It's time for a civics lesson. “Civics” is the old-fashioned word for how to understand your country’s politics and government. Since your country is the world’s leading superpower and the mightiest nation from any standpoint the world has ever seen – to say nothing of the fact that your country is simply yours – her politics and government are worth understanding. Oops. I fell into another anachronism, albeit a beautiful one. I referred to our country in the feminine. Ever wonder where this curious habit comes from? It comes from an older age when public discourse was dominated by men, and men – good ones, at least – love their country in a similar way to that in which they love a woman.
They want to provide for her, protect her, vindicate her honor when it is called into question, and – as she does for him – help her to improve and grow where she needs improvement and growth. Oh, and they think about her frequently and are extraordinarily proud of her. Even in our egalitarian age, isn’t this so much richer than referring to your country as “it”?
Here’s another way in which our ancestors were wiser than we: remember that odd system called the Electoral College? It comes up every four years when we elect a president. Presidents are elected most immediately by states, not by popular vote. Popular votes determine which candidate wins each state, but then people called electors cast their state’s official presidential ballots. Whichever candidate wins a majority of electoral votes becomes President, regardless of who has the most popular votes. Because the number of electors each state gets is determined by its population, usually the two vote tallies coincide, but, as Bush v. Gore in 2000 showed, this is not always the case. Gore won the popular vote, but Bush won the Electoral College vote.
This system runs deeper and influences presidential elections, and thus the direction of national politics, more significantly than almost anyone realizes. It is one of the foremost examples of the genius of the American founders and of the depth of political understanding the entire founding generation held. Why did they do it?
It’s very simple: the American founders did not want to create a democracy. Democracy is chaotic and too easily results in the tyranny of the majority. Since a simple majority of any group of people is often wrong and, not infrequently, very wrong – witness the massive crowds attending the rallies of Barack Obama, who in his speeches either says nothing but feel-good platitudes or promotes the worst kind of liberalism directly opposed to the wisdom that made this country great – the founders, foreseeing how easily crowds can be seduced by a good but empty speaker, created a system of institutions that filters and moderates popular impulses.
It also preserves our constitutional system as a federal republic, and keeps it from degenerating into a direct democracy controlled only by big cities and big states. If there were no Electoral College, candidates would never come to Colorado and Wyoming – they would spend all their time campaigning in New York, California, Texas, and Florida, and in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. In a direct democracy, carrying nothing but California, New York, and the big cities could get you very close to the presidency.
In fact, that’s exactly what Al Gore did in 2000. If you look at one of those red/blue maps you saw so many of while the 2000 hanging chads were still being counted, you’ll notice that all of the major urban areas are blue. All of the rural areas in between the concentrated blue areas are red. In terms of square miles, Bush won going away. In terms of people, Gore won. The electoral college – as it was designed to do – protected the interests of massive rural areas and their durable American values against the heavily concentrated populations of more educated but less virtuous urbanites, in the process protecting the interests of small states against big ones and the very meaning of what it means to be a state in the United States.
All of this classical American political wisdom the Democratic Party wants to do away with, and has already done away with in its own state primaries and caucuses. If you are following the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, you are noting that the winner of a particular state doesn’t matter all that much because delegates are assigned proportionally to the popular vote. If you win 53% of the popular vote in a state, you get 53% of the delegates for that state. This destroys the meaning of delegates and, to a large degree, of states – delegates become merely a direct proxy for the popular vote. The candidate who wins the Democratic nomination will have won the largest number of individual votes, not the largest number of states and state delegates. This is not a republic, but a directly democratic form of government, which is why the Democratic Party is called Democratic.
In contrast, note how Republicans conduct their primaries. For the most part (there are exceptions), winner takes all. If you win a state, you get all that state’s delegates. This is how a federal republic operates, which is why the Republican Party is called Republican. This is, moreover, how the founders designed the presidential election system to work (the Electoral College is set up in Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, and was modified by the 12th Amendment), and is the kind of connection that explains and is explained by the fact that Republicans, with notable exceptions like Sen. John McCain, generally defend historic American political values while Democrats, their rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, typically oppose historic American political values and want to reconstruct the Constitution in their own image.
Hillary Clinton is already on record calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. If you want to see how this looks, just look at how the Democratic Party is conducting its primaries and caucuses now. Not only is there very little federalism or states rights in it, but on top of the popular vote the party has constructed a system of “superdelegates” who are not tied to any state; they are party elites who can vote for whomever they wish. The number of superdelegates is so large that they can easily sway an election, regardless of the popular vote; indeed, after Tuesday’s election victories by Hillary Clinton, we are assured that this year’s Democratic nominee will be chosen according to which way the superdelegates swing. The Republican Party has no superdelegates.
This is educational: while Democrats pay lip service to serving the people in their efforts to deconstruct historic American political structures, what they do in reality is replace those political structures with increased power at the top. The people are not empowered; the rhetoric of empowering the people is used, just as Stalin and Mao and Trotsky used it, to clear the way for government by a small band of elites. This is the most pernicious effect of direct democracy the American founders foresaw, and against which we are protected as long as we defend the structures they put in place. The Electoral College while it filters popular government, does so to protect government of, by, and for the people.
So the next time your friend, coworker, family member, neighbor, priest, pastor, or friendly neighborhood professor bad-mouths the generation of Americans who founded your country, remind them she – not “it” – is great for a reason, and no other generation of nation builders has ever been so supremely successful in their efforts to endow their posterity with the blessings of wise liberty.