2020-10-24

Is This Any Way to Elect a President? The Electoral College and Minority Rule

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by Tim Widowfield

It is happening again. A curtain of dread hangs over the United States. Will we have yet another election in which millions of votes by American citizens go for naught simply because they live in the wrong states? Or will Joe Biden manage to win by a big enough margin to overcome structural deficits in swing states like Florida and Ohio?

And for heaven’s sake, how did we end up with such a bizarre system in the first place? On the right side of the political spectrum, an unending stream of purple punditry with its requisite wailing and garment-rending would lead one to believe that both the Senate and the Electoral College arose solely from the Founders’ belief in republicanism. The brain trust assures us that we have “a republic, not a democracy,” and (gasp!) if we degenerate into a democracy, all hell will break loose.

Roll the Bones

To do away with either or both of these institutions, they intone, is a bridge too far. A 2019 column by Sumantra Maitra at The Federalist is an excellent case in point.

After crossing the river, Caesar famously said Alea Eacta Est [sic], or the die is cast. Thus crossing the Rubicon is now considered a revolutionary act that aims to destroy the status quo, structure, and balance, from which there’s no return. The only way forward is through chaos.

The current Democratic presidential frontrunners, with their war cries of Electoral College abolition and reduction of the voting age, signify another crossing the Rubicon moment. That’s because without the Senate, and without the Electoral College, there would be no states in the United States of America. Essentially, there would be no republic anymore. And if history is a good teacher, every time there was direct democracy, it has led to a Caesar—or worse.

I refer to this essay as a nearly perfect example, not only because it typifies modern bombastic, pseudointellectual conservatism, with its requisite citations of irrelevant historical precedents (while in this case, hilariously misspelling alea jacta est), but also because it consistently fails to define its own terms. To evaluate whether the removal of the Electoral College would destroy the republic and somehow create, as Maitra warns, a “direct democracy,” we would need to understand what the founders meant by a “republic.”

In fact, while many conservatives in the U.S. will gladly tell you at every opportunity that we have a republic and not a democracy, they rarely will tell you what that means. They will, of course, imply that a republic is better and will sternly warn you that democracy is nothing but “mob rule.” But what are the characteristics of a republic? What are its fundamental principles? Continue reading “Is This Any Way to Elect a President? The Electoral College and Minority Rule”


2019-08-13

Some Thoughts on the Lessons of Vietnam and the General Who “Lost” the War

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

A few weeks ago, I was dealing with a mold issue in our RV’s bathroom. (Note: If you see mushrooms growing out of a crack in the wall, it’s usually a bad sign.) Having resigned myself to working with gloves, wearing a mask, sitting uncomfortably on the floor for at least an hour, I resolved to find a long audio program on YouTube and let it play while I worked. I happened upon a presentation by Dr. Lewis Sorley, based mainly on his book, Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. (You can find the video at the end of this post.)

I had studied the Vietnam War as an undergraduate history major back in the 1980s, so much of what Sorley had to say covered old ground for me. Back in those days, of course, we could still refer to it as America’s Longest War without worrying whether some other disastrous Asian war might overtake it. After all, we had “learned the lessons of Vietnam,” right?

Later, as a student at Squadron Officer School, I certainly thought we had learned those lessons. From a policy perspective, the first lesson had to be clarity of purpose. On the military side, we would never again fight a limited war of attrition; instead, we would use overwhelming force to achieve clear objectives. In a nutshell, this is the “Get-In-and-Get-Out” Doctrine: Know your objectives. Achieve them in minimum time with minimal loss of life.

We would absolutely avoid any future quagmires. Or so we thought.

I should mention that several other lessons — both spoken and unspoken — arose out of the Vietnam experience. The practice of embedding journalists within fighting units came out of the beliefs that the press should not have been permitted to work as independent observers and that allowing them to move freely in South Vietnam had been a mistake.

An expanding set of myths about why we lost the war blossomed quickly into an alternate history in which unreliable draftees, fickle politicians in Washington, pinko journalists, and the hippy peace movement conspired to keep us from winning.

Some of these myths took hold naturally, as veterans told their personal stories, relating with frustration how the body counts didn’t seem to matter, that the V.C. would return again and again, that the stupid war of attrition didn’t work, and what’s more, nobody seemed to give a damn that it wasn’t working. That much was true.
Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Lessons of Vietnam and the General Who “Lost” the War”


2010-12-14

Why the public fear of democracy? Why the defence of Big Brother?

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by Neil Godfrey

User big brother 1984
Image via Wikipedia

Strange how so often I read public indignation over WikiLeaks comparing what Wikileaks has done with having their own personal files being hacked and made public. The presumption is that the government has all the rights of a private person. It’s as if many people really want their government to have all the privileges of private individuals. Many seem to think that unless the government has such personal privacy rights then it cannot protect their — the public’s — interests!

What happened to the presumption that governments are accountable to the people? I used to think of governments as public bodies. There was something called the “public service”. We used to speak about the “public interest” and the public’s right to know. Democracy itself was predicated on a free and open information society.

So when someone in that public service leaked a document to the press and the press published it, the scandal that would ensue would be over what the government had been up to in secret for fear of those to whom it was accountable.

The turn around from all of these values and assumptions staggers me somewhat. What an amazing turnaround that so many people now seem convinced that a government really should be treated like a private brother, only a bigger one.