Wednesday, April 8, 2009

That pesky mode of electing the president -- What were the founders thinking?!

Allow me to go on a rant for a few lines and then you can have the floor with my general blessings. I seriously worry about people sometimes, whether they actually have any appreciable ability left in them to reflect and reason for themselves outside the influence of the mainstream media and the "news" and ideas they are fed. Certainly many people I know are obviously oblivious to the way their thinking is controlled by the powers that be, even though they are relatively independent minded and "conservative" on a variety of issues. You know, relatively in the same sense that John McCain is an immigration restrictionist as compared to some others we know.

Beyond that, there is a severe lack of respect and of proper deference paid to the founders and their wisdom in establishing our form of government, the various and sundry mechanisms installed for its maintenance and perpetuation, and the reasons they gave for including them as parts of the whole (Dr. Keyes actually addressed this problem Monday night during session 2 of his webinar conference). And it's not just a lack of knowledge, it is a lack of any real desire to acquire independent knowledge on the subject.

Just yesterday I was involved in a discussion with some friends and acquaintances who were exhibiting these telltale characteristics when the subject of abolishing the outmoded electoral college came up. Believe me when I say that it weren't long until I'd heard all I could possibly take before interjecting and adding my buck twenty-five's worth (yes, I count my informed opinion on certain topics to be worth a lot more than two cents). Since everyone was in complete agreement on the topic save me, and since I remained silent during the intial phase of the conversation, everyone else was feeding off of one another's blatantly ignorant, impulsive statements, until the point, as I said, that I felt I had to interject. I won't bore you with the entire content of my little speech (you can read the main points thereof in the Federalist Papers), but I will give you a paraphrase of my initial remarks, to wit:

Wait just a minute! First of all I think that everyone involved in this conversation up to this point has shown a severe lack of respect for the founding fathers and their wisdom, calling the electoral college system "stupid," "unfair," and the like, as if to say that they didn't think the mode of electing president through very well as an integral part of a complete system of government the likes of which the world had not before, nor has since known. So let's at least give them a little credit before we go off half-cocked leveling implicit accusations against them that, were we to put the proper amount of study and reflection to the question, would likely yield a completely different attitude.

Sadly I could see the MEGO (my eyes are glazing over) effect already setting in by the time I'd finished my opening statement. Everything else was, therefore, just a wash as people quickly began dispersing. But I felt compelled to go on anyway. They were all still within hearing distance, so they couldn't simply ignore me, try as they may.

Now, I realize that people don't particularly care to be corrected in that way. But I wasn't singling anyone out. In fact, quite the opposite. Nonetheless, as I initmated above, I think people tend to be willingly ignorant. I don't know why exactly they're like that except, I suppose, that it is easier to be fed information than it is to acquire it by one's own efforts and scholarship. And accordingly people tend to prefer the path of least resistance, which is to say whatever path requires the least effort on their parts. But you'll have to forgive me for holding that if you're of average intelligence, you can read and comprehend with average proficiency, and you claim to care about America and its preservation, then you ought to be held to a standard of scholarship and reflection requisite to all of the above whether you like it or not. Particularly when such people engage in spouting off an opinion about something they obviously haven't the first clue about. If they wish to argue that position on the merits, then that's clearly something altogether different, and something I can respect though I may strongly disagree.

But you know what they say: opinions are like a person's, umm, backside, everyone has one and they all stink.

End of rant.


chiu_chunling said...

I think that the intention of the Founding Fathers in establishing the Electoral College and Senate was to focus democracy on the state legislatures. The original plan was for the several states to be far more independent and distinct, so that they could serve as "laboratories of democracy".

This was not only to be encouraged by strict limitation of the Federal government, but also by making the state legislatures the most prominent area of choice on the ballot of the common citizen. By getting the citizens engaged in the process of making laws suited to their particular state, while establishing a level economic playing field for all the states, the hope was to foster competition to find the best models of state government.

Sadly, at some point state legislatures realized that they could distract the electorate by making them focus directly on the selection of Senators and Presidents, leaving the state legislators free to cater to small, lucrative special interests. The cost was yielding up their voice in Federal policy, but they probably regarded that as a small pie (financially speaking, they were right at the time).

As a result the current state governments are almost completely unaccountable to the people, and the national government is completely unaccountable to the states. Abolishing what is left of the Electoral College is merely a formality.

Yes, it would dramatically hasten the shift in Federal policy towards the urban welfare state. Yes, it would throw the occasional election to the left that might have gone right. But fundamentally, it would only change the pace, not direction, of evolution.

And American has gone too far down this path to back up. A dramatic acceleration in social evolution is actually beneficial, since it gives you some chance of coming out the other side of the inferno of an attempt to impose totalitarian rule.

Of course, Obama has already achieved that to a degree which both delights and alarms me. Delight at the substantial number of Americans who seem seriously committed to preserving life and liberty, alarmed because...well, just because.

Terry Morris said...

Well, as you know, Chiu, the electoral college system was installed in the federal constitution as part of a whole system of government designed and suited primarily for a given people, namely the founding generation.

My main complaint is that it obviously behooves us to understand something about why the founders installed the electoral college (among other things such as the original indirect mode of appointing Senators as opposed to the direct election of House members, etc.) before we go off half-cocked passionately arguing for its abolishment.

The electoral college was established in part as a means to prevent foreign powers from installing a creature of their own making in the chief executive seat of our government. Of course this seems not to have been very effective to that purpose in the late election, but I think we have to consider it as a general principle (which always admits of the exception), and also to consider it as part of a grander scheme in which other protections (natural born citizenship requirement, for example) are installed as backups to the proverbial backup.

chiu_chunling said...

I would tend to argue that the Electoral College isn't merely particular to that generation but represents a more universal principle of liberty. That is, liberty is best preserved by the movement of power towards the local and individual and away from the global and universal.

Make no mistake, the practice of giving the popular mandate to the Senate and President was an essential element in the expansionist tendency of the Federal government, to the great detriment of freedom in America.

This is only natural, because when people make local laws they are primarily affecting themselves and their immediate neighbors, with whom they have the most in common. When they make global laws, they are mainly affecting those who live distant from them and with whom they have little in common.

Thus globalist laws are inherently more arbitrary than local laws, even discounting the fact that an unfavorable local law can be escaped by relocation, whereas a global law does not permit such evasion of its claims. This is not a matter of the structure of late 18th century economy or political philosophy, but of the inherent nature of all humans (or indeed any sentients).

Terry Morris said...

Chiu, I don't disagree with you in principle, although I don't think it can be said that the Electoral College represents a universal principle of liberty except as part of a larger governing system which does observe universal laws. And it is particular to the founding generation in the sense that they understood the reasoning behind the creation of the electoral mode of electing president (as part of the larger whole), whereas we as a generation do not ... neither the part nor the whole.

I certainly believe with you that the establishment and preservation of liberty depends on the proper distribution of political power amongst the various branches and spheres of government; that the central authority should operate within its sphere while leaving to the states and their subsidiaries, and to the people the general mass of governmental powers. After all, that is what the concept of Balanced Constitutional Government is all about.

chiu_chunling said...

I think I see your meaning. In other words, it is not just the fact that the Electoral College was eviscerated by the introduction of direct voting, but the slide towards globalist theories of government which has been inculcated in the populace.

Were you to return to having the state legislatures elect the president and select senators (as politically impossible as that would be already), the only effect would be to make the selection of the legislature mainly a proxy for the Federal elections. This would not only undermine the current independence of the state legislatures, it would strengthen the tendency for political careerism, as the state legislators would be even more inclined to move "up the ladder" to the Senate and then Presidency.

That would further reduce the particularity of state laws, since they would be made by people who had mainly been selected for their opinions on national policy and the most energetic among them would look forward to eventual national campaigns.

It is as the Founders said, their form of government was made for a moral and religious people. Of course, here I'm making the leap to include a desire to rule others with whom you have little contact, rather than yourself and your neighbors, as being an immoral impulse. But I think it is.

Still, the imminent failure of the Federal government and resulting effects are likely to change those attitudes, one way or another. I think a year from now most Americans will appreciate the value of local government far more. Or at least regard the Federal government with distaste.