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]
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.
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.