Both political parties will struggle with their pasts in this presidential cycle. Republicans face a crossroads in which they must choose between their eminences grises or their emerging young bench from their gubernatorial and Senate ranks. Democrats seem almost obsessed with appointing a 69-year-old compromised relic from the 90s as their nominee on Election Day. One man, at one time or another an officeholder in both parties, stands outside the noise of our time to remind us all of America’s true need … to refight a battle from the 1970s:
In a presidential campaign turning largely on stagnant incomes and national security, Lincoln Chafee announced his bid for the White House on Wednesday with an unusual policy stance: He called for adoption of the metric system.
Mr. Chafee, a former Republican and independent who is seeking the Democratic nomination, cast the proposal as a step toward global comity. “Here’s a bold embrace of internationalism: let’s join the rest of the world and go metric,” Mr. Chafee said at his campaign kickoff in Virginia. …
Mr. Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor and senator, said that the U.S.’s insistence on using inches, feet, quarts and gallons set the country apart from the global community. He described the process of converting to metric as “easy.”
As a model, Mr. Chafee pointed to Canada, where he also said that he has lived.
“Only Myanmar, Liberia and the U.S. aren’t metric. And it will help our economy,” he said.
For Hot Air readers too young to recall this, the US attempted to convert to the metric system in the mid-1970s. The Wall Street Journal diplomatically notes that adoption of the system was “scant,” even after the Metric Conversion Act passed Congress in 1975. It wasn’t for a lack of trying; road signs with dual measures began popping up all over the US, and academics tried mightily to convince everyone that metric was cooler than the US customary measures.
It flopped, though, because no one wanted to overhaul their lives to change from one arbitrary but highly familiar system of measurement to another slightly less arbitrary system. The main difference between the two is that metric uses decimals throughout its system — but the length, volume, and degree measures for the basis of metric is just as arbitrary as any other system, at least practically speaking for most users. Few saw the point of it, and even more, fewer understood why the US should spend its time dealing with that kind of overhaul in the middle of an economic downturn, a political crisis, and the Cold War. We had better things to do, and in 1982 few mourned the closure of the federal bureau opened to shepherd the US into the Metric Millenium.
The same holds true today. America has lots of issues and more than a few crises to address, but the enduring mystery of the gallon is not one of them. One cannot help but be impressed with the effort Chafee has put into looking utterly irrelevant, as he has succeeded as a performance artist doing a satire on politics in a way no one since Pat Paulsen has. Unfortunately, Chafee seems to be the only one not in on the joke:
Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee did not give a centimeter on his defense of the metric system Thursday, touting the economic benefits and the symbolic importance of the United States joining the rest of the world in implementing the measurement scale.
“People say it’s expensive, but the economic benefits outweigh the cost of changing the signs and the light … I think the chambers of commerce, the scientific community, the defense on metric, they’d agree with that,” the former Rhode Island governor said in an interview with CNN’s “New Day.”
Changing over to the metric system is “one of many things” the U.S. should do to become more international, he said, noting as he did on Wednesday that the U.S. is alone with Myanmar and Liberia as the only countries still not using the system. He did not go into further detail.
Given that his other big campaign issue is the 2003 Iraq War, perhaps we can arrange a special election for honorary former President, and Chafee can choose any cycle from 1976 to 2004 as his preferred era. The only requirement would be that he retire from public life after winning. At this rate, Chafee would win that election by a country … kilometer.