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2016’s Dumbest Argument

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cotton-plantation

That title suggests a high bar. As you might expect though, an essay in The Federalist is going to be able to clear it. And here we have this pablum telling liberals to stop whining about the electoral college. This is mostly just dumb for all the reasons you expect. And then this pops up about the Three-Fifths Compromise. Because, you see, it discriminated against slaveowners:

How does a specialist in constitutional law miss the word “compromise” in “three-fifths compromise”? How does one of America’s most-cited legal scholars fail to consider that five-fifths (that’s one) and three-fifths weren’t the only options available?

It wasn’t pretty that day around the Constitution. Northern and Southern states fought bitterly over how to count slaves, who couldn’t vote, in population numbers. Since population numbers determined legislative power, Southern states of course wanted to count slaves like they counted everyone else. Abolition-conscious Northern states wanted to eliminate slaves from population counts completely.

Northern states argued that if Southern states could count their property (slaves), Northern states could count theirs (horses, chickens, etc.). Because executive fiat by phone and by pen had not yet been invented, the two sides had no choice but to compromise. That’s why it’s called “the three-fifths compromise.”

As Reed points out, the three-fifths compromise “discounted” the value of slaves relative to white men, but it enhanced the power of slaves relative to white men in reducing by two-fifths the South’s power to preserve slavery legislatively. The Electoral College set the stage for legislative abolition of slavery, so you can say it was about slavery if you want, but tell the whole truth.

Yes, that is tragic to only allow the South to count slaves at 60 percent of a human when in fact the law did not even consider slaves human in any legal way! And this only allowed the Slave Power and their northern sympathizers to control nearly the entire federal government between 1789 and 1860! Why can’t you libs tell the whole story!!!!

On Tuesday, the last speaker in the amazing series of speakers I co-organized this fall at the University of Rhode Island on the theme of Inequality and the American Dream was on campus. This was the great Jelani Cobb. He noted that in fact after Reconstruction, southern whites actually benefited from Jim Crow more than they had from slavery. African-Americans couldn’t vote during either period, but during Jim Crow, apportionment counted 100 percent of black people instead of 60 percent. Thus the control of the South over the government after Reconstruction was at least as entrenched as during slavery. That’s effectively what this Federalist piece is longing for, even if it gives it a soft sell under the guise of modern Americans being stupid whiners. Finally, southern white men had their deserved power. And sadly, that’s the goal for all too many whites in Trump’s America.

I do not recommend searching for additional mangoes here.

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  • XTPD

    OT: Who first came up with the “boat-mages” meme?

    • XTPD

      eta: should read “boat/mangoes”

      • tsam

        Francis Ford Coppola

      • rea

        Oh, mangoes.

        For boat/mages, I was going to refer you to Ursula LeGuin.

        • mds

          +90 Isles

    • BiloSagdiyev

      For the mages of sin is…. oh, sorry.

      Mango origin here:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbFvAaO9j8M

      • XTPD

        I should really get to watching that movie.

        • Brad Nailer

          You’ll be glad you did.

        • William Berry

          You should check out the BD of AN Redux (the extended director’s cut). You can probably pick it up for fifteen bucks at a discount music/ video store.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        a) The video I found did not show how their on-shore adventure began; I believe they had buckets and went to pick mangoes.

        2) Yes! yes you should. Alas, you’ve waited so long there are now choices to be made, which cut? Me, I never saw Blade Runner and I don’t know where to begin.

        iii) And once you’ve seen Apocalypse Now, see the documentary Hearts of Darkness, about the making of, made by Mrs. Coppola, IIRC.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          Slim Pickens just listened to this month’s The Federalist on audiobook.

        • I’ve never actually watched through AN Redux. The added section doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film and moves even more slowly than what is already a pretty slow moving film.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            I think I only learned about a new cut when I channel surfed to Bravo channel one weekend afternoon (remember movies? On Bravo?) and it was … Martin Sheen… seemingly in Apocalypse Now… surrounded by Frenchmen at dinner. What the?

            And yeah, it was a long enough movie and didn’t need more meandering jammed into it.

    • I think it started at Sadly No! back in the day.

  • djw

    enhanced the power of slaves

    Oh dear God. What contempt this person must have for the intelligence of her readers.

    • Linnaeus

      The “power of slaves”? That’s not right…it’s not even wrong.

      • djw

        It “works” as D- sophistry if you treat her use of the word power in that particular phrase as power in the mathematical sense. But then you have to studiously ignore that for slaves power (mathematical) and Power (actual/personal/social/political) are–obviously and more or less directly, unless you buy the myth of ‘slaver as gentle paternalist’ (which this horrible person very well might)–inversely correlated.

        • ASV

          Even in that sense, the word “enhanced” would need to be triple-jointed to survive the contortions it’s being put through.

    • JohnT

      Hey, if I were a slave, I'd feel just just warm inside at the thought that a count of our poor beaten hide had earned Massa and his buddies extra votes

    • tsam

      Yeah–wow. I don’t even know where to start with all that crap. This is “The Civil War was about economics, not slavery” level of whitewashing.

      • David Allan Poe

        Naah. This is the “Slavery is the natural condition of the Negro” level of whitewashing.

    • CaptainBringdown

      Where do I buy my “Slave Power!” t-shirt?

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Probably at an S&M sex shop. Which may not be allowed in some former states of the Confederacy. Last I heard, two of them were still holding the line on dildos and phallic vibrators. Because Family. Or Jesus. Or something.

  • Denverite

    Obligatory note that slavery was still going on in most of the northern states at the time of the constitutional convention.

    • Bloix

      All but Massachusetts, I believe.

      • osceola

        I think Vermont never had slavery.

        Also, it’s important to note that many northern states were beginning to address the end of slavery in their respective states, so some people were seeing the incongruity of their liberty rhetoric and owning humans, however slowly.

    • (((Hogan)))

      Although not enough to swing many elections.

  • Linnaeus

    You can hardly be blamed for your ignorance if you went to public school, attended an elite university, or get your news from Yahoo.

    Christ, what an asshole.

    • JKTH

      That’s a prerequisite for being published in the Federalist.

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        Yes, but I assumed intelligent asshole, the author of this one is an imbecile.

        • MAJeff

          That, also, is a pre-requisite for being published in The Fedearalist.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          The “executive fiat” whine was our first hint.

          (Say, what kind of engine does an executive Fiat come with?)

          • Peterr

            A bad one.

            From the Car Talk archives:

            Q: How do you get a Fiat to go faster?
            A: Tell the tow truck driver to speed up.

            Q: How do you get spare parts for a Fiat?
            A: follow one around.)

            More here.

            • osceola

              Reminds me of a Jaguar joke on Mad Men: “The tool kit comes with it’s own tool kit.”

        • N__B

          Thanks to The Hudsucker Proxy I always read imbecile so that the last syllable is “seal.”

          • tsam

            That explains why you keep tossing herring at the television. Got it.

            • efgoldman

              That explains why you keep tossing herring at the television

              You’re mitstaken. Bearts don’t tshare their herring.

              • N__B

                Into the schnapps already?

    • nkh

      Wait. So informed people went to private primary schools and crappy colleges? I’m so confused. But then, I guess I’m not “an original thinker on twenty-first-century living”.

      And is she referring to Akhil Reed Amar? Does he go by “Reed” now?

      • solidcitizen

        In the public schools and elite universities, kids are brainwashed. In private (religious) K-12 schools or, better, homeschooling, kids get the truth. “Crappy” colleges are too focused on teaching essential skills like business and Econ 101 to bother with liberal brainwashing.

      • Bloix

        nkh: Yes and No.

      • Scott Lemieux

        And is she referring to Akhil Reed Amar? Does he go by “Reed” now?

        Well, he did get tenure at Yale Law when he was like 30, but it’s safe to say he knows less about the Constitution than a sixth-stringer at The Federalist.

        • (((Hogan)))

          Calling the 3/5 thing a “clause” instead of a “compromise” is such a freshman mistake.

  • Is there such a thing as a negative IQ?

    • catbirdman

      The problem is getting to be that putting forth a relentless stream of objectively invalid statements and arguments is turning out to be an amazingly effective political strategy, if pursued relentlessly by an entire political party. They are undermining all important pillars of society, including history, science, economics, the public education system, and, of course, politics. They believe they’ll benefit from the ensuing chaos, and so far that’s happening. This strikes me as remarkably selfish and evil, but I’m not ready to attribute it to a low IQ.

      • It’s comic book super villain level smart.

        • Brad Nailer

          Zackly. These people are smart. Evil, but smart.

      • efgoldman

        putting forth a relentless stream of objectively invalid statements and arguments is turning out to be an amazingly effective political strategy

        Lucrative, too.

    • Randy

      A person sitting next to Ms. Voss while taking an IQ test finds that their score is lowered by at least 15 points.

  • eclare

    As Reed points out, the three-fifths compromise “discounted” the value of slaves relative to white men, but it enhanced the power of slaves relative to white men in reducing by two-fifths the South’s power to preserve slavery legislatively. The Electoral College set the stage for legislative abolition of slavery, so you can say it was about slavery if you want, but tell the whole truth.

    I have no words, other than “Holy shit, that’s a fucked up world view.”

    • Linnaeus

      Forget it, Jake, it’s The Federalist.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      “I feel more powerful now!”

      –no actual slave at the time

    • rea

      Also, innumerate. Unless slaves were 100% of the population, the 3/5 rule could not be “reducing by two-fifths the South’s power to preserve slavery legislatively.”

  • cpinva

    I see they’re still publishing the crayon scrawlings of idiots at the “esteemed” periodical called (because The Idiot was already taken) The Federalist. this woman reeks with vapidity, and clearly assumes her target audience is composed of morons. which, as I think about it, it probably is.

    • efgoldman

      clearly assumes her target audience is composed of morons.

      Ah. But you see, said morons all have 1) JD degrees and 2) Enough money to own slaves.

  • Unsurprisingly, that liberal plantation elite immediately passed welfare and food stamps legislation so their slaves wouldn't have to work but could just spend all day picking their banjos on the porch, and dependency culture was born.

    • efgoldman

      their slaves wouldn’t have to work but could just spend all day picking their banjos on the porch

      You forgot the T-Bones, lobster, and Cadillacs.

  • Murc

    There’s a colorable argument to be made that this was the best deal that could be made at the time, and that if it hadn’t been on offer we’d have either started the civil war then and there seventy years early or the Constitution doesn’t get ratified. There’s also a colorable argument that, yes, three-fifths is better than one for the purposes of making sure that people who aren’t treated as full citizens (the “can’t vote” thing is I feel a distraction; children can’t vote either, but they still get counted; the issue is that black people weren’t granted citizenship and equal protection before the law) aren’t being used to generate political power for those who are treated as full citizens.

    But, I mean… this goes off the rails at “you can say it was about slavery if you want.” Yes? It was? It’s literally a compromise between slavers and people who were at least nominally anti-slavery?

    I also don’t understand “the Electoral College set the stage for the legislative abolition of slavery.” That assertion seems sufficiently controversial that it needs to be backed up and not just stated as fact.

    • postmodulator

      I mean…

      The Electoral College puts Lincoln in office, which is such an obvious injustice that the South is forced to begin the War of Northern Aggression by shooting at Fort Sumter?

      Puts me in mind of nothing so much as this old comic.

      • Murc

        I think Lincoln wins a plurality in the popular vote even without the EC. And even in an STV system (I know Gregor doesn’t like those but when you’re electing one specific person and not staffing a whole legislature I think they’re the only decent Condorcet-compliant systems available) which is obviously very hard to game out a hundred and fifty years later, I think he wins that as well.

    • McAllen

      And it was only the best deal because the United States was held hostage by Slave Power. The idea that slavery ought not only be allowed but rewarded electorally is monstrous, and the fact that the reward was not as high as it could have been is not cause for celebration.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        But.. but… but… the slavers didn’t get all the power that they wanted! Why not more states in the west? Why not Cuba? And Honduras and Nicaragua? You just didn’t give slavery a chance! WAAAH! STOP PICKING ON SLAVERY!

        Man, oh man, the Time Haters need to visit The Federalist, and they won’t even need a time machine.

        How’s about nowish?

    • JKTH

      The Electoral College was included in the Constitution and slavery was eventually abolished. What more proof do you need?

      • Linnaeus

        Whig history FTW!

    • Randy

      I have heard it argued that the 3/5 compromise was meant to apply to indentured servants, and that it had nothing to do with institutionalizing the power of slaveholders.

    • Bloix

      Glen Beck made the argument that the 3/5th’s clause was good for the slaves and Akhil Amar said it was ridiculous.
      http://mediamatters.org/research/2011/01/10/historian-becks-defense-of-three-fifths-clause/174960

      My own take:
      Apportionment and citizenship rights have nothing to do with each other. Women weren’t granted full citizenship and were counted as one person. Today, prisoners, ex-convicts, seriously mentally impaired people, legal permanent residents, even undocumented immigrants (“illegal aliens”) are counted as one person. Everyone counted by the census is considered for apportionment purposes. The only exclusion was “Indians not taxed” – living either under tribal rule or on reservations – and that exclusion disappeared in 1924.

      At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Southerners argued that slaves were no different – they were people, they were not full citizens in law (like women, children, prisoners), and they should count. Northerners said that there is a fundamental difference between people who have less than full rights and people who are property and have no rights. Such people shouldn’t be counted, just as horses and cows shouldn’t be counted.

      The dispute was not about voting rights, it was about power – Northern states did not want to be in a union with states that would control the federal government permanently due to their slave population, and Southern states wanted to control the federal government permanently. The 3/5ths clause was like a golf handicap or a horse racing weight impost – the number was supposed to to give both the North and the South the chance to control the government. But the South got the better of the deal – 3/5ths was high enough to insure Southern domination for decades.

      • Donalbain

        Counting women or not would not have changed the balance of power. All it would do is roughly double, or half the population counted in each state, leaving the proportions the same. Slaves, on the other hand were geographically concentrated in particular states and so had a huge influence on the balance of power.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          And their numbers could be increased, by rape or purchase.

  • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

    Liberals: The Electoral College was set up so that white male landowners had total say over the nation.

    The Federalist: And?

    • tsam

      Heh–yeah, we say that like it’s a BAD thing. WTF?

  • Peterr

    Yes, that is tragic to only allow the South to count slaves at 60 percent of a human when in fact the law did not even consider slaves human in any legal way! And this only allowed the Slave Power and their northern sympathizers to control nearly the entire federal government between 1789 and 1860! Why can’t you libs tell the whole story!!!!

    Slaveowners Lives Matter!

    /Scarlett O’Hara’s great-granddaughter

    • osceola

      Northerners were the real racists!

  • LastUniversalCommonAncestor

    Leaving aside the despicable argument (I can’t get myself to just call it dumb) in that article, I wonder whether apportionment based on number of registered voters (or even, numbers of actual voters in prior corresponding election cycle(s)) would be a more equitable way to achieve true representation, and to incentivize voter participation (and to incentivize politicians to incentivize voter participation).

    • Murc

      If we were going to entertain this, I’d say it should be eligible voters.

      That said, the reason we don’t bother with schemes like this is because they’re more open to abuse than “count everyone, that’s your number.”

    • algebraiccyclist

      In fact, I was surprised to find that in the UK they redistrict based on registered voters. You’ll be shocked to learn that Cameron’s government changed the voter registration rules to make it less likely that, say, students, or people who move often will be registered. As a result, Labour would be locked out of power for quite some time, even if they could get their shit together.

      I tried to trace the history of apportionment by census vs. voting rolls, and I didn’t come up with anything. As far as I can tell, apportionment by voting rolls has no history in the US. Curiously, though, there was a SCOTUS case (Evenwel vs. Abbott) this year in which two Texas legislators argued that apportionment by census is unconstitutional, and apportionment by voting rolls is required (!). SCOTUS unanimously ruled that this is not the case.

      • In defence of the British rule, it must be noted that maintaining the electoral roll is the responsibility of the local authority. If they get it wrong the citizen can get it corrected. SFIK this is the default arrangement in democracies. The USA is an outlier in requiring citizens to take active steps to get on to the electoral roll.

    • smhten

      Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment does something similar, or at least it could be used to do so. But it does it based on who is allowed to vote, not on who is registered or actually votes. If a state restricts the franchise of any male citizens over age 21 (with some exceptions…), their representation can be reduced.

      This was a sort of black enfranchisement-lite. If Southern states excluded black men from voting, they’d lose out big time. But racist Northern states, like Indiana, could disenfranchise black men and not really suffer, since there were so few black people in Indiana at the time. This clause was never implemented, and was followed shortly by the Fifteenth Amendment, which basically made it moot.

      Incidentally, the inclusion of the word “male,” which was meant to protect the representation of female-heavy states like Massachusetts (which a disproportionate number of men had left), pissed off Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony so much that they worked against ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and did so in a really racist way.

    • Bill Murray

      I wonder whether apportionment based on number of registered voters (or even, numbers of actual voters in prior corresponding election cycle(s)) would be a more equitable way to achieve true representation, and to incentivize voter participation (and to incentivize politicians to incentivize voter participation).

      It would be a great way to further incentivize voter disenfranchisement

  • kped

    Some prominent lefties online told me Jelani is awful, so I can’t agree with you.

    They also said this about Jamelle Bouie…

    And Ta-Nehasi Coates…

    Gosh…there’s something about those guys that is the same, can’t quite put my finger on it…

    • nemdam

      They are all the real racists.

    • Brad Nailer

      And by the way, where I Michael Eric Dyson hiding out these days since he basically got shit-canned from MSNBC?

  • solidcitizen

    “Food for thought: had the Southern states gotten their way and counted each slave in full, slavery would have been much harder to eliminate. Yet from our twenty-first century, poorly informed lives, we would likely have praised their full count cause as noble.”

    She seems not to realize that slavery was abolished through the Civil War. I mean, yes I am aware of the 13th Amendment, but that has nothing to do with how slaves were counted. And I am not sure in what world we liberals would have been praising slaves being counted for the purposes of apportionment.

    • Murc

      Food for thought: had the Southern states gotten their way and counted each slave in full, slavery would have been much harder to eliminate. Yet from our twenty-first century, poorly informed lives, we would likely have praised their full count cause as noble.

      Jesus, that’s even more insane than the bit quoted in the OP.

      I don’t understand why people can’t wrap their heads around “just because this is better doesn’t mean it is actually good.”

      Also “context always matters.”

      Slight tangent: I can guarantee you this is going to be a line of attack on phasing out Medicare. Guarantee it. It’s going to be “this premium support scheme is basically the same as Obamacare. If Obamacare is so great, why don’t you support making Medicare more like it?”

    • ASV

      Yet from our twenty-first century, poorly informed lives, we would likely have praised their full count cause as noble.

      It is true, at least, that a lot of people seem to think the problem with the 3/5 compromise was “they didn’t think slaves counted as fully human!”

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Right, the article is dumb, but that part of the argument is just the natural flip side of the ubiquitous argument about how terrible it is that the Constitution only counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Would be fun to ask this author to leave aside the issue of congressional districting and population counting and ask why the South didn’t do better in the war by, you know, letting blacks carry rifles.

    • nemdam

      Southerners in all their benevolence obviously did it to protect the slaves from the horrors of war.

      I guarantee to you this argument has been made by someone at some point.

      • Randy

        “Separate but equal” was the benevolent policy. It kept African American women safe from the lustful curiosity of white men.

        Every so often, some confederate apologist trots out the argument that there were in fact African American confederate soldiers. They were still slaves, and served as cooks and laborers. Some may have fired guns at Union troops on occasions, but they weren’t really supposed to serve in combat.

        A few days before the end of the war (March of 1865, I believe), the confederacy voted to allow African Americans in combat roles. Those soldiers would remain slaves, of course.

        So you see, this all proves that the war wasn’t about slavery. Somehow.

    • Brad Nailer

      Oh, man, I can see the reaction to the guy who proposed that idea. The best that could be said about it is that those black troops would definitely have been placed in the very front ranks in order to catch the initial volleys. Certainly not further back, where friendly fire might have become a real issue.

      • nemdam

        Oh, late in the war Robert E. Lee proposed enlisting slaves in the army. This went over as well as you would expect. The Governor of Georgia, Howell Cobb, responded with

        You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.

        So no, even putting slaves in the front lines as cannon fodder was beyond the pale for the Confederacy.

        Also, I’m not 100% sure this is true, but my memory recalls reading that when the Union captured Richmond, they made a point to make sure black units were front and center marching down the streets.

        • (((Hogan)))

          And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.

          And I don’t want to live in that world.

      • Bill Murray

        Patrick Cleburne proposed this — well Cleburne’s plan was emancipation (but not civil rights) and military service — in early 1864 to the leaders of the Army of Tennessee but that went nowhere and being in the West was extra forgotten about

  • JL

    As you might expect though, an essay in The Federalist is going to be able to clear it.

    It even manages to surpass another recent Federalist article asserting that Bannon is not anti-Semitic because Jewish girls and women really are whiny.

  • DrDick

    The mind she boggles. Now I need to break out the bottle of Buffalo Trace.

  • D.N. Nation

    but it enhanced the power of slaves relative to white men

    but it enhanced the power of slaves relative to white men

    but it enhanced the power of slaves relative to white men

    MY EYES
    THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING

  • Tessa Klein

    “Food for thought: had the Southern states gotten their way and counted each slave in full, slavery would have been much harder to eliminate. Yet from our twenty-first century, poorly informed lives, we would likely have praised their full count cause as noble.”

    Aside from being morally repugnant, the argument is also demonstrably wrong:

    Slavery was ended through passing and ratification of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendment. The former confederate states HAD to ratify both in order to get their representation back. So whether or not slaves counted for 3/5 of a human, or 4 f*cking billion didn’t matter. (it did matter during reconstruction when formed slaves did count as full citizens, but by then slavery formally didn’t exist anymore)

    In other words the Three-Fifths Compromise didn’t matter the least in abolishing slavery.

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