Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kill the Electoral College?

The last time this issue arose -- when the second President Bush won reelection on a narrow margin of popular votes -- a friend, Tiffany Schlain, needless to say a Democrat, sent a note around to all her friends urging an amendment to the Constitution to end the Electoral College, to which I responded:

....Actually, Tiffany, and for a number of good reasons including my belief that the original reasoning in favor of it is more sound now than ever before--I approve of the Electoral College system.

Instead of abolishing it, I'd like it to form the basis for an educational campaign to help people understand why it's there. We pay a price for having moved so far afield from the original concepts that we actually belief that this form of "republicanism" is "archaic" because it's not "direct" democracy.

As if there was once a time when such concepts were all right, back in the Old Days, but we're Modern now and we've risen to a level of sophistication that demands direct democracy.

But this is actually a naive belief, and an unsophisticated failure to appreciate the tradeoffs between direct democracy and individual rights, and the risks of mob rule, which this structure was intended to forestall. Alas.

I know I'm wasting my breath, but it is really a bad idea to promote major changes like this mainly to address an inconvenience of the moment--in this case, for example, because Our Guy lost out in a statistical dead heat because of the peculiarities of the Electoral College. It will perhaps be easier to see when the next wave of populist enthusiasm for changing the rules to address a situational inconvenience sweeps over us in the form of a push for a constitutional amendment to let Big Arnie run for president. After all, direct popular democracy trumps whatever lame, archaic nonsense the Founders might have been thinking a couple hundred years ago. Right?

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