Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Pennsylvania and the Electoral College

A fight is brewing in Pennsylvania as some Republicans indicate that they wish to transform the way the state allocates its electoral votes for the presidency. The President of the United States is not elected by the national popular vote, but rather by the popular vote in each of the 50 states--if one candidate in Ohio gets 55% of the popular vote in Ohio, that candidate receives Ohio's electoral votes. To win the presidency, one needs to win at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes; these votes are divvied between the states based on congressional representation, plus three for the District of Columbia. The Electoral College is designed to support federalism by forcing candidates to campaign across a broad spectrum among the states and also maintains for us a relatively stable and fraud-free system, especially compared to other nations. Yes, there is occasionally a fluke when the popular vote and the electoral votes do not match up--the 2000 Election an example of this--but these are rare, and not a reason to discount the entire system.

Every state except for two operates on the winner-take-all system mentioned above. Maine and Nebraska use the Congressional District System, which apportions the votes by district rather than the entire state. In these states, elections are held within each congressional district and whoever wins in those districts gets the votes, and the winner of the popular vote in the state receives a bonus two electoral votes. Pennsylvania is considering adopting this method of voting instead. Some people seem to be decrying it as unconstitutional or an attack on the Electoral College; this is plainly wrong. The Constitution allows each state to decide how its electoral votes are split up. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 states: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors." So, there are no constitutional arguments to be made against this way of divvying up the Electoral Votes.

There are, however, some practical and political concerns with shifting over to the Congressional District System. While it is a bit more democratic and may comfort those seeking to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote, it may have the adverse consequence of increasing gerrymandering, which is already a huge problem in the country; parties will have further incentive to strengthen districts for themselves in order to ensure electoral success. The fact that the GOP in Pennsylvania is trying to do this purely for partisan reasons rather than concerns of suffrage and whatnot is also disconcerting (and strengthens my concern about gerrymandering), and furthermore foolish as it would very well harm Republican candidates in the future as well as Democrats. It is also worth noting that, based on the various data and articles I've been looking over, if every single state operated on a Congressional District System for their electoral votes, it would not change the outcome of any single election in recent history.

So, while it is perfectly within the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania to apportion its electoral votes in whatever way it sees fit, it is foolish to do so for the perceived political gain of a party, and could have some bad consequences. I have also seen proposed that one divvies the electoral votes up by percentage (if someone wins 55% of Ohio, they get 55% of the Electors, and second place gets their percentage and so-on), but my chief concern with that is that it would give more success to third party candidates which may cause systemic problems by making it more difficult for anyone to receive 270 votes in the college, opening the way for Congress to vote on the matter. The winner-take-all system is not perfect, but it is better than any alternative yet put forth.
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Paul Ryan on the Constitution

Paul Ryan on the Constitution, speaking at Hillsdale.  Serious, good, Long. Worth reading.

Foreign Affairs

The Libyan Intervention and Iran

While the fall of the mad dog of Libya is indeed welcome, the intervention of the West into these affairs can have several unfortunate results. President Obama's degradation of the Constitution and the capitulation of Congress to the breaking down of the separation of powers notwithstanding, there are real and practical problems that will arise within the international system that can be very bad. Chief among them is the emboldening of Iran's determination to pursue nuclear power, emboldened by the back-and-forth foreign policy (and general lack of grand strategy) exhibited by the West.

Though a pariah in the 1980s and early 1990s, Moammar Gaddafi was welcomed back into the international club during the past decade after negotiating to give him his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Fearing something similar to the United States invasion of Iraq, he bought the West's assurances that we would not destabilize his regime if he gave up the bad stuff. This is essentially the same type of negotiating tactics we are using with the Islamic Republic of Iran; we are imposing sanctions and constrictions on the Iranian regime, and saying that military intervention is not off-the-table, in an attempt to get them to give up their nuclear program. With our intervention in Libya, though, our position at the negotiating table has been severely limited. If less than a decade after peace was made with Libya we proceeded to actively seek the destruction of the Gaddafi regime anyways, in response to humanitarian concerns, then what incentive does Iran now have to give up their nuclear weapons? After the quashing of the 2009 uprising in Iran, the chances of a "humanitarian crisis" breaking out in that country are high, meaning that, with this doctrine of responsibility to protect, we can excuse ourselves to attack the regime whether they give up their nuclear aspirations or not.

Additionally, the mixed messages in regards to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il further embolden Iran. Hussein did not have nuclear weapons at his disposal, and was promptly toppled. Kim does, and is left alone to bully and whine from his North Korean palaces. The logic would imply that we will not invade or attack a nation with a nuclear weapon, even if they commit grave atrocities against their people--Gaddafi gave his weapons up, and so when he threatened to crack down on his people, the West readily attacked without fear. If Iran were to launch another harsh crackdown, even worse than before, it could open them up for strikes as well; if they had a nuke, though, the chances of that would be far lower. Our intervention in Libya will serve to embolden these rogue nations and give them more excuse to pursue dangerous weapons that threaten to destabilize international security. This means that unless there is a successful internal change within the nation of Iran, it seems to me that there are now only two likely scenarios: a Western military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, or the acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. Neither is very comforting. 

Our intervention has put us in a tough spot between stemming the tide of nuclear proliferation and being able to let regimes know that massive infringements on human rights are intolerable. This is a big mess to clean up, and one that must be cleaned up soon---while I completely understand the necessity and importance of the economy and domestic concerns within the electorate right now and thus at presidential debates and press conferences, spending some time addressing this issue is important, particularly due to the timeliness of Iran's nuclear program. With Israel already feeling threatened by the collapse of Mubarak and the end of peaceful relations with their neighbor, the entire situation in the Middle East is set to blow. We need to start talking about this.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

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Congress and the Constitution

Robinson's note below, and the fact that we are moving toward Constitution Day--reminds me to bring to your attention the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer, appropriately entitled, Congress and the Constitution. It makes the case that Congress is at the very heart of our experiment in constitutional self-government.  You should subscribe to the Farmer's Letters, if you haven't already done so.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Pestritto on the Constitution

Ronald Pestritto, a professor at that other school and for the MAHG program, spoke yesterday before the Congressional Constitution Caucus here on Capitol Hill. Speaking on the rise of the administrative state, progressive attacks on the Constitution, and how to defend against them, he started by lamenting the fact that Congress even needed a caucus dedicated to looking at and defending the Constitution. The good talk was followed by a good question-and-answer session, focusing much on the role of the courts in today's world. He reiterated concern by others that people are pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare, rather than Congress or the White House-- while he'd love to see the healthcare boondoggle shut down, Pestritto cautioned that the very fact that we are looking to the courts to be the heavyweight and support the Constitution is part of the problem. The professor hit the nail in the head towards the end of the session: "Most of politics today is a fight between the two unelected branches of government: the courts and the bureaucracy." The rebirth of constitutional seriousness is needed, and Congress needs to once more be filled by partisans of the Constitution. Good to remember this Constitution Day.
Categories > Progressivism


Salam On Perry

Reihan Salam has been writing lengthy and thoughtful posts that are skeptical of Gov. Perry's record and chances of winning an election against President Obama. I'm less down on Perry at this point.  I think it is possible that he will prove to be shrewder and better able to appeal to persuadables than people think.  Or maybe not.  Salam is surely right that Republicans need to be more careful about tailoring their messages to the sensibilities and priorities of voters that are open to voting for Republicans but who have not fully bought into a conservative narrative.  

One way to do that is for Republicans to distance themselves from the Ryan budget without offering any specific entitlement reforms.  But just ducking the issue of crafting a sustainable budget isn't good enough to meet the moment.  Who cares if Republicans hold office as the US spins into a Greece-like fiscal crisis?  Well, some Republican office holders might care, but what is in it for the rest of us?  So Republicans, if they are to be serious and prudent, need to thread the needle of offering a policy program that will lead to a sustainable federal budget consistent with economic growth and a political strategy (which includes policy formation) that will allow them to win over enough voters to win enough elections to implement and institutionalize that program.  Not easy.   
Categories > Politics



I opened the teach-yourself manual and it pointed me--after pages on fingers and their numbers, wrist placement, and posture and such--to middle C and then some other notes.  I touched it and it made a sound, a good sound.  I liked it, even though it filled me both with wonder and terror. Evelyn  Certainly this is not yet rhythm and melody, but move we will. So I brought her home about two weeks ago and she fit at an inside wall, under Ben's portrait, with a couple of porcelain Hungarian peasants, drunk, on her top, next to gifted flowers.  So I am pushing along, maybe an hour a day, and getting to know her, Evelyn, or Evie (because all good things have to have names).  She is a console, not young, but in fine condition, a lovely thing actually, with simple and elegant lines, darker complexion. Simply beautiful, even graceful, and all her movements are primitive poetry, music, something like the soul's primary speech.  She does not complicate anything.  She sounds very good, seems to like me making noise, the only thing I am capable of yet.  Eventually it will become moody food, maybe even poetry, that may push folks to dance.  I'll work on it.  She is a great good and a fine pleasure. 
Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

Pora Valit

When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, hope and a sense of upward mobility filled the people of Russia, finally freed from the central economic planning and political oppression under the Soviet Union. They could get jobs, raise children, and live in peace and happiness, they felt. Now, Putin is set to retake control of the presidency from his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and the mood of the nation could not be more opposed to what it was when he first came to power, as the Economist describe in this study of a sickening Russia. The Russian people are emigrating, or at least planning to or want to, and taking their money with them. The first to want to get out are entrepreneurs, followed closely by students, fleeing the oppression of a nation whose politics is so rotten that dissenters are thrown in jail or forbidden from travel, and where investors are hesitant to put money into new businesses--if a rival is friends with the local government, you could be jailed and your assets seized. In Putin's Russia, nostalgia for the Soviet Union is now coming equipped with some similarity to the circumstances of Soviet rule.

The Economist is quick to point out that Russians will not emigrate in droves; the vast majority of them will stay home, unhappy with their lot in life. How the Russian people react to their situation is of great importance though, and something we need to study very closely--not least because Russia still remains the only nation on the planet physically capable of destroying our own. It would do well to try and understand where they are going.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education

I've been too busy to post much these days, and I don't see that changing anytime soon, but I just had to share this article, perhaps the best thing I've ever read on the subject of education.  It explains precisely why a liberal arts education is so important, as well as why it is so difficult to get one these days.  My favorite quote is this:

Education is about finding out what form of work for you is close to being play--work you do so easily that it restores you as you go.

It is long, I admit.  Please, if you are at all interested in the subject, make time to read it.
Categories > Education


New York Special Election

In a special congressional election to fill the seat vacated by the disgraced Anthony Weiner, citizens of New York's 9th congressional district--encompassing parts of Queens and Brooklyn--voted for businessman Bob Turner over Assemblyman David Weprin, electing a Republican for the first time in its history by a handed 54-46% of the vote. In a district with a large Jewish population and where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1, the fact that Weprin, an Orthodox Jew and established member of the Democratic Party's NYC political machine, lost can at first seem surprising. While I do not think Republicans should get too hopeful over the victory--wedge issues like gay marriage and Israel were substantially more important in this race than they would be nationally, I think--it does indicate massive problems for Democrats in particular elections next year. The citizens of this district do not trust Democrat's leadership on the economy right now, and even voters who typically vote for Democrats they disagree with on major issues--Jews with Obama on Israel, for example--because they're good on everything else, are not buying into that "they're good on everything else" line anymore. Losing a district with a heavy Jewish and Catholic population may indicate that there could be damage to Democrats in their traditional strongholds--cities--and also hamper fundraising efforts.

Additionally, it appears that the Democratic strategy of using GOP entitlement reform attempts to defeat opponents--as in the New York 26th District special election earlier this year, where Democrat Kathy Hochul ran more against Paul Ryan's plan than her actual opponent--is not a winning bet at this point. Weprin attempted to pin Turner with the same thing, but it did not work in exactly the same way as now Democrats have said in the ongoing debt negotiations that entitlement reform is not off-the-table, but have otherwise not been really forthcoming in how exactly they plan to address it. While voters may disagree with various Republican plans to fix the problem, this indicates they seem to trust the GOP more for at least having a plan. Obama's jobs bill also did not seem to assuage worries that the Democrats lack a feasible plan. Democrats still have a year to figure out their message on this, though, and Perry's schtick with "Ponzi scheme" probably isn't going to be helping the GOP case.

All in all, I think after this race you may see congressional Democrats begin to distance themselves from Obama, particularly on Israel. One example that springs immediately to mind is in California, where several Democratic lawmakers may have to challenge each other in primaries due to new redistricting. Congressman Howard Berman, one of the most senior Democratic voices in foreign policy (who once famously said, "I was  Zionist before I was a Democrat"), and Congressman Brad Sherman have both been placed in the same Los Angeles district; both are Jewish Democrats, and both have defended President Obama's foreign policy. As they battle each other for the new seat (I've handicapped Berman in the race given his experience, influence, and more charismatic persona), it will be telling if one or the other begins to distance himself from Obama (disclosure: my voting address is currently in the district they are fighting over, hence my particular attention to it). I'd say this joins other indications that the Republicans will have complete control of Congress in next year's election, and that the race for the White House is a toss-up (still leaning Obama, in my opinion) at the moment-- all cause for serious concern among the Democrats. As said, though, don't get too wrapped up in this victory; it is probably not so much a rebuke of Obama (except for explicitly on Israel) as it is frustration with the party in power during a bad economy. That is to say, Republicans appear to be "worth a try" to fix the economy-- not exactly safe footing, but it is an open window to try move the electorate their direction.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

The Flawed Premise of Nation-Building

Writing in the Claremont Review of Books, Mark Helprin argues that the central proposition of American foreign policy over the last decade is fundamentally flawed. Our belief that we are capable of transforming a single Islamic nation--or the entire Arab world--into friendly liberal democracies with respect for human rights and international security is dangerous and negligent of history, according to Helprin. I am inclined to agree with him. While men have a natural desire for freedom and are capable of self-government, it takes a long time for a nation to reach that point-- and the Islamic nations as a whole are not entirely ready for that. The "evangelical" foreign policy of the United States in the ten years following the September 11th attacks has been futile, and we are in just as much danger today as we were ten years ago.

"To succeed, a paradigm of "invade, reconstruct, and transform," requires the decisive defeat, disarmament, and political isolation of the enemy; the demoralization of its population; the destruction of its political ethos; and the presence, at the end of hostilities, of overwhelming force. In Iraq and Afghanistan none of these conditions was fulfilled, the opposite impression flowing mainly from our contacts predominantly with an expressive, Western-educated elite, and from our failure to understand that despite the universal desire for freedom, equity, safety, honor, and prosperity, the operational definitions of each of these objectives can vary so much as to render the quality of universality meaningless."

We need to reinvent our foreign policy if we are to achieve its primary goal: the safety of the American people and their interests. We ought to support the cause of human liberty, yes, but not at the expense of our security, and with an understanding of the world around us. Read the whole thing.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Harvard College, Still a Religious Institution

From Minding the Campus:

First-years are being pressured to sign a "Freshman Pledge" committing them to create a campus "where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment" -- all in the name of "upholding the values of the College" including "inclusiveness and civility."

Categories > Education


Wacky Wisconsin--Race and Admissions

Why do universities think they are doing minorities a favor by these policies?  The Center for Equal Opportunity strikes again, this time against grotesque racial disparities the University of Wisconsin undergraduate and law school admissions process:

The odds ratio favoring African Americans and Hispanics over whites was 576-to-1 and 504-to-1, respectively, using the SAT and class rank while controlling for other factors. Thus, the median composite SAT score for black admittees was 150 points lower than for whites and Asians, and the Latino median SAT score was 100 points lower. Using the ACT, the odds ratios climbed to 1330-to-1 and 1494-to-1, respectively, for African Americans and Hispanics over whites.

For law school admissions, the racial discrimination found was also severe, with the weight given to ethnicity much greater than given to, for example, Wisconsin residency. Thus, an out-of-state black applicant with grades and LSAT scores at the median for that group would have had a 7 out 10 chance of admission and an out-of-state Hispanic a 1 out of 3 chance--but an in-state Asian with those grades and scores had a 1 out of 6 chance and an in-state white only a 1 out of 10 chance.

CEO chairman Linda Chavez noted: "This is the most severe undergraduate admissions discrimination that CEO has ever found in the dozens of studies it has published over the last 15 years."

The studies can be downloaded on PDFs from the linked site.   UW's lame response here.

Categories > Race


Regensburg logos

Samuel Gregg has a worthy note on Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture, offered five years ago today.
Categories > Religion


Human Ingenuity

Here is a remarkable story of a man brightening people's lives with a seemingly unremarkable object. "Solar Demi" saw a problem, had an idea, and is now improving the lives of his neighbors. Now charities have teamed up to bring a Liter of Light to many people in similar situations. Good for them.
Categories > Economy

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The Phoenix

Michael Ramirez on the tenth anniversary of 9/11:
And while it may be a small story in light of all of the other events of 9/11, here is a beautiful and characteristically American story about the Boatlift that took place that day in lower Manhattan.

Categories > Refine & Enlarge


Don't Blow It

Sorry I've been away.  Browser issues.

The tough economy is going to have people looking for someone else for President.  Unless the economy takes an unanticipated sharp upward turn, Obama's only chance will be to win a negative victory.  It is possible he will do just that if the Republicans help him out. 

Rick Perry's strong record of job creation in Texas should put him in a strong position to take on Obama.  The problem is that Perry will need a convincing message on entitlement reform.  Putting aside the correctness of calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, rhetorical hostility to Social Security hurts the chances for reforming our largest social welfare programs.  Some kind of substantial (as in trillions and trillions over any given decade) federal-level role in funding and/or forced savings is going to persist whoever wins the next presidential election or the one after that.  The open question is what that federal role will look like.  Any right-leaning reform that leads to a sustainable system is going to involve huge cuts (somewhat in Social Security and more so in Medicare) and substantial restructuring (especially in Medicare and Medicaid.)  Even if these cuts and other changes are gradual and designed to minimize impacts on the most vulnerable, the changes are still going to sound scary.  They are going to sound even more scary when Democrats describe them.

As Maggie Gallagher pointed out, right-leaning reforms are more likely to be implemented and sustained by politicians who seek to reform those programs in a humane and responsible ways, rather than politicians who seem like enemies of any kind of Social Security and Medicare, and who seem poised to use the looming fiscal crisis to swoop in for the kill.     
Categories > Politics