Monday, December 12, 2011
"North Dakota": The Great American Lie
The following is Part 1 of a 2 or 3 Part series (I haven’t decided yet):
Bigfoot. Pictures of Carrie Underwood that don’t give me a semi. The Tooth Fairy. North Dakota. What do all of these things have in common? They don’t exist. Especially not North Dakota.
“Why make up a state, Chris?” you ask, in all of your gullible glory.
"Political cronyism" is the short answer, but I'm too long-winded to just leave it at that.
So, here we go:
Part 1: Cleveland Rocks? A History of Corruption in a Mythical Realm
The year was 1888, and the incumbent President of the United States of America, Grover Cleveland, found himself in a heated campaign with the Republican challenger, Benjamin Harrison. It was a long, hot summer of intense campaigning that year, but as October rolled around, the President found himself ahead of his opponent by 13 percentage points in a Rasmussen Poll. With a comfortable lead, the incumbency advantage, and the security of an 8 point lead in his home state - the traditionally Republican New York, Cleveland rested on his laurels.
Harrison’s campaign manager, James Dakota, did not sleep much after Labor Day of 1888. He knew that with 4 years of peace and prosperity during the Cleveland administration, it would be difficult to defeat the president in the popular vote. Dakota frequently told aides that if he could just win Cleveland’s native New York with her precious 36 electoral votes, victory could be possible even without the popular vote. He just needed to find that magical corruption-carrot to dangle in front of the horse that WAS the the New York Electoral College.
Dakota knew that several members of the New York State Legislature had national political ambitions, but the oligarchical hierarchy in New York politics at the close of the Gilded Age created a virtually impenetrable ceiling. In order to realize these ambitions, such men would have to move to another state…or would they?..?...Jim Dakota had his carrot of corruption.
A desperate man, with a desperate plan, but without a desperate canal, the embattled Dakota reached across the aisle to then-Speaker of the House, Democrat John Griffin Carlisle (Kentucky-6), and the two concocted a devious plan.
When Dakota initially pitched the idea of a fake state to Carlisle, it was met with fierce resistance. However, in the corrupt culture of 19th century government, such schemes did not seem as far-fetched as they may today, and, in the words of their contemporaries, the Australian philosophers Alternating Current/Direct Current (AC/DC), “Money talks.”
The men hashed out the details:
“I mean, what the hell do I call this made up state, Dakota?” asked the Speaker.
“Yes,” replied Dakota, always quick to take advantage of linguistic ambiguity.
Portions of the Minnesota and Montana territories that were unsettled save for nomadic native tribes would be the lands that the men claimed were the Dakotas. The difficulty of travel in those times made this an easy lie to pull off; politicians in the nation’s capital were unlikely to ever make the arduous trip to the region. It would be an easy sell to the public for the same reason.
The “settlers” who would petition Congress for statehood were actually ambitious New York politicians, who, in exchange for increased influence and political opportunity, would ensure that all 36 electoral votes from their state would be cast for Harrison.
In exchange for Carlisle’s efforts in pushing the statehood proposal through Congress, he would receive an annual stipend from federally funded “projects” budgeted for the “state.” Also, the electoral votes allocated to the state in the next election (that of 1892) would be cast for the Democratic candidate. Carlisle found the plan so ingenious and beneficial to himself and his party that he decided to double his take by creating TWO states, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
New York politicians had their outlet to expand their influence. Carlisle was paid out millions. Harrison became President of the United States of America without winning the popular vote. “North Dakota” was born.
The tradition of the Speaker of the House controlling “the Dakotas” has continued to this day. Incumbent politicians (those in on The Great Lie) use political offices in “the Dakotas” to lure donors and federally budgeted funds to “bring home the goods” for members of their party and ensure incumbency advantage.
Tomorrow, Part 2: The Dakotas Today: The Maps, The Pictures, The People, The Lie