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March 16, 2016

The woeful history of third-party challengers

By Tom Charles Huston

Third-party campaigns can have an effect in national elections. The Populist uprising west of the Mississippi cost the Republicans control of Congress in 1890 and Benjamin Harrison his bid for reelection in 1892. The Progressive insurgency in 1912 which led to a three-way race among President William Howard Taft (R), New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson (D) and former president Theodore Roosevelt (R) gave the Democrats their first presidential victory in 20 years.

The most recent election in which the outsider played a decisive role was, interesting enough, in the centennial year of Harrison's failed reelection effort. Self-funded and erratic, the wild-card candidacy of Ross Perot in 1992 was enough to oust George H. W. Bush from the White House. The extent to which the contest for the Republican nomination launched by Patrick Buchanan in the early primaries influenced the outcome of the general election is unclear, but the deep division in the party resulting from Bush's breach of his promise not to raise taxes undoubtedly contributed to the sharp falloff in the Republican vote from four years earlier.

The three-party elections of 1892, 1912 and 1992 involved reelection bids by a sitting president, and in two of them the third-party candidate was motivated in some measure by personal spite. Theodore Roosevelt was the only one among the challengers to win votes in the Electoral College. He humiliated Taft by winning six states with 88 electoral votes to two states for Taft with a paltry eight electoral votes. Those results were, however, the sideshow. Wilson carried 40 states with 435 electoral votes thanks to the division within Republican ranks.

Other third-party candidacies have not had a demonstrable effect on the outcome. Republican Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin was the Progressive candidate for president in 1924. His opponents - incumbent president Calvin Coolidge (R) and former Ambassador John W. Davis (D) - were both conservatives. The progressivism of La Follette rang hollow with an electorate enjoying the good times of the Roaring Twenties. He won his home state, Davis carried the states of the old Confederacy plus Oklahoma, and Silent Cal won the remainder with 54 percent of the popular vote.

Twenty-four years later, former Vice President Henry Wallace led the Progressive ticket to an ignominious defeat in a four-candidate race. He carried no state and won a little more than two percent of the popular vote. The fourth candidate - South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond - running on a State's Rights platform carried four Deep South states. Incumbent Harry Truman won slightly less than half of the popular vote, but that was good enough to win 303 electoral votes.

The third-party candidacy of George Wallace in 1968 did not tip the election, but it did set the terms of much of the debate in the campaign and generate plenty of angst in both major parties. The five states that Wallace carried - all in the Deep South - would by most accounts have gone to Nixon in the absence of the Wallace candidacy. Be that as it may, President Nixon didn't leave that to chance four years later.

Of the six presidential campaigns in which third party candidacies played a role, all but that of 1892 were a result of fissures within the governing party. Although Benjamin Harrison had been challenged for renomination by James G. Blaine, the unsuccessful Republican candidate in 1884, his loss in the general election was not so much a reflection of party division as it was of the populist rebellion which crossed party lines and led four years later to the disruption of the Democratic Party and the nomination of William Jennings Bryan.

On first glance, the election of 1968 is the only one of the six contests that did not involve a challenge to a sitting president from within his party. Probing deeper, however, it may be argued that the candidacy of Democrat George Wallace was initiated in anticipation of a reelection bid by the sitting Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson. On this analysis, the Wallace challenge conformed to the historic pattern.

A serious third-party challenge by either Donald Trump or a rump element of anti-Trump neoconservatives would be the first of its kind since the days of Andrew Jackson. If history is any guide, it would likely assure the election of Hillary Clinton and engender a level of intra-party bitterness not seen since the election of 1912. The odds are, however, that it would not change the trajectory of the political forces that have led us to this point. Of course, those waging the battle will see it as a pivot point of History, a noble struggle for the good of humankind. Teddy Roosevelt set the tone for such ennobled challenges when he closed his address to the Progressive national convention of 1912 by assuring his followers,"We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord."

He lost, the country survived, and the Lord seems not to have noticed.

_________

Tom Charles Huston, J.D., a history buff and adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review residing in Indianapolis, is a former associate counsel to the president of the United States.
The Indiana Policy Review Foundation is a non-profit education foundation focused on state and municipal issues. It is free of outside control by any individual, organization or group. It exists solely to conduct and distribute research on Indiana issues. Nothing written here is to be construed as reflecting the views of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the legislature or to further any political campaign.

March 8, 2016

ISTEP fails to measure everything that really matters

by Craig Ladwig

What will the world look like after ISTEP? Not bad, actually. We lose another inane acronym and might even see some innovation and direct teacher-to-student learning.
For example, TROY Center in Columbia City boasts a student body on whom the education system has given up -- low test scores, bad actors, individuals identified as headed down the wrong path. But they graduate thanking their lucky stars they got into trouble. In the poignant phrase of one of the students, the school taught her what a family "looks like."
What if this school, statewide testing or not, has discovered the key to more effectively educating not only troubled children but all children -- along the full range of adolescent difficulty, poor or wealthy, loved or not, from nuclear families as well as from the alternative arrangements of what has become a social hodgepodge?
That question is asked knowing that the generation headed our way, to quote the school's director, "comes from a very mixed bag and with a lot of baggage." Less than half will have been raised in a family that can even be loosely described as intact.  Even fewer -- far, far fewer -- will have been properly introduced to the values that have guided our civilization for the last thousand years.
Considering social change of such magnitude, it is not extreme to expect those who manage our school system, who design the methods we use to civilize the next generation, to make some adjustments. But if you have followed the history of ISTEP these last two decades, you will not be shocked to hear that they have not made those adjustments.
The traditional classroom has remained systemically unchanged since the one-room schoolhouse  -- 20 or so students in rows facing a teacher at the front of the class "teaching to the test." If a student rebels at this dismal prospect, he or she is out of luck -- or  reclassified, or given a degraded degree or simply graduated to make room on what is a sinking ship.
An indication of how poorly this is working is the tortured attempts to manipulate the very measures that were supposed to test the efficacy of the system. It seems like every officeholder is desperate for statistical evidence to say things are "getting better" -- even if the evidence has to be manufactured.
In fact, things are getting worse. Some are cynical enough to believe that those in the upper ranges of the education establishment are OK with that; they have figured out how to make a career out of perpetual failure. But even if you don't particularly care about the students themselves, you might be interested in what this failure of educational method is doing to your economy.
Research shows that too many of today's graduates do not have the "soft skills" required in a workplace. In other words, even setting aside the vagaries of ambition and work ethic, we are in danger of ending up with a labor force whose members cannot communicate and get along with their fellow workers, accept supervision or criticism, stay on task and complete jobs on time. These are the skills taught at schools like TROY Center, skills that ISTEP never tested.
We learn the "soft skills" from trusted adults, sometimes parents but not necessarily. These cannot be summoned like fairy godmothers, they cannot even be assigned or hired in time to make much of a difference. If you don't have one, you're going to have to figure out things on your own.
TROY has worked out a system to help young people do just that. Again, the school shows lost or rejected children what it "looks like" to have a trusted adult nearby. No, that does not replace missing or overwhelmed parents. It does, however, put children in a position of hope for at least long enough to be taught what they will need to know to live productively in a free society.
If this strikes you as expensive, you are correct. Individual counselors are needed to guide these students down a customized, flexible path to a degree. But the times leave us little choice. The sociologist Charles Murray and others have painted a detailed and grim picture of the societal division and misery that will otherwise ensue.
Now to the really good news. There are economically responsible ways to pay for all of this.
The first is a combination of tax credits and charitable donations to private schools such as TROY. This could be greatly improved in Indiana by adoption of what our adjunct Lisa Snell calls a weighted student formula for funding education. In such a system, the state education budget can remain the same but individual students carry their funding with them to the school building, private or public, of their choice. Some carry more and some less, weighted as to the cost of their particular education needs. A student with a speech or reading problem, for example, would carry more than one without.
For those who want to avoid the politics and bureaucracy of public education altogether, another adjunct of the foundation has worked out a minimalist private school. Using cyberspace innovation and donated space in churches and other nonprofits, Ron Reinking, a certified public account, can show you a worksheet that reflects costs per students in hundreds of dollars rather than thousands.
So before education falls into utter disrepair and takes our economy with it, someone might want to see what the alternatives to certain disaster might "look like."

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.