December 04, 2011

With its enforcement of political correctness and increasing government involvement in the workplace, our current “center” is a good deal less centrist than the one of my youth. I wouldn’t bring this up were it not for the fact that Gregg is a self-described conservative. He’s also revisiting positions that I’ve encountered in soi-disant conservative publications throughout my long adult life. The Straussian political theorist Martin Diamond, who spoke often before conservative groups, fell dead in the halls of the US Congress where he had gone in 1977 to urge retaining the EC.

None of this advocacy ever appealed to me as a critic of the duopoly. Gregg is correct that the EC helps sustain the two-party stranglehold, and this situation has rendered impossible a counter-movement from the old or libertarian right, which would have to operate outside the two-party system to succeed. Under the existing system an independent right could not push either of the two parties in its direction, even if both opportunistically adopted the usual campaign gibberish about keeping down taxes. Could one imagine the Dems or Reps getting rid of federal anti-discrimination agencies, minimum wages, the Department of Education, or a neo-Wilsonian foreign policy? I can’t conceive of any of these things happening in the present circumstances.

Only an “extremist” minority party running in a winner-take-all national election would be able to pressure the party hacks into the kind of deal-making that Gregg despises. Gregg asks whether Americans would “be satisfied if a president takes office after receiving only 40% of the national vote. How about 30% in a five-candidate race?” Personally, I’d be delighted. For once we’d have a president we may be able to control. Even better, he’d hesitate to blow up countries to bring them democracy and human rights or because Dick Cheney and FOX suggested he should.

I’ve no idea why Gregg sees the “nationalization” of elections as something we should try to prevent. He may be looking at the very recent past and no farther back. What stirs his juices has been going on since Reconstruction, starting with the Fifteenth Amendment granting federally protected voting rights to Negro Freemen. I also count at least three more amendments, namely Nineteen, Twenty-Four, and Twenty-Six, in which the federal government continued to have a hand in shaping or extending the franchise.

Is it still possible to speak of significant state control of elections after the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965? Already extended with bipartisan support four times, most recently under George W. Bush, it established “covered jurisdictions” in Southern states. These targeted areas are kept under what has become permanent federal supervision in order to avoid even a hint of racial discrimination. This act came three years after an amendment was passed that placed the franchise even more fully under federal supervisors. This was Amendment Twenty-Three, which prohibited states from disqualifying voters for non-payment of poll taxes. Even if this method of winnowing voters was applied unfairly against blacks in some places, it might be asked why states and localities everywhere should be denied the right to apply it. Shouldn’t we in the states have the right to restrict voting to those who are willing to pay a paltry fee for the privilege? Obviously not!

One may be for or against the federal supervision of voting. One may also think that if states wanted to lower the voting age to eighteen or extend the vote to women, they could have easily done so without involving the federal government through the amendment process. But it is foolish in light of the last hundred and forty years’ events to pretend that the states have retained sovereign control over voting. They abandoned most of it long before the NVP’s advocates came on the scene.

Gregg’s brief is really about defending the status quo that one can see and hear every night on FOX, with its predictable dialogues between GOP and Democratic regulars. These people certainly don’t want to rock the two-party Pleasure Ship, and with good reason. They’re in no mood to take caviar and truffles out of their diets or, perhaps even more importantly, miss payments on their yachts. They are immensely interested in maintaining things as they are. Accordingly, they like to be portrayed as ruling or criticizing from the “center.” As long as the pols can hand out patronage and get a chance to occupy government posts, they’re happy as clams with the system. Hey, isn’t this liberal democracy? We don’t want to ruin it with a messier way of electing presidents. Or do we?



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