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 — A Final Analysis

In my previous commentaries about the Mississippi Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, I have expressed no preference.  Although I had been leaning toward one of the candidates, I tried to balance the pros and the cons of each man objectively.  I believe I did a pretty fair job of it, especially since an old friend of mine wondered why I was against the guy I actually voted for.

With that said, I have been asked again to offer an opinion.   This time another friend posed a set of questions which seems to cut to the heart of this debate.  This is what he asked:

I was leaning toward McDaniel, but I’m starting to have second thoughts.  Are we cutting our nose off to spite our face?  Cochran is in line to be head of the Appropriations Committee if re-elected.  McDaniel is viewed by many as being the more conservative candidate.  But what has Cochran done to lose my vote?

My anonymous friend gets it.  When it all boils down, this race is about money — specifically government money.

McDaniel says he wants to cut spending, to attack the 16 trillion dollar national debt.  Thus, McDaniel’s schtick is about penny-pinching — to the point where questions have been raised about whether he would be willing to spend money for disaster relief should, let’s say, another Katrina-like storm were to hit the Gulf Coast.  Given that his whole campaign is about cutting spending, he doesn’t seem to be the type who would promise “pork-barrel” projects to special interest groups.

Naturally, this plays into Sen. Cochran’s hands.  Although Sen. Cochran would likely say that he is for restraining government spending, he certainly is not afraid to steer money and projects to Mississippi.  His old friend Trent Lott used to say that “pork” is anything spent north of Memphis.  Given recent mass-emails that I have received from the Cochran campaign, I surmise that Sen. Cochran would tend to agree.  Just take a look at what I received on June 12 from Team Cochran (with emphasis in the original):

First, trial lawyer Chris McDaniel wants to take $800 million from our schools. Now, he wants to take hundreds of millions from our roads. What’s next? Make no mistake: Chris McDaniel is dangerous for Mississippi. And under his dangerous agenda, your taxes will inevitably go up.

***

Chris McDaniel has come under harsh criticism for suggesting that federal education funding is unconstitutional and should be eliminated. Mississippi receives $1.5 billion a year in federal funding for secondary and higher education with $800 million directed to K-12 programs. This accounts for roughly 25 percent of Mississippi’s K-12 education budget.

***

Our Senator drew another sharp contrast with his opponent, whose out of-state funders opposed the Highway Bill, jeopardizing roughly half of Mississippi’s billion-dollar highway program that supports and maintains roads and bridges statewide.

Essentially, Sen. Cochran is saying, “If you elect me, Mississippi will get oodles of money… but if you elect McDaniel, the Magnolia State will lose this money.”

Now, whether this is true or false is completely beside the point.  What matters is that undecided voters, such as my aforementioned friend, have adopted this zero-sum premise.  Therefore, to enable undecided voters to make up their minds, I, too, will adopt this premise for the purposes of tonight’s discussion.

However, before we go further into the analysis of the Cochran-McDaniel race, let’s examine one issue in a complete vacuum.  Let’s take a look at the issue of socialism.

If you are a “fiscal conservative,” you probably loathe the concept of socialism.  Taking money from a rich man (by force) and giving it to a poor man (for doing nothing) undermines thrift and hard-work, does it not?   Someone else (I believe Phil Gramm) once noted that it is easier to move a wagon if more people are pushing and if less people are riding.  Using this analogy, socialism does this in reverse: more people are riding and less people are pushing.

I bring the issue of socialism up to address what I believe is the inherent hypocrisy of the establishment Republicans, like Sen. Cochran.  When it comes to redistributing wealth between individuals, it’s socialism and it’s wrong!  But when it comes to redistributing wealth among states, well, that’s different because poor states like Mississippi need a powerful senator to fight for them; otherwise another state will get the cash.

Again, all Republicans would likely agree that redistribution of wealth between individuals is wrong; but what makes redistribution between states any better?

Long before we had an income tax, the federal government divided the tax burden among the states in proportion to their population.  So if a hypothetical state represented 15% of the nation’s population, then that state would pay 15% of the federal government’s tax burden.  (Of course, there was a little bit more to this.  Congress also collected money from duties and sales taxes, but as far as direct taxation was concerned, this was as close as our Founders intended for us to come.)

There’s an elegance to that when one thinks about it.  Presumably a hypothetical state with 15% of the population would enjoy 15% of the benefits of a federal government; therefore, the state should pay 15% of the costs.  A state should pay its own way; it should put in what it gets out.

Along these lines, as a general rule, shouldn’t a state get out of the federal government no more than what it has put in?

Yes, I realize that there will be unforeseen circumstances (like Katrina) or other exceptions to this general rule.  I get that.  We don’t need to be so rigid that we can’t adjust when necessary.  But still, should this state — or any state — take more money from the federal government than it pays in federal taxes?

This is my ultimate problem with the pork-barrel mentality of politicians like Thad Cochran.  Congress has become a place where states compete with each other for pork, instead of working together for the common good.

I submit that if no state could take money from Washington in excess of the taxes that it has paid — except in emergency situations, such as natural disasters — then there would be little need for such competition between the members of Congress for pork-barrel projects.  Such a change in the paradigm of governance would undermine the present incentive for deficit spending, as we would no longer have 100 senators trying to bring more money to their respective states than their respective states have contributed.

Now do I believe that Chris McDaniel will fix this problem?  Nope.  But for obvious reasons, neither will Sen. Cochran.

The fact is that the only people who can fix this problem are “We, the People.”  Our fiscal problems will not change until we, the people, rise up and say, “Thank you, but we really don’t need this much pork from Washington anymore.  We would rather depend on God, ourselves, and on each other.”

I place no trust in Cochran or McDaniel (or even Childers, the Democrat, for that matter).  My vote was not an expression of my admiration, or lack thereof, for either candidate. Instead, my vote was simply an expression of my conscience — a referendum on the state of my own soul and the state of my faith in the people of Mississippi.

And so, in the final analysis, this is the advice I give my friend… and anyone else who is still undecided:

If you believe that Mississippi is addicted to pork like an alcoholic is to booze, but you also think that Mississippi could handle the sudden shock of losing a bunch of money from Washington, then vote for Chris McDaniel (a/k/a “the Teetotaler”).

On the other hand, if you believe that Mississippi would be unable to handle the loss of this money, thereby causing the state to fall into the economic equivalent of delirium tremens, then vote for Thad Cochran (a/k/a “the Budweiser Guy”).

Cochran and McDaniel — Controversy Revisited

Tonight I submit my updated analysis on the Cochran – McDaniel race for the United States Senate.

As you are probably aware, a blogger named Clayton Kelly allegedly entered Mrs. Rose Cochran’s nursing home bedroom a few weeks ago and snapped some pictures of her. Then, Mr. Kelly allegedly published the same onto his anti-Thad Cochran blog. The ensuing controversy has engulfed what had already become a highly contentious campaign, turning it into the nastiest campaign in America.

The issue of Rose Cochran, however, predates the controversy surrounding Clayton Kelly. Several weeks ago, media organizations like Breitbart.com began running anti-Cochran hit pieces, insinuating that he had been cheating on his bedridden wife by living with (and traveling the world with) his executive assistant.   From a general reading of the news reports surrounding Mr. Kelly, it would appear that his motivation to photograph Mrs. Cochran may have been, at least in part, the result of the rumors surrounding Senator Cochran and his executive assistant.

Although Senator Cochran’s alleged infidelity may very well be relevant to his fitness to serve in Congress, I will pass on any such discussion since I have no credible information to confirm or to discredit these charges.  My opinions are based upon the assumption that Senator Cochran is honorable and that he has remained true to his wife.   Until clear and convincing evidence is presented to the contrary, I will not assume otherwise.

Nevertheless, Cochran’s opponents have used these rumors of infidelity to paint an unflattering picture of Mississippi’s senior senator.  His detractors would have us believe that he is cold and callous toward his wife, abandoning her to the care of a nursing home while he gallivants the world with another woman.  And while Chris McDaniel has not publicly engaged in such gossip, he certainly stands to benefit if these rumors are believed.

Perhaps this explains why Senator Cochran is attempting to connect Chris McDaniel to Clayton Kelly’s alleged actions. On May 20, the Senator’s Facebook page proclaims, “Chris McDaniel names liaison to Clayton Kelly … his campaign manager.” That same day, Senator Cochran’s children declared, “…We are shocked by someone trying to use our mother’s illness for political purposes.”   Then today, Senator Cochran posted a link to Marshall Ramsey’s cartoon blasting the “filming of a candidate’s wife illegally.”

Senator Cochran and his family have every right to be enraged by what happened to Mrs. Cochran.  Nevertheless, their reaction, when viewed through a broader lens, accentuates the irony that now forms the backdrop of this primary battle.

On the one hand, Senator Cochran has been accused – be it subtly or overtly – of betraying Mrs. Cochran.  Conversely, Chris McDaniel has been accused – be it directly or indirectly – of exploiting Mrs. Cochran.

Essentially, the Cochran – McDaniel race may now be distilled to a simple question:  Which candidate respects the dignity of Rose Cochran more – her husband, or her husband’s opponent?

In a state with almost three million citizens, it seems odd that we would select a candidate based upon his behavior toward one bedridden, septuagenarian woman. Yet, ours is a compassionate state where we have learned from our parents — and I hope that we continue to teach to our children — the importance of respecting “the least of these.”

How a politician is willing to treat one person may be a reflection of how he intends to treat all persons, especially if he is elected to office.

Cochran v. McDaniel — My Prediction

On June 3, Mississippi Republicans will decide who will be their nominee for the United States Senate seat. The choices are Thad Cochran (the 35-year-incumbent), Chris McDaniel (a state senator), and Thomas Carey (who I have never heard of).

Although I intend to vote in the primary, I must admit that I am still undecided — which, for those who know me will attest, is quite an anomaly.  I see strong plusses and minuses for both candidates. (Sorry, Mr. Carey, you are not included in this discussion.)

Senator Cochran was the first Mississippi Republican to be elected to statewide office since Reconstruction. Let that sink in for just a minute.

It’s easy for us to take for granted that Mississippi is a “red-state.”  After all, Mississippi has had two Republican senators for more than twenty years.  Except for a brief period from 1999-2003, Republicans have held the Governor’s Office since 1991. Only one member of Congress is presently a Democrat, and during the last statewide election cycle, the Democratic Party fielded no candidate for three statewide offices.  That is just how strong the Republican party is.

But not too long ago, Mississippi was a “blue state,” particularly at the state and local levels. Believe it or not, folks, there was a time when virtually EVERYBODY who ran for sheriff or tax assessor or county supervisor ran as a Democrat. Thus, if a citizen actually wanted to have a say in who became sheriff or tax assessor or county supervisor, the citizen had to vote in the Democrat primary because the election would be decided then and there.

Fast forward to 2014. Today, tens of millions of dollars are being spent by the candidates and the super-PACs alike to persuade Mississippi Republicans as to how to vote. Whereas only a few decades ago a typical, Mississippi Republican primary comprised of two or three persons arguing about the proverbial seating chart on the Titanic, now a Mississippi Republican primary is a really big deal. The very fact that Republicans are in a position to have a competitive primary — for any office, especially for a race as important as the U.S. Senate — is a credit to the pioneering efforts of one William Thad Cochran.

In point and fact, if it weren’t for the efforts of Thad Cochran in the 1970’s, a certain state senator from Jones County would likely not be in the legislature today. Certainly he wouldn’t be calling himself a Republican. Though he would likely disagree, Senator McDaniel owes a measure of his success to Senator Cochran. Thus when McDaniel and/or his supporters brand Cochran as being a RINO (Republican in Name Only) or as not being conservative, that demonstrates a level of disrespect and (dare I say, ingratitude) that is unbecoming of any Mississippi Republican.

Still, I am bothered by the fact that I can hardly go anywhere without seeing Senator Cochran’s name on a government building.

For example, the next time you visit the town of Aberdeen, take a good look at the Thad Cochran Bankruptcy Courthouse.  I call it “the Taj Mahal.”  Considering that the building is dedicated just to bankruptcy – and not civil or criminal matters – it is the most ornate courthouse that you will ever visit.  Likewise, if you ever visit Starkville, take a look at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology, and Economic Development Park.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. The Research Park and the Bankruptcy Courthouse do a lot of good, and to be honest, I don’t remember what life was like before they were built. So I cannot be a fair judge of whether the money spent was a good investment or not. But that is not the point.  What bothers me is the concept of naming projects after sitting politicians.

Everybody wants to leave a legacy, to be remembered. I get that. Businessmen will donate tens of millions of dollars to a college in order to get their names on a building or a stadium. But they are spending their money.  They are not spending our money.  Thad Cochran did an excellent job getting this money to fund these projects, but at the end of the day, it was not his money; it was our money.  He works for us.

Give a politician the opportunity to have a bridge built in his honor or a building named for him, and he will move heaven and earth to get that money for his constituents. In a day where our government has a 16 trillion-dollar national debt, that mindset is no longer good for leaders in Washington. Politicians should be figuring ways to save money, not spend it.  And these buildings bearing Cochran’s name demonstrate that he is not too inclined to save money.

In sharp contrast, Senator McDaniel seems to be the penny-pinching, Tea Party type who doesn’t want to spend money unless absolutely necessary.  Moreover, he seems especially outraged at the attempts by the current administration to expand executive power.   (Perhaps Senator Cochran is  as well, but he doesn’t seem as vocal, at least from what I can tell).  But sometimes our biggest strengths can be our biggest weaknesses.  One can be penny-wise but still be pound-foolish.  Sometimes the government needs to spend money for projects in the Magnolia State.  Will Chris McDaniel know when to write the checks and when not to?  And when he does see the need for checks to be written, will he have enough clout to pull the strings to get the job done?  Likewise, will he be able to say no to his base — the Tea Party — when the checks must be written?

Which brings me to my ultimate conundrum. Thad Cochran is experienced and effective at getting money to Mississippi projects, and he makes no apology for it. But in order to get money to fund projects in Mississippi, he had to go along with projects in other states of similar scope and size. Basically, Senator Cochran is the archetypical good-ole-boy who can play the system to serve the needs of his constituency.   However, it is this good-ole-boy system that has created the very economic mess we are in. Eventually, somebody has to stand up and say, enough! I think McDaniel gets that.

Essentially Thad Cochran is for keeping the status quo, while McDaniel is keen for changing the culture in Washington. McDaniel wants Washington to return to a constitutional orthodoxy — that may or may not happen if he is elected.  But if he is elected, Mississippi will throw away a lot of its clout in the meantime.  Is Mississippi ready to pay this price?

Given the polar opposition of each side, we have seen some vicious campaigning between the two camps. It’s gotten so bad that a supporter of McDaniel has been charged with taking a photograph of Cochran’s invalid wife (in her nursing home, at her bedside, no less). Although McDaniel denies any involvement (and for what it’s worth, I believe him), the fact remains that the mud being slung from both camps has so inflamed the devotees of each candidate that people are beginning to do some crazy things.

When elections become this heated, the electorate suffers. For one thing, each side is pointing the finger at the other, saying that the other is a bigger liar. Implicitly, when you call a politician a liar, you are calling his supporters fools. It’s never a good idea for politicians to insult potential voters.

Would an extreme McDaniel supporter – who has just spent the last year calling Cochran a liar and a RINO – even consider campaigning or voting for Cochran in the general election? Likewise, an extreme Cochran supporter – who has just spent the last year calling McDaniel a liar – even consider campaigning or voting for McDaniel?

The fact is, feelings have now been hurt, and lines have been crossed. Forgiveness is not possible (absent a miracle from God). Thus, I can say with some measure of certainty who will be the big winner in the 2014 Republican primary for United States Senate.

Travis Childers (the presumptive Democratic nominee).