The Corner

Hillary & the Two Missing States

Harold Meyerson today makes a (pretty persuasive, in my view) argument that Hillary doesn’t have a strong case for counting Florida and Michigan. But I was amused to see him take umbrage at Hillary’s over-the-top rhetoric invoking Jim Crow and Robert Mugabe in favor of counting Florida and Michigan. Doesn’t he know this is how Democrats always talk during electoral controversies, and how the entire party was talking during the 2000 election? (The subject of my column today by the way.) Here was Meyerson on the Supreme Court decision in 2000: 

It’s not as if the Supreme Court comes before us with clean hands. In the course of its 200-plus years, it has at various times ruled that no runaway slave could ever be free so long as his master wanted him back; that black children had no right to attend school with white children; that state prohibitions on 6-year-olds working in sweatshops were unconstitutional. The list of the court’s low points is a litany of our worst biases invested with the power of law…As of now, the relationship of the United States Supreme Court (more precisely, of its five right-wingers) to W. is roughly that which existed between the Yugoslav Supreme Court and Slobodan Milosevic. The justices go through the motions of deciding matters of law, but their only real goal is to keep — or, in this case, put — their guy in power.


And on the Electoral College

 Many of our original structures of government plod along unaltered to this day, though they are rooted in assumptions and biases that have been not only rejected, but in many instances forgotten. In 1892, when the court affirmed the power of the legislatures to choose electors, it was still the case that those legislatures elected United States senators. Not until the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913 was that right given directly to the people. As for the Electoral College, it is a direct outgrowth of slavery. Had the constitution mandated a popular vote for president back in 1787, the North — with a far larger population of white males than the South — would have seen its presidential candidates routinely prevail. By apportioning electors in accord with a state’s population, however — that is, by counting bodies, not voters — the predominantly Southern drafters of the constitution enabled slave states to dominate presidential elections.

Today, conservatives like Scalia and Yoo cheerfully defend the rights of legislatures over people, but prudently decline to invoke the demophobic and aristocratic beliefs that led to the establishment of these rights. Conservatives like George Will defend the Electoral College but omit any glowing references to slavery when they make their case. No account of W.’s rise, however, should rely on such a sanitized version of history. If he prevails, the first president of the 21st century will owe his office to the institutional legacies of the most repugnant biases of the 18th. The past, as Faulkner reminded us, isn’t dead — and when it comes to selecting our presidents, apparently it isn’t even past.

 We wouldn’t be able to escape this kind of rhetoric if it were Obama instead of Hillary who needed delegates from Florida and Michigan.


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