Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Democrats going to college

Some readers who don't personally know me very well are often shocked to find that I have among my list of personal friends and acquaintances a number of liberals and Democrats. They find it shocking largely because they don't quite understand how an admittedly hard-core conservative like myself can associate with people so diametrically opposed to my world view. (Note to these folks: It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness). I don't think I've been closer to any Democrat in terms of personal friendship, however, than I am to an old college buddy of mine-one Kevin Michael O'Brien.

As a matter of full disclosure, I should point out that Kevin is fully pro-life, is a member of the NRA, and is a devout Catholic. Indeed, we met for the first time at Mass. For some people on the Left, those three factors alone would disqualify Kevin as a bona fide member of their number. However, we disagree on far more than we agree about, on everything from immigration policy to foreign policy to education. Kevin ran for the Ohio legislature in 2006 and managed to get 40% of the vote in an overwhelmingly Republican district against one of that State's dynastic political families. His performance surprised many local Democratic officials there.

One of the things that Kevin and I do agree on is that the Constitution actually means something. We usually disagree about the meaning of the Constitution, but we agree that it ought to be followed as best we understand it. For this reason, we are both opposed to initiatives such as the PATRIOT Act since such legislation tends to trample on people's basic constitutional rights. In a position that sets Kevin apart from many Democrats, he also believes firmly that when it comes to voting for President, the Electoral College must be maintained in order to insure that the diversity of our country is properly represented in the process.

Many on the other side tend to complain that the Electoral College does not accurately reflect the popular will. Of course, if the Union moved to a directly popular election, it would mean that nearly all of the political power in the nation would rest in 10 to 15 large cities. The votes of smaller States, cities, and towns would be significantly diminished in influence, if not completely irrelevant. Such a scheme would almost uniformly favor the Democrats. As Kevin has pointed out to me, if the reverse were true, Democrats would be ready to wrap themselves in the mantle of the Electoral College and the Constitution-and were ready to do so in 2000, as they anticipated that the election might yield Bush winning the popular vote with Gore winning in the Electoral College. In the run-up to the 2004 Election, Kevin told that me he hoped Kerry would win the Electoral College and Bush the popular vote, largely to prove the value of the college to his fellow Democrats.

I did not join Kevin O'Brien in his wish for a Kerry Electoral Vote victory (not in the least), but I did see his point. Angry liberals call for the abolition of the Electoral College in the ultimate insult to Middle America. It is as if they are giving up on ever winning the Heartland of the country-"we can't win your States, so we don't even want to try." The Electoral College as we use it does reflect the popular will, after all, but does so by allocating Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the most votes within each given State-it gives every State some say, and gives a voice to every kind of voter-urban, suburban, and rural.

Attempts to trifle with the system are also misguided. Republican attempts to break down the Electoral Vote in California by Congressional district could trigger Democratic attempts to do the same throughout the South and upset the balance of power, causing mischief in nearly every Presidential Election henceforward. Similarly, a recent Maryland bill to tie that State's Electors to the winner of the national popular vote would have given Maryland's Electors to George W. Bush in 2004, despite the fact that Marylanders voted for John Kerry by a sizable margin. How would that be fair to those folks?

For all of the talk from some on the Left about the greatness of diversity, many liberals would do away with the one part of our system of electing a President that, for all of its faults, truly represents via the vote the diversity of the American people and the nation as a whole. It also helps preserve authentic federalism in our republic. We shouldn't let election results that we might not like cause us to scrap a system designed to insure that the votes of people in little Wyoming have as much power as voters in Lower Manhattan.

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At Wednesday, September 05, 2007 11:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang you David I was going to cover this tonight on my show!! What a way to be scooped! LOL!!

At Wednesday, September 05, 2007 11:48:00 AM, Anonymous Foolio Junior said...

I've got to say, it's mystifying that anyone would think the winner-take-all rule in the current systems helps "middle america." If you mean small states, then you should remember that every small state but New Hampshire is ignored by presidential campaigns.

A national popular vote would force candidates to campaign across the whole country, because every vote counts the same.

A popular vote would be good for middle america. It's dangerous to engage in these knee-jerk reactions, because it can wind up hurting the people you want to protect. The current system is terrible for 2/3 of our states, but not the biggest swing states like Ohio and Florida.

At Wednesday, September 05, 2007 1:03:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Very few small States were ignored in 2004.

At Wednesday, September 05, 2007 5:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll continue to curse the darkness.

At Saturday, September 08, 2007 4:52:00 PM, Blogger joreko said...

The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President arises from the winner-take-all rule (currently used by 48 of 50 states) under which all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in the state. If the partisan divide in a state is not initially closer than about 46%-54%, no amount of campaigning during a brief presidential campaign is realistically going to change the winner of the state. As a result, presidential candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the concerns of voters of states that they cannot possibly win or lose. Instead, candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of “battleground” states. 88% of the money is focused onto just 9 closely divided battleground states: Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and New Hampshire.

How is it that these 9 states "give a voice to every kind of voter-urban, suburban, and rural"?

The ballot measure to divide California’s 55 electoral votes by congressional district would magnify the worst features of our antiquated system of electing the President.

If the district approach were used nationally, it would less accurately reflect the will of the people than the current system. Although Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he won 55% of the country’s congressional districts. In 2004, Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. If the district approach were installed in only one large state such as California, it would greatly increase the chance that the winner of the presidential election would not have received the most votes nationwide.

The district approach would not, as claimed, make California relevant in presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to campaign in districts (or states) where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Currently, candidates concentrate over two-thirds of their money and visits on just six closely divided “battleground” states, and 99% of their expenditures in just 16 states. Thus, two thirds of the states are ignored in presidential elections (including California). In California, the presidential race is a foregone conclusion in 50 of the state’s 53 congressional districts. Candidates would have no incentive than they do now to pay attention to California remaining 50 districts. Even if the district approach were used nationally, there are only 55 “battleground” districts that are competitive in presidential elections, so seven-eighths of the county would be left out of presidential elections. This is even worse than the current system, where two-thirds of the states are spectators.

A national popular vote is the way to guarantee that the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states becomes President. It is the way to make every person’s vote relevant, regardless of where that person lives.

The National Popular Vote bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President. When the legislation is in effect in that sized group of states, all of the electoral votes in the participating states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Thus, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee that the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states will win the Presidency.

The bill has 320 legislative sponsors in 47 states. It has been signed into law in Maryland. The bill has passed by 11 legislative houses since its introduction in February 2006 (one house in Colorado, Arkansas, and North Carolina, and two houses in Maryland, Illinois, Hawaii, and California).


At Saturday, September 08, 2007 10:48:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

And that was such a canned comment (clearly lifted from the talking points of the organization behind that ridiculous bill) that it was comical. Try some originality.

And 320 legislative sponsors in 47 state legislatures is a rather puny number, when one contemplates the number of legislators in this country.


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