A Divided Nation Looks to Metric Crank to Bind Wounds

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island.  Residents of the smallest state in the Union often feel like country cousins at the Thanksgiving Dinner of American politics since their vote is worth only four electoral votes for President.  “It’s a shame,” says Vin Barbuto of B&M Scrap & Salvage of Woonsocket.  “We’re the only state that has coffee milk as its state drink, you’d think that would make a great photo op on the campaign trail.”


Coffee milk: Official drink of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

 

But there is hope in the air, and a feeling that 2020 might be the year that “Little Rhody,” as the state is affectionately known, takes its place on the national stage.  “When other states come up with a favorite son candidate, it’s usually a first-ballot-and-out loser who graciously concedes to a better-known politician,” says Professor McNeil Freeson of St. Lisa’s College in Swansea, Massachusetts.  “Rhode Island on the other hand has a favorite son loser who dropped out even before the primaries started.”


Chafee:  “The economy, national defense–these are Mickey Mouse issues next to the metric system.”

Freeson is referring to Lincoln Chafee, the former U.S. Senator and Governor of Rhode Island whose quixotic campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton crashed and burned when it failed to capture the imagination of Democratic voters, who thought the recent party-switcher was still a Republican.  At a time when President Donald Trump’s approval rating is at an all-time low while the Democratic Party has only $6.3 million in the bank to the Republican Party’s $40 million, Chafee hopes to offer an alternative to voters disgusted with both ends of the political spectrum.  “He tends to poll best among very confused people,” says Freeson.  “And metric cranks.”

Chafee was the only candidate in the 2016 presidential race to make a U.S. conversion to the metric system of weights and measures part of his platform, an anomaly that some say makes him a dark-horse to pass current party favorites Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are Johnny-and-Janie-come-latelys to the issue.  “As a boy, I struggled with the ‘American customary’ system,” says Mark Mickelvene of Pawtucket.  “How many rods in a foot, how many chains in a gallon–nobody can keep ’em straight.”


Sanders:  “Is this one foot?  Two feet?  A yard?  Who the hell knows!”

 

The metric system, by contrast, has been adopted in the overwhelming majority of countries around the world because of its simplicity, a fact that Chafee tells a group of tool and die manufacturers should make it an appealing issue.  “Any time you can take something complex like our current system, and make it so simple that a person of limited intelligence can understand it,” Chafee says, “you have a winner.”

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