Why the Electoral College Matters

When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1787, the Framers were afraid of tyranny. Having recently secured their independence from England, the Framers did not want to trade one dictator for another.  However, as much as they feared the tyranny of the minority, they were also worried about mob rule. After all, one demagogue leading the masses would be no different than a king issuing decrees for all to follow.

To prevent tyranny of any form, the Framers created a four-tier system for the selection of our national leaders, to-wit:

  • The House of Representatives would be elected by the people, directly.  Every two years the people of each State would pick the members of the People’s House.  Thus, the people would be one (1) step removed from the members of the House of Representatives.
  • Members of the Senate, though, would not be picked directly by the people. Although this method has since changed, the people would select the members of their State legislatures; the State legislators, in turn, would appoint the Senators to six-year terms.  Thus, the people would be two (2) steps removed from their Senators.
  •  The President also would not be popularly elected.  The people would select the members of their State legislature; the State legislators, in turn, would appoint electors (i.e., the Electoral College); the electors, in turn, would select the President. Thus, the people would be three (3) steps removed from their President.  (Although every legislature has opted to appoint the electors based upon a popular statewide vote of the people, the Constitution does not mandate this procedure.  In fact, if a State legislature ever wanted to appoint the electors directly, they absolutely could.  So while it appears as if the people are picking the electors, technically they are not.)
  • Finally, the Judges would be selected by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  As such, the people would select their State legislators; the State legislators would appoint the Senators and the electors; the electors would appoint the President; the President and the Senate would pick the Judges.  Thus, the people would be four (4) steps removed from their Judges. 

Because the Constitution incorporates the Separation of Powers Doctrine — by delegating Legislative power to the House of Representatives and the Senate, Executive power to the President, and Judicial power to the Judges — no single person or group could make all of the decisions in our federal government.

However, even if one faction could control all federal power, the Constitution utilizes other safeguards to liberty–by restricting federal power and by reserving all other rights to the States and to the people.

Per the Framers, every election put before the people would be on a State-by-State basis.  This is because our Framers recognized the need for compartmentalization of power.  As long as the States remained sovereign — and as long as the people voted as States — our nation would remain a free people.  But as soon as we concentrated power in the hands of a central government, by limiting the role of the States, liberty would be placed in peril.

Since the recent defeat of Hillary Clinton, liberals have lamented about the Electoral College, lambasting its archaic nature.  They are absolutely wrong.  Put simply, we are a free people because we are the United STATES of America.  Any change to the Constitution that would marginalize the critical and sovereign role of the States would signal the very demise of our way of life.  Creating a national referendum for the most important position in the federal government would do just that.

The Electoral College forces the President to look at the needs of fifty sovereign States (and the District of Columbia).  However, if the President is elected by a national popular vote, the State lines will blur quite rapidly.  And if this happens, the delicate balance created by the Framers — and the liberty that it protects — will be gone forever.

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A Brief Word About Losing Elections

Two years ago I stood for election to public office for the first time. It was a special election for what would normally have been a “down-ballot” position.  Since it was the only race on the ballot turnout was very low. Although I put up a pretty good fight, I still got beat pretty handily.

Although I was quite disappointed, my gloom dissipated quite rapidly. On election day an attorney friend had asked me to cover for her in court the next morning. I didn’t have the heart to say “no.”  So after losing on Tuesday, I got up on Wednesday, put my suit on, drove forty-five miles to court, and never looked back in regret.

President Nixon, years after he had left the White House (in disgrace, no less), wrote that there is an iron rule in politics: Winners will always think that they did it by themselves, but losers will always remember the people who backed them.

Obviously, I will never know how much (or how little) I would have appreciated my supporters if I had won. But I sure do know how much I appreciated them then – and how much I still appreciate them now.

One supporter stands out.  Early on election day, I was standing next to a busy street holding my sign when she honked her horn and started waiving. Then she parked her car in the nearby Dollar General, walked about 100 to 150 yards across an open field, and asked if she could hold my sign for me. I had never met this woman in my life. Yet for two hours — in the bitter cold, no less — she held my sign.  In fact, when I drove back by her, I thought I saw her dancing.

Of course, I had other supporters, from all walks of life. A former candidate for President of the United States did a radio ad for me. A former justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court donated to my campaign — as did my best friends from college and law school, respectively. My local friends and my extended family also helped by donating their time and money.  And I had a really good campaign manager, too!

However, the support of this poverty-stricken rank stranger, who held my sign in the bitter cold for absolutely nothing in return, was as appreciated as any other contribution I received because I knew — I really knew — that this was truly a gift from God.

In the final analysis, it is good for aspiring leaders to lose elections from time to time. Politicians who enjoy unbroken chains of success can easily believe that they are entitled to their jobs, that their jobs literally belong to them just as any brick-and-mortar business might. When this happens they can lose touch with the people they have been called to represent, causing dysfunction in government in the process.

If you are a candidate who lost tonight, you are probably hurting quite a bit right now.  And you should.

But in an a few years you will look back with a greater appreciation for the people who struggled with you.

You will remember the unexpected acts of kindness and words of encouragement from people you never knew existed.

You will remember the friends who made you get up, go to work, and leave the past behind.

And this will make you a better candidate — and dare I say, a better leader — the next time you run again.

Cochran v. McDaniel and the Legacy of John C. Stennis

In one week, Mississippi Republicans will select their nominee for the U.S. Senate.  This primary is essentially between two candidates: U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (the incumbent) and State Sen. Chris McDaniel.  As you may be aware, this has been one of the nastiest campaigns in recent Mississippi history.

Even though this is a Republican primary, the candidates would have served the electorate better by following the example of a well-respected Democrat, namely,  he late John C. Stennis.

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1947 (during a special election), John Stennis represented Mississippi for 42 years.  He wrote the first code of ethics for the U.S. Senate, serving as the first chair of the Senate Ethics Committee. Stennis was such a respected senator that President Nixon suggested that he be allowed to listen to the now-infamous Watergate tapes to see if there was, in fact, anything incriminating in them.

At different times during his tenure, Sen. Stennis chaired both the Appropriations Committee and the Armed Services Committee.  Although he was a Democrat, he was quite conservative … so conservative that he and President Reagan worked closely to expand the U.S. Navy to 600 ships.  As a result, Sen. Stennis was sometimes called “the father of our modern navy.”  In fact, a few years after he left office, an aircraft carrier was commissioned in his honor.

In 1973, he was mugged and shot outside of his Washington home.  It nearly killed him.  Then, in 1984, he suffered the amputation of his leg.  (A few years after he had retired, I was told by my then-government teacher that Sen. Stennis didn’t want to run for reelection in 1988 because he believed that senators needed to stand up to vote, something he could no longer do with only one leg.)

Sen. Stennis was a tough guy who believed in the ideals of our country.  A man of integrity, his honor was more important than any accolade that Washington could bestow.  His principles gave him enough security that he felt zero need for cheap shots or negative attack ads.

So what does this have to do with his former colleague, Thad Cochran, or the latter’s opponent, Chris McDaniel?

In 1982, Sen. Stennis ran for reelection a final time.  He was up against a rising star in the Republican party.  (I am sure that you have heard of him, Haley Barbour, the future chairman of the Republican National Committee and future governor of the Magnolia State.)  The Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership describes that final campaign as follows:

In his final United States Senate re-election campaign in 1982, John Stennis was faced with the most challenging race since his first Senate election in 1947. At an early campaign strategy meeting, he was bombarded with advice from campaign consultants on what to expect from the opponent and what would be required to win the race. He listened politely to the authoritative statements from the campaign experts who prefaced each imperative with: “To win, we will have to do this.” When the consultants paused to catch their breath, Senator Stennis seized the opportunity to inform them of a point he considered very important. “There is one thing you really need to understand before we go any further,” he told them as he looked each one in the eye around the table. “We don’t have to win.”

It was his way of letting them know that his principles and values were much more important than winning an election. Despite the fact that none of the suggested tactics were in any way unethical or illegal, his personal character and integrity would not be compromised, even slightly. He would not engage in anything he considered in the least bit deceptive, no matter the consequences.

I still haven’t made my mind up as to who I will vote for next Tuesday.  Yes, I am leaning toward one of these candidates, but I may change my mind between now and then.  Nevertheless, I would have less trouble picking a candidate if I could see some resemblance to John Stennis in either of these men.  Unfortunately I do not.

Both men are conservative.  Both men would likely vote the way I would vote if I, myself, were commissioned to serve in that hollowed chamber.  So from a policy standpoint I have no beef about how each man thinks or would vote.

Still, any person could go to the Senate and vote the right way, but that doesn’t make him a statesman.  What makes him a statesman–a true leader–is how he values each and every one of his future constituents … including his opponent.

For most of Chris McDaniel’s life, Thad Cochran has represented his interests in the Senate.  Likewise, if McDaniel wins (next week and then again in November), he will represent Thad Cochran’s interests in the Senate.  Either way, if a Republican wins in November, next week’s winner will be working for the loser.

One who endeavors to become a statesman must be able to say, in good faith, that he is representing the best interests of ALL of his constituents.  But how can one say this if there are some constituents that he hates with a passion (such as his opponent and/or his supporters)?  I don’t think he can.

On a personal note, I ran for office last year.  It was a small, county race.  In a jurisdiction with about 30,000 people, less than 3,000 people voted.  I got beat… pretty handily, I must admit.  But after the campaign, on election night, I conceded to my opponent and hugged her neck in congratulation.  I could do that in clean conscience because I had not spent the previous months running her name into the ground.  I had learned from Sen. Stennis that I “didn’t have to win.”

Thad Cochran doesn’t have to win.  His legacy is secure.  Heck, his name is plastered on so many buildings that people will remember him for decades to come.  Likewise, Chris McDaniel doesn’t have to win.  Before his name was bandied about as a potential candidate, few people outside of Jones County knew who he was.  If he loses, Mississippi will survive just as it has for almost 200 years.

Charles DeGaulle observed that the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.  Sen. John Stennis understood this, hence the reason he didn’t feel compelled to resort to slime-ball tactics.  As a result of his classy behavior, this Republican Blogger sings his praises almost twenty years after his passing.

If Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel had demonstrated this same statesmanship, we would not be watching two honorable men slandering each other and destroying their own effectiveness to serve as public leaders in the process.  It is truly sad.

For what it is worth, I intend to vote for the winner during the November general election.  Although the presumed Democratic candidate is a nice guy, national politics are not as bipartisan as they once were, certainly not in the age of Obama.  Parties do matter, but to this end, so does party unity.  Unfortunately, party unity has been thrown under the bus as two grown men have adopted the “win-at-any-cost” philosophy when Stennis-esqe statesmanship was required.