kerry. If the Democrats had left it at that, it would have helped them. But at every turn, the obsession of Bush’s critics with the “chicken hawk” argument – the idea that Bush’s lack of combat service wasn’t just one factor but a disabling fatal flaw for a wartime president – overbore their better judgment about sticking to the issues and the record, and wound up turning a positive into a series of disasters. Will they ever learn? Stay tuned.

Baseball Mom

Baseball, the sages tell us, is a game for fathers and sons. From games of catch and Little League coaches all the way to the big league world of Alomars and Ripkens and Bondses and Griffeys, we often think of how the game ties together generations of men. All of this is true, of course; hey, I got choked up at the end of “Field of Dreams” the first time I saw it, too.
But let’s not overlook one of the best gifts a boy can have growing up as a baseball fan: the Baseball Mom.

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