The Framers Aren’t All They’re Cracked up to Be

The men who gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution were geniuses. But they couldn't predict the future.

In response to Steven Taylor’s “Checks and Balances are Not What They are Cracked up to Be,” longtime commenter @Michael Reynolds argues that the Framers ultimately crafted a system that served their own interests and thereby contributed to a lot of human misery. While he’s not wrong, it’s mostly unfair to have expected otherwise.

Michael begins,

They also failed to anticipate the Wyoming vs. California effect on the Senate and on the electoral college. They failed to anticipate the degree to which issues would become small ‘d’ democratized and inevitably dumbed down and radicalized. They failed to anticipate that the US would become a dominant global power benefitting from that global system. They failed to anticipate the US military role in modern history and the development of ICBM’s which pushed power to the executive. They failed to anticipate automatic rifles in private hands.

To blame the Framers for having failed to anticipate partisanship, as Steven does, is quite reasonable. Political parties, after all, had existed in England for a century when the Constitution was written.

That they failed to anticipate the challenges of the frontier, much less global empire, is more understandable. They were writing from the perspective of a nascent country of four million people along the Eastern Seaboard thousands of miles away from other civilized countries in an era before steam power. Not only would the modern world have baffled most of them, they would never have imagined that we’d still be trying to govern ourselves by the document.

More importantly, while the “Wyoming vs. California effect” has indeed had a pernicious impact, the Framers weren’t building a theoretical governmental system but proposing a radical change to an existing framework. Under the existing Articles of Confederation, the 13 states were sovereign equals. Rhode Island and Delaware were simply not going to consent to suddenly having one-tenth the voting power of Virginia or even one-eighth that of Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. That they acceded to the Great or Connecticut compromise, which created a Senate where all states were equal but a House where representation was based on population (and even non-voting slaves counted three-fifths) was a rather remarkable display of statesmanship.

They made a lot of mistakes – chiefly the failure to deal with Native Americans, African-Americans or women. But also the Second Amendment. These oversights have cost us how many dead Indians, how many dead or enslaved blacks, how many dead on both sides in the Civil War? And how many dead at the hands of gun nuts? Millions.

Again, I don’t think these are “oversights” so much as hindsight. While there were surely some “woke” folks in 1787 who thought that blacks and Indians ought have equal representation—and presumably many more who thought white women should—it was simply inconceivable that there were enough to have written a Constitution reflecting those values. Much less get it ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures of the day.

If we had a simple one person, one vote system Trump would never have been elected. If we had a proportional Senate Trump would now be facing an actual trial instead of McConnell’s travesty. Maybe it’s time to take a more realistic view of the founders we tend to treat as oracles of eternal wisdom.

Michael, Steven, and I are in full agreement that the Senate and Electoral College are anachronisms and ought to go. And Steven and I were telling US Government 101 students that the Framers were brilliant but flawed men—and, at the end of the day, mere politicians—two decades ago.

We also largely agree on this coda:

The system they created has ceased to function in a way that represents the will of the American people. They created a system that benefitted people like themselves: wealthy white males and that’s who it has benefited for a century and a half. The Senate has gone from 100% white to 90% white, in 150 years. In that same time we’ve gone from 100% male to ‘just’ 75% male. IOW from one perspective the constitution has done what it was built to do: preserve the dominance of wealthy white men.

I first took an oath to the Constitution, swearing to defend its principles and the Republic it governed, more than 35 years ago. I’ve renewed it several times since, meaning it every time. It’s truly remarkable that a document crafted by eighteenth-century politicians to deal with the circumstances of a tiny, fledgling country has managed to survive into the twenty-first century and the circumstances of a continental nation and global superpower.

I was able to tell myself for most of that time that the Constitution still worked. Sure, the inequity between the small and large states has exploded and made the system less democratic in that regard. But we’ve also made it much more democratic in others, extending the franchise to all citizens, regardless of race, gender, or class, over eighteen.* And I was long sympathetic to the notion that our policies should reflect national consensus rather than pure majoritarianism, so was fine with the filibuster and the “Wyoming-California effect” until the last decade or so.

But it’s one thing for the wishes of 51 percent of the country to be thwarted by the strong opposition of the other 49 percent and quite another for the wishes of 30 percent to predominate. It’s one thing for the Presidency to go to a narrow loser in a once-every-century-plus event as it did in 2000; it’s quite another for it to go to someone who lost by nearly three million votes just sixteen years later.

The Senate, and therefore the Presidency, were designed to over-value the preferences of small-state voters. That became increasingly problematic as the size disparity between states grew but could nonetheless be justified on theoretical grounds. As we’ve become more polarized and, especially, as politics became more nationalized, it’s harder to justify.

Moreover, there’s no obvious mechanism for fixing the problem. It’s next to impossible to amend the Constitution in any case and much moreso in this instance. It’s inconceivable that the Senate would vote to take away the power of the smaller states; it would be political suicide for small-state Senators.** And, if that somehow happened, it’s inconceivable that the small-state legislatures would go along.

________________

*Yes, there are caveats in practice but they’re not a function of the Constitutional arrangements at the national level but of federalism. Further, that more women and non-whites aren’t elected to office is more a function of our history and culture than our institutional arrangements.

**I suppose partisanship could override state loyalty, such that a Democratic landslide in 2020 could decide that realignment would serve the party’s long-time interest.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Politics 101, U.S. Constitution, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kurtz says:

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

  2. mattbernius says:

    Not only would the modern world have baffled most of them, [the founders] would never have imagined that we’d still be trying to govern ourselves by the document.

    […]

    Moreover, there’s no obvious mechanism for fixing the problem. It’s next to impossible to amend the Constitution in any case and much moreso in this instance.

    Its beating a dead house especially here, but (after laying the ground work for the civil war by putting in the issue of Slavery) this is the greatest failing of the Founders. They imagined that the Constitution would be updated but essentially made it all but impossible to do so once the Country began to grow.

    I think the rest of Michael’s points are more about how (often unconsciously) dominant ideologies of the time are built into cultural products.

  3. I am fairly certain that the “Founding Fathers” — a term that did not come into common use until the Harding Administration — would agree that neither they nor the document they drafted was perfect as written or that they anticipated all the changes that would befall the nation culturally, politically and otherwise. If anything, their primary concern in 1787 was drafting a document that would allow for the effective governing of a nation that consisted of 13 states lying on the East Coast of North America in a way that would, hopefully, be able to resist what they believed would be the inevitable effort of the more powerful nations in Europe, particularly, France and England, from dominating the political scene and effectively turning the nation into a puppet state of either London or Paris. indeed, if you take a look at the history of the Washington, Adams, and Jefferson Administration’s the issue of such foreign dominance was a primary concern of both domestic and foreign policy. It wasn’t until the Louisana Purchase and the War of 1812 that those concerns were (mostly) put to the side, although they did flare up again during the Civil War when there was a danger that the British would put their thumb on the scale in favor of the Confederacy.

    The drafters of the Constitution recognized their own lack of perfection, and their inability to foretell the future, by putting the Amendment procedures of Article V in place. Yes, it’s a difficult thing to do, but that’s because it should be difficult to alter the fundamental law of the land without an adequate consensus. It’s not impossible, though, as has been proven on 27 different occasions in the past. The fact that we can’t, or won’t, come to a consensus on some issues isn’ their fault, it’s our own. They did the best they could with what they had. The Constitution wasn’t perfect even at the time it was written, but as Madison implied in one of the Federalist Papers, men are not angels so its foolish to expect it to have been, and it’s equally as foolish, in my opinion, to criticize them for not anticipating what a 21st Century Continental nation would be like.

  4. @mattbernius:

    To be fair, if the drafters of the Constitution had tried to ban slavery in 1787, there would have been no Constitution, the failures of the Articles of Confederation would have likely meant that the small country would have been turned into a puppet of European powers, and the United States of America might not have even survived a quarter-century of existence.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius:

    Its beating a dead house especially here, but (after laying the ground work for the civil war by putting in the issue of Slavery) this is the greatest failing of the Founders. .

    As @Doug Mataconis notes, there was simply no way that the slave states would have agreed to Union without protection for slavery.

    They imagined that the Constitution would be updated but essentially made it all but impossible to do so once the Country began to grow

    Yes, although I don’t think they could have done otherwise. Remember, amending the Articles required unanimity. The three-quarters rule made amending much easier. But they very much wanted to make changing the foundational document hard.

    I think the rest of Michael’s points are more about how (often unconsciously) dominant ideologies of the time are built into cultural products.

    I think that’s fair and certainly true.

  6. I suppose partisanship could override state loyalty, such that a Democratic landslide in 2020 could decide that realignment would serve the party’s long-time interest.

    In talking about changing the nature of the Senate, it is worth keeping in mind the provisions of the final section of Article V of the Constitution, which states that:

    “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

    This means that equal representation in the Senate cannot be changed without the consent of every single state in the Union. That, obviously, is not going to happen now or at any conceivable point in the future.

  7. mattbernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis & @James Joyner:
    I should have stated “in retrospect” in the original comment. I tend to fall into the “they did the best they could with what they had” camp and I understand how difficult consensus was. So these were not “unforced errors.”

    General speaking we’re in agreement on all points.

  8. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    The three-quarters rule made amending much easier. But they very much wanted to make changing the foundational document hard.

    And I think that’s a critical contradiction within thier thinking. For as much as they wanted it theoretically to change, they also didn’t really want it to change.

    Or perhaps they imagined that the change process would somehow be far less acrimonious than the drafting process.

  9. Nightcrawler says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that we can’t, or won’t, come to a consensus on some issues isn’ their fault, it’s our own. They did the best they could with what they had. The Constitution wasn’t perfect even at the time it was written, but as Madison implied in one of the Federalist Papers, men are not angels so its foolish to expect it to have been, and it’s equally as foolish, in my opinion, to criticize them for not anticipating what a 21st Century Continental nation would be like.

    Before I read your comment, I was going to write one saying many of the same things you just did. In particular, this passage. The fault doesn’t lie with the authors of the Constitution. It lies with modern Americans who treat them as if they were GODS instead of people, and who act as though the Constitution is a holy document burned onto stone tablets by a sky fairy.

    I had a sales professor in my MBA program who said that nearly every failed business could have the following epitaph etched onto its gravestone: “But we always did it this way.” That’s where the U.S. is right now. Americans are incapable of looking forward, only back. It’s due to this unwillingness to adapt to changing times that the U.S. is no longer a superpower, and it’s because of this that this country will not exist in 10 years, at least not in its current form. In the end, there may be a small area that calls itself the “United States.”

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  10. Anybody of No Importance says:

    The current situation demonstrates how smart the Founders were and how well their creation still functions.

    One of the things they were trying to protect us from was the tyranny of men like Reynolds. He’s a rich white dude who has gone off his rocker by finding out he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. Check out any of his comments heading into the 2016 election and any of his now provably deranged rantings on Trump and Russia. Empowering his ego-protecting hatred of his fellow citizens would improve things._.how?

    The Founders wanted to ensure that a diverse (by 18th century standards) and contentious people could live and prosper together. Reynolds believes his side, no matter how wrong it is or poorly it performs, always gets to win just because. I doubt a system that gave him what he wants would last a couple generations, forget about a couple centuries.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    To be fair, if the drafters of the Constitution had tried to ban slavery in 1787, there would have been no Constitution

    True. The failure lies not so much with the Founders as with their descendants, us, treating a collection of expedients and compromises as holy writ. For a first attempt at creating a democratic constitution they did pretty good.

    The standard conservative response to everything is, “That’s just the way things are, nothing can be done.” Long ago I learned a valuable lesson about project management. If you can’t see an actionable plan to get to where you want to go, start moving in the right direction and see what develops. There are things that can be done. Top of the head, ban anonymous political contributions, statehood for DC and PR, redistricting reform, return to enforcing antitrust laws, get out the vote….

  12. Kit says:

    The framers were serious men who thought deeply about European history, the fledgling country’s more immediate history, and the reality on the ground. They knew that time didn’t stand still, but let’s face it: an ancient Roman would be more at home in the 1700’s than anyone from the Constitutional Convention would be in our times. They did what they could. Had they been able to peer into the future, no doubt they would have crafted a far different document. But how could they have foreseen that a document meant to ensure liberty(*) could be so perverted until it grew to be a millstone around the country’s neck?

    (*) I think the Framers, looking on our age, would rewrite the Bill of Rights to make explicit that they were blocking the paths by which those in power might seek to undermine liberty: a free people need to base their decisions on the truth, and so freedom of speech; people need to communicate if they are to learn the truth, and so the right to assembly and the freedom of the press; people need domestic peace if they are pursue happiness and they cannot get that if their neighbour wants to slit their throats over interpretations of the Bible (see: European wars of religion from the 16th to 18th century), and so freedom of religion (as Voltaire said: If you have two religions in your land, the two will cut each other’s throats; but if you have thirty religions, they will dwell in peace). Our understanding has shifted over the centuries. I like to think that if we had preserved this original intention (and added to it over the years), we would not find ourself in quite such dire straits.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think it’s already pretty clear but of course I’m not blaming Franklin and Madison and Hamilton and the boys so much as the quasi-religious worship of same. The constitution was a great leap of human imagination – in 1787. Jules Verne wrote Around the World in 80 Days in 1873. I don’t blame Verne for not anticipating wide body jets.

    They got a lot right. A lot. Kudos. A tip o’ the hat. A hearty well-done. But no hosannas in the highest. They did very, very well indeed for a bunch of small-time merchants, country lawyers and slave-drivers in a Philadelphia summer without air conditioning or showers. But as the early Uber drivers of ancient Rome used to remind their passengers: momento mori: remember you’re just a human. And what can you count on humans to do? Look out for themselves and those like themselves.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident: Indians are in the way, we’re going to take all their land, all they have and if they resist – sometimes even if they don’t resist – we’re going to kill their men, rape their women and bash their children’s heads against rocks.

    I’d hate to think we’d stop admiring what the founders managed to do. We the people was very advanced thinking for its time. But at the same time they were carrying out the business of making sure that by we the people they meant the people the same sex, color and economic stratum as themselves.

    It should be possible to admire critically. To praise what was great and still point a finger at what was not. As men the founders were extraordinary. As gods they were pretty bad. So maybe we just see them as some pretty impressive guys with some huge blind spots, a nice dose of hypocrisy, some hubris, you know, all that comes of being just a human.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Anybody of No Importance:
    1) I was not born well-off, I am entirely self-made, and while my tastes are expensive I have repeatedly voted to raise my own taxes. Which does not strike me as tyrannical in nature.

    2) I was and am entirely right about Trump and Russia. I know Hannity and Tucker tell you otherwise, but in fact it is now unmistakably clear that Trump is owned by Putin.

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  15. Kit says:

    Oh, and James, perfect post for a Sunday. You’ve been too much a stranger these past months!

  16. gVOR08 says:

    We have managed to amend the Constitution 27 times (28 times if you count repealing one). Why do we now say it can’t be changed? If we go the state ratification route 13 red states, representing less than 10% of the population, can block it. If we go the national convention route the whole Constitution is open to revision, Katie bar the door and everyone is afraid of what might come out. Fronted by ALEC, the remaining Koch Bro and his accomplices would be there with a model Constitution modeled on the Russian Constitution, but with the pretense of democracy diluted. So it comes down to polarization and money.

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Anybody is serving a purpose. He’s demonstrating the parody of liberals/Democrats that he’s been sold by the RW noise machine and the extent that the important thing is to own the libs.

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  18. @Doug Mataconis: A response to this became a post.

  19. Kathy says:

    IMO, when people laud the founders and the writers of the constitution, most of then very likely mean the part that’s best known: the Bill of Rights.

    That was indeed quite revolutionary for the time, and many of the provisions are still relevant today. But many have also become irrelevant or actually harmful. I mean, who tries to quarter soldiers in your home? And the Second Amendment could use some limits.

    As to the main body of the document, setting up the various powers, government procedures, etc. I’m convinced most people are blissfully ignorant of them, and might be quite surprised to learn what they contain; or to find out judicial review is not in the Constitution.

    That they failed to anticipate the challenges of the frontier, much less global empire, is more understandable.

    If memory serves, Jefferson thought any westward settlement would result in “sister republics” being set up, not in the expansion of the US.

    While this may be forgivable given the limitations on transportation modes at the time, keep in mind a great deal of expansion to the west took place long before the railroad came along. The Louisiana Purchase was a big deal not least because it allowed people in the Midwest to ship goods east the longer, but faster, way of down the Mississippi and through the Gulf of Mexico. and that took place in Jefferson’s presidency.

    Little known and related fact: the territories involved in the Louisiana Purchase belonged to Spain, not France. But the fact that napoleon sold them, highlights the dangers inherent in states becoming puppets of other states.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Good point about Article V and what it does, but it also emphasizes the problem of not being able to make the types of structural changes the nation may need piecemeal. They may not be able to be made at all.

  21. Scott F. says:

    Moreover, there’s no obvious mechanism for fixing the problem. It’s next to impossible to amend the Constitution in any case and much moreso in this instance. It’s inconceivable that the Senate would vote to take away the power of the smaller states; it would be political suicide for small-state Senators.** And, if that somehow happened, it’s inconceivable that the small-state legislatures would go along.

    As problem solving is core to my professional work, I’ve given a lot of thought lately to this idea that fixing the problems in our country is “inconceivable.” Since the status quo seems so obviously unsustainable in the long term, it would serve the most clever and innovative among us to do some serious work on conceiving solutions, since the alternative is an end to our nation. To be clear, I believe some kind of dissolution of the US as we know it is just as likely as some enlightened reincarnation, but I surely know which of these two outcomes I prefer.

    I think the quandary comes from seeking a political, legislative solution to this political, legislative problem when the answer likely lies elsewhere. I’ve come to the conclusion that the media and our culture hold the future.

    For the media, the massive explosion of sources for information (the cable news business and the Internet both) has brought a lot of isolation and the polarized thinking that confirmation bias brings. But, what if the cacophony of today’s media landscape isn’t the new normal, but rather an indication of growing pains? What can people of integrity and discernment do to influence some sort of return to a shared set of facts? Opinions can continue to vary as to what the facts mean, but alternative facts have to be called out from every platform available. (Trump may actually be helping in this regard, as he has provided a very clear demonstration of the difference between spin and bullshit.) The media is also very responsive to the market, so make it cost dollars to peddle lies – there has been modest success getting Fox News to face it’s most egregious falsehoods with boycotting, so ratchet it up.

    Culture will drive in the end, for example Obergefell was made politically possible because the culture helped bring gays into the sunlight and the scary things being said about them were shown to be false. Cultural change is slow, but if you ever get a chance to talk to the younger generations you’ll see they see society in very different ways than Boomers like I do. Though it varies in degrees, this is mostly true of the youth in Wyoming as well as California.

    It will be a great deal easier to change minds in the rural states than to change the Constitution to dilute their power. Let’s talk about how we might to that.

  22. Andy says:

    I think the argument that what we’re seeing now is due to systemic flaws is diminished by the simple fact that this system has been in place for a very long time yet these problems are new and are fundamentally the product of changes in partisanship over the last 50 years.

    Put simply, I’m skeptical of the argument that the fundamental structures and institutions of our country should be significantly altered or replaced in order to “fix” a problem that emerged and is fundamentally rooted in what passes for modern partisanship today.

    This is especially the case since there are other alternatives available besides what would be, in fact, destroying and rewriting the Constitution with all the inherent risks (and difficulty) that would entail.

    In my view, the real problem is our very weak but entrenched partisan system. The fact that Democrats have become uncompetitive in the electoral college was not some iron law nor was it destiny. I do not see why we should change our entire political system because one party in this era of hyperpartisanship has, for whatever reasons, chosen to be uncompetitive in the system that’s existed for two centuries. The easiest way to “fix” this problem is for Democrats to be more competitive in the EC, something they are strangely reluctant to do.

    This is, in fact, what the parties used to do when party leadership had more control over candidates and policies. They could build coalitions to win (which means winning the EC) and were pragmatic enough to play by the rules of the system. And so the calls for changing the system, which outside of academics come primarily from a Democrats, sound very self-serving to many of us.

    For the California-Wyoming problem, the large states can choose to break up into smaller states. California is, IMO, too big and should not have been admitted to the union as a single state to begin with. But of course, a lot of Californians want to preserve all the benefits that come with California being the largest and most politically powerful state, while getting rid of hindrances like the Senate. Again, I’m skeptical since the motivations and desired end-state appear to be very self-serving. California, like all states in our system, has a high degree of sovereignty in our system. If the people of California are concerned enough about this, then they have options – they can choose divide into smaller states, or offer up some other compromise to entice states like Wyoming to agree to something different. It’s interesting and informative that compromise
    to get other states to agree is rarely discussed.

    And from an institutional perspective, it’s simply much easier to make more states (and therefore enlarge the Senate – which would be a good thing) than it is it change the Senate, for the reasons that Doug brought up.

    As I’ve noted many times before, I would much prefer a multi-party system because it would give me a much greater opportunity to actually be able to support a party and/or candidates that somewhat represent my views and priorities. I don’t particularly like how our system results in binary choice elections and how it promotes the kind of toxic and entrenched partisanship that we suffer from today.

    I just don’t know how to get there from here safely – changing and replacing our political institutions is not something to be taken lightly and it’s not something that should be done for partisan reasons. So until someone can describe a viable path that would result in more representation while maintaining our system of individual rights and federalism, then I will continue to support what we have. Because I won’t support burning the house down with no plan or preparation for shelter afterward. And I think it is irresponsible to advocate the destruction of our current system and its institutions while offering no viable and clear path forward.

    Until there is an actual alternative, my primary concern will continue to be the legitimacy of our present institutions and not transitory partisan advantage. Our institutions are the wall the separates us from division and civil war. As a political union, we lack the ethnic and religious ties of a nation-state, so it is those institutions and national identity – what used to be called the American Creed – that holds us together. This is another reason I’m skeptical of big changes to our political system for problems based on recent partisan trends.

    Finally, we don’t need to venerate the “founders” and we can certainly criticize them for what we see as their lack of vision, their lack of adherence to modern values, and the political compromises they made…but I think it’s pretty clear they had far greater wisdom when it came to understanding the factors necessary for balancing political power in human societies than anyone in office today. Any change in our system today is going to require a lot of work and a lot of compromises as well as a deep understanding of our society as it is, not as ideological dogma would dictate. In my view, our current political class is not remotely up to that task and I would much rather rely upon the system that’s made America what it is today than trust today’s “leaders” with forging something better.

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  23. 95 South says:

    What you call partisanship is mostly disagreement. I don’t think we should get rid of the Senate or the Electoral College. The Constitution is easy to change if you can get the vast majority of the country to agree on an alteration of our primary document. Steve, Mike, and Jim are only three people.

    Partisanship is what you call it when everyone you hang around with agrees. It must be other people who aren’t as rational as us who are the problem. The commenters on this site freak out when they get one down-vote. It must be trolls. It couldn’t be you’re just not persuading people.

    The Founders understood disagreement. They were better at compromise at the national level than we are, because as long as the federal government stayed small it wasn’t worth fighting over.

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  24. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    This means that equal representation in the Senate cannot be changed without the consent of every single state in the Union.

    This is an interesting argument but not one that’s been tested. Realistically, there’s no such thing as an un-amendable part of the Constitution. But it might require a two-step, in which we specifically amend the Constitution to take out that limitation before amending it to change the Senate.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    We have managed to amend the Constitution 27 times (28 times if you count repealing one). Why do we now say it can’t be changed?

    This vastly overstates how often we’ve gone through the process.

    11 of the 27 were part of the Bill of Rights, passed as part of the dealmaking to ratify the Constitution. (1-10 are the Bill of Rights proper. 27 was one of two that didn’t pass at the time.)

    3 more were the aftermath of the Civil War and passable only because of the unique circumstances of the time.

    2 more cancel each other out: Prohibition and Non-Prohibition.

    That’s 16 of 27.

    Most of the rest were small, technical changes in response to unforeseen circumstances or slow-boiling cultural changes.

  26. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is an interesting argument but not one that’s been tested. Realistically, there’s no such thing as an un-amendable part of the Constitution. But it might require a two-step, in which we specifically amend the Constitution to take out that limitation before amending it to change the Senate.

    Suppose several states say “no” when equal representation is changed without their consent based on that clear passage in the Constitution. What happens then?

    One must consider the possibility that they would attempt to exit the union with all the risks that would entail.

  27. James Joyner says:

    @95 South:

    What you call partisanship is mostly disagreement.

    Nope.

    Republicans in Congress have rallied around a President who, with perhaps the exception of judicial appointments, has espoused policies they considered anathema three years ago and taken actions that they would have happily impeached Bill Clinton or Barack Obama for. That’s not about ideas or persuasion.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    I think the argument that what we’re seeing now is due to systemic flaws is diminished by the simple fact that this system has been in place for a very long time yet these problems are new and are fundamentally the product of changes in partisanship over the last 50 years.

    I agree with most of what you write in your post, and I’m not sure I disagree with this, but what happened about 50-60 years ago? The civil rights movement.

    America’s problems have almost always been race.

    And that makes me question whether there really can be a way to entice the Wyomings and Dakotas. Even though I think there is some value in a feedback loop that requires the successful parts of the country to support policies that would help the less successful parts, I’m just not sure it’s possible in reality to actually appeal to them.

    This “polarized” time, as people are euphemistically referring to it… it’s not a coincidence that it had our first black president, and a bloated orange windbag president who explicitly appeals to racism.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    Let me try a little different take on this. I don’t recall seeing concern about the failings of the Constitution until fairly recently. The Constitution continues to work much as intended. It carried us through a huge expansion of the country. It more or less worked as we evolved from a colonial backwater to the sole superpower. It carried us to victory in a Civil War, Two World Wars, and the Cold War.

    Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century makes a case that the natural tendency has been for wealth to concentrate. This was interrupted by the destruction of capital in two World Wars and the Great Depression. Around the world this produced thirty years of relative equality, prosperity, and democracy. In Piketty’s French les Trente Glorieuses. But he shows the tendency to concentrate wealth has continued and capital accumulation and inequality are back up to Gilded Age levels. And that concentrated wealth confers power which is used to further concentrate wealth, and power.

    IIRC in Winner-Take-All Politics Hacker and Pierson date the change in U. S. politics to the mid-seventies when, in reaction to OSHA and the EPA, corporations started putting serious money into politics. Since then we’ve gotten Mellon Scaife, the Bradley Foundation, the Koch Bros, Adelson, and on and on. And they bought Heritage, AEI, the rest of the wingnut welfare apparatus, Rove, Frank Luntz, Gingrich, FOX “News”, the Federalist Society, AGW denialism, the Tea Party, Citizens United, and now McConnell and Trump. This is the process of using wealth to further concentrate wealth and power at work.

    The Constitution, in accord with the tenor of the times, privileged propertied white men. For a long time it evolved in a more democratic direction. But it still privileges the propertied. However, during the postwar era we got the weird idea that women, people of color, and poor people shouldn’t just be marginalized. We saw government sometimes support working people. We got the idea corporations shouldn’t be allowed to pollute the world and injure their employees however they felt like.

    It’s not, I think, so much that the Constitution is failing as we’ve come to expect better.

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  30. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher:

    I agree with most of what you write in your post, and I’m not sure I disagree with this,

    @Andy, thinking a little more while doing my PT exercises, I think I do disagree with it. The problem isn’t just a few decades of partisanship, it’s our entire history, although it has been more of a problem as demographics are pushing us towards whites being a minority.

    And the questions end up being:
    – Can a multi-ethnic nation exist long term?
    – Do we continue the American experiment of increasing democracy?

    On the first, that’s an open question. I want to believe the answer is yes, but I have problems thinking on any that have been stable without a dictatorship. I think of Yugoslavia under Tito, and the Roman Empire — when they fell, they fall hard. But, I think that American values — equality, opportunity, and freedom — can be a binding force as strong as being a Croat.

    On the second, I also want to believe the answer is yes. And that would mean that sparsely populated states with a majority white population should not have a disproportionate stranglehold.

    If America will survive at all, it will be a multi-ethnic nation. The demographics ensure this, and clamping down on the borders can only delay it, and not by long. The brown people are already in the house!

    And that leaves one question — do we continue the American experiment of increasing democracy (which means brown people have equal rights), or do we shift towards authoritarianism (and use the power of the state to keep the brown people in line)?

    Right now, we are slipping towards authoritarianism, with a small percentage of Americans (white Americans, in nearly empty states), having a stranglehold on power. I cannot imagine a stable system where the political power lays with a bunch of rural areas with a minority of the population, economically dependent on the cities.

    If America will survive, we need to solve the California-Wyoming problem. And that’s going to require fundamental changes.

    At least, that’s what I think after lying on a roller, stretching out my back and shoulder.

  31. Mister Bluster says:

    @95 South:..The commenters on this site freak out when they get one down-vote.

    Please show us 10 examples of this claim.

  32. 95 South says:

    @Mister Bluster: Ten? I’ve got 9 better things to do than that, so I’ll just point you to the sister thread about checks and balances.

  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Mister Bluster: MSNBC had a clip this morning of Hannity saying liberals were flipping out with outrage over McConnell’s remarks on cooperating with the WH Counsel’s office on impeachment. It was followed by three clips of people quite matter-of-factly quoting McConnell and calmly commenting on it. Mentioning a thing seems sufficient to be accused of freaking out over it. As with everything else, they see what they want to see.

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  34. gVOR08 says:

    Years ago I heard a little radio comedy bit parodying the Lone Ranger. Crime fighting was slow, so the Stoned Ranger’s Indian sidekick, Toronto, was applying for a job with the railroad. He was asked what he’d do if he saw two trains speeding toward each other. He offered a couple of solutions but got to – What if tjhe switch were stuck and you couldn’t force it? ‘Hmmm, me get Stoned Ranger.” What would he do? “Oh him not do anything, him love watch train wreck.” I’m not enjoying watching this train wreck. Apparently a lot of people aren’t. Michelle Goldberg has an essay on “Democracy Grief”.

    The despair felt by climate scientists and environmentalists watching helplessly as something precious and irreplaceable is destroyed is sometimes described as “climate grief.” Those who pay close attention to the ecological calamity that civilization is inflicting upon itself frequently describe feelings of rage, anxiety and bottomless loss, all of which are amplified by the right’s willful denial. …

    Lately, I think I’m experiencing democracy grief. For anyone who was, like me, born after the civil rights movement finally made democracy in America real, liberal democracy has always been part of the climate, as easy to take for granted as clean air or the changing of the seasons. When I contemplate the sort of illiberal oligarchy that would await my children should Donald Trump win another term, the scale of the loss feels so vast that I can barely process it.

    I suppose the usual suspects will crow about this as owning the libs without understanding that we’re all losing.

  35. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    – Can a multi-ethnic nation exist long term?

    A valid question. The example that comes to mind is the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Not something I’m all that familiar with and I’d defer to greater expertise. They were not a democracy, but almost nobody was at the time. My recollection is that they had a degree of official and unofficial discrimination, but were fairly stable until WWI. WWI was triggered by an incident of ethnic conflict, but the war was started by Germany and Russia over their own motives. After WWI the allies broke Austro-Hungary up into what seemed rational ethnic based nations. The result was chaos and suffering on a massive scale. IIRC the Roman Empire and the Caliphate were multi-ethnic.

    The Brits got conned into Brexit over concern about immigration. From what I read they weren’t so much concerned about Pakistani’s and Jamaicans as about central Europeans, Hungarians etc. Ethnicities that got absorbed into white decades ago here. Jews and Chinese got to be pretty much white, although we seem to be backtracking on Jews. I would observe that we seemed to be moving fairly well toward a multi-ethnic society until a few years ago, and it looks to me like the kids today are doing a lot better than their elders.

    The Founders didn’t fear “the mob” so much as they feared ambitious fellow elites exploiting the mob. Which is exactly what we’re seeing now. Ethnic strife may or may not be inherent. But the desire of some of our elites to divide and conquer does seem to be a constant. People discuss our situation as though it naturally followed from initial conditions. To some extent that’s valid. But there are villains in this story. In order to control the government, Republicans are happy to exploit ethnicity and race. The only innovation Trump brought to the game is a degree of brazenness. The problem isn’t racism on the part of Republican voters so much as it’s the amorality of Republican elites

  36. An Interested Party says:

    Reynolds believes his side, no matter how wrong it is or poorly it performs, always gets to win just because.

    Oh that’s hilarious, considering it isn’t his side that is trying to make it harder for certain people to vote nor is it his side that is so terrified of the president that they refuse to honestly deal with his multiple crimes and indiscretions…

    I do not see why we should change our entire political system because one party in this era of hyperpartisanship has, for whatever reasons, chosen to be uncompetitive in the system that’s existed for two centuries. The easiest way to “fix” this problem is for Democrats to be more competitive in the EC, something they are strangely reluctant to do.

    No, rather the way to fix this problem is to ditch the undemocratic electoral college and move to one man, one vote…

    The Founders understood disagreement. They were better at compromise at the national level than we are, because as long as the federal government stayed small it wasn’t worth fighting over.

    Yes, that “better at compromising” led to the acceptance of slavery…you will forgive anyone in this day and age who doesn’t want to make compromises like that…

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  37. Mister Bluster says:

    @gVOR08:..”Mentioning a thing seems sufficient to be accused of freaking out over it.”

    Yeah and these wobble heads are “good people” according to President Puke and his sycophants.

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  38. Hal_10000 says:

    @Andy:

    Perfectly stated. The system in the Constitution was well-designed at the time and continues to function pretty well. At least 80% of the complaints about it are because people are having trouble getting the policies they want enacted which was entirely the point of setting it up the way it was. Yes, it failed on slavery and non-white males. But we’ve amended it on those subjects to be better.

    Much of this ire is directed against the Electoral College because two of the last five elections turned on it. But there is nothing in the Constitution that mandated that the Democrats concentrate all their political power in cities and coasts. Nor was there anything that forced the Republicans to abandon those areas in favor of competing in the middle. Our politics has become dominated by stupid gamesmanship and the Republicans are better at it. That would be happening no matter what the system.

    The other thing most complained about is the Second Amendment. But again, it’s functioning as intended. Just because you do not value the right to bear arms does not mean there’s something fundamentally wrong with it or that the Founders “got it wrong” in any objective sense. The Second Amendment is not the main thing standing in the way of gun control right now, in any case.

    Moreover, the same Bill of Right also protects Free Speech and Religion, etc. You can’t cherry-pick the parts you like. If anything, the biggest problem right now is a government that absolutely utterly fails to live up to the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th Amendments and I would argue the 9th and 10th as well.

    In short, don’t blame the rules of the game because some people are playing it badly (or cheating at it). The Constitution isn’t the problem; our current political parties are.

  39. @James Joyner:

    I think any such effort would be seen for what it is.

  40. @Hal_10000:

    The system in the Constitution was well-designed at the time and continues to function pretty well. At least 80% of the complaints about it are because people are having trouble getting the policies they want enacted which was entirely the point of setting it up the way it was.

    Speaking for myself, the concerns are about an unrepresentative system to elect the president, an unrepresentative Senate, and a House which is elected in a fashion wherein it is possible for the party that wins the most national votes to win the most seats. Also: all of these elections are amendable to varying degrees of manipulation.

    There is also the problem that the president and Senate (see above) appoint and confirm life-tenure judges.

    If one values representative democracy, all of these things are a problem and the pathologies of this system, some of which have been evident for some time, are getting more acute.

    Not only is there a normative concern about representative democracy, but real concern about what happens if the current system breaks down (or, perhaps worse, stays in place but becomes even less democratic).

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  41. @Doug Mataconis:

    I think any such effort would be seen for what it is.

    Well, of course it would. But the point being that if (and that is huge if) we ever had support to do it, it could be done.

  42. An Interested Party says:

    All this reverence for the electoral college is touching but also misplaced

    Not only was the creation of the Electoral College in part a political workaround for the persistence of slavery in the United States, but almost none of the Founding Fathers’ assumptions about the electoral system proved true.

    For starters, there were no political parties in 1787. The drafters of the Constitution assumed that electors would vote according to their individual discretion, not the dictates of a state or national party. Today, most electors are bound to vote for their party’s candidate.

    And even more important, the Constitution says nothing about how the states should allot their electoral votes. The assumption was that each elector’s vote would be counted. But over time, all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) passed laws to give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote count. Any semblance of elector independence has been fully wiped out.

    The Founders also assumed that most elections would ultimately be decided by neither the people nor the electors, but by the House of Representatives. According to the Constitution, if no single candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes, the decision goes to the House, where each state gets one vote.

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  43. Gustopher says:

    @Hal_10000: So you believe that it is right and proper and good for America that Wyoming voters count far more than California voters?

    And you believe that it is right and proper and good for America that presidential politics will ignore both of them in the general election because the results in each are a forgone conclusion?

    There are more Republican voters in California than in Wyoming. Do they not matter?

    (With a direct election, it’s entirely possible that formerly depressed California Republicans would vote in record numbers and that could turn the tide — and I would accept that as a far more legitimate election than any we have had to date)

    For all of America’s history, we have been stumbling bit by bit towards greater democracy and greater enfranchisement. Was that a mistake? Was direct election of Senators a mistake? Have we somehow hit the exact perfect spot right now?

    There is a case to be made that there should be some feedback loop to prevent the populous states from ignoring the needs of the less-populous states. Are you planning on making that case? And do you think this is the right feedback mechanism?

    Britain and Israel have been paralyzed by their lack of consensus recently — why is an activist minority government better than governmental paralysis during times where there is no consensus?

    I’m not going to hold them up as examples of great governing, or say that the parliamentary system builds consensus, but it seems to fail in a better way. When there’s no consensus, I think a preferred outcome is that little should happen.

    (And eventually, the Brits seem to have gotten tired of it, so even though I think they have made a terrible decision, hats off to them, I wish them the best and hope I am wrong)

    Also:

    Yes, it failed on slavery and non-white males. But we’ve amended it on those subjects to be better.

    I suspect you mean that to read “non-white-males”, rather than to be excluding women.

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  44. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08:

    A valid question. The example that comes to mind is the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    My favorite example is Czechoslovakia. If the Czechs and the Slovaks cannot live side by side, and hand in hand, is there hope for any multi-ethnic state?

    I honestly don’t know.

    If any multi-ethnic state can survive long term, I would think it would be America, because all of our founding myths are about a nation of immigrants, many disreputable (Puritans!), who came together over ideals of freedom, liberty and self-determination. Black folks fought and died in the Revolutionary War. The French(!) helped us. Alexander Hamilton has a natural tan. Ethnicity wasn’t a part of it. Religion wasn’t a part of it.

    We don’t have a field of blackbirds where a Serbian army was slaughtered preventing the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, or some massive war against the French.

    In that respect, America really is exceptional.

  45. Cal American says:

    The Wyoming v. California problem has always intrigued me. Could it be handled at a Federal budgetary level instead of a Constitutional amendment level? If the States federal funding was based on their tax contributions to the federal fund, wouldn’t that force smaller income producing states to compromise with larger income producing states for money for projects within their small state?

    This seems like a simple solution following an alleged republican principle of a balanced budget and people living within their means. Politicians would have to vote with their state needs instead of their party needs, if they ever wanted funding to their states beyond the tax contributions that the state makes to the federal fund.

    I live in California and beyond the ridiculous fact that 500,000 people in Wyoming have has many Senator’s as 50 million people in California, it also upsets me that for every tax dollar Californian’s pay to federal government the state only gets back .37 cents worth of benefits.

    It strikes me as odd that a lot of the republican states are the most dependent on socialism, yet they decry socialism’s very existence.

  46. James,

    Michael, Steven, and I are in full agreement that the Senate and Electoral College are anachronisms and ought to go.

    There are a couple of things, which I’ve been harping on in recent years, that could be done that don’t require a constitutional amendment, merely majorities in both houses (without a filibuster) and a presidential signature. These are old topics for me.

    First, increase the size of the House, Dramatically. At least double. This will ameliorate a couple of problems, To begin with, it would increase the size of the electoral college making it more closely match the distribution of the population. That would diminish the importance of the EC votes attributable to Senators and reduce the likelihood of win by the loser of the popular vote, though it wouldn’t eliminate it. In fact, I doubt anything would prevent a low probability win like Trump’s where he picks off three states by less than 80,000 votes total.

    Also, part of the issue we have is that there’s this “urban-rural” divide. In part, that’s because the House is too small. People say that urban areas have Democratic voters packed in too tightly, but this would be improved by increasing the numbers in the House. Also, having a House that’s too small advantages small states because each state is entitled to one representative regardless of how small it is. They already have that advantage in the Senate. There’s no reason it should carry over to the House.

    Second, Congress already has the power to impose neutral rules on the states when it comes to redistricting and has done so in the past. I haven’t had the time it takes to do the real research on this, but rules were imposed in the Apportionment Act of 1911 and were removed with the Reapportionment Act of 1929. That last act was something of a disaster from what I can gather.

    The point with the stuff I’ve listed above is that they can be done without a constitutional amendment, which would be nearly impossible these days.

    If we did have an amendment, I would want one that deals primarily with the House. First, it should give the House the same advise and consent power as the Senate. One of the problems right now is that the right will be able to impose their agenda through the courts without an institution that represents the people having any input. We have a president who got in with fewer votes filling vacancies created by the Senate and being filled by that same body. The people got very little input into this.

    Other things I would include in this amendment would be to make the one person, one vote rulings a part of the constitution and have a weak proportionality requirement when it comes to the House and redistricting.

    I’m tired of typing, but this is the gist of it. There’s a little more and if anyone’s interested I’ll add more later.

    You’ll notice, none of the things I added involves either getting rid of the electoral college or the Senate, which is impossible under the constitution. You could maybe strip it of power and turn the job into a sinecure, but this is all fanciful at best.

  47. @Andy: something less dramatic could be done like stripping of the power from the Senate, except for trying impeachments, through an amendment. Another option could be to fold the Senate into the House. Yet an even easier option would be to give the House the same advise and consent power as the Senate.

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  48. @James Joyner: Nothing is unamendable if 80% of the people in this country wanted it and *voted* accordingly. An easier solution would be to give the House all of the same powers as the Senate.

  49. @Robert Prather: It occurred to me that I managed to write all of that without mentioning ranked-choice voting.

  50. @Robert Prather:

    As it turns out, James, Steven, and myself have all written positively on the idea of increasing the size of the House so I think we’re all on the same page here.

    Given public opinion about Congress, though, I am not sure how easy it would be to sell the general public on the idea of more Members of Congres.

  51. James Joyner says:

    @Robert Prather: Yes, I think a larger House would make our system more representative and lower the likelihood of another 2016 outcome in the Electoral College. And I agree that it could be done with a Democratic President, House, and Senate without amending the Constitution.

    @Hal_10000: The game was designed around the specific circumstances of 1787 for an entirely different sort of country and, indeed, world. I’m saying the game itself is problematic, not the way it’s played.

    The disproportionate power-sharing arrangements made sense when the 13 states negotiating the compact were sovereign equals. They make no sense at all when most of the country was acquired by conquest and purchase and the states are simply administrative units.

    And they especially make no sense now that the central government has so much impact on our daily lives that we’ve flipped the script. In 1787, it was presumed that citizens would know their local representatives and be governed by them. Now, most of us have no idea who our local reps–and often, even Congressman—are and know the names of the President’s children and pets.

  52. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kit: I quite agree. When Franklin uttered his famous line, “A republic, if you can keep it,” he wasn’t thinking about the folly of going back to an Athenian-style direct democracy. I’ll bet he was thinking more of the death of the Roman Republic (civil war between ambitious men and their supporters) and Cromwell’s establishment of a quasi-military dictatorship.

  53. gVOR08 says:

    @Robert Prather:

    You’ll notice, none of the things I added involves either getting rid of the electoral college or the Senate, which is impossible under the constitution. You could maybe strip it of power and turn the job into a sinecure, but this is all fanciful at best.

    The Brits managed to neuter the House of Lords. Not something I know details of, but perhaps we should look at next time we have Ds in the House and Presidency, hopefully 2021.

    You provide a good list of actionable proposals. We need to get past the learned helplessness of that’s just how things are, nothing can be done. I hadn’t thought through that an enlarged House would largely correct the Electoral College and gerrymandering. I’d go for a really large House and have them telecommute. If nothing else, telecommuting would prevent having so many members of the criminal class descend on DC.

    I recently retired to FL. I’m “represented” by some Tea Party asshat, as was the case in OH. Finer scale districts wouldn’t change that here, but probably would have in OH where my blue Cincinnati neighborhood was in a district that included a big chunk of red Appalachia.

  54. Kit says:

    @gVOR08:

    the tendency to concentrate wealth has continued and capital accumulation and inequality are back up to Gilded Age levels. And that concentrated wealth confers power which is used to further concentrate wealth, and power.

    The Founders caught nothing but the very first whiff of the Industrial Revolution, much less the brand of capitalism that it would give rise to, to say nothing of modern capitalism. They held a mercantile view of wealth and the economy. Had these men had the occasion to digest another century of history, they certainly would have recognised the dangers of unimaginable concentrated wealth and the utterly unforeseen ability of corporations to undermine liberty.

  55. @Steven L. Taylor: Ugh, big error here:

    a House which is elected in a fashion wherein it is possible for the party that wins the most national votes to not win the most seats.

    I left out a key “not”

  56. @Robert Prather: Increasing the size of the House would be a major shift in the right direction.

  57. @Doug Mataconis:

    Given public opinion about Congress, though, I am not sure how easy it would be to sell the general public on the idea of more Members of Congres.

    This is an example of how cynicism about government benefits one side and hurts the other. I still want to remain optimistic about the country’s future, as difficult as that is in our current situation.

  58. @gVOR08:

    We need to get past the learned helplessness of that’s just how things are, nothing can be done. I hadn’t thought through that an enlarged House would largely correct the Electoral College and gerrymandering.

    I love how you put that: learned helplessness. We definitely need to get past that. We will not only need the larger House, but also neutral redistricting rules which Congress can implement through simple legislation. Things can be improved though and we don’t have to amend the constitution to do so.

  59. @Robert Prather:

    I would argue that this cynicism is well-placed given what we’ve learned. Before Watergate, I suppose, it was easy to be optimistic about the abilities and intentions of our representatives. Since then, though, in an era where every political reporter seems to dream about being the next Woodward or Bernstein, that’s seemingly no longer possible. Personally, I’d rather know the truth than be protected from it in the manner that the political press often did prior to the 1970s.

    Additionally, there is plenty of reason to be cynical given what we do learn. For example, last week’s revelation about the Afghan War, which the Washington Post covered in detail and I wrote about here, was mostly lost amid impeachment coverage but it demonstrates the extent to which our leaders are still willing to lie to us about foreign military operations. Additionally, it seems as though every week brings a new revelation about wrongdoing and corruption at the highest levels, something that predates Donald Trump. Given all of that, it’s easy to understand why people are cynical,

    Finally, there is the issue of hyperpartisanship, on both sides of the political aisle, and the impact it has had on politics and political culture.

    I will admit I’m not sure how to fix this cynicism. And I am not sure we should even try. We may be too cynical now, but before that, we were far too naive and childlike.

  60. @Robert Prather:

    I love how you put that: learned helplessness.

    This is a very nice, and apt, phrase.

    As as I have noted before: I write about this kind of stuff to get people thinking about the situation rather than being stuck in “this is the way is because there is no other way to do it” mentality. Reform is slow (as oppose to crisis-driven change).

    It is hard to convince the boiling frog he is boiling–after all, the water is so nice and warm! Just convincing people that yes, if the temperature keeps increasing at the rate it is, death is coming, is a task in and of itself.

    The general tendency to assume that the status quo is normal is a human reaction. Throw on top of that a near religious reverence for the Founding Fathers and the Stone Tablets that Madison brought down from Mount Philadelphia and it is even more difficult to have a conversation about what works and what doesn’t.

    And hence gVOR08‘s observation “I don’t recall seeing concern about the failings of the Constitution until fairly recently.”

    Things tend to have to get bad for even informed folks to notice. Political Scientists have known that gerrymandering was a problem for some time, but it took a number of especially egregious cases to start to get the public to see it. Likewise voter ID laws and the like.

    The EC inversion in 2000 was an anomaly, but 2016 starts to suggest a new pattern–but the problems with the EC are long-known.

    In my book, my co-authors and I noted that one of the unique things about the US was that we don’t talk about electoral reform. The book was published in 2014 and it was true even then, but the original draft of that statement was years older. We are starting to talk about things like rank choice voting in a way we never did before.

    The conversation has to start somewhere. Someone has to start telling the frog he is going to boil to death if conditions don’t change, but convincing him is not always easy.

  61. @Steven L. Taylor: Depends on what you do with the cynicism.

    But something like expanding the size of the House doesn’t have to be about unbridled optimism and hope in some sing-song sunny way. Perhaps realism dictates that a more representative government would make things like the Afghanistan nonsense you note less likely.

    Part of the problem at the moment is a lack of accountability–a major reason I want reform is to create a more accountable government.

  62. @Doug Mataconis:

    Finally, there is the issue of hyperpartisanship, on both sides of the political aisle, and the impact it has had on politics and political culture.

    I will admit I’m not sure how to fix this cynicism. And I am not sure we should even try. We may be too cynical now, but before that, we were far too naive and childlike.

    It would help to have a system that allows for more than two sustainable parties. It’s too easy to demonize people in our current system and it pays off to do so. If you had to go into coalition to get to a majority, perhaps you would be reluctant to demonize potential coalition partners.

  63. Kit says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    We may be too cynical now, but before that, we were far too naive and childlike.

    I had just written something to this effect for another thread, and while I was pondering whether to post it, I saw your comment.

    Personally, I’d rather know the truth than be protected from it in the manner that the political press often did prior to the 1970s.

    I wonder… Politicians seemed to be even more corrupt back then, but they also seemed to be politicians. They were expected to get things done. They were chummy. It was an age of pork-barrel politics. And it worked. Getting rid of fraud and waste seemed so wise at the time, but looking back I think we were deeply naive. In casting light on those cockroaches, we invited a different type in. Now we’re too often represented by ideological nitwits who do industry’s bidding before slipping out the revolving door for their reward.

    The story is much longer than that, but the above is, I think, one small way in which we went tinkering with a system that used to work.

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  64. Michael Cain says:

    @gVOR08:

    I don’t recall seeing concern about the failings of the Constitution until fairly recently.

    The 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators) was finally passed by the Senate and submitted to the states only when it became very likely that there would be enough states willing to call a convention. Since then, we have lived through a century or so where the generally prevailing belief was that the Constitution was a living document, which should be interpreted in terms of contemporary conditions, with the federal government taking on an increasing range of responsibilities. The current concern about “failings” coincides with the recent rise in power of those who believe the Constitution should be a lot less flexible, and that more power should devolve to the states.

    I’m on the side of the living document, and am relatively sure the Founders either were to start with or soon become such. My favorite example is the Postal Clause, which went to court repeatedly in order to determine whether the seven words “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads” covered actually operating a postal service, whether the federal government could construct post offices and roads or was limited to designating such, or whether transporting mail by ship was allowed.

  65. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Hal_10000:
    “Functioning as intended” is irrelevant. A round from an assault rifle functions as intended when it blows a child’s head apart. The question is whether the constitution is holding the country together, whether it is protecting our rights, whether it is preserving democracy and whether it is helping or hurting us in defining the future.

    It is clearly not holding the country together and it is not preserving democracy, it is in fact destroying the cohesion of the country by giving vastly disproportionate, undemocratic power to white people in white states, to rustics in rustic states, to economic and cultural basket cases – a constitutional kakistocracy.

    This is not okay. We are losing our future because of the flaws in the constitution. Put it this way: a country run from Berlin, a country run from Tokyo and a country run from Beijing/Shanghai are in a race against a country run from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Who do you bet on? We are allowing our most backward elements to drive our race car against the best and brightest in the rest of the world.

    We have Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Finance, technology and culture. The fourth leg used to be government – the world’s largest military in concert with US diplomacy. We have everything it takes to continue to define the future, to expand freedom, to promote democracy – except for the fact that our government is dominated by Bible-thumping 80 year-olds from Shitheel, Kansas. And our constitution guarantees that they will continue to have outsize power, exerting a terrific drag on us. The constitution has become a trap.

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  66. gVOR08 says:

    @Kit: The Constitution touches on religion twice, once to say we won’t have a state one, and right at the end, above the signatures, where it says in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven. It is little known and seldom remarked that that’s two more times than it mentions capitalism.

  67. @gVOR08:

    The Constitution also mentions religion a third time when it states that there shall be no religous test to hold public office.

  68. Kit says:

    @Cal American:

    The Wyoming v. California problem has always intrigued me. Could it be handled at a Federal budgetary level instead of a Constitutional amendment level?

    You’ve reminded me of my own home-grown, crazy-ass, bar-stool solution: colonization! A back-of-the-envelope calculation I made a while back suggested that California could send its unemployed (can’t remember if that included under-employed actors and screenwriters) to Wyoming and flip the state. Like Kennedy’s father, there’s no reason to pay for a landslide, just enough to get the job done.

  69. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Ah, thank you.

  70. gVOR08 says:

    @Kit: Some red states are turning blue, one U Haul at a time. But I think getting Californians to move to Wyoming is going to be a hard sell.

  71. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    @Andy, thinking a little more while doing my PT exercises, I think I do disagree with it. The problem isn’t just a few decades of partisanship, it’s our entire history, although it has been more of a problem as demographics are pushing us towards whites being a minority.

    What is the argument for changing our system now because of our historical problems with race as compared to, for instance, the late 1860’s? Or 1960’s?

    I think on an objective basis, the US today is probably the least racist it’s ever been, so I don’t understand why rewriting the Constitution is suddenly necessary because of race issues.

    – Can a multi-ethnic nation exist long term?

    Historically that’s been done, usually with authoritarianism or some type of federalism or a combination of both. Here in the US, I think the key to our success has been our federal system, the individual protections built into our constitution and the “melting pot” made possible by the secular American Creed.

    – Do we continue the American experiment of increasing democracy?

    We are continuing it every single day.

  72. Andy says:

    @Cal American:

    I live in California and beyond the ridiculous fact that 500,000 people in Wyoming have has many Senator’s as 50 million people in California, it also upsets me that for every tax dollar Californian’s pay to federal government the state only gets back .37 cents worth of benefits.

    California isn’t that bad once you include all federal spending, but it is one of 11 states that pays more in federal taxes than it receives. You may be surprised to learn that Wyoming is also one of those 11 states and almost equal to California on a per-capita basis.

    There are also some anomalies – the state the benefits the most is New Mexico, largely due to the number of federal government facilities there, especially those supporting the US nuclear weapons complex. Virginia is very high on the list as well, thanks to the DC blob spreading into Northern Virginia as well as some major military bases.

    Suffice it to say that I think normalizing across the states would be very difficult to accomplish for practical reasons.

    https://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2018/federal-budget-fiscal-year-2017.pdf

  73. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Depends on what you do with the cynicism.

    This is largely right. Cynicism is not the same as skepticism (which is always warranted). An actual embrace of cynicism would lead to hopelessness, at least for me. I prefer to remain optimistic for the country in the long term.

    Doing simple things like increasing the size of the House and implementing redistricting rules, which has been done before, is not like trying to amend the constitution. It’s still difficult; even getting rid of the filibuster is difficult. But these things remain difficult right up until they’re not.

  74. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    Increasing the size of the House would solve almost all the problems with the EC since it would also increase the number of electors. For example, if the representative size for a House seat was set to the population of the least-populated state (Wyoming, about 500k), then Wyoming would still have 3 electors but California would go from 55 to ~82. Personally, I would like even more, so that each state has at least two or even more representatives. I also think this makes gerrymandering less of a problem as the population per house seat decreases. The extra electors that come from the Senate seats diminish in importance as the total number of electors increases. And the advantages of big states like California, who have large populations of ineligible voters, could flip the calculus completely since House seats and EC votes are apportioned based on total population.

    That seems like a pretty obvious solution for those who are interested in increasing the political power of immigrants and diminishing the power of “white” people in rural states.

    All that is doable without a Constitutional amendment. I’m frankly surprised this is hardly ever discussed, especially compared to the fantasy of amending the Constitution to remove the EC and the Senate.

    Additionally, the states themselves could agree to the proportional allocation of electors. This would be very difficult, though I don’t think it would be as difficult as a Constitutional amendment would be. But if that happened and if it were combined with an increase in the House/EC as discussed above, then that would be a 90% solution that would make another 2016 virtually impossible and it would increase representation generally. And it would not require amending the US Constitution either.

    But of course, my earlier point still stands – no one really seems invested in any of this. There is no movement and no significant lobby group, much less any grassroots organization. This is still in the realm of academics and people opining on the internet and that’s about it.

  75. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    All that is doable without a Constitutional amendment. I’m frankly surprised this is hardly ever discussed, especially compared to the fantasy of amending the Constitution to remove the EC and the Senate.

    Well, speaking for myself I haven’t brought it up because I’d never heard the suggestion. That is a very clever idea, a ‘numbers person’ idea that would never have occurred to me. This is why I hang out here among so many engineering types.

    I am genuinely grateful when I hear a useful new idea. Thanks.

  76. An Interested Party says:

    We are continuing it every single day.

    Who is “we”? Certainly not people who make it harder for certain other people to vote…certainly not people who gerrymander Congressional districts into pretzel shapes to maintain party dominance…

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  77. @Michael Reynolds:

    I am genuinely grateful when I hear a useful new idea. Thanks.

    I’m the same. I don’t want to embrace cynicism. There are lots of ideas that can be done short of a constitutional amendment. Redistricting rules imposed by Congress and increasing the size of the House are just two options.

    It’s also conceivable, along the lines of what Andy said, to have an interstate compact that would require states that agreed to allocate their electoral votes by congressional district. I believe if Congress approves it, then the federal courts would be able to enforce it.

    One note: it’s possible without Congress mandating redistricting rules, that gerrymandering could lead to an even worse outcome if every state allocated their electoral votes that way. It could result in even more wasted votes.

    Even so, these are all things that are worthy of discussion.

  78. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    I also think this makes gerrymandering less of a problem as the population per house seat decreases.

    Gerrymandering is not the result of some constitutional defect that only endures due to our inability to clear the high requirements needed to change the Constitution. Rather, it has been put in place primarily by one party with the goal of staying in power despite being a minority. Because of this, increasing the size of the House is a nonstarter. One party (the name just flew out of my head) has been systematically moving to undermine democratic government for some time now. That’s not something they wish to see corrected. Frankly, any tactics that a slim Democratic majority might be able to push through to fix what ails us could just as easily be pushed by slim Republican majority but in the other direction.

    When I hear people on the left speak about this, it comes down to a sense of fairness based on “one person, one vote”. On the right, I hear justifications based why they should simply count more than others. And they act on their convictions. Hence our current situation. Hence the impossibility of fixing this impasse.

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  79. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I am genuinely grateful when I hear a useful new idea. Thanks.

    You’re welcome. I guess I wrongly assumed this was commonly known and just ignored.

    @An Interested Party:

    Who is “we”? Certainly not people who make it harder for certain other people to vote…certainly not people who gerrymander Congressional districts into pretzel shapes to maintain party dominance…

    The whole people of the United States.

  80. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    Actually, I don’t think increasing the size of the House will be popular with any representatives, not just Republicans. Increasing the size of the House would mean that each representative will be less influential individually and everyone’s district would be redrawn. And it’s certainly not something lobbyists would like either.

    The challenges of this option are politically very difficult, but at least they are not also Constitutionally difficult.

  81. Kurtz says:

    @95 South:

    There is no “freaking out.” It is more accurately described as minor annoyance that the commenters on the Right around here are proud of ignorance.

  82. Michael Reynolds says:

    @95 South: @Kurtz:
    I find the obligatory downvotes amusing, personally. Oh, look, another cultie too scared to try and take me on directly. I see it as an homage.

  83. @Kit:

    Gerrymandering is not the result of some constitutional defect that only endures due to our inability to clear the high requirements needed to change the Constitution. Rather, it has been put in place primarily by one party with the goal of staying in power despite being a minority. Because of this, increasing the size of the House is a nonstarter.

    You might be right that it isn’t fixable in our current environment but it’s worth discussing nonetheless. Also, increasing the size of the House won’t fix gerrymandering. That can still be done. What increasing the size of the House will do is fix an imbalance between the rural areas and the urban/suburban areas. Also, there’s the rule that every state must have at least one representative regardless of how small its population.

    Gerrymandering can be fixed by Congress imposing a neutral set of rules for redistricting on the states.

    This brings me to another subject. Earlier this year the House passed a voting rights bill that would require the states to use independent commissions for redistricting. If I’m reading this right, Congress imposing this is likely unconstitutional. It looks to me, based on what I can gather, that Congress can impose rules for drawing districts but can’t mandate who draws them because the constitution gives that explicitly to the state legislatures.

    Again, if I’m right, the independent commissions thing might be a head fake when an actual solution exists. That would warrant a lot of cynicism.

  84. Kit says:

    @Robert Prather:

    You might be right that it isn’t fixable in our current environment but it’s worth discussing nonetheless

    Oh, I’m certainly here for the discussion, even if I swing unpredictability between geeking out on political theory, and wanting a concrete plan of action. Look at how many people have shown real signs of having thought on their own without simply regurgitating the day’s talking points. This is what I call fun!

  85. An Interested Party says:

    The whole people of the United States.

    If only that was true—the whole people of the United States continuing the American experiment of increasing democracy…sadly that’s not the case…

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  86. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    What is the argument for changing our system now because of our historical problems with race as compared to, for instance, the late 1860’s? Or 1960’s?

    I think on an objective basis, the US today is probably the least racist it’s ever been, so I don’t understand why rewriting the Constitution is suddenly necessary because of race issues.

    I would counter that the constitution has never worked because of race issues (or worked as intended, when as a nation we thought the main race issue was runaway slaves, but no longer works for society’s values).

    And, it fails poorly.

    Look at Israel and England — in times of polarization, with no consensus, nothing gets done. Look at the US — we have an activist minority presidency.

    Our system favors determination over endless thrashing. I think that’s a mistake.

    For 2020, we have a decent chance of offering a very polarized electorate a choice between a racist wannabe fascist and a very left of center candidate, and whichever one wins will end up with incredible power to get things done.

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  87. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    Historically that’s been done, usually with authoritarianism or some type of federalism or a combination of both. Here in the US, I think the key to our success has been our federal system, the individual protections built into our constitution and the “melting pot” made possible by the secular American Creed.

    Historically, it usually falls apart within a generation of the death of the founder, or whenever a weak failson gets the throne. Alexander the Great’s empire did not last, for instance.

    The secular creation myth of the US has the potential to let us buck that trend, but we haven’t really tested it, we just began to call Irishmen “white” and fit them into the dominant ethnicity. And claim that we are a Christian Nation, despite history.

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  88. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    The easiest way to “fix” this problem is for Democrats to be more competitive in the EC, something they are strangely reluctant to do.

    Andy, I’ve been reading over what you wrote and I cannot figure out what exactly you are proposing here.

    The problem is that, at this particular moment in time, there are no compromises or coalitions to be had, with the possible exception of spending on the military. For the Democrats to “become competitive” in most red states, they would have to support policies that either hurt specific targeted groups (gays, migrants, people of color, women, non-Christians…) or that hurt all Americans more generally (trade wars, wealth concentration, global warming, exploding deficit, abortion bans, …).

    Are you advocating that Democratic candidates should become more deplorable in order to win elections? Or that they should pretend to be deplorable until elected? Or something else? I can’t figure out what the “something else” could be.

  89. @Andy:

    The easiest way to “fix” this problem is for Democrats to be more competitive in the EC, something they are strangely reluctant to do.

    Another way of saying this is that Dems should have to score more points than Reps if they want to win the game.

  90. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy: That was @Gustopher: not me.

  91. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Andy, I’ve been reading over what you wrote and I cannot figure out what exactly you are proposing here.

    I’m proposing a series of alternatives to rewriting the Constitution (which simply isn’t going to happen) that might improve our system and be easier to actually implement.

    Are you advocating that Democratic candidates should become more deplorable in order to win elections?

    I’m not advocating that the Democrats do anything, I’m merely pointing out the obvious fact that Democrats aren’t going to get the Constitution changed and they need to compete in the EC if they want to win elections. Since I’m not a Democrat, I’m not really in a position to tell them how they should accomplish that.

  92. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Oops, thanks for the correction!

  93. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    Since I’m not a Democrat, I’m not really in a position to tell them how they should accomplish that.

    So when you said that “Democrats have chosen to be uncompetitive in the EC”, you didn’t actually have any idea in mind of what it might have looked like for them to have chosen otherwise?

  94. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ll defend Andy’s position on this…

    The electoral college requires the party of the prosperous urban areas to take the needs of the less prosperous rural areas into account, rather than write them off as unwinnable.

    I don’t know that he would use that argument exactly, but it’s a decent argument. Democrats have not been competitive in rural areas — the Democratic coalition doesn’t include enough people from those areas.

    I think the opposite problem is also true — Republicans are not taking the needs of black and brown folks into account, and are just demonizing the urban areas. But, the electoral college only punishes one party.

    We (Democrats) need to have a story for how we are going to revitalize smaller cities throughout America, which will help those entire regions. The Republican story is that brown folks are taking the jobs, which is a really offensive and shitty story, but it’s something. Something beats nothing.

    We need an industrial policy other than “the market will sort it out”. Or we need to use the market as part of our industrial policy — how much would we have to lower their payroll taxes to make smaller cities And rural states competitive for good jobs? I’m thinking a federal policy, rather than the current “states and cities bid for jobs” nonsense.

    I’m open to other solutions. But we’ve really done a poor job of appealing to the buck-toothed, inbred piglets with cloven hooves that populate the flyover states.

  95. @Gustopher:

    The electoral college requires the party of the prosperous urban areas to take the needs of the less prosperous rural areas into account, rather than write them off as unwinnable.

    No, no, no. No, it doesn’t. A thousands likes it doesn’t. This is a myth.

    The EC requires candidates to write-off whole states. Democrats write off all the urban voters in Austins and Houston and San Antonio. And it requires Republicans to write off a bunch of rural voters in California.

  96. The elections become about swing states. It does not create a national competition wherein the parties have to compete for the largest number of voters.

  97. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    The electoral college requires the party of the prosperous urban areas to take the needs of the less prosperous rural areas into account, rather than write them off as unwinnable.

    Just to be clear, that’s not my point. My point is about practicalities. The EC isn’t going away anytime soon, especially since there does not seem to be interest in doing anything but talk about it.

    So any party that wants to win the Presidency should focus on what it takes to win, which means winning states and the EC. And after 2016 it should be obvious that – Democrats in particular – can’t take winning key states for granted.

    @DrDaveT:

    So when you said that “Democrats have chosen to be uncompetitive in the EC”, you didn’t actually have any idea in mind of what it might have looked like for them to have chosen otherwise?

    My idea of “what it might have looked like” is for the Democrats to get at least 270 EV’s. If Democrats don’t make adjustments so they can actually win, and instead repeat the previous mistakes they’ve made, then we’ve got 4 more years of Trump.

  98. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    My idea of “what it might have looked like” is for the Democrats to get at least 270 EV’s. If Democrats don’t make adjustments so they can actually win, and instead repeat the previous mistakes they’ve made, then we’ve got 4 more years of Trump.

    2016 was decided by a ridiculously slim margin. Had it gone the other way, would you be telling D’s to stand pat and R’s to broaden their base (or get more serious about reducing the other’s base)?

    I think there’s always an amount of winner’s bias, where winners look inevitable and the losers dwell on a small number of reasons that they feel made the difference. The real problem is that we live in a 50/50 country that is growing ever further apart. I think compromise is the great political virtue, but the issues on which I’m currently willing to compromise has grown vanishingly small. I’m appalled by what I see on the Right, and I’m not the only one. A clear victory looks all but impossible. Defeat looks likely. And holding the line is just defeat at a slower pace when so many issues very out for urgent action.

  99. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    2016 was decided by a ridiculously slim margin. Had it gone the other way, would you be telling D’s to stand pat and R’s to broaden their base (or get more serious about reducing the other’s base)?

    Yes, one of the things I’ve complained about here regularly is how both parties, but especially the GoP, are narrowing and are no longer the big-tent parties the once were.

    If we’re stuck with an entrenched two-party system and de-facto binary choice elections, then we need big-tent parties – otherwise, candidates in the general won’t represent the interests of a majority of Americans. That was certainly the case with Trump in my view and if the Democrats nominate Sanders or Warren (or someone with similar views), they will follow that path.

    And there would not have been a ridiculous thin margin in 2016 if the Clinton campaign had been more competent.

  100. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    both parties, but especially the GoP, are narrowing and are no longer the big-tent parties the once were.

    I certainly wouldn’t categorize the GOP as a big-tent party, but they decide to run far to the right and in so doing found a fanatic following. The Democratic Party includes all the rest, which seems pretty big tent to me.

    The only area I see where Democrats might come up with a winning hand would involve making a stab at the heart of white nationalism by doing something on immigration. Apart from that, I’m pessimistic about finding anything like common ground.

    And there would not have been a ridiculous thin margin in 2016 if the Clinton campaign had been more competent.

    Come on, Andy! Do you really think she would have won in a landslide had her campaign not fumbled the ball? And where would we be today? R’s controlling the Legislature, SC looking better but still not great, country probably in a recession, and half the country dialled up to extra crazy. Our problems go deeper.

  101. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The EC requires candidates to write-off whole states. Democrats write off all the urban voters in Austins and Houston and San Antonio. And it requires Republicans to write off a bunch of rural voters in California.

    The elections become about swing states. It does not create a national competition wherein the parties have to compete for the largest number of voters.

    It wasn’t too long ago that California was a Republican State. The benefits of appealing to the states where you aren’t competitive takes a long time to show up — several election cycles at a minimum, and the Republicans are often better at that than the Democrats are.

    And, I would point out that I wrote that the EC creates a requirement for the appeal to other areas of the country, not that it does it well. The short term incentives and the long term incentives don’t match at all.

    And it definitely isn’t working as designed.

  102. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    I certainly wouldn’t categorize the GOP as a big-tent party

    I wouldn’t either, but they used to have a much bigger tent.

    The Democratic Party includes all the rest, which seems pretty big tent to me.

    The Democratic tent is definitely bigger than the GoP tent currently is, but it’s smaller compared to what it used to be. And the progressive wing of the party is getting better and more active at purging moderates and dictating the narrative. I don’t think it is correct to say that everyone who isn’t in the current GoP tent is in the Democratic tent.

    The only area I see where Democrats might come up with a winning hand would involve making a stab at the heart of white nationalism by doing something on immigration. Apart from that, I’m pessimistic about finding anything like common ground.

    Why is doing something on immigration stabbing at White nationalism? There are plenty of people who aren’t white nationalists who also would like an effective and rational policy that is enforced to better regulate immigration and reduce illegal immigration.

    Come on, Andy! Do you really think she would have won in a landslide had her campaign not fumbled the ball?

    I didn’t say it would be a landslide. And I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but it’s indisputable that Clinton’s terrible campaign and mistakes cost her votes in several battleground states that she needed to win, most importantly the blue wall.

  103. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:
    So both the GOP and the Dems are smaller tent than they used to be. How exactly does that work? Where did everyone else go? (Hint: not to the Greens or Libertarians.)

    And the progressive wing of the party is getting better and more active at purging moderates

    You’ve said this before, and we called you on it, and you were unable to come up with any actual examples of any moderates being purged, or even marginalized. Have you thought of any since then? If not, please stop saying it.

  104. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    So both the GOP and the Dems are smaller tent than they used to be. How exactly does that work? Where did everyone else go? (Hint: not to the Greens or Libertarians.)

    Can’t say for sure, but I’d guess most people go to the lesser-of-evilsDouche and Turd purgatory.

    And in 2016, the Libertarian party got 3-4 times as many votes as it did in previous elections (4 1/2 million) – more than the popular vote margin between Clinton and Trump. So, in 2016 at least, a lot of people did go to the libertarians.

    You’ve said this before, and we called you on it, and you were unable to come up with any actual examples of any moderates being purged, or even marginalized. Have you thought of any since then? If not, please stop saying it.

    There are already several primary challenges planned that are designed to go after moderate Democrats this coming election – which also happened during the 2018 cycle (it’s how “the squad” got their seats).

    It’s too early to tell how big and important this will be, but it’s hard to deny there is an influential faction in the Progressive caucus that strongly believes in eliminating moderate incumbents through primaries. And earlier this year, the DCCC tried to nip that in the bud causing anger in the progressive caucus.

    It’s simply a fact that the Democratic party, internally, is trying to deal with and manage a movement within the party that seeks to move the party to the left through the method of primarying moderates.

    On the other side, I’m unaware of an organized movement of moderates who are systematically attempting to primary progressives to move the party toward the center, but maybe I’ve just missed it.

  105. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    There are already several primary challenges planned that are designed to go after moderate Democrats this coming election

    I asked a question about the past, which is what you were making claims about. Predictions of the future are not responsive.

    – which also happened during the 2018 cycle (it’s how “the squad” got their seats).

    Aha — some actual examples. Can you name some names, for those of us who don’t follow this stuff closely? Which moderates got ‘purged’?

    You’re talking about this as if it’s a major movement, and so far we have what, 3 examples out of hundreds of Democratic Congresspersons? And zero actual far-left progressive legislation?

  106. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    My idea of “what it might have looked like” is for the Democrats to get at least 270 EV’s.

    You stated that they chose not to get those votes. It’s a strong and provocative verb; I assume you chose it (to coin a phrase) for a reason. I’m trying to figure out what that reason was. If you misspoke, and didn’t really mean that Dems have a clear winning strategy that they are choosing not to use, just say so.

  107. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Aha — some actual examples. Can you name some names, for those of us who don’t follow this stuff closely? Which moderates got ‘purged’?

    I haven’t looked up the details and frankly, I don’t intend to. I think we both know that adding names is not going to convince you that that the Democratic party is moving (relatively slowly) to the left, considering the previous discussions we’ve had on this topic. Let’s revisit this later in 2020 and see how many moderate Democrats actually get primaried.

    You stated that they chose not to get those votes.

    No, I did not state that. Just for posterity, let me quote what I actually wrote in full context:

    “The fact that Democrats have become uncompetitive in the electoral college was not some iron law nor was it destiny. I do not see why we should change our entire political system because one party in this era of hyperpartisanship has, for whatever reasons, chosen to be uncompetitive in the system that’s existed for two centuries. The easiest way to “fix” this problem is for Democrats to be more competitive in the EC, something they are strangely reluctant to do.”

    I assume you chose it (to coin a phrase) for a reason. I’m trying to figure out what that reason was.

    Since you have such a keen focus on the minutiae of blog comments, you may have noticed that I don’t do a ton of spelling, punctuation, and grammar corrections on my comments (though I usually remember my oxford commas). In this very thread I replied to the wrong person, for instance. Given the previously mentioned keen focus on minutiae, I’m sure you noticed that, so (to paraphrase a recent comment), I’m assuming you’re bringing this up for a reason and I’m trying to figure out what that reason is.

    More seriously, if I don’t spend a ton of time editing my own comments, then you probably shouldn’t read, assume and project intentions based on one word in a long blog comment.

    In hindsight, “chosen” was probably too strong a word, since parties are more emergent than centrally directed (a point I’ve made repeatedly that I’m sure your keen eye for detail also noticed). “Chosen” implies some kind of central direction or plan which does not, in fact, exist. But the point remains that Democrats made collective political choices over many years that have made made them more vulnerable in the EC contest than they otherwise could be.

    In any event, I really am not interesting in spending any additional time and effort clarifying word choice blog comments. It feels too much like editing a dissertation. So I think we are done here. Please have the last word, I’m happy to leave it at that.

  108. Kit says:

    @Andy:

    Why is doing something on immigration stabbing at White nationalism? There are plenty of people who aren’t white nationalists who also would like an effective and rational policy that is enforced to better regulate immigration and reduce illegal immigration.

    Yeah, that was what I was hinting at. The GOP tent, in my opinion, has shrunk down to Big Money and white nationalism. A solution concerning the border might be enough to get some Republicans disgusted enough with their own party to switch sides.

    Now that is just this side of possible. Just. My fear is that the GOP leadership would realize that immigration, much like abortion, means everything for firing up the base and nothing if ever solved.

    Another area that could yield results would be changes to the economy benefiting the lower- and middle classes. That, of course, runs into opposition from the other half of the GOP’s tent.

    On the whole, I’m not optimistic. I think Blue America would easily adapt and flourish were it a separate country, but Red America no longer wishes to be a democracy and will happily drag us all down.

  109. Chris says:

    The Framers were not perfect. Their failure to include women, effectively resolve Native American issues, and infuse African Americans into a free society is worthy of criticism. Moreover, they were so fearful of a tyranny of the majority that their lasting legacy is terrible periods where we have endured a tyranny of the minority. However, I take issue about their having failed on the Second Amendment. It is worth pointing out that the Second Amendment is not the be all end all when it comes to governance. For example, Edmund Randolph essentially said we are all in the militia. Which means we are subject to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. With that understanding, our contemporary Congress and all of our state governments have failed us by allowing for an unorganized militia. So don’t blame our Founders for that, lay the blame on we the people and our elected officials.