Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fred Thompson and Balanced Government

In case you missed it, an interesting exchange on Fred Thompson's removal of himself from the presidential race occured over at VFR under Mr. Auster's entry Thompson. Our friend Mike Hargis (who used to comment here frequently but has been noticably absent for some time now -- where are you Mike?) rarely missed an opportunity to remind us when discussing presidential candidates, that it seemed to him that someone who wanted the job of President, the most powerful job in the world, wasn't likely to be seeking the job for purely noble reasons. It was an argument that I don't think any of us ever really raised any serious disagreement with, but that didn't keep ol' Hargis from stating it fairly often.

Well, under the aforementioned post LA replies to two separate commenters, James P. and Kilroy M., both of which state their preference for a President who is not acting out of passion or desire to lead the country, but a President who would act from genuine conservative views, as James P. expresses it. LA discusses why this is not possible under our current electoral process and what changes to that process would be necessary to elect a President of the United States who was not actively seeking the Presidency, or, passionately competing to lead the country. The relevant exchanges are entered below:

James P. writes:

Powerline wrote:

"My own first-hand encounter with Thompson generated no sense that he had any intangible quality that would add value to his generic conservative views."

Maybe, but I would be very happy with a President who acted from genuine conservative views, even if they were "generic" and he was "checking the boxes" rather than acting from particular passion. That would be a hell of a lot better than what we're going to get, which is a Democrat or a Republican with genuine passion to lead the country in a more liberal direction, and who will act with "inner intention" to achieve that goal. Indeed, that's even better than what we have now, which is a President who talks conservative (thus giving conservatism a bad name and contributing to the unpopularity of Fred and other genuine conservatives) and governs liberal.

LA replies:

I agree. And maybe if we didn't have candidates actively run for the presidency, maybe if the Electors met in each state and chose the man they thought was best, instead of their choice being determined by the popular vote, Thompson could be president. But we do have campaigns, and the Electors' choice is determined by the popular vote, and a candidate does have to present himself to the American public as someone who wants and is ready to lead the country.

Kilroy M. writes:

You write that Thomson did not appear to "want to lead the country" and that "checking off the correct conservative positions is not leadership." However, it was Thomson's principled position minus the public displays of desire for power that attracted me to him in the first place.

LA replies:

But that was my own point. We could imagine an America in which the electors are not elected already pledged to vote for a certain candidate, which is the system we have (remember that when you vote for president in the general election, you are not voting for John Smith, you are voting for a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for John Smith), but, as was the case when George Washington was elected (before the evolution of the political party system, under which each party runs a slate of electors who are pledged to vote for the nominee of that party), the people or the legislature of each state choose electors according to the laws of that state, and the electors vote for whom they please. Under such a system, there would not be presidential candidates "running" for election, trying to get the masses to vote for them, because, instead of 100 million people casting a vote, there would be (say) 535 electors casting votes. The electors, who would be the leaders and politically knowledgeable people of each state, would be familiar with the leading political figures of the country, and would choose the person they considered best qualified to be president. Under such a system, public displays of desire for the presidential office would not be needed or appropriate.

Or, if it's impracticable to dispense with political parties, we could dispense with party primaries, and go back to the smoke filled room. Each state would choose delegates to the nominating convention who would be free to vote as they choose. Again, under such a system, candidates would not "run" for the nomination, but the delegates, politically knowledgeable people, would choose as nominee the person they thought was best.

While I think it's absolutely impracticable under our current "one man one vote" democratic climate in America (can you imagine trying to convince Americans that they are better served to play only an indirect role in the choice of electors for President?), it is nonetheless interesting, and I would say the far better method to selecting a President than what we have now. However, whenever the idea of Balanced Constitutional Government is discussed here and elsewhere, at least part of that discussion must consider the ways in which we may return to a government more resembling that of a Federal Representative Republic, and less resembling that of a democracy. It may be putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, to discuss ways in which to improve upon our current electoral system, but here again it's an important consideration for anyone who believes a return to balanced government is needed. And you can certainly count me among that group.


Call Me Mom said...

Given the left's and the MSM's hard work in convincing the country that what we have is a democracy and that democracies are good, it's going to be a hard row to hoe to convince the people to go back to our foundations on this. I think it's necessary though.

Rick Darby said...

It is tempting to imagine that a select group of electors could choose a president more wisely than a democratic plurality (if that is what you are suggesting). I believe that was the original system in this country, although I'm hazy about the details and too pushed for time to go research it right now.

But under almost any conceivable version of that system, the small group of electors would be politicians, defined as people who spent their lives in the government realm in one capacity or another. True, they would probably see through the various candidates' empty promises and evasions — takes one to know one — but they would still be likely to put first what was in it for them. Just like ordinary citizens.

All systems are messy in practice; it's often only in theory that alternatives seem better, because they don't have to be reality tested.

Our electoral college system in which the winner in each state takes all — the "first past the post" principle — also can seem unjust. Why shouldn't the votes be cast in the electoral college in proportion to the percentages voting for each candidate? As it is, every vote for the candidate who does not win a plurality is negated.

Proportional voting is an attractive idea too … in theory. In fact, it's the rule in many European countries. But there is a price to be paid: the political world is divided into many parties, and the vote is split so many ways that rarely does any candidate actually "win" an election. The "winning" candidate or party must then work out a coalition with one or more others. Such coalitions are inherently unstable. Look at the Italians, who change governments as often as women change hairstyles.

The one political advantage that the U.S. has over most of the world is our federalist system, with nested jurisdictions, from the national government down to the local level. It was a brilliant idea that our founders devised, and has proven itself against the widespread desire of national governments to become monolithic.

Of course, the federalist system is at risk too, as Washington tries to put its hooks into every area of public life. But for a practical cause, I see nothing better than defending federalism. That's likely to be far more effective in staving off the super-state than any tinkering with the national election process.

Michael Tams said...


You're right; as it stands, the idea is impracticable. A reformed people might not find it so alien, however, a point on which I am certain we agree. As we have discussed before, the reformation of the citizenry is of the utmost importance, and a cause worthy of spending one's life trying to achieve.


Re: politicians

Perhaps not. There are plenty of people who work in the private sector who are knowledgable and politically aware, yet not politicians. They are the same people you'd meet if you joined me for the local GOP township meeting. Politicians come to these meetings, too, but they are largely attended by regular, private-sector working people who volunteer to be precinct committeemen.

To that point I'd add this: I have only been involved with my township Republican organization since immediately following the 2006 Congressional election; I had had enough, as you recall that election, and decided to channel my anger into action.

Like any organization, they need good people. I have benefitted as much by volunteering as the organization has from my efforts.

Terry Morris said...

Rick, see Federalist #68.

Carl said...

Greetings Mr. Morris, Mr. Tams, Mr. Darby and Mom,

As Mr. Morris wrote, the trend is away from the Republic as envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution and toward a democratic model. There are plenty of examples, but since you were writing about the electors in the Electoral College, I thought that I might point out a growing movement that is undermining the Constitution. It is the National Popular Vote movement. It provides for a system of electing our President with a mere plurality of the vote.

In case you don't think that it will happen, it is already law in Maryland. Our own Illinois Legislature has passed it and it sits on the Governor's desk as I write today. For more information, you can check out this{URL=}The Forest's Edge{/URL}

Terry Morris said...

Thanks to Mr. Schultz for bringing this to our attention. And hello Mr. Schultz, nice to make your acquaintance.

While the movement itself is not a revelation, I was not aware of the law in Maryland, nor of the actions of the Illinois legislature on this issue.

I'm embedding the link to Mr. Schultz's blog entry on this subject here within the post title, A Bad Law. Y'all go check it out.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the link....

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