Quantity Versus Quality

 

In yesterday’s LA Register, Ricochet editor Troy Senik makes the case against mindlessly expanding the franchise.

Ignoring the nit that Americans tend to think that “democracy and liberty are naturally complimentary [sic]” rather than “complementary” (I’ll be gracious and blame his own editor for that), while he makes a good case for the Founders’ aversion to democracy, if anything he understates it when he writes:

The president was chosen by the Electoral College, but that process looked very different than it does today. Under the original system, the electors were to be chosen by the people of their states but they were expected to use their own independent judgment in casting ballots for the commander in chief.

Actually, even that was not the original scheme — it is simply what evolved within the states into modern times. Here is all that is required to appoint electors, right out of Article II:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. [Emphasis added]

That’s it.

No mention whatsoever of popular voting. It would be perfectly constitutional for the electors to be chosen by throwing darts at a phone book, by elimination from a reality show, or a mass tournament of pistols at dawn, as long as the legislature so stipulated. That was the degree to which the Founders thought that the states should have leeway in determining how they determined their electors. This is a very important point to make when arguing with modern democraphiles about ending the Electoral College and electing the president by popular vote.

But I’d like to expand on his excellent point that the quality of voters and votes is more, and much more, important than quantity, to other political actions.

Many (in fact, many too many) in government imagine that their job is to create more government. As three examples, legislators think they’re supposed to pass legislation, diplomats think that (among other things) they’re supposed to get treaties signed and ratified, and regulators think that they’re supposed to create regulations. They are encouraged in this by many fools in the press who actually consider legislation sponsored and passed into law (particularly when it has a lawmaker’s name on it) to be a figure of merit to be touted as part of his record for reelection, or election to a higher office. Legislators who have passed lots of legislation, or secretaries of state who get lots of treaties ratified are lionized in the media, while those who do neither are denigrated as “do nothings.” All this, of course, despite whether or not the legislation passed, treaty ratified, or regulation created was actually a good idea.

But in fact, those are not their jobs. Their jobs are described in the Preamble. They are: “…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [common spelling at the time], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Passing legislation, ratifying treaties, promulgating regulations are means to those ends but, despite the title, it is not a legislator’s job to legislate per se. It is not a diplomat’s job to ratify a treaty per se. It is not a regulator’s job to regulate per se. Those are simply tools granted them by the Constitution to carry out their true jobs, as defined above. They have others as well.

When it comes to legislation, the goal might be accomplished by passing legislation. It might be accomplished by repealing legislation (which is a form of passing legislation). Or it might be done by blocking legislation, if said legislation, in the mind of the legislator, is deleterious to any of the purposes in the Preamble. And blocking legislation is part of the Constitutional toolbox given the Legislative branch (as well as the Executive, via veto). It is not the job of the Congress to pass laws — that is simply one of its powers. It is the job of the Congress to contribute to the goals of the Preamble, within its Constitutional authority.

Since the House was taken over by the Republicans almost four years ago, it has blocked what it (rightly, in my opinion) perceived to be bad legislation proposed by the Democrats’ Senate or President Hope ‘n’ Change. Similarly, the Senate has blocked (useful) legislation proposed by the House. In so doing, all were doing their Constitutional duty. Despite the absurd claims of President Constitutional Scholar, it is not the job of Congress to pass laws in general, or legislation that he thinks is important, even if he claims that the public is with him. The Founders would either laugh, or be appalled at the notion that failure of Congress to act on the President’s wishes would grant him license to unilaterally and dictatorially change the law.

Similarly, the job of the State Department is not to pass treaties, but to help “provide for the common defence [sic].” If the Secretary of State believes that a treaty will be antithetical to that goal, it is his duty to prevent its ratification, regardless of opprobrium of simpleton treaty counters in the media.

The point is that, as with votes, quality of governance is much more important than quantity. Less, but better legislation is to be preferred to simply passing more laws. Fewer, but better treaties should be the goal. Regulators need to focus less on how many regulations they pass, and how much power they can grab (I’m looking at you, EPA), and more on how the regulations actually contribute to the goals of the Constitution. And the media should have fewer stories on how effective government employees are based on how much they do, and a few more on how well, and Constitutionally, they do it.

Update:

It’s worth noting that the fact that Electoral College representatives are the prerogative of the legislature, and the legislature alone, was a key but badly misunderstood issue in Bush v. Gore and the Florida recount. There was a very legitimate constitutional argument that the Florida Supreme (Kangaroo) Court had no business sticking its nose in, since it was ultimately up to the legislature in Tallahassee as to how to appoint Florida’s representatives to the Electoral College. That is, they could have simply convened and had a vote awarding the electors to Bush (or for that matter, Gore) and it would have been perfectly constitutional, though it might have cost them dearly in the next statewide election (which is ultimately how the voters have a say about who the president is). But I’m not sure how much weight this argument actually played before SCOTUS.

There are 11 comments.

  1. Member

    Good post. Too bad (for us) that Troy’s article is behind a paywall – it’s probably worth a post of its own.

    One point though: much of the criticism from within DC directed at Congress for “doing nothing” has a different origin: our system has become so bloated that Congress is required to take affirmative action each year just to keep things from falling apart. This includes anything from reasonable measures (confirming judges and passing a budget) to unnecessary addictions (like the Farm Bill) to the absolutely absurd (like the Medicare doc fix). 

    While most of these programs represent the worst in government bloat, letting them go unrenewed would lead to even worse short-term consequences: letting the doc fix or food stamps die overnight might truly lead to people dying. 

    It’s a Catch-22: the only way to unwind the oversized state is to spend half your time renewing its existence.

    • #1
    • September 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm
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  2. Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Mendel:

    Good post. Too bad (for us) that Troy’s article is behind a paywall – it’s probably worth a post of its own.

    One point though: much of the criticism from within DC directed at Congress for “doing nothing” has a different origin: our system has become so bloated that Congress is required to take affirmative action each year just to keep things from falling apart. This includes anything from reasonable measures (confirming judges and passing a budget) to unnecessary addictions (like the Farm Bill) to the absolutely absurd (like the Medicare doc fix).

    While most of these programs represent the worst in government bloat, letting them go unrenewed would lead to even worse short-term consequences: letting the doc fix or food stamps die overnight might truly lead to people dying.

    It’s a Catch-22: the only way to unwind the oversized state is to spend half your time renewing its existence.

     Yes, that is why I endorse the concept of a House of Repeal, and have proposed a Sunset Amendment to the Constitution.

    Hopefully, Troy’s op-ed will come out from behind the paywall in the next day or three.

    • #2
    • September 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm
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  3. Member

    Amen.

    • #3
    • September 1, 2014 at 6:38 pm
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  4. Inactive

    Recently Minnesota instituted a session of several days wherein they considered a multitude of laws on the books and repealed a modest number of them as no longer applicable or relevant. I comment such actions by an legislature; our own federal congress could learn from such action.

    The problem, of course, is that politicians will tend to view ALL laws as still relevant, as they have little stomach for goring anyone’s cow. So while you propose a sunset amendment, perhaps it should require some supermajority to have any law extended. That way laws could be reconstituted in a more intelligent form rather than attempting to simply “fix” them. Experience ought to give us some insight in how a law affects people.

    • #4
    • September 2, 2014 at 7:27 am
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  5. Founder

    Holey moley, Rand, you know a lot of constitutional history and political science, and you write like an angel. (After I’ve lavished you with compliments–or should that be “complements?”–I suppose it goes without saying that I agree with all your conclusions.)

    What a sweet post.

    • #5
    • September 2, 2014 at 9:08 pm
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  6. Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Thank you, Peter. And yet, it hasn’t made it to the front page, and you are one of the few who commented.

    Could I suggest that there is something wrong with Ricochet that this is the case…?

    [Update a few minutes later]

    OK, it does seem to have made it to the front page, so I have to retract that criticism…

    • #6
    • September 2, 2014 at 9:32 pm
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  7. Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Peter Robinson:

    Holey moley, Rand, you know a lot of constitutional history and political science, and you write like an angel. (After I’ve lavished you with compliments–or should that be “complements?”–I suppose it goes without saying that I agree with all your conclusions.)

    What a sweet post.

     Off topic, but did you ever have a chance to look at the book I wrote, that I gave you in late January? I’d still love to discuss it with you.

    • #7
    • September 2, 2014 at 10:01 pm
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  8. Member

    There are areas where a legislator may be judged by quantity. How many votes did you miss? How many times did you shirk your duty by abstaining? How much time were you absent from legislative sessions for reasons other than committee meetings?

    There are probably a few more like that before crossing into demagoguery.

    • #8
    • September 3, 2014 at 3:08 am
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  9. Member

    Democracy: The belief that someone is wrong simply because they are outnumbered.

    • #9
    • September 3, 2014 at 5:45 am
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  10. Member

    Rand Simberg: Yes, that is why I endorse the concept of a House of Repeal, and have proposed a Sunset Amendment to the Constitution.

    I prefer a simpler solution. 

    Under the current paradigm, it requires a majority to pass a law, and it requires a majority to repeal a law. I believe this is philosophically unsound.

    Instead, it should require a majority to pass a law, and it should require a majority to keep a law. Without a sustaining majority, laws should be automatically repealed.

    (I suppose that could be considered analogous to the sunset clause … )

    • #10
    • September 3, 2014 at 5:47 am
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  11. Thatcher

    I agree with so much in this post. Alas, the level of civic engagement, and awareness to get to concepts such as sunset amendments etc will never be achieved. We all know the root causes, the cynical moves to expand the franchise to the ‘mob’ (to use some Roman concepts), to ensure power. The Federal Government has arrogated so much power while the states sat idly by, I am convinced it is for all intents and purposes a permanent state. So bravo for being a voice crying in the wilderness! The smart money is on institutional creep (and creeps).

    • #11
    • September 3, 2014 at 6:23 am
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