You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Democracy’ tag.
Two years ago, I put up the following cautionary entry on this blog. The threat still looms over us all. Also, check out http://www.nationalpopularvote.com.
Start by Fixing the Electoral College
September 22, 2010
One day again (see the election of 2000), the Electoral College will put in a President who did not win the national popular vote. This archaic instrument is not fundamental to our democracy, in fact it is anti-democratic. It was the product of a 18th century political compromise by the founding fathers. It is not needed anymore. It doesn’t do what it was meant to do. It could destabilize the nation at a time when grassroots voters demand to be heard.
What is the history? What is the risk? What are the arguments, pro and con? What can we done to change it, before it’s too late?
To join the discussion and find some answers, read my essay, “One Collage Too Man.” Go to chilit.org, click on “Roll of Members” found on the left column, click on “E”, then go to “Charles Ebeling” and click on the essay title to read or copy it.
Make up your mind, then do something! Isn’t it time for a National Popular Vote? Thanks.
The lesson is perhaps that populism doesn’t always make good politics, however tempting it is to the thought-leaders. Of course, to some the real issue is why after 200+ years of the increasing power of populism — call it democracy — we still elect our Presidents through an arcane, unbalanced, non-democratic system that makes political advertising calculations, and vote counts, so corrupted — the obsolete and dangerous Electoral College!
The one reminder I took away from viewing “Game Change,” the Sarah Palin election story, last night, was how totally ignorant and inarticulate she was on foreign affairs. Few, even her ardent fans, would say that was not the case. To me, this was her fatal deficit, though it might also have been a reflection of a very middling intelligence.
What reminds me of the current primary campaign, is how little attention is being given by the candidates or their “campaigns” to foreign affairs. We live in a dangerous world, in a dangerous time. Too many Americans remain isolated from the military implications of that risk, because so few among us are tasked to serve in these conflicts. Most of us are not engaged. We can’t all be foreign affairs experts, but we can expect, even demand, that our leaders and leader-hopefuls, demonstrate knowledge and even wisdom on the subject. Not just of military issues, but of economics, education, science and culture.
This is not my partisan view. This is an American view. Too few among us make the effort to access the wealth of information and informed opinion available on world affairs. We need to lift our eyes off the ground in front of us, at least a few hours a week, and take a look around the global village. That perspective may even enlighten our perceptions of what is truly good and what needs changing here at home.
If we are to benefit from wise leadership in global affairs, we need wise and thoughtful leaders who are challenged by an informed and curious citizenry. What a game change that would be.
What’s wrong with our “18th century constitutional republic?”
For one thing, we don’t elect our Presidents through a popular vote. We vote, yes, but then those votes are translated into Electoral ballots in the archaic Electoral College, and allocated unevenly across the states, which has resulted more than once in the person who won the popular vote not being elected President. That isn’t democracy, but a holdover from a political compromise in the 18th century that makes no sense today.
We don’t have term limits for Senators or Congressmen, so we wind up with career politicians with increasing obligations to generations of supporters clouding their aging minds.
We have a Congress who’s rules result in political gridlock time and again. Federal campaign finance is a scandal and a disgrace to democracy and fairness.
The President goes to war, even in non-emergencies, without the consent of Congress. The Supreme Court tips the balance in elections and political matters.
What do we need. We need a new Constitutional Convention and a democratic process for selecting delegates. We need deep and fundamental reform of our political system, and if we don’t do that, we run the real risk of a 21st century version of the French Revolution, in which the people take back their government, not at the ballot box, as it ought to be, but by force. Then, everyone loses, and we lose America. If we face up to the demands of the present and look to the future, the positive possibilities for the U.S. are endless.
I have long believed that too many evils for the future lie in the antiquated and dangerous Electoral College for electing our U.S. Presidents, that the U.S. Senate provides unbalanced representation to our populist democracy, that what this country needs is a different political structure than the dysfunctional two-party system that doesn’t seem to represent anyone who is enlightened, and that what the country needs is a new constitutional convention to straighten out our faltering republic and turn it into a modern, functioning representative democracy.
Then I read a wonderful essay under the heading title above by James Fallows, in the Atlantic Magazine of Jan/Feb, 2010, and in his conclusion, reprinted below, he explores all my concerns and reaching a conclusion that, in the end, is totally rational. He explains how, being practical rather than wishful, America can potentially rise again. Will we do it — that’s an open question, and perhaps an even bigger question, since he wrote his visionary piece over 18 months ago? For anyone truly interested in solutions, this is a most valuable analysis. Too bad the news media and our political leadership, notwithstanding The Atlantic, don’t share these tough perspectives. Read on…
“What are the choices? Logically they come down to these, starting with the most fanciful:
“We could hope for an enlightened military coup, or some other deus ex machina by the right kind of tyrants. (In his 700-page new “meliorist” novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, Ralph Nader proposes a kind of plutocrats’ coup, in which Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., Ted Turner, et al. collaborate to create a more egalitarian America.) The periodic longing for a “man on horseback” is a reflection of disappointment with what normal politics can bring. George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower were the right men on horseback. With no disrespect to David Petraeus, their like is not in sight. In 1992, an Air Force lieutenant colonel wrote an essay for the National War College called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” which began with the perceived failure of civilian politics to address the nation’s problems. The author, Charles Dunlap, who is now a two-star general, meant this as a cautionary tale. His paper began with this quote from John Adams: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Tempting as the thought is when watching the Senate on C-SPAN, we can’t really hope for a coup.
“We could hope to change the basic nature of our democracy, so it fits the times as our other institutions do. But this is about as likely as an enlightened coup. For a few hours on Election Day 2004, it seemed that America had a chance to correct the anachronism of its Electoral College. When exit polls showed John Kerry ahead in Ohio, there was a chance that for the second election in a row, a candidate might lose the popular vote but still become president. (A swing of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have put George W. Bush in Al Gore’s position from four years earlier, as the popular-vote winner who had to go home.) With each party burned, in sequence, we might have agreed on a reform. That chance has passed, and there is no chance for constitutional amendments to make the Senate more representative, since the same small states that would lose power can block any change.
“In principle, the United States could call for a new constitutional convention, to reconsider all the rules. That would be my cue to move back to China for good—pollution, Great Firewall, and all. As a simple thought exercise, imagine the fights over evolution, an “official” language, and countless other “social” questions. “I am perpetually disappointed by our structural resistance to change,” Gary Hart told me, “but can you imagine what would be put into a drafting session for a constitution today?” Kevin Starr said, “You would need a coherent political culture for such a session to occur”—and the lack of such coherence is exactly the problem—“otherwise it would turn into a food fight from Animal House.”
“A parliamentary system? This too would improve C-SPAN viewing. But not having started there, we cannot get there.
“A viable third party? Attractive in theory. But 150 years of failed attempts by formidable campaigners, ranging from Robert LaFollette to Ross Perot, suggest how unlikely this is too.
“We might hope for another Sputnik moment—to be precise, an event frightening enough to stimulate national action without posing a real threat. That kind of “hope” hardly constitutes a plan. In 2001, America endured an event that should have been this era’s Sputnik ; but it wasn’t. It doesn’t help now to rue the lost opportunity, but there is no hiding the fact that it was an enormous loss. What could have been a moment to set our foreign policy and our domestic economy on a path for another 50 years of growth—as Eisenhower helped set a 50-year path with his response to Sputnik —instead created problems that will probably take another 50 years to correct.
“That’s yesterday. For tomorrow, we really have only two choices. Doing more, or doing less. Trying to work with our flawed governmental system despite its uncorrectable flaws, or trying to contain the damage that system does to the rest of our society. Muddling through, or starving the beast.
“Readers may have guessed that I am not going for the second option: giving up on public efforts and cauterizing our gangrenous government so that the rest of society can survive. But the reason might be unexpected. I have seen enough of the world outside America to be sure that eventually a collapsing public life brings the private sector down with it. If we want to maintain the virtues of private America, we must at least try on the public front too. Rio, Manila, and Mexico City during their respective crime booms; Shanghai in the 1920s and Moscow in the 1990s; Jakarta through the decades; the imagined Los Angeles of Blade Runner —these are all venues in which commerce and opportunity abounded. But the lack of corresponding public virtues—rule of law, expectation of physical safety, infrastructure that people can enjoy or depend on without owning it themselves—made those societies more hellish than they needed to be. When outsiders marvel at today’s China, it is for the combination of private and public advances the country has made. It has private factories and public roads; private office buildingsand public schools. Of course this is not some exotic Communist combination. The conjunction of private and public abundance typified America throughout its 20th-century rise. We had the big factories and the broad sidewalks, the stately mansions and the public parks. The private economy was stronger because of the public bulwarks provided by Social Security and Medicare. California is giving the first taste of how the public-private divorce will look—and its historian, Kevin Starr, says the private economy will soon suffer if the government is not repaired. “Through the country’s history, government has had to function correctly for the private sector to flourish,” he said. “John Quincy Adams built the lighthouses and the highways. That’s not ‘socialist’ but ‘Whiggish.’ Now we need ports and highways and an educated populace.” In a nearly $1 trillion stimulus package, it should have been possible to build all those things, in a contemporary, environmentally aware counterpart to the interstate-highway plan. But it didn’t happen; we’ve spent the money, incurred the debt, and done very little to repair what most needs fixing.
“Our government is old and broken and dysfunctional, and may even be beyond repair. But Starr is right. Our only sane choice is to muddle through. As human beings, we ultimately become old and broken and dysfunctional—but in the meantime it makes a difference if we try. Our American republic may prove to be doomed, but it will make a difference if we improvise and strive to make the best of the path through our time—and our children’s, and their grandchildren’s—rather than succumb.
“I often think about how we would make decisions if we knew we would wake up the next day and it would be 75 years later,” Cullen Murphy, author of Are We Rome?, told me. “It would make a huge difference if we could train ourselves to make decisions that way.” It would. Of course, our system can’t be engineered toward that perspective. Politicians will inevitably look not 75 years into the future but one election cycle ahead, or perhaps only one news cycle. Corporations live by the quarter; cable-news outlets by the minute. But we can at least introduce this concept into public discussion and consider our issues and choices that way.
“What difference would it make? We could start by being very clear about our strengths, as revealed not simply by comparison with others but also through the pattern of our own rise. The mutually supportive combination of public and private development; the excellence of the universities; the unmatched ability to attract and absorb the world’s talent—these are assets we can work to preserve. We could reflect on how much more attainable our goals are when the world works with us—economically, diplomatically—rather than against us. We could not compel international obedience even if we tried, but everything we care about becomes easier if the American model attracts rather than repels. And a longer-term perspective would mean doing all we can to address the “75-year threats”—the issues for which we’ll be thanked or blamed two or three generations from now. Rebuilding the infrastructure, so that it’s an asset rather than a drag. Reinvesting in research, for the industries our grandchildren will found. Dealing with environmental challenges that will make all the difference in whether the world looks like hell.
“America has been strong because, despite its flawed system, people built toward the future in the 1840s, and the 1930s, and the 1950s. During just the time when Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park, when Theodore Roosevelt set aside land for the National Parks, when Dwight Eisenhower created the Pentagon research agency that ultimately gave rise to the Internet, the American system seemed broken too. They worked within its flaws and limits, which made all the difference. That is the bravest and best choice for us now.”
Here’s a lift from the Wikipedia entry for the undemocratic Electoral College system of indirectly electing our U.S. Presidents and VPs. I’d like to know what “rights of smaller states” the electoral College is supposedly protecting, other than giving them geographically outsized electoral weight, instead of counting voters, like you and I. Does geography deserve more influence on selecting our top leaders than the votes of people?
“The existence of the Electoral College is a subject of controversy. A 2001 Gallup article noted that “a majority of Americans have continually expressed support for the notion of an official amendment of the U.S. Constitution that would allow for direct election of the president” since one of the first-ever public polls on the matter in 1944, and Gallup found no significant change in 2004. Critics argue that the Electoral College is archaic, inherently undemocratic and gives certain swing states disproportionate influence in selecting the President and Vice President. Proponents argue that the Electoral College is an important, distinguishing feature of federalism in the United States and that it protects the rights of smaller states.”
For more information, also look in Wikipedia under National Popular Vote, and tell your legislators you’d like your vote for President to count equally with that of all other U.S. voters. By the way, the Electoral College system also disenfranchises citizens in U.S. territories from voting for President. If you look further, you’ll see the Electoral College was originally passed to allow slaves in southern states to count for 3/5th of a vote, and also then effectively disenfranchised women. The EC is a blight on our Republic!
That’s what President Obama said moments ago on global television, but not to make too fine a point, that’s not how he himself was elected President of the U.S. In the last election, my vote in Chicago counted for less than 20% of the value of a vote cast for President in Alaska or Wyoming! Does that sound democratic? I’m not happy about it, as a Chicagoan, and if voters in Alaska (except for Palin) or Wyoming were honest about it, they’d say it wasn’t fair — not democratic.
Why is this so? Because although we elect our mayors, governors, U.S. representatives and senators, etc. through a popular voting system, when it comes to the Presidency, we use an obsolete system that was an 18th century political compromise between true democracy and states rights, in which Presidents were and are indirectly elected by a system that doesn’t accurately reflect the votes of the national population. It’s called the Electoral College, and it flunks the course in true democracy and ought to be changed, before the day our own citizens take to the streets because the wrong President takes office, or at least the one who lost the national election. Yes, I said “another,” because it has happened 4 times already, most recently in 2000, when Bush II received hundreds of thousands fewer votes than the other candidate, but was put into office by the ridiculous Electoral College.
Don’t believe me? Don’t want to see it potentially happen again, either way politically, in 2012 or thereafter, see my other posts or go to http://www.natinalpopularvote.com and get the facts. Why do we talk about “red and blue states?” See my essay, “One Collage Too Many,” under “Roll of Members” on http://www.chilit.org and learn the non-democratic collage of red and blue states should, if honest, be one democratic carpet of purple. Don’t like purple? Ok, call it a green carpet, just so it reflects a democracy in action. Only then will our own U.S. government truly be “grounded in democracy.”
Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board has revisited the discussion about the dangerous, outmoded Electoral College system of selecting, not electing, our U.S. Presidents. The electoral College is irrational, but like some hostages, many in the American populace have Stockholm Syndrome, and have developed a loyalty to a system that defies democracy.
The National Popular Vote initiative (www.nationalpopularvote.com) is one way to reform the system and assure that a true voting plurality elects our President. A Constitutional Amendment is another way to remedy the situation, but the chances of our Congress getting together on this are slim.
If you care about democracy, and want to avoid having people riot in the streets some day over an illicit election express yourself to your friends, media and your representatives in Congress. Here’s Steve’s editorial: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-01-09/news/ct-oped-0109-chapman-20110109_1_electoral-college-popular-vote-college-football
The disconnect between the rhetoric of government, especially the Federal government, and the life and prospects of ordinary Americans is a vast chasm. The poor and working poor grow poorer. The rich and super rich grow richer, flaunting their political influence, wealth and extravagant lifestyles, provoking those less clever and lucky. The un-necessary wars go on and on, and cost more and more in lives and treasure, while the government refuses to restrain the military industrial complex or engage the 99% of the untouched population by risking a draft or war taxes. The Left/right political process is broken, yet hangs on because of fear of change, fear of disrupting the obsolete political norm, and fixing things like the dangerous Electoral College process for electing Presidents, where a vote in Alaska is worth 6 times more than a vote in Chicago, or the Senate that leaves us with lopsided representation that is geographic instead of population-centered. And let’s look at the ramifications of the decay of standards in education, and loss of general civility throughout society. All of that, together with inflammatory rhetoric emanating from some of our politicians and what used to be the news media, leaves little doubt that some of those on the fringe of mental stability might resort to acts of brutal terror to gain attention or express their utter frustration with society. Thus it is not surprising that Tucson happened, but that it doesn’t happen more often. The remedies, or at least the most glaring opportunities for remedy, are implied in the shortcomings I’ve just summarized. Was Tucson but a violent expression of a latent madness which ultimately infects us all.
Except from article “Democracy: Made in China” by erudite author Steven Hill (www.steven-hill.com):
“Perhaps if their belief in democracy is strong and ecumenical enough, the youths of China will find a way to take their country down a path toward greater popular sovereignty.
“It remains to be seen how much of the “new China” will continue to emerge as this drama plays out, but it’s very likely that any Chinese democracy will have its own unique characteristics; it is unlikely to be an exact copy of the Western model, and it will take its time arriving. China is both a modern state and an ancient civilization that, after all, has shown an almost pathological degree of patience and forbearance.
“This is the nation where Zhou Enlai, the legendary prime minister under Mao, was asked what he thought of the French Revolution and is said to have replied: “It’s too early to tell.”