Archive for the ‘constitutional convention’ Category

Picking A President In America- Is Anybody Paying Attention?

Friday, October 12th, 2007

I recently finished reading a book called The Summer of 1787. It was an historical account of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution based on the writings of (convention secretary and 4th president) James Madison and other delegates to that convention. The book details the struggle to craft a charter for our fledgling government, and explains in some detail the necessary concessions that each of the state delegations had to endure to get to the final document. It is a story of compromise and crafty politicking, and no where is this more evident than in the recurring debates over how the new country would select its head of state.

Always at issue during the convention was the fear between the states that one region of the nation would wield more power than other regions. This too was a factor in the decisions regarding selection of the country’s president. Various plans were put forth and summarily rejected for one reason or another. One plan called for the Senate to select the president from a panel of candidates put forth by state governments. Another called for the House of Representatives to select from the top five vote getters in a national polling of candidates. Popular votes by the people (which of course only included white males at that time) would yield the top five vote getters and then the House would take over from there. Another idea was for a simple national election with the winner of the most popular votes getting the job. Each of these ideas, and others, were debated heatedly. The “Senate Plan” was rejected based on arguments that the people should have some say in who their leader is, else the president become a mere puppet of the Senate or the process would evolve into a sort of aristocracy with the Senate selecting from a small pool of potential contenders. The “House Plan” was similarly rejected too with the argument being that the popular votes would likely yield only final candidates from the most populous states, leaving the “smaller states” un(der)represented in the executive branch. The popular vote was rejected because of the fear that the average citizen would have little to no knowledge about the candidates to make an informed decision. (In the 18th and 19th centuries this was indeed a valid argument due to slow communications. Today, speed of communications and available of information has eliminated that particular concern, yet surprisingly many Americans are just as clueless about candidates today as they were in the late 1700’s.)

Eventually, the arcane system of electors and popular votes was devised, and with some constitutional tinkering in the form of amendments, we have in place the system we have today. State legislators select “electors” who in turn pledge their presidential ballots to the candidates who receive the highest amount of popular votes in their state. After the popular vote is counted and certified, those electors cast their ballots for the official presidential contest with the winner decided from those ballots.

The founders knew that this wasn’t going to be a perfect system, but at the time it was the best compromise they could cobble together. In this plan, they managed to assuage their greatest fears (or so they thought) about selecting a national leader: they wanted to assure that the average American citizen had some voice in who would lead the country and they wanted to assure that the office didn’t become some sort of dynastic throne.

Fast forward to the 2008 presidential election campaign. Witness the founding fathers turning in their graves.

Today’s presidential frontrunners are knighted by the press and accepted by the public much in the way that an infant will put anything into his mouth that is handed to him. There is little critical thinking among the American people and even less even reporting of the potential candidates. There are currently 8 Democratic presidential candidates and 9 Republicans. But the only ones we really hear about are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romeny, and now, Fred Thompson. A few others (Edwards & McCain) get some coverage here and there, but the rest of the field has been largely abandoned by the press. Why? Well, because voters don’t choose those candidates in polls. And why don’t they choose them? Because they don’t know enough about them. Why is that? Because the press largely ignores them. It’s a vicious circle that begins early in the process and pre-selects the final contenders for the public based on press coverage and preferences.

This is surely not the kind of popular vote mechanism the founders envisioned. Certainly it’s hard to think that of the 17 potential candidates that only Hillary or Rudy have ideas worthy of getting them elected president. And in the case of Clinton, the founders’ fears of a “presidential dynasty” come full force. If Hillary were to be elected, we’ll have created a two-family presidential dynasty that covers at least 24 years (Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton), an entire generation of Americans ruled by two families. And the worst part of it is that even though the Bushes and Clintons hail from opposing political parties, their basic political tenets are practically the same- none of them actually hold firm positions on anything of import, all are entrenched in the politics-for-cash system of governance, and they all have (or were always) become so detached from the truth of day to day life that they represent few actual Americans or their needs, desires, and concerns.

If American voters really believe that Hillary or Rudy are the best we can get for president then they just aren’t paying attention. Either that or they don’t care enough to make a better decision. Or perhaps they really do believe that 10 second sound bites are all they need to make a decision. Maybe they believe that if a candidate has a “D” or an “R” after their name that that’s all the information they need. However, if America really wants to find a new path into the 21st century then the voters are going to have to do better than this. They’ll have to actually move beyond the TV news reports, take a few minutes to read about the candidates and their positions, and not just accede to the picks of the press.

Is Hillary Clinton the leading democrat because of her qualifications to lead America in a new direction or because she is just the most well know candidate? I don’t think her politics have change much since she was the co-president with her husband. Actually, I take that back. She’s been quite hawkish in the Senate, dedspite her prostetations to the opposite. Personally, I don’t see how I could vote for her, and it has absolutely nothing to do with her gender.

Is Rudy Giuliani the top ranked Republican candidate because he’s the best man for the job? Or is it because he continually uses the 9-11 campaign poster and reminds Americans that he was the boss in New York when the terrorists hit? Is Rudy just riding on the coattails of fear, and if so, how does that make him presidential material?

But the press says these two are the top dogs, so when they trot out a poll or two, the numbers reinforce their coronation and perpetuate the momentum.

American politics, and especially presidential politics, are a farce. The candidates rarely offer a new vision for our country, seldom create a new path to trod. In this, George W. Bush has broken out of the mold- he has radically changed this country and how the world views America. Unfortunately, his vision has brought only death, misery and degraded our national reputation in the eyes of much of the world. If ever America needed a president with vision, with courage, and with wisdom, the 2008 presidential elections are that time.

Too bad we won’t get one.