How To Tell The Baby From The Bathwater


So let’s talk about the Electoral College. Everybody else is.

A lot of Democrats and/or Hillary Clinton supporters are angry about it right now. I’m guessing that’s because the Democratic candidate received more popular votes, yet lost the election. The Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with it—this time. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY) have both introduced bills to abolish the Electoral College system.

You can read all about it in a million places right now. You can learn why the founding fathers thought it necessary. You can gain a fundamental understanding of how it works and why we haven’t thrown it out yet. I suggest you do that.

A not overly simple explanation is this: it’s a system that weights the influence of sparsely-populated states against states with lots of people in them.

Most historians credit that current star of Broadway, Alexander Hamilton, with the concept of the Electoral College. That’s based on the language and Hamilton’s reference to it in The Federalist Papers. Of course, we’re not quite sure who wrote The Federalist Papers either, but most everybody believes Hamilton wrote the 68th essay therein, which deals, in part, with the Electoral College. He was for it, and I understand that. I’m generally for everything I’ve written.

In any event, we’ve employed the Electoral College since the constitution was written, and apparently we can’t bring ourselves to throw it out. Five times in our entire history, a presidential candidate has won the popular vote, yet lost the election. Believe it or not, every single time that happened, the losing candidate was not happy at all: Andrew Jackson in 1824, Samuel Tildon in 1876, Grover Cleveland in 1888, Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton about three weeks ago. Astoundingly, each time this happened, about half the country wanted to get rid of the Electoral College. If you don’t think that’s crazy, consider this: during the exact same elections, the country was almost evenly divided in support of the candidates. That might be another way of saying it happens when both candidates are equally disliked. Go figure.

If history holds true, Boxer and Rangel’s bills will die a lonely death on the floor of whatever committee kills them. That’s what usually happens.

After doing a little research, you may decide that, for all of its clunkiness and inefficiency, the Electoral College is a pretty good thing to have around. Sort of like that unwieldy law that allows us to vote in private. Or that awkward American legal system that protects us if we’re accused. Come to think of it, that pesky, Rube Goldbergesque Bill Of Rights, which protects our freedom of speech, freedom from search and seizure, freedom to bear arms and a few other things, is, by its definition, extremely inefficient in its application. And it does not protect us from foolish ideas. Some of us enjoy looking at Goldberg’s machines. Because of their inefficiency.

Let’s all stay calm, breathe and try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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