Friday, August 27, 2004

Is the Electoral College a good thing or a bad thing? The Weekly Standard has some interesting points on this.

That belongs to the late Martin Diamond, whose classic work on the keep-it side, The Electoral College and the American Idea of Democracy, is excerpted here. This brilliant essay, first published in 1977, reminds us that, like the U.S. Senate, the Electoral College embodies the federalist principle by which the American states were successfully united after the failure of the Articles of Confederation. The effect of the Electoral College is not to make us less democratic, but to make federal as well. Here's how Diamond puts it:

"In fact, presidential elections are already just about as democratic as they can be. We already have one man, one vote--but in the states. Elections are as freely and democratically contested as elections can be--but in the states. Victory always goes democratically to the winner of the raw popular vote--but in the states. The label given to the proposed reform--"direct popular election"--is a misnomer: the elections have already become as directly popular as they can be--but in the states. Despite all their democratic rhetoric, the reformers do not propose to make our presidential elections more directly democratic; they only propose to make them more directly national, by entirely removing the states from the electoral process. Democracy thus is not the question regarding the electoral college; federalism is. Should our presidential elections remain in part federally democratic, or should we make them completely nationally democratic?

"Whatever we decide, then, democracy itself is not at stake in our decision, only the prudential question of how to channel and organize the popular will."

After 2000, the practical wisdom of avoiding election of the president in one vast national district ought to be obvious. In 2000, state boundaries acted as firewalls, containing the uncertainty in one state. Imagine a virtual tie on a national scale--a nation-sized Florida. Lawyers for the parties would have every incentive to leap into action demanding recounts in thousands, or tens of thousands, of precincts across the land, with no sure result in sight.

Think about who is complaining and why. Would they really think it was a travesty if Gore had won the Electoral College and Bush has won the popular vote? In early November, many pollsters expected this to happen and Gore had already being asked if he would consider his election valid even if he did not win a majority of the popular vote.

Probably if the results had been switched, MoveOn would be running ads about how the Electoral College saved us from Bush and should be preserved (and the Republicans would have spent the last four years muttering).

A few thoughts on Eric Alterman. I know, picking on the deranged isn't nice but I'm going to do it anyway.

First, he announced today that he is going to quit reading his emails. His assistant will do this and pass the nice ones along to Eric. I can understand him not wanting to see the abusive ones but that also implies that intelligent critiques of his work will also get weeded out. Alterman is building a happy bubble around himself.

Here is what he had to say yesterday:

It’s amazing and a bit disgusting that our election seems to be turning on
a war that took place thirty years ago in which the man who served honorably
both in the war and in the anti-war movement is on the defensive against the man
who supported the war but took a pass on any service or sacrifice it might have
involved, but there it is. Given that we have no choice but to engage the
issue, let’s think about it for a moment and see if we can isolate the kinds of
decisions that faced young men in those dark days when American leaders—as they
are doing today—unjustly sent America’s youth to pay for their own folly and

Recall that only privileged Americans had a choice as to whether
to fight in Vietnam. The sons of poor and working-class people did not
have access to educational deferments and hence were unceremoniously sent to the
firing line. Given that, here are a few categories of the choices faced
and the choices made, in what I judge to be descending order of moral fortitude.

Yes, it is amazing and disgusting that Viet Nam has become such a hot topic for today's election. I blame the Democrats for this.

First, Michael Moore dredged up Bush's "missing months" in the Guard. This had already been investigated in 2000 but the press is still bringing it up. There's nothing there but they keep hoping.

Next, the Democrats nominated a candidate on the basis of four months spent in Viet Nam 35 years ago. Kerry didn't run on his record as a senator or an anti-war protester. He ran on his record as a war hero. That makes both his actual war record and his anti-war record fair game.

The newest pro-Kerry attacks talk about Bush being a coward for not serving. Alterman touches on this:

Contradicting one’s alleged convictions in the service of protecting one’s

Supported the war, preferred to let others fight and die for it (George W.
Bush, Dick Cheney)

This seems to me to be the least defensible position imaginable. Bush
and Cheney both used their privileged positions to protect themselves; Cheney
says he did it because he had “other priorities.” Bush says he did it
because he wanted to “better himself” by learning to fly planes. Whether
he deserted his post or not—and I think he did-- it is incontrovertible that he
wasted the government’s million dollar investment in his training by allowing
his qualifications to lapse while he was still supposed to be on active
duty. (And what if during this period, the Guard was actually needed,
if say, Oklahoma had invaded Texas?)

So, Bush's actions are indefensible even though he took a legal and acceptable alternative to service in Viet Nam. The same for Cheney. Neither one is fit to serve office because they didn't volunteer to go to Viet Nam 30+ years ago.

It doesn't matter how well Bush has done as a war president or how thin Kerry's accomplishments during his four terms in the Senate are. All that matters is what they did during Viet Nam.

Then there is this:

Category A: Exhibiting the strength of one’s moral convictions.

Supported the war and served in Vietnam (John Kerry, John
Opposed the war and served in Vietnam because it would have been
unfair to force someone less fortunate to take one’s place (Al Gore)

Opposed the war and dedicated oneself to anti-war movement at some
personal risk, including conscientious objection. (This position is not as
dangerous as serving in a war, but it is nevertheless just as moral. The war was
evil. Putting oneself at legal and physical risk as many did to try to end
this evil strikes me as an unimpeachable moral position, though given America’s
political culture, it would also be untenable for any contemporary presidential
candidate to hold.)

Alterman doesn't say it here but he counts Kerry in this group twice. Once for going and once for protesting. (As an aside, I should point out that Gore didn't volunteer to save some poor slob from the draft, he was trying to save his father's reelection and he knew that he wouldn't be in combat.)

Kerry is not so solidly in the first group as Alterman paints him. According to his own biography, he volunteered for swift boat duty when he thought that it would be close enough to the action to help his resume but still safely away from the front ranks. He was livid when the swift boats were re-assigned and he go out as fast as he could.

It is Kerry's actions as a protester that really got the debate going. After reading the list of charges he makes against the servicemen in Viet Nam, you wonder why anyone would blame Bush for not volunteering to go. Kerry never retracted those statements but his current campaign ignores them instead.

Had Kerry renounced his anti-war rhetoric last year the SwiftVets probably would never have formed. Kerry is running now on a record he rejected in 1971. It is only fair to puncture a few holes in his inflated picture of himself.

Again, if Kerry had offered anything except his war record it would hardly be an issue. Instead he sold himself as someone qualified to lead the war on terrorism because he spent a few weeks in a shooting war 35 years ago.

I miss Dean. At least he seemed to have a little substance.

And a final thought:

Recall that only privileged Americans had a choice as to whether to fight in
Vietnam. The sons of poor and working-class people did not have access to
educational deferments and hence were unceremoniously sent to the firing line.

This is untrue. I knew a lot of working-class people who went to college just to avoid the draft. None of these people were rich or privileged. They got scholarships and took out student loans.

Also, everyone who served with Kerry volunteered. The draft was only for the Army and Marines. (Although some people volunteered for the Navy and Air Force just before they could be drafted.)

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