Friday, July 25, 2008
Mike recently discussed the latest effort to abolish the Electoral College, noting among other things that John F. Kennedy saved it from oblivion at the hands of the Republicans half a century ago. He excerpts the following from Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe:
In 1956, a Republican proposal to abolish the Electoral College was defeated after a vigorous defense by Sen. John F. Kennedy, who declared that "direct election would break down the federal system under which most states entered the union, which provides a system of checks and balances to ensure that no area or group shall obtain too much power."Nearly four years ago, I considered the question of whether the Electoral College still serves a useful role, after my wife and I talked about it.
Given that electors usually rubber stamp the popular election results of their respective states, this is a fair question. What I found was that a mathematician by the name of Alan Natapoff actually published a mathematical proof that a system of corralling votes into districts (as the Electoral College does) serves -- contrary to popular misconception -- to preserve the power of the individual vote.
An article about the proof, "Math against Tyranny", puts the gist of it into laymen's terms in this way:
The same logic that governs our electoral system, [Natapoff] saw, also applies to many sports--which Americans do, intuitively, understand. In baseball's World Series, for example, the team that scores the most runs overall is like a candidate who gets the most votes. But to become champion, that team must win the most games.In the sense that it protects our ability to cast effective votes, then, the Electoral College is valuable and worth preserving. But, as the saying goes, "A republic, if you can keep it." As valuable as the Electoral College and many of our other institutions of government are, they cannot guarantee that we will even have a choice. That is a function of what the broader culture is looking for in a President, as reflected by who gets nominated.
Runs must be grouped in a way that wins games, just as popular votes must be grouped in a way that wins states. The Yankees won three blowouts (16-3, 10-0, 12-0), but they couldn’t come up with the runs they needed in the other four games, which were close. "And that’s exactly how Cleveland lost the series of 1888," Natapoff continues. "Grover Cleveland. He lost the five largest states by a close margin, though he carried Texas, which was a thinly populated state then, by a large margin. So he scored more runs, but he lost the five biggies." And that was fair, too. In sports, we accept that a true champion should be more consistent than the 1960 Yankees. A champion should be able to win at least some of the tough, close contests by every means available--bunting, stealing, brilliant pitching, dazzling plays in the field--and not just smack home runs against second-best pitchers. A presidential candidate worthy of office, by the same logic, should have broad appeal across the whole nation, and not just play strongly on a single issue to isolated blocs of voters.
Four years ago, I said, "We are at war and the Electoral College might some day save us from choosing a bad commander-in-chief." Too late for that this time, I am afraid. To ensure better choices in the future, we who value individual rights must work to change the culture.
We should fight to preserve the Electoral College, yes. But we must also fight the cultural trends of which such efforts as National Popular Vote are a symptom.