Category Archives: The Vote

It Must Be True, I read It In The LA Times!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Federalism, Democracy And Presidential Elections

One-term George. Who knew?

In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times written by Mary McNamara, the Times television critic. we are informed of a little known fact of history.

According to McNamara

George Washington (David Morse) so quickly tired of the infighting among his Cabinet and vagaries of public opinion that he stepped down from the presidency after a single term. (emphasis added)

Of course this “fact” is utter nonsense. George Washington served two terms from 1789-1797. He was unanimously elected to both terms by the electoral college. Only a few states held popular elections for president in either of these elections. The electoral college delegates were mostly chosen by state legislatures at the time. This was the case because the constitutional architects feared and despised direct democracy at least as much as they feared and despised monarchy. That’s why structures like the electoral college exist and why modern democrats (note small “D”) hate the electoral college.

And it is in this fact that the author displays an even wider gap in her knowledge than just the historical facts surrounding the election and terms of the first two presidents. She demonstrates that she does not understand that the United States was designed by the framers of the Constitution as a limited federal constitutional republic, not a democracy. She says about the HBO series John Adams, about the second President of the United States, the following

“John Adams,” which comes to a close Sunday night, has devoted seven beautifully shot hours to defying the often overly patriotic legends of our past with a toothache-and-all portrait of a man who helped define modern democracy, albeit grumbling every step of the way (emphasis added).

Just to be clear, the writer is referring to the same John Adams who said

Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

Doesn’t sound like Adams was a big fan of democracy. Neither were most of the constitutional framers and founders of the nation. In fact, the design of the federal government demonstrates that the framers intended to avoid democracy. James Madison, in Federalist #10, for instance wrote

Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths… A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.

The writer’s first mistake, that Washington served only one term, is inexcusable because a 45 second self-check on Google would have given her the correct facts. Also, how did a gaffe like this get past an editor, any editor worth the name? The fact that she is a TV critic speaks volumes, but serves as a very poor excuse.

Her second mistake, that John Adams was one of the architects of “modern democracy,” is inexcusable because it is virtually impossible to find a teacher or college professor who

  1. knows that the framers designed the United States as a republic
  2. understands why the framers feared democracy
  3. knows the difference philosophically between a republic and a democracy
  4. cares about the difference

A very sad commentary on our current educational system, indeed.

McClatchy Newspapers Has a “DUH!” Moment

Voting MachineI gotta hand it to you, George. You certainly do have a talent for trivializin’ the momentous and complicatin’ the obvious. You ever considered runnin’ for Congress?- General James Kemper to General George Pickett in Gettysburg

In this article running in McClatchy Newspapers under the stunningly understated headline “McCain’s Senate record not always conservative,” authors David Lightman and Matt Stearns demonstrate a similar talent to the one George Pickett is accused of having in the opening quote.

What makes this headline, and really the entire article, so laughable is that anyone EVER thought that John McCain was a “conservative.” This is another indicator that the word “conservative” has been so stretched and distorted to create a “big tent” covering that the word is, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. It is also an indicator of the perspective of the authors of the article and the McClatchy editors. When one is sitting to the left of Franklin Roosevelt, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, et al EVERYBODY to the right looks like a “conservative.”

The authors unwittingly engage in “damnation by faint praise” in tooting McCain’s supposed “conservative” Senate record. They do so by adding qualifiers like “usually,” “most of the time,” “often enough,” “reasonably conservative” and the sycophantic media label of grudging respect “maverick.”

What the authors fail to exploit is the obvious dichotomy of opinion on McCain from groups like the American Conservative Union (ACU) and The National Rifle Assoc. (NRA). The article makes it clear that no one really trusts McCain but some (NRA) are willing to drink the Kool-Aid because of the looming boogy man of a Clinton or Obama presidency. This is nothing new. The NRA is always the first one at the compromise bar, ordering a triple, when the 2nd amendment is at stake. At least some of the “conservatives” grasp that a philosophically rudderless McCain cut loose from the fetters of his relatively “conservative” Arizona constituency is a dangerously unstable entity.

Federalism, Democracy and Presidential Elections

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Federalism, Democracy And Presidential Elections

Voting MachineOver at a blog this author reads regularly (and recommends, great theology, really cool comic graphics), Frank Turk’s …And His Ministers A Flame Of Fire, Frank has made the following observation

In spite of what some people have already said, the primary system in this country has evolved toward a democratic process and away from the idea that party elites should pick a candidate apart from an electoral process.

It’s interesting in what ways the Clintons want to take our nation back to 1820.

This post prompted me to do a quick review of the class I’m preparing for Camp American on the electoral college. This being an election year and all, I thought this would be a great advanced class for some of our young budding Christian constitutional scholars who already have a working knowledge of the documents. I took notice of two things from Frank’s post.

The first is Frank’s observation that the presidential election process has evolved toward a more democratic process for choosing a president and away from the constitutional republican representational process the founders designed. The second is that the current fight in the Democratic party with the Clinton team’s attempted manipulation of the so-called super-delegates is a throwback to the party structure of 1820. Frank’s a really smart guy and has a pretty good handle on the workings of the current political system but may not know the ins and outs of the original design and evolution of the current system for election of the chief executive. Such is the state of modern constitutional education that most people don’t know the details unless they make a special effort to learn the details.

Well that’s why we do Camp American, and why the Institute For Principled Policy is involved. In order to understand how we got where we are, we have to know where we started. The original design of the framers was for a representative federal republic. We emphasize the word federal because the current understanding of federalism is vastly different than it was in the late 18th century. To keep this from becoming a multi-post series in 500 parts, we’ll stick to the highlights of this issue.

The framers vision of the federal government’s design was built on the idea that the states, which were autonomous republics, delegated certain limited powers to the federal government for three specific purposes; defense, diplomacy, and trade. There are many implications of this structure, but one of the most important to understand that, as Dr. Thomas Woods has eloquently stated, under the system of federalism as it existed until about 1865 the only contact that the majority of citizens had with the federal government was with the post office. Under this system, the federal government was a creation of the states and therefore it was decided at the Constitutional Convention, after lengthy and hard-fought debate with numerous contradictory resolutions and several see-saw attempts at a solution to the problem of election of a president which ranged from popular election to election by state legislatures to election by the federal legislature, that an electoral college would be the method by which a president would be elected. The number of electors for each state is based on the number of senators (2) each state is allotted plus the number of federal representatives allotted to it by the census count. The method each state was to use to choose these electors was left to the states themselves with limited restrictions such as candidates for the office and federal office holders not being electors. The hope of the framers was that each congressional district in each individual state would be represented by an elector from that district who would represent the interests of the district. The two senatorial representatives, it was hoped, would be representatives of the state governments’ interests. It should be noted that this system was designed well before any political parties had been even conceived of.

In its original form, the electoral college in each state was to vote for two candidates from a slate of nominees. The list of nominees was chosen by the consensus of caucuses, usually regional, within the US House of Representatives. The top vote-getter who received a majority (not a plurality) of the electoral votes became the president. The second highest became vice-president. If no candidate got a majority of electoral votes then the top 5 vote-getters were presented to the House of Representatives who were to immediately cast a presidential ballot. If no candidate received a majority of votes then the legislature was to go into caucus by states with each state getting one vote. Voting continued until a president was elected. Growing factionalism and failed conspiratorial intrigue in the elections of 1796 and 1800 complete with an electoral crisis in the 1800 presidential election caused the introduction of the 12th amendment which dropped the number of candidates on the presidential slate if the election went to the House from 5 to 3 candidates and provided for a separate slate of vice-presidential candidates, leading to the current method of choosing a running-mate. Not only was this system not democratic, it was specifically designed to prevent organized majorities from overwhelming the interests of minority populations. One need only read The Federalist to understand that democracy was a form of government the framers feared and avoided.

In the beginning of the republic, most of the states chose presidential electors in their state legislatures. But by the election of 1836 the only state which still held to this method was South Carolina, which did not switch to a popular election of electors until the fateful 1860 election. Political parties did not really exist until after Washington’s first term. They were formed on the basis of several major issues; first, whether or not to get involved in the French Revolution and which faction to support. Second, constitutional interpretation of issues regarding a National Bank and “internal improvements” and presidential authority. Third, the roles of the federal government and the state governments and centralized authority. The Federalists under Hamilton wanted to abandon France, grow presidential authority and diminish the power of the states. The Democratic-Republicans under Jefferson wanted the opposite. What we now call parties were then only what Madison called “factions” because there were only guiding philosophies and no official organizations or platforms until Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren hammered together the Democratic Party from their faction of the old Democratic-Republican’s in the 1828 election. The other faction became the Whigs, the Federalists having committed political suicide in 1816 leaving a single party. From the election of 1796 until the election of 1832 candidates for president were chosen by party caucus alone. After a revolt of newer western party members in the election of 1824 where they rejected the party’s nominee in favor of Andrew Jackson, the party convention system was developed. Convention delegates were chosen by party caucuses in the individual states.

This system of presidential nominations, delegates to national conventions chosen in local and state party caucuses, continued relatively unchanged through the 19th century into the so-called Progressive era. In 1910(!) Oregon held the first presidential primary that bound delegates to a specific candidate at the 1912 national party conventions. Interestingly, this humble beginning led to a split in the Republican party in the 1912 election. Former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was an overwhelming favorite in the tiny number of states with a primary election, but sitting Republican president William Howard Taft held the nomination from the vast majority of delegates chosen in party caucus and because most primaries were non-binding. Really just beauty contests, if you will. Hence, the Bull Moose or more correctly the Progressive Party split from the Republicans with TR at the helm which eventually finished second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Taft was a distant third. Interestingly, only a few states adopted the primary system, even after this.

By 1968 only 14 states used the binding primary election or some variation of it. Interestingly 1968 was the last election where a candidate controlled a convention with no primary victories. Hubert Humphrey was the candidate. He won no primaries because he didn’t run in any. Anyone over 50 should clearly remember the events of the summer of 1968 with the Chicago Democratic Convention. Thus, the founders’ fear of direct democracy was born out and we were treated to both a revolutionary vanguard and a police riot over a brokered political convention. Perfect direct democracy leading to anarchy, just as Madison feared. The spirit of a constitutionally limited representationally elected republican (note small “R”) chief executive, elected to serve in a federal government which was constrained from interference in the lives of the individual, gradually became weaker and sicker throughout the 19th century, became comatose in the Progressive era and died in the summer of 1968.

After 1968 the number of primaries exploded, most states using some form of the binding primary. In the spirit of “democracy,” slowly but surely, discontent has grown with the idea that small rural states like Iowa and New Hampshire can set the electoral tone of the whole primary race for the whole country. Several states have worked to develop schemes to have their own states be in the first tier, some scheming to knock New Hampshire out as the earliest primary, a position most are surprised to learn it has held only since 1952. Now, after the Michigan and Florida debacles of this election cycle, the parties are clamoring for some kind of federal fix of the primary system, a power they do not constitutionally possess. Remember that the original republican design was for the states to choose how the chief executive was to be elected.

Now we are beginning to see, with the current cycle especially, the compression of the time available to make a choice for who should be the President. As this trend grows, candidates spend more and more money on media, consultants and staff, talk in shorter and shorter sound bytes, designed by advisers to have the highest positive emotional impact on subjects that the media has been working for months or years to create a particular kind of popular “buzz.” Candidate sound bytes need not necessarily contain any real intellectual content, nor does it necessarily need to cohere with the candidates stated policy positions. No need to contact the brain if the heart can be touched properly. Candidates who are the best media manipulators in appealing to their target audiences, end up in the lead. Those who have the resources dig for dirt on their opponents, knowing that the popular wind can shift in an instant if the right kind of scandal can be found and the media gatekeepers allow its use.

So, I think I can safely conclude that Frank’s timetable is off somewhat. The Clintons are not trying to revisit the politics of 1820, where the republican spirit was still quite alive, though it had caught a chill and the first signs of fever had set in, but back to the halcyon days of 1968, when a candidate didn’t have to win primaries to get a party’s nomination, but could manipulate the masses with blatant emotional appeals to the progressive dream of forcible redistribution of wealth in a completely egalitarian utopia in attempting to grab their party’s nomination. In other words, they’re trying to be the best possible democrats (note small “D”).

Warning! Blatant plug follows

If you want your kids to understand the original intent of the Constitution, the Christian origins of the nation’s foundational documents, economics, the truth about global warming and biblical stewardship of resources, have fun and meet new friends, check out Camp American.

Watching The “Debate”

Voting MachineAside from mock civility between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, the insincerity of which was so thick that a professional grade chainsaw would have to employed to have the faintest hope of cutting it, there was nothing of any real note in tonight’s Democratic Party debate. Brian Williams and Tim Russert could just as easily have phoned in their inane and useless questions about campaign tactics. Both of these “hard hitting” journalists appear to have left the pads in the locker room in favor of a light workout. Policy questions revealed that the only real difference between the Obama and Clinton platforms, even the much vaunted health care issue, was the color of the fringe around the edges. In other words there wasn’t any real difference. Hillary’s approach to health care may be less disingenuous than Barak’s because Hillary admits her’s is a “gun in the back” approach. Barak’s approach makes the phony appeal to “choice.”

The howler of the evening came when Obama explained that since he had been a constitutional law professor he understood the impact certain policies probably better than anyone else. This raised an idea for a new party game. Find the saltiest chips you can buy and make sure no one has had anything to drink. A list of Barak Obama’s campaign proposals (or Hillary’s or McCain’s or Huckabee’s, for that matter) are given to each player. Each player must read a proposal and then look for the authority to implement that policy in the Constitution. Any player failing to find the authority in the Constitution must eat a handful of chips. No one can drink anything unless they can find a clear constitutional authority for the candidate in question’s proposals. It’s a lead pipe cinch that the gamers will be demanding the suspension (if they can muster enough saliva to actually wet their puckered lips and croak out their demands) of the game by the third round.

Totally appropos of nothing, it appeared that MSNBC dedicated a soft-focus camera for Hillary. It also appears that her handlers made sure that theatrical makeup was applied…ahem…liberally (meaning with a trowel) and she was warned to keep her facial muscle movements to a minimum to avoid re-exposing the crevasses they had artfully concealed.

The bottom line is that Hillary needed to hit a home run in order to right the sinking ship of her campaign in Ohio and Texas, and consequently the US. Barak just needed to appear to not be mean to the girl. She whiffed. He didn’t.

Overall, this “debate” was a gross waste of time. Except for the idea for the party game, maybe.

Ron Paul; The WYSIWIG Candidate

Voting MachineFor those of you who aren’t completely computer jargon savvy, my apologies. WYSIWIG stands for “what you see is what you get.”

After watching the Republican presidential debates on January 5th, a friend of mine has decided he knows how to get Ron Paul elected to the presidency.

He has watched Paul’s performances in several of the debates and analyzed what’s wrong with his home-spun approach to the presidential race and proposed a surefire approach to woo the modern American electorate that is tested, tried and true.

According to my friend…

…Ron Paul needs to take about $500,000 of the monies he has and invest in a marketing firm. He needs to memorize and practice his answers and he needs to work on developing some responses that don’t always end in constitution (sic).

He also needs to take another half million and hire a marketing research firm. In my humble opinion he really needs to know what the public is looking to hear

Ron Paul is not sending a clear message and it is not a confident one. That has to change and quickly!!!!!

He needs to hire those two firms, lock himself in a room with them for three weeks and THEN address the public. He also needs to hire a pr (sic) man to head up the frontal assail…

In other words, my friend thinks Ron Paul should transform himself into the other Republican (and Democrat, for that matter) presidential candidates. This is, of course, the stock in trade of the modern political consultant; make the candidate as physically attractive as possible, have him memorize a list of stock populist answers that are to be regurgitated anytime questions with certain sequences of words are strung together by reporters, anchorettes, political bloggers, etc. Candidates under the tutelage of the political consultant are warned never, ever, EVER to delve into controversial subjects and to stick to the script, lest the candidate actually have to think about his answer, as if most modern media types were capable of tripping up the modern political consultant honed and polished candidate. Political consultants guide candidates “right” or “left” of their current positions on issues chosen to appeal to the majority of voters in a given party for primary season then toward the “center” to appease the majority of voters of both parties or neither party for general elections. Of course, these designations (right, left, center) are constantly moving targets in accordance with the will and whim of the electorate, the very definition of the “democratic” process. One election cycle’s “left” or “right” may be the last cycles “center.”

My friend is convinced that a wash, wax and buff of Ron Paul’s image and a disconnection, rhetorically at least, from the highest law of the land, the Constitution, will get him the Republican nomination and he might be right, but then what? In order to understand this question we have to see where my friend is wrong.

First, he thinks that Paul has to stop talking about the Constitution. Stop talking about the Constitution? How can he do this? It is the very core, the soul if you will, of his message and his approach to government. So what polished populist phraseology could one employ to convey a message about say… hard money? What quickie sound byte would convey the message about rising prices in terms of the hidden taxation of fiat money? What polished phrase or phrases would a consultant give to Paul to explain in 30 seconds or less (and preferably 15 or less) the Madisonian constitutional concept of divided sovereignty or designated powers? How could Paul explain in a few well-crafted words, without mentioning the Constitution, his opposition to socialized retirement Ponzi schemes like Social Security and the proposed nationalized health care system? How could Paul put his opposition to undeclared wars and military incursions with a few well-timed and cleverly phrased sentences without the US Constitution as the reference anchor?

The answer is that it cannot be done. The Constitution that every voter claims to love as the document that guarantees his individual rights and yet is woefully ignorant of, is the anchor chain that ties our government to the rock solid foundation of law. Potential Paul voters who ignore it, disparage it, claim it is a “living and flexible” document or are simply bored by it adopt these positions at their own peril. Paul can no more detach his message of limited government from the Constitution than an evangelist can be used to bring elect sinners to God by detaching their efforts from God’s law. Without the Constitution there are no limits on government; without God’s law there is no measurement of sin.

This comparison with modern antinomian practices of politics and evangelism is not merely a passing coincidence. It is really a window into the mindset of the majority of evangelical Christian Americans, both those involved in politics and those who are not. As my friend says in his post…

…I’m a constitutionalist but I’m also a realist and understand that IMAGE is everything. After all this is a popularity contest, right???

Personally I think that this is what is holding him back. I’m not necessarily talking about physical image but the image he portrays. I like many others feel that he has a good message but to the voting populous (sic). . not so much.

This is a very revealing quote. My friend is not really very different in his thinking from the majority of Christian Americans and I am not writing this to belittle him or his thoughts, but to analyze his ideas in the light of biblical principle, which I believe should govern all aspects of government- self, family, church and civil. Unfortunately, what underlies the sentiment expressed in this quote is the false idea that both the concept of constitutionalism and salvation can be peddled to a potential convert by using just the right sales presentation. And since the cause is just, any method that works is acceptable. The end justifies the means, as it were.

If the candidate or pastor is just handsome, funny and/or engaging enough; if he uses just the right words, with just enough meaning to give a vague picture of what he is selling which the imagination of the hearer can fill in as he sees fit; if the message has just the right amount of (down to and including no) talk of constitutional limits, rights and responsibilities or Jesus, sin and hell; if just the right combination can be found then the convert will fall into the candidate or evangelists hands like a ripe fruit. If a candidate or evangelist needs to obscure or hide unpleasant or difficult to explain parts of the agenda in order to sell it to the most people then so be it. The converts will eventually osmose those missing details and thank you for lying about it when it’s all over and done. Or more likely, they’ll feel suckered, again, swear that the candidate or evangelist is nothing but a sweet talking swindler, out for his own power or gain and walk away forever. In politics as in evangelism, the soft sell minus the cold hard facts of the consequences of failing to act according to law yields false converts who fall away after the first emotional rush has worn off or the first trouble arises.

All of the men and women running for president have a track record. Their performances can be checked against their rhetoric. My friend thinks Paul isn’t sending a “clear message or a confident one.” And yet his congressional record speaks volumes about his adherence to the principles he espouses. We would challenge you to compare Ron Paul’s floor votes against the delegated powers and authorities reserved to Congress in the Constitution. If you can find one that violates the explicit intent of the Constitution we will be shocked. Not so for ANY of the other candidates.

And Paul has done this to the detriment of his political career. Republican leaders have, at least twice, attempted to displace him from his House seat with back room Republican party shenanigans and failed twice. Paul cannot get the choice committee assignments that 10 termers can normally count on because he won’t sell his principles down the river for personal gain. Sounds very clear and confident to us.

I’m hearing complaints that Ron Paul doesn’t look good enough or just isn’t projecting a “presidential image.” On one blog that I frequent, a poster said that Paul resembled “Ross Perot on prunes” in the last debate. Well, he’s not as pretty as Mitt Romney or John Edwards, but he’s no Quasimodo or Ross Perot, either. The insistence on sleek looks to go with a golden tongue is yet another sign that Americans are more impressed with style than substance and convinced that this is what is necessary to win. This isn’t a new problem. The book of 1 Samuel in the Bible recounts the selection of Saul as king of Israel. “Give us a king to judge us” was the cry of the people, but God understood what was really happening. He tells Samuel “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” The 10th chapter of 1 Samuel shows that the people wanted a kingdom over a republic and liked Saul, a truly awful king, because he looked like they thought a king should look.

If Paul heeds advice like this then he will lose his core support. Not if he hires someone to change his suit or tie selection or maybe to polish his delivery a little or minor details like that. But if he allows himself to be manipulated into talking in sound bytes and platitudes and abandons the Constitution as the pivot point of his message, then he’s finished. Real constitutionalists don’t care what Paul looks like or that he may not be as slick in his presentation of his platform as other candidates. They’ve had a bellyfull of gold-tongued glad-handers who make vague pledges to either enrich us from the public coffers or put an end to the nanny state, depending on the crowd with no regard to constitutional authority to do what’s been promised. What they do care about is Paul’s 10-term congressional record which unequivocally shows that Ron Paul cares about the limits imposed on government and the enforcement of those limits as they effect individual rights. The bottom line is that the Ron Paul that you see is the one that you get. And that ain’t bad.