August 11, 2004


LET'S NOT DEVALUE OURSELVES (Katha Pollitt, 8/10/04, The Nation)

It says something about the iron grip of the culture wars on our politics that no less a liberal than John Kerry – with his 100 percent ratings from NARAL, Human Rights Campaign, the AFL-CIO and the NAACP – recently claimed that he represents "conservative values." [...]

In any case, the reason Kerry is so concerned about values has a lot to do with the unfairness of the Electoral College, which awards outrageously disproportionate political power to rural conservative states with fewer voters than, say, the enlightened borough of Brooklyn. Through one of those ironies with which history is so replete, the Electoral College, intended by the Founding Fathers to insure that the President was chosen by the ruling elite, has become an antidemocratic mechanism of quite another kind, giving unequal weight to votes based merely on the state in which they are cast. (How unequal? A vote from Wyoming counts almost four times as much as a vote from California.) In a country that actually practiced the principle of one person, one vote, the political landscape would be markedly different... [...]

Still, in the war over values, we needn't be shy. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – it has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

You barely even need to critique an essay where the author acknowledges the intentionally conservative and anti-democratic nature of the American system and espouses the "progressive" values of the French Revolution, rather than the American. She's amply explained why it would be political suicide to campaign as a liberal in an American presidential election, even if she doesn't understand what she's written.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2004 8:37 AM

As brooklyn goes, so must the nation.

Thank the forefathers for the electoral college.

Posted by: genecis at August 11, 2004 9:12 AM

The electoral college and the allocation of senators by state was demanded by the smaller states so that the larger ones would not be able to trample on their interests. Since ssuch trampling seems to be Ms. Pollitt's goal, it appears that it is still working exactly as designed.

Posted by: Brandon at August 11, 2004 9:45 AM

Ms. Pollitt doesn't seem to understand that we do have a one person, one vote system. It's that way in each state. Then the states do their voting based on their representation in the congress. The name of the country is The United States of America.

The people who are unhappy about the Electoral College are only that way when they think their favorite would have a better chance of election without it.

Posted by: Henry IX at August 11, 2004 10:26 AM

Henry IX

You say "one person, one vote system. It's that way in each state".

Actually it was not that way until 1962 in "Baker v Carr" and that is when things started going downhill even faster. Like that great Senator Trent Lott said "we wouldn't have all the problems we have now". (ok, he's not that great, but humor me)

Posted by: h-man at August 11, 2004 10:39 AM

This is the same Katha Pollitt who would not allow her 9 year-old daughter to fly the flag out the window the evening of 9/11/2001.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 11, 2004 10:44 AM


Yes, by the logic of the Court the Constitution (with its Senate provision) is unconstitutional.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2004 10:45 AM

It would help if we conservative/federalist types would get back to saying "the United States are..." rather than "the United States is..."

I'm not being just grammatically pedantic. There's a real political/philosophical distinction in there.

Posted by: Tomas at August 11, 2004 11:02 AM

Another advantage of the electoral college is that it makes vote fraud a bit more difficult. What's the point, for example of getting even more of the dead to vote in Chicago if it's not going to increase Illinois' number of votes? But in a polular vote system, we'd be seeing 200% turnout in some Dem precincts (and a corresponding pressure for cheating by the GOP and other parties.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at August 11, 2004 11:16 AM

Blame the Civil War (or the slave-holding Southerners at any rate). That changed the thinking that America was a collection of states and paved the way for a new nationalism.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at August 11, 2004 11:36 AM

>Yes, by the logic of the Court the Constitution
>(with its Senate provision) is unconstitutional.

By a vote of Five-to-Four.

Posted by: Ken at August 11, 2004 12:13 PM

"the enlightened borough of Brooklyn"

This has to be the first time in history that this phrase was written. Like the time Johnny Carson said "It's the banjo player's Ferrari".

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 11, 2004 12:22 PM

I presume you're responding to my comment, Mr. Choudhury. And you're absolutely right -- it was the Civil War that turned "United States" from plural to singular. Lincoln's propaganda stressing "the Union," along with all the wartime measures that permanently cemented the strength of centralized government, certainly did pave the way for a new nationalism.

Not sure, however, why you're singling out the Southern states. (Unless that was simply an aside noting that slavery was the source of the war, and since that war led to the new nationalism, then slavery was ultimately responsible.)

Slavery was an abomination -- nobody is arguing that. And perhaps war was the only way to get rid of that abomination. But setting aside the specific issue of slavery, I think it's safe to say that Southerners were certainly not to "blame" for instituting the new nationalism. They in fact vehemently opposed that sort of government. They're the ones who understood and remained devoted to the concept that "United States" was plural.

No matter how wrongheaded many of them were about slavery, they were certainly right about that part.

The South has always been the real cradle of liberty in the new world. If we lived in a world of semantic accuracy, this year's Super Bowl would have been between teams named the New England Panthers and the Carolina Patriots. It was the South that won the Revolutionary War. It was in the South where stuff like the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was conceived more than a year before that other big document was signed in Philly. Ever been to a city like Charlotte, where the streets have names like "Independence Boulevard" and the recreation areas have names like "Freedom Park"? They're obsessed with liberty in that neck of the woods.

I know I've gone wildly off tangent here, but I guess it's just irked me over the years that the enduring symbol of the American Revolution has been the smartly attired Boston minuteman, when the more appropriate image would be an Appalachian backwoodsman fighting tooth-and-claw at Kings Mountain.

Yes, the South was wrong about slavery, an institution it glommed onto for reasons that perhaps made sense at the time but that we ultimately determined were misguided. But at heart, Southerners understood, and continue to understand, what real freedom means -- more than any other group of Americans.

And before I get accused of naive parochialism, let it be known I'm writing this from my home in the decidedly non-Dixie locale of socialist, union-infested Detroit.

Posted by: Tomas at August 11, 2004 1:04 PM

The question was decided far earlier than that, when the Anti-Federalists lost.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2004 1:14 PM

Not sure what "question" you're referring to, but if it's the issue of "United States are" versus "United States is," then I'm not sure your comment* is accurate.

Historians and language researchers have long noted the "are/is" divide, and have always pegged it to the Civil War. I wasn't making some groundbreaking assertion in my initial post. The Civil War transformed "are" to "is" -- it's well documented and long established, to the point that it's conventional wisdom.

*["Comment" isn't quite the right word. Something like "fragment" would be more like it. That's because, as par for the course, that's all it was -- a typically terse Orrin Judd response.

Now, I'd never demand that everybody ramble on to the lengths I did, for instance, in one of my above posts. But your curt rejoinder, just like all the other curt rejoinders you deposit among your readers' extensive and thoughtful responses, reveals a kind of intellectual arrogance.

Thing is, whether you intend it or not, those terse responses send a pretty elaborate snooty message. They say to your correspondents: "All that stuff you just wrote was a waste of time, because you're utterly wrong and this is actually the correct answer. Bothering to write more than 10 or 12 words would lend unmerited credibility to your idiotic post. I am right, you are wrong, and this morsel of my intellectual prowess is all you are worthy of receiving from me. You're lucky to get even that, you misguided fool."

Sorry to belabor this subject. I suspect I'm motivated in part by the fact that I actually DO respect your opinions and observations, and am frustrated, even vaguely offended, when you respond to an expansive argument by offering a mere scrap of Omniscient Wisdom.]

Posted by: Tomas at August 11, 2004 3:40 PM

The triumph of the Federalists made "is" inevitable:

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2004 3:46 PM


Don't feel bad.

Orrin once invited all comers to answer ten questions regarding Francis Fukuyama's 'Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution'.

Well, I wrote a novella-length reply, off the top of my head, that totally eviscerated Fukuyama's Luddite, dystopic ramblings.

Orrin favored me with a single sentence reply, of about five words.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 11, 2004 9:52 PM



Posted by: tictoc at August 11, 2004 10:53 PM


It was wrong.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2004 10:57 PM


If only I could be sure that you were speaking of the Fukuyama book, or of the brevity of your reply...

In any case, I think we can agree on one aspect of 'Our Posthuman Future...':
One of the unwarranted assumptions that Fukuyama makes is that our lives will be extended, but, our useful lives will stay the same number of years, which is absolutely contradicted by the human experience in the West over the past two hundred years.
We live longer, and we remain productive and active longer.

Humans won't retire at 65, and then live for another hundred years in a semi- or completely invalid state.
We'll retire at 90, and live for another fifty years in fairly good health, and independent.
Then, a couple years of rapidly failing health, and then a nice long dirt nap.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 12, 2004 3:28 AM


It is now two of us from the great Detroit metroplex. (Good posts, BTW.)

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 12, 2004 7:07 AM


Why? Senior will be the great majority in most Western states--why would they vote to make themselves work longer? That defies everything we know about how majorities treat minorities.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2004 8:25 AM




Posted by: oj at August 12, 2004 12:28 PM

As a Southerner, I'd like to take Tomas's analysis for granted.

But it's like the death penalty. Everybody is against the death penalty for himself. You're only a real anti if you're also against it for everybody else.

The devotion of my fellow Southerners to liberty was limited pretty much to their own freedom of action. I never met one who didn't think he had the right to tell me what I could think.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 12, 2004 5:18 PM