The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Terrible Candidate with a Terrible Idea, by Any Metric

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

A Terrible Candidate with a Terrible Idea, by Any Metric

Ladies and gentlemen, the worst idea from any presidential “contender” in a young cycle that has already offered many of them.

[Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln] Chafee also pledged to end capital punishment, re-think the war on drugs, and adopt the metric system.

What is it with these big-government liberals? You give them an inch centimeter, and they take a mile kilometer.

You shut your big ten-centimeter-wide mouth, Lincoln Chafee. You will get my American system ruler when you pry it from my cold dead hand – and that’s cold in Fahrenheit, not Centigrade! Somebody tries to force me to change every form of measurement I have, I will pound kilogram them into the ground! They will feel my foot meter on their tush! Hello?! Even the good progressives at Yuppie Acres Hectares won’t accept this!

Look, I’m not gonna read Ray Bradbury’s Celsius 232.78. You can’t make the Proclaimers walk 804 kilometers and make them walk 804 kilometers more. We will not watch an HBO series about morticians entitled 1.83 Meters Under. Trent Reznor’s band is not going to be 22.86 Centimeter Nails. You go tell Eminem that he’s from 12.87 Kilometers, see how that works out for you! And if Sammy Hagar can’t drive 55, he sure as heck can’t drive 88.51!

It’s enough to drive a man to drink; I could use a pint right now.

You know what comes in “kilos”? Drugs. Every other line of dialogue from Edward James Olmos’s Lieutenant Castillo on Miami Vice featured his gravelly voice tersely announcing how many kilos were being moved in the upcoming drug deal or how many kilos had been found at the bust.

Look at this man. He’s miserable, because he has to use the metric system all day.

If I have to get stuck talking to somebody at a party, give me the relentless European soccer enthusiast, bring me the gal who uses foreign phrases for no particular reason, call over the guy who has to mention he studied abroad in every conversation. Just spare me the Metric System Evangelists. Being a vocal enthusiast for the metric system is just about the biggest hipster-indicator imaginable. “I use a really obscure measurement system, you wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s really big in Europe. I mean, ten times as big.”

You know why I don’t want to have to figure out what everything is under metric measurements? Because I like knowing that the weather is good when it’s 70 degrees outside, that my kids will go through a gallon of milk a week, that you don’t see 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL very often anymore, that a 400-foot home run is a monster, and that my Fitbit is going to say good job when I’ve walked five miles. I am not doing math a hundred times a day in every aspect of my life so that Lincoln Chafee can suck up to Europeans.

Metric-system advocates keep insisting that their system is easier – but it clearly is not “easier” when the vast majority of the population has to abandon the entire measurement system and frame of reference they’ve used since childhood and recalculate every distance, every weight, every volume, and every area they encounter.

You know why Chafee wants to destroy our feet, miles, and inches? Because before President Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet Union, he defeated the metric system. Frank Mankiewicz:

By 1980, after playing a major role in the presidential campaigns of Reagan in 1976 and 1980, Lyn became the assistant to President Reagan for political affairs.

So, during that first year of Reagan’s presidency, I sent Lyn another copy of a column I had written a few years before, attacking and satirizing the attempt by some organized do-gooders to inflict the metric system on Americans, a view of mine Lyn had enthusiastically endorsed. So, in 1981, when I reminded him that a commission actually existed to further the adoption of the metric system and the damage we both felt this could wreak on our country, Lyn went to work with material provided by each of us. He was able, he told me, to prevail on the president to dissolve the commission and make sure that, at least in the Reagan presidency, there would be no further effort to sell metric.

It was a signal victory, but one which we recognized would have to be shared only between the two of us, lest public opinion once again began to head toward metrification.

Seth Stevenson:

It’s no shock that a conservative fellow like Tom Wolfe would become the customary measures’ knight in shining white linen. Those old-school measures are ancient and organic. Metric (or, as it’s officially known, the système international) is a modern invention imposed by big, bureaucratic governments. Metric’s origins are — sacré bleu! — French, dating to the 18th century, a product of the pie-eyed idealism of the revolutionary age. Enlightened intellectuals decided they knew best, and that metric could replace those displeasingly irrational, higgledy-piggledy systems of yore. To hell with any confused peasants who failed to adopt it. “To savants,” writes Marciano, “the fault lay not with the metric system but the people who refused to accept it. Any criticism — such as suggesting that the prefix system was too complicated for the average citizen — was met with harsh rebuke.” The elites were convinced that unified standards of measurement would promote smoother trade and bring the world together. And they weren’t wrong.

But that continental arrogance didn’t play as well in America. Particularly in wounded, late-1970s America, at a time when the economy was hurting and the nation’s pride had taken a few hits. The big push to impose metric under the Ford administration was met with resistance based in part on pragmatism (the taxpayer costs of switching; the general lack of enthusiasm in the populace) and in part on defiant nationalism. “There were those who considered metric conversion to be unpatriotic,” writes Marciano. No less a figure than the director of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame declared metric was “definitely communist.”

Really, when you see a headline like “Lincoln Chafee Calls for Peace, Metric System in 2016 Announcement,” it’s quite clear that he doesn’t really want to bother with topics like the national debt, crappy public schools, the breakdown of the family, a gargantuan, complicated tax code, energy independence, border security, or any of that. No, no, he’s going to save us from inches, gallons, and miles.

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