In Federalist 68, the brilliant Alexander Hamilton outlined the details and purpose of the new Constitution's method of electing the president. It remains the most thorough explanation of the wisdom inherent in the Electoral College system. In it, Hamilton writes that among its many other virtues, the Electoral College would work effectively to deny the presidency to candidates who possessed merely, "Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity."
Having seen one such candidate denied by the Electoral College in 2016, Elizabeth Warren, mistress of low intrigue herself, is adamant to prevent it from happening again.
At a recent campaign stop, Warren sought to stop the bleeding of her poll numbers by making a tired pitch to repeal the American republic and replace it with a nationalized democracy. In her patented frantic style, Warren bellowed,
"So here's my goal. My goal is to get elected, and then to be the last American president elected by the Electoral College. I want the second term to be that I got elected by direct vote. I'm ready. Popular vote. I just think this is how a democracy should work. Call me old fashioned, but I think the person who gets the most votes should win."
First of all, logistically, this is a non-starter. The president has no authority to change the Constitution. Repealing the Electoral College would require 2/3 of both houses of Congress to propose an amendment to do so, and then 3/4 of state legislatures would have to approve it. Whatever fantasy Warren may have concocted in her head about her own chances of becoming the next president, she's off the reservation entirely if she thinks Democrats are in a position to win super-majorities in Congress and constitutional amendment-securing majorities in 75% of the states.
But it's less important to understand that Warren's proposal will fail, and more important to know why it should fail.
One of the critical motivations the Founders had in inventing the Electoral College was the prevention of a sectional or regional political monopoly. Imagine a presidential contest where the participating candidates need only appeal to the interests of urban population centers and metropolitan strips. The Founders did imagine it, and sought to avoid it.
To be sure, they weren't oblivious to the perspective Warren voices. They considered a popular vote system, and as Federalist 68 makes explicitly clear, they rejected it as both dangerous and unwise. They had their own urban areas and population centers, but knew the president needed to concern himself with the interests of far more areas of the country than just those. That's the purpose of the Electoral College.
The federal government was designed to offer representation to the varying concerns of "we, the people." Specifically, the House of Representatives was built to represent the people's local interests, the Senate to represent the people's state interests, and the presidency to represent the national interest.
At the behest of progressives around the turn of the century, we have already undermined this delicate balance by adopting the 17th Amendment. Rather than Senators chosen by state legislatures, they are now directly elected by the people, eliminating the effective representation of state interests in D.C. Now progressives seek to do the same thing with the presidency.
It's not that the values and welfare of urban centers aren't a portion of our national interest. They are. But so are the affairs of rural neighborhoods, factory towns, mining communities, coastal port cities, agrarian farms, and all the others that would be undercut by Warren's "direct vote" scheme. Importantly, the Electoral College is designed proportionally. California is a far bigger prize to a candidate than North Dakota. But the system ensures that California isn't the only prize that's needed; its citizens' interests aren't the only ones represented in the presidency.
When Warren says of her proposal, "I just think this is how a democracy should work," she's not wrong. The flaw in her reasoning is that the Founders intentionally avoided creating a democracy built on a nationalist foundation; instead they wisely created a republic built on a federalist one.
Hamilton wrote explicitly that the selection of the chief magistrate of the federal government should not be turned into a popularity contest, lest the qualities of that individual become something entirely different than what the country needs and should desire.
Call me old fashioned, but I think our civilization is wiser to ride with the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton rather than fall for the rhetorical red meat of a truth-challenged power-seeker from Massachusetts.
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