Monday, February 25, 2019

Was the Constitution a Mistake?

You knew it was coming. Those who bow down to the goddess of democracy now take serious offense, not merely at the Electoral College, but at the United States Senate. Michael Tomasky has just sounded the alarm and we should pay attention to what he says. Because if today’s radicalized Democratic Party has its way, we will scrap the Constitution and the Senate and the Electoral College… in favor of a mass democracy, that would be, government by referenda.

Apparently, Tomasky, whose book If We Can Keep It was just reviewed by Jason Zengerle in the New York Times, confuses republican government with democracy. A republic is distinguished from monarchy because people, or at least some of the people, choose representatives. These representatives govern, but they are not forced to do exactly what their constituents want them to do. Naturally, if they stray too far from their campaign promises they can be recalled. Or they can be voted out of office at the first electoral opportunity. 

But this is not the same thing as a democratic system where the people decide. One remarks, with some chagrin, that in today's America, if the people vote in a referendum for a policy that certain people disapprove of, they will immediately have the referendum overturned by a federal judge. In many cases, the American rule of law has been replaced by the rule of lawyers, that is, the rule of judges.

When Tomasky suggests that the American republic is insufficiently democratic, he is making a couple of serious mistakes and trafficking in confusion. Confusion between a republic and a democracy. His book's title, If You Can Keep It, was part of a sentence uttered by Benjamin Franklin, who stated that the constitutional convention had given the nation: "a republic, if you can keep it." 

On the other hand, he is correct to point out that political parties, which he largely disapproves of, are far more polarized than ever before. By his faulty reasoning this explains why America elected Donald Trump to the presidency. Ergo, he concludes a Constitution that would allow us to elect Donald Trump is fundamentally flawed. We can ignore the fact that the Constitution has been amended and reinterpreted over the centuries, and that we may certainly do so in the future. Providing that we respect the genius of the document, not cavil about its mistakes.

Zengerle summarizes Tomasky’s arguments, thus sparing us the travail of having to read the book:

He contends that the founders, with the Connecticut Compromise, designed a fatally flawed system for our federal legislature. By mandating that the Senate be made up of two representatives from each state, they gave outsize influence to sparsely populated states. As for the House of Representatives, a blasé attitude about maintaining districts of equal size led to inequality, with rural areas of 10,000 constituents having the same representation as urban ones with 50,000 constituents. This situation only changed with a 1964 Supreme Court decision mandating “one person, one vote.” “The founders were visionaries,” Tomasky writes. “But they were human. They made some mistakes.”

Oversized influence… Heaven forfend. On the other side, the founders wanted to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. And from the possibility that large states take advantage of smaller states. A system that has worked more or less well for over two centuries should not be dismissed quite so glibly.

Tomasky has a top down view of politics. He argues, not unpersuasively, that our willingness to take on debt, both personal and national debt, derives from a court decision from 1978, one that I, for one, had ignored.

Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp. (1978) was “a pulverizingly dull case,” which ruled that banks should abide by the usury laws of the state in which they were chartered, not where their customers lived. By making this change, the court drove banks to move to states with the lowest, or even no, interest rate regulations, leading to an explosion in the credit card business and, as a result, an explosion in consumer debt. Where Americans had once cherished “thrift, discipline, doing without,” Tomasky writes, “in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans started to become a different people than they had been.” He adds: “Our consumer selves have overwhelmed our citizen selves.”

It’s interesting to identify something resembling a proximate cause of America’s love of debt, and especially of its unconcern about paying the debt. While America did recover from the massive debt it took on to fight World War II, it has not yet recovered from the debt taken on during the Vietnam War, when the nation decided that it could afford what was at the time called guns and butter. As for spending the nation into oblivion by massive indebtedness, Tomasky might have mentioned the national champion of debt creation, the Obama presidency. In the space of eight years Barack Obama roughly doubled the debt that the nation had accumulated from the time of George Washington.

We can blame it on a court decision or we can blame it on profligate politicians. We can also blame it on voters who do not understand the workings of debt… voters who the original constitution did not allow to vote.

As for the current state of polarization, the Democratic Party has been leading the way. It has refused to accept the legitimacy of a duly and fairly elected president. Thus, if we were to try to understand why the system is breaking down, we should point out that, today’s Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton and other incompetent frauds, do not respect the results of elections that they do not win. Rarely has the Republican Party shown such overwhelming contempt and disrespect for a duly elected Democratic president.

Tomasky blames it on social forces, on inchoate ideas that have infected and corrupted the system. One might say that the nation has been infected by ideology because ideology is easier to understand and easier to sell to the masses. We have gotten to the point where an imbecile like Alexandria Occasional-Cortex is a leader of one of America's great political parties.

Zengerle explains:

His second point is that will is “the most overrated commodity in politics.” “It’s useless to hope that politicians can just go back to getting along the way they once did,” Tomasky writes. “They didn’t get along better in the old days because they were nicer people, or because they had the will to do so. They got along better because a particular set of historical forces and circumstances produced a degree of social cohesion that called on them to cooperate more. Today, a totally different set of historical forces and circumstances exist.”

Happily for all of us, Tomasky does not blame politicians. In a Hegelian flourish, he blames historical forces, forces beyond our control. Being a good liberal Democrat, he should have asked what his own party is contributing to the crisis. It’s called taking responsibility.


UbuMaccabee said...

Harry V. Jaffa died in 2015. With every year since 2015, we get further and further afield. Crazy notions that were once consigned to a radical fringe of malcontents and revolutionaries are now percolating among the major players in the Democratic Party. They openly expressed dissatisfaction with the electoral college, and naturally the same idiots now question the US Senate.

trigger warning said...

If one is curious about the effects of Mass Democracy and loss of Senate (and Constitutional) protection for minority constituencies (e.g., Wyoming), consider NY, IL, and CA. Megalopolises in those states mean that the entire state is politically dominated by urban interests, and the productive population is ruled - and largely destroyed - by the consumptive (both economically and intellectually) population. OTOH, witless consumers like Overwrought-Corset dictating to farmers and other productive citizens will hasten the demise of said democracy. I'll wager just about any 19th Century rural Yorkshireman could have predicted the consequences of seating a tavern wench in Parliament.

As far as politicians "getting along", let us not forget that a sitting Vice President shot a former Secretary of the Treasury to death in 1804 (and was indicted for murder in NJ and NY), and the savage caning of Sen Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber in 1856. The Nation (11/2018) published an interesting article on the history of political (in)civility in Congress that's worth reading.

Ares Olympus said...

Of course the constitution has a mechanism for reform called amendments. Our last new amendment was in 1992 stopped congress from increasing their own salary until after next house election and in 1971 before that allowed 18 year olds to vote.

There's no reason we couldn't have an amendment that elects the president by a national public vote, just like the the 17th did in 1912 for the Senate into a popular vote. Statesmen have always felt repulsed by the idea of submitting themselves to the fickle mob of public opinion.

The reform I might choose would be to give the Electoral college a conscience, picking electors in proportion to each state's popular vote, and then if there is no majority winner, weaker candidates can withdraw and let the conscience of each Elector move their vote to a compromise choice. I imagine the founding fathers would approve, and given a half dozen "faithless" electors in 2016, perhaps more will follow in the future.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ummmm.... we are NOT a democracy. Never have been. This may come as a surprise to people.

I noticed Lefties were going in this direction about 8-10 years ago, when they began complaining about “The System.” Guess the Constitution isn’t good enough for the smarty-pants analytical technocrats. They have better ideas. They have it all figured out. Great ideas. Superior ideas. It’ll be awesome! They just won’t tell you what they are.

We must do something because we’re in a “crisis.” Yet they say we’re always in a “crisis.” About everything. “Democracy is dying!” Barf.

We live in a constitutionally-limited federal republic. We are NOT a democracy. Democracy is a patently stupid idea. Democracy is rule by the mob. Democracy is how you get the French Revolution. Most of the world lives under a system called parliamentary democracy. It yields two outcomes: (1) single-party rule or (2) bizarre coalition governments. Single-party rule is enforced in countries like the United Kingdom through the whip system. Keep the party in line. With the party in line, you can do whatever you want. And that is a patently stupid form of government, because there is no check on power until the ruling party calls for another election. That’s right... the RULING party calls for the election. Great gig, huh? Then you have coalition governments — the prime example is Israel (or Italy). The Israeli Knesset is a preposterous way to run a country. Coalition governments of people with hardly anything in common. Running your life. Fun!

Yet that’s the way most of the world is run. Good for them. Not here.

Most of the recent examples of Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — in the post-Reconstruction era — have been silly, ill-conceived, and harmful. The 17th Amendment (Direct Election of Senators) was a disaster for our country. It removed the last bulwark preventing federalization of everything. As were all the Progressive Amendments. How do you like how the income tax is working out? The Brights (e.g., Woodrow Wilson) thought they knew better because they believed in the perfectability of man. Golly, were they wrong. Prohibition was certainly a lesson in dissonant reality. By the way, the 27th Amendment wasn’t a Progressive Amendment — it was proposed in 1789. And the idea that 18-year-olds should have the right to vote indicates an extraordinary lack of wisdom.

D.C. should have no Electoral votes. Zero. Nada. None. They already have enough power. Don’t like it? Move out of the District. Think Wyoming’s Electoral votes are crazy? Explain how a 10-mile by 10-mile postage stamp of a “state” with access to the Federal Pulse deserves an equal number of representatives. That’s a self-evidently stupid idea. Oh, that’s right... the smart people live there. Believe that?

The Electoral College is brilliant, particularly in these times. It is a prophylactic to contain flagrant ballot-stuffing and nutty voting laws within a given State. It sets limits (Lefties don’t like limits). So if a State like Xanadu has a population with 12,000,000 registered voters and the election returns come back with 7,000,000 votes for the Democrat candidate and 6,000,000 for the Republican, we can contain the obvious damage to one state. But those extra 1,000,000 ought not be allowed in some national vote tally. The fraud is obvious. It’s called math.

Electors receive less scrutiny than any other item on the State ballot. A “conscience” Elector is a laughable idea. The only reason one could possibly think it a could idea is because they are consumed in TDS.

Everything government touches is ruined. Our political class should have as little power as possible. How this is not self-evident is beyond me.

Look at Venezuela. People like Tomasky, Alpert, et al are not of this world. They live in an alternate reality I do not want to live in, because THEY will be in charge. And then we’ll all be equally miserable.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Here’s an interesting point...
Let’s do a North American comparison...

Most people do not realize how strong/powerful the provinces are in Canada. Now, Canada is a parliamentary democracy (as per my previous point), but the provinces have a lot of say in culture, economics, administration and law. It’s quite federal, at least in structure.

Prince Edward Island (PEI) accounts fo 0.1% of Canada’s landmass. Keep in mind the vast majority of Canada’s landmass is uninhabited. 75% of Canada’s population lives within 60 miles of the United States border.


PEI is a small province, geographically removed from the rest of Canada. Isolated, in many ways. Now, should PEI be able to have a disproportionate control over national decisions? I don’t know. It depends on how the Canadians have decided to structure their government. But should PEI have a disproportionate control to PREVENT national interests, fervors, fads and other nonsense foisted upon them by the vast majority of other Canadians?

Yes, I believe they deserve that kind of protection. They are a province, not some geographic enclave.

The same goes for a U.S. State. That’s why the 17th Amendment is such an affront to State sovereignty. We should be able to conduct our own interests with limited interference from the Federal government, as the Framers had envisioned. But we have these Progressive activists and all-powerful judges to tell us otherwise. And media figures to disproportionately amplify their nutty, fringe views. The media is 90%+ Democrat. Trump coverage is 94% negative. Go figure.

Democracy is a ludicrous proposition, foisted on the minority when the majority is in control — or has disproportionate influence (media control). Democracy is inherently un-American. It’s one of the reasons I am not happy about the end of the filibuster for judicial nominees, but the original idea behind the Senate rule is lost and has been abused. Unfortunate, but true. Keep in mind that the filibuster specifically is not found in the Constitution, but is rather a Senate rule. That’s a bit different than what Democrat politicians will tell you.

And did you know the Apple spellchecker wants to constantly replace “un-American” with “U.N-American”? It’s almost impossible to avoid. Disturbing, but more of the same.

And keep in mind that Washington, District of Columbia, os 0.0018% of the United States landmass. You don’t hear many people talking about that. That’s actually less in landmass than Senator Fauxcahontas is Native American (0.098%).

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Lastly, the other thing Tomasky neglects is the key word in the Connecticut Compromise — the word “Compromise.” What on earth were they compromising on?

This recommendation was offered by the Connecticut delegation as a counter to the Virginia Plan, as imagined and architected by James Madison, and offered by the Virginia delegation on his behalf.

Madison was a Virginia planter/politician, educated at Princeton. He was small, frail, and soft-spoken (barely audible). Alas, we are left with his reflections of the Convention, as the official recording secretary (William Jackson) was awful at his job. All other record-keeping was forbidden (any papers kept were burned at the conclusion of each day). Yet Madison kept his own journal (now the “official” record). While undeniably bright and of impressive mind, Madison was bookish, theoretical, and hopelessly single-minded about his plan. His plan was entirely based on majority rule — for the benefit of Virginia.

If you study the Constitutional Convention, you learn that the Founders spent months agonizing about the Virginia Plan, mostly because of Madison’s unrelenting attachment to it. He kept saying the same things over and over and over — literally for hours and hours, again and again. All the while, he was clueless about the smaller states’ concerns about being consumed in the big, swirling vortex of the larger states’ machinations and economic preferences. The big States (Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts) were trying to get beyond the Articles of Confederation to subsume the smaller States’ power (single-State veto). And the smaller States knew it. Hence, their hostile resistance. Would you give that kind of leverage up without a fight (a.k.a., the “greater good of the nation”)?

Consider: Is it sane to believe that the economic interests of South Carolina might be demonstrably different than those of Massachusetts? And if so, why should the legislative power of one consume the interests of the other? That makes ZERO sense. We’re a nation, not a monolith determined by the State with the largest population. Consider that California is currently undergoing political, economic, demographic, intellectual and regulatory suicide. It’s the most-populous State in the Union. Anyone want to abide by those laws and regulations? Should we have a Californian one-size-fits-all Federal government because Californians say so? As of the 2010 Census, California represents 12% of of the U.S. population.

The Virginia Plan of 1787 was a great plan for Virginia, and a disaster for every other State. Certainly, Virginia was the largest State at the time, but it was less than 20% of the population (and remember: almost 40% of the Virginia population was enslaved) in the first U.S. Census of 1790. Should the chosen representatives of 20% of the new nation’s population have been able to determine the political structure of the entire new nation? When so many had fought and suffered for the cause of Independence (1775-1783)? Does that make sense to anybody?


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...


Consider that people like Tomasky are themselves an extraordinarily small part of the American population. They are more aligned with James Madison than the population they “serve” or claim to “represent the interests of...” They are intellectual, elitist and removed from the vast majority of the people. They couldn’t do the work of a skilled tradesman if their lives depended on it. They couldn’t (and wouldn’t) fight in a war. They couldn’t cart their kids around to this-and-that activity. They couldn’t do the normal stuff that makes life livable for the rest of us.

So... who the hell are THEY to tell us what the best political system is for us? As though their ideas are the embodiment of some magnificent mousetrap that will solve all the world’s problems? It’s a lie. A disgusting, silly and cruel lie. And such people should be ashamed of themselves. But won’t be. Because they’re “smart.”

Why am I writing all this about this topic? I believe very strongly that the United States Constitution is the most amazing document of political structure ever devised. I believe it is elegantly simple, yet the story of its construction was humanly complex. Furthermore, in reading the debates on the Constitution, I have concluded that the 1787-89 Ratification Debates were incredibly robust, thoughtful,and nuanced — and almost identical to the structural political debates we have today. The idea that these ideas should be eschewed because they were devised by 18th-century, white, male, elitist, slave-owning boobs is repugnant. Those leaders created the shortest national constitution in existence today, and the most enduring. That says something. They considered the highest possibilities of mankind, and balanced it with the unfortunate realities of mankind. That is unique. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs to have their premises (and thinking) examined... by YOU. Because you — the readers of this blog — are the only ones who are ever going to do it. God bless you!

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares: Read the United States Constitution.

If there is no clear Electoral Collage winner, according to the Constitution, the presidential election goes to the House of Representatives. They make the decision. No need to make the Elector Collegian the hero. The political process is all spelled out. As it should be. So no, the Founding Fathers would not approve of your idea — they made the decision 232 years ago. It’s all covered in Article II, Sections 1-2 (within relevant clauses). And the 12th Amendment further spells this out. No Elector’s “conscience” is required. Thank God.

That’s why I find all this “third party” talk so amusing — the mystical dalliance that will break our addiction to the two-party system. The Framers didn’t really envision a two-party system. The system they created doesn’t readily give life to a third party. The last threat to the two-party system was the Republican Party in... 1860. The Republicans won, with a straight-up Electoral College win for Abraham Lincoln. No need to go to the House of Representatives.

And all these people who talk about Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg can keep dreaming. Could either man carry a State on his own? I think not. Oprah couldn’t carry anything but Illinois. Examples are legion... Bull Moose, Eugene Debs, Dixiecrats, John Anderson, Ross Perot.

The Electoral College is good for the stability of our Republic. It helps a lot. But that depends on whether you believe in the greater good. I mean the REAL greater good. Last time we thought that was stupid, 750,000+ Americans had to die.

I must say I do hope a presidential election goes to the House of Representatives in my lifetime. Why? Because I absolutely cannot wait to watch the apoplexy that will burst forth when the people of the State of California realize their House caucus will have to huddle-up and cast their ONE collective vote for President fo the United States. One state, one vote. So un-democratic. Such an affront to the voters of California (and other large, populous states). Too bad, so sad. Them’s the rules. Cast them aside, and you’ll kick up a hornet’s nest of angry people from the American Heartland, who’ve been playing by the rules all these many years.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I have allowed this run on essay, but I will point out, as some have already pointed out, that the comments section is not the place for essay-length remarks. Henceforth I will reject any comments that are not brief and concise.

Anonymous said...

Kudos IAC,

Ares might try understanding what Lincon meant when he described the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as"an apple of gold" and the "picture" of silver. Reading Jefferson's "A Summary View of the Rights of British America," which was penned in July 1774. Just an understanding of the history of this country and the reasons the Founders made the decisions they made would be instructive. Those reasons et al., have not really changed because human beings have not really changed. The available technology may have improved, but humans have not.
Most people do not understand how related the Declaration and the Constitution are as the underpinning of our rights. It is important to not read these documents as single items.
One of the biggest mistakes we made was the 17th Amendment for the reasons stated. It opened the floodgates of centralized government. One of the other major problems was the legislative branch' movement to allowing the bureaucracy to accomplish the requirements that were set forth in Article 1. By not understanding the ramifications of the legislation they passed and left to the so called "experts" to flesh out they have undermined their own branch of government. They have, in many ways, allowed the bureaucracy to take on the powers of each branch of government. The "separation of powers" has been truly undermined. It is not hard to see the disaster that has come from this by just paying attention to how easily the bureaucracy ignores those who are supposed to oversee them. The damage that the Progressives and the so called "Democrats" have done to the citizens of this country will, I am afraid, demand actions that most of us would like to avoid if possible.I suspect the push for socialism is the "Deep States" way of protection power they should never have had.

trigger warning said...

IAC: "I believe very strongly that the United States Constitution is the most amazing document of political structure ever devised."


Opening text from three famous documents...

Code of Hammurabi: "Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak"

Magna Carta: "JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting."

US Constitution: "We the People of the United States..."

IQ test question... Select the one that is different.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: Ares: If there is no clear Electoral Collage winner, according to the Constitution, the presidential election goes to the House of Representatives. They make the decision.

The question is whether the electoral college could enable multiple rounds of voting to produce a majority winner. Why does it even exist if the Electors have no actual power. So an amendment could says "If no majority winner exists on a first ballot, up to two more rounds of voting can follow, between which candidates can withdrawn and endorse, and all electors are free to vote their conscience after round one."

That would have no effect in 2016, but it could have an effect if Trump had run as an independent and left us with a split majority.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares, do you think it’s a good idea to have 538 unaccountable Electors making decisions about who should be President of the United States?

The Electoral College voting is a formality. It’s a means of calculation. I do not understand why you think this would be a good idea. Multiple ballots? You’re describing a political process. We already have politicians in the House of Representatives to work that out if no candidate gets an Electoral College majority, as per the U.S. Constitution.

And again, your musing about ‘conscience” gives such unaccountable Electors enormous latitude and power. Why do you want that? It makes your own vote for president meaningless. You don’t need a proxy. You already have one as your Congressonal Representative to represent you if no one gains an Electoral majority.

We already have representatives in the House for this purpose — as spelled-out in the Constitution — and the state delegations in the House each have to make their own decision as to whom they wil cast their single ballot for. The Constitution offers no maneuvers around this important framework that reflects our nation’s Federal structure.

Some States (like Iowa) are already being silly by setting their Electors in proportion to the popular vote in their State. That’s their prerogative, but the “winner takes all” approach creates more national stability. But smart people don’t care about stability, do they?

Your Amendment would never be ratified.

If you want to get rid of Trump, I doubt the House of Representtatives would vote for him for President in 2020, if a third party garnered enough Electoral votes to send the election to the the House. But I don’t see a political party or person who could pull that off. Still, it’s nice to dream.