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Florida On My Mind
Life, Liberty, and the Electoral College.


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Jonah Goldberg

Note to Readers: Due to the Bristol Acts of 1237, Great Britain declared its intention to make it very difficult for overweight conservative cyber columnists to send their emails back to the colonies. Thus, only now can I send the column I wrote on the flight over. Yes, I have been staying abreast of the events across the pond, but I might as well send this thing out first. Cheerio! Or as they say here Muesli!

I take no small amount of satisfaction from the fact that I can sing all the words to the “Good and Plenty” commercial (“Once upon a time there was an engineer and Choo-Choo Charley was his name I hear…”) and about 35 others. I am also quite smug about the fact that I am flying at 30,000 feet to the land where fatty foods and excessive ale drinking are considered a point of national pride rather than something cardiologists and other snooty, busybody types look down upon.

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But these minor satisfactions pale compared with my self-satisfaction at the fact that I was resolutely in favor of the Electoral College when it appeared that it would work against Gov. Bush (indeed, my support for the Electoral College stretches back to my earliest years. My father would tuck in my brother and I every night asking, “Sons, for what constitutional bulwark of federalism would you gladly suffer unspeakable torture?”

“The Electoral College!” we would shriek, kicking our little feet under the sheets with excitement like we were getting a Christmas pony.

“That’s right boys. And that’s why I shall permit you to sleep through another night with the eyeball-eating monster safely tied up in the closet.”

Anyway, enough of my sweet tales of youth.

After singing the praises of the Electoral College — okay I didn’t actually sing — but before the spectacle that some people are still calling Election Night, I received no small number of e-mails from readers who considered the Electoral College a “travesty” “an abomination” and “just plain dumb.”

I haven’t received too many e-mails saying that since it became increasingly clear that a plurality of voters pulled the lever or punched their chads for the lisping human toothache known as Al Gore. But while I am perfectly delighted to gloat about my stunning intellectual consistency, I’d rather move on…no wait — just a little gloating. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. Okay, all done now.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’d like to move on to one more of what will probably end up being a long line of defenses of the Electoral College. Let’s start with Hillary Clinton’s bold stance on this issue, just days after it became fashionable to rail against it.

It should come as no surprise that the First Lady has come out in favor of abolishing the Electoral College. After all, she comes from the national intellectual elite. The names for this echelon of social engineers and would-be do-gooders has changed a lot in egg-heady circles over the years. James Burnham, borrowing from 19th-century theorists, called them the “Managerial Class.” Irving Kristol — one of my heroes — called them the “New Class,” also borrowing from a long tradition of analysis. Irving’s son, Bill, modified them once again by having Dan Quayle (for whom he was chief of staff) rail against the “cultural elite.”

There are important theoretical differences between these concepts, but unless you are studying for a final exam at a university that actually thinks intellectual history is more important than identifying the 17 kinds of submissive genders that can be categorized as “oppressed,” you really don’t need to hear about them. Instead, the only thing to keep in mind is that there are now, and always have been, a bunch of people with prestigious academic degrees, expensive coffee-table books, and an unshakable conviction that they are the shock troops of progress. They see nothing wrong with imposing schemes and rules that adhere to their sense of justice without considering the wishes and desires of those they impose them on.

Hillary Clinton, matron of the Children’s Defense Fund, author of a health-care plan fit for a French economics seminar, and wife of the man who said, “I could cut your taxes, but you might spend the money wrong,” is just such a woman.

So it makes complete sense that she would think that these arbitrary and archaic boundaries we call “states” would be problematic. After all she actually had to run for office in a state, forced to learn the picayune and quaint details of the local population. This sort of inconvenience is completely inappropriate for a cadre determined to nationalize the culture. How much easier it would have been if she had simply been declared one of the 100 people most qualified to be a senator. That way, she could just take up whatever causes, wherever she wished. Like a humorless, white, female, pedantic, and un-rhyming Jesse Jackson she could cause trouble and make impassioned speeches that make people like Alec Baldwin drop their Speak & Spells, and then move on.

But our system doesn’t work that way. Senators may be popularly elected but they still represent states. The other night I heard Justice Antonin Scalia (“Nino” to his friends, of whom I am not one) speak eloquently in defense of federalism. He gave a simple answer to why federalism and by extension the Electoral College is preferable. Sure it less democratic and yes it is often cumbersome and inefficient. But, quite simply, it assures that more people are happy.

Democracy in and of itself is nothing special. It is simply the best system best devised to ensure such virtues as freedom, order, justice, etc. But democracy is simply a mechanical concept. Nothing is “better” because 51 percent of the people want something. In a pure democracy many bad things can happen by this group of people I like to call the “mob.”

Getting back to Scalia, he argued that more people are happy under federalism because it subverts tyrannical majorities. If democracy is so great, why not have a world democracy where India and China could vote to kick you out of your homes and make you listen to Johnny Mathis records all day in huge auditoriums?

If 70 percent of the country wants to ban the use of mayonnaise on pastrami, that’s fine. And in a pure democracy they could do just that. But under federalism, if 90 percent of the people who wanted to smear mayo on their pastrami lived in one state, they could do so. Those who want to live one way could live one way, those who want to live another way could live another way. This principle doesn’t just work with pastrami, it applies to abortion, prayer in school, all sorts of interesting things.



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