Ben Carson's Bad Idea

Many conservatives, including me, thought nothing but the best about Dr. Ben Carson's run for the White House...until now.  Recently, Dr. Carson has suggested that we need to get rid of the Electoral College because it disregards the "will of the people."  Underlying this proposal is the idea that pure, national democracy is the best form of government.

Dr. Carson displayed shocking ignorance of American history when he told Fox News: "When the Electoral College was put in place, a lot of people did not know what was going on.  They had no idea who was running or what the situation was.  That has changed significantly."  The good doctor is wrong on every count.

The purpose of the Electoral College was as much to preserve the power of the sovereign states from the national government as anything else.  Presidential electors for each of the first nine elections were chosen by state legislatures, a constitutional power state legislatures still retain but have chosen to defer to the people.  There has never been a popular vote for president, which Dr. Carson doubtless knows, but there was no popular vote for presidential electors until 1824. 

This allowed states, which had created the Constitution by acquiescing power to a national government, to retain significant control over that government by effectively choosing the president and by actually choosing the Senate.  The will of the people was to be expressed through the sovereign states and not by a national vote.

The Electoral College, like the Senate, precisely because it rejected the idea of "one man, one vote," protected the interests of the smaller states by removing the power of the larger states to overwhelm the smaller's interests.  This is what was known as the Great Compromise in the Constitutional Convention.  This also kept the federal government modest, thrifty, and limited. 

If state legislatures reclaimed this power, then our odious and corrupt national capital would find its power drained away to fifty state legislatures whose members are in close touch with the people and which could protect the interests of the states from an overbearing Washington.

Does Dr. Carson actually think that in 1816, voters were uneducated and ignorant, while today voters are intelligent and informed?  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Education then was rigorous; books and newspapers instead of television and videos informed people, and political discourse shows intelligence, knowledge, and conscience utterly lacking in politics today.

What of Dr. Carson's idea of governance by a national "will of the people"?  This is so wicked and so dangerous that we must assume that Dr. Carson did not really mean what he was saying.  How would that "will of the people" be determined?  Polls calculate that "will" by changing the definition of respondents.  "Adults nationwide," "registered voters," and "likely voters" all produce different outcomes. 

Does Dr. Carson mean that the "will of the people" is what is expressed in elections?  Results of special elections are very different from in general elections.  All elections are simply a snapshot in time of those voters who take the time to show up and vote.  Moreover, nearly all elections and primaries allow plurality winners. 

If we accept Dr. Carson's two assertions about Americans grasping politics better now and the will of the people prevailing, then how can we explain his support for Donald Trump's whining about Colorado and Wyoming results, both of which express the "will of the people" in very much the same sense that the "will of the people" is expressed in a special election with very low turnout.  No one was excluded from these processes except those who were either ignorant or apathetic or both?  Arguing that this defied the "will of the people" sounds like what Democrats argued when their presidential candidates lost elections which polls showed them winning. 

Beyond that, what is "winning" supposed to mean in an election or primary?  Does it mean a plurality or a majority?  If it means a majority, then Donald Trump, whom Carson supports, has not "won" a single state primary or caucus.  Indeed, Trump has earned less than 40% of the vote in half of the twenty states which he has "won."  If it means a plurality, then how is that the "will of the people"?

Dr. Carson is a very good man with a very bad idea.  We are a republic, or we are nothing.  If we truly wish to restore our republic, then we ought to move back to state legislatures exercising the one remaining check they have on federal power: reclaim the power to elect presidents, and thus move power from Washington back to the people and the states.

Many conservatives, including me, thought nothing but the best about Dr. Ben Carson's run for the White House...until now.  Recently, Dr. Carson has suggested that we need to get rid of the Electoral College because it disregards the "will of the people."  Underlying this proposal is the idea that pure, national democracy is the best form of government.

Dr. Carson displayed shocking ignorance of American history when he told Fox News: "When the Electoral College was put in place, a lot of people did not know what was going on.  They had no idea who was running or what the situation was.  That has changed significantly."  The good doctor is wrong on every count.

The purpose of the Electoral College was as much to preserve the power of the sovereign states from the national government as anything else.  Presidential electors for each of the first nine elections were chosen by state legislatures, a constitutional power state legislatures still retain but have chosen to defer to the people.  There has never been a popular vote for president, which Dr. Carson doubtless knows, but there was no popular vote for presidential electors until 1824. 

This allowed states, which had created the Constitution by acquiescing power to a national government, to retain significant control over that government by effectively choosing the president and by actually choosing the Senate.  The will of the people was to be expressed through the sovereign states and not by a national vote.

The Electoral College, like the Senate, precisely because it rejected the idea of "one man, one vote," protected the interests of the smaller states by removing the power of the larger states to overwhelm the smaller's interests.  This is what was known as the Great Compromise in the Constitutional Convention.  This also kept the federal government modest, thrifty, and limited. 

If state legislatures reclaimed this power, then our odious and corrupt national capital would find its power drained away to fifty state legislatures whose members are in close touch with the people and which could protect the interests of the states from an overbearing Washington.

Does Dr. Carson actually think that in 1816, voters were uneducated and ignorant, while today voters are intelligent and informed?  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Education then was rigorous; books and newspapers instead of television and videos informed people, and political discourse shows intelligence, knowledge, and conscience utterly lacking in politics today.

What of Dr. Carson's idea of governance by a national "will of the people"?  This is so wicked and so dangerous that we must assume that Dr. Carson did not really mean what he was saying.  How would that "will of the people" be determined?  Polls calculate that "will" by changing the definition of respondents.  "Adults nationwide," "registered voters," and "likely voters" all produce different outcomes. 

Does Dr. Carson mean that the "will of the people" is what is expressed in elections?  Results of special elections are very different from in general elections.  All elections are simply a snapshot in time of those voters who take the time to show up and vote.  Moreover, nearly all elections and primaries allow plurality winners. 

If we accept Dr. Carson's two assertions about Americans grasping politics better now and the will of the people prevailing, then how can we explain his support for Donald Trump's whining about Colorado and Wyoming results, both of which express the "will of the people" in very much the same sense that the "will of the people" is expressed in a special election with very low turnout.  No one was excluded from these processes except those who were either ignorant or apathetic or both?  Arguing that this defied the "will of the people" sounds like what Democrats argued when their presidential candidates lost elections which polls showed them winning. 

Beyond that, what is "winning" supposed to mean in an election or primary?  Does it mean a plurality or a majority?  If it means a majority, then Donald Trump, whom Carson supports, has not "won" a single state primary or caucus.  Indeed, Trump has earned less than 40% of the vote in half of the twenty states which he has "won."  If it means a plurality, then how is that the "will of the people"?

Dr. Carson is a very good man with a very bad idea.  We are a republic, or we are nothing.  If we truly wish to restore our republic, then we ought to move back to state legislatures exercising the one remaining check they have on federal power: reclaim the power to elect presidents, and thus move power from Washington back to the people and the states.