Home / General / The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity

The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity

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After yesterday’s embarrassment, it’d be nice to think we can just accept the obvious and deep moral and political idiocy of the “Hamilton electors” movement, accept it for what is was (essentially, a strategy to avoid facing reality for a few more weeks) and move forward. As Mark Stern observed yesterday, it’s important to keep in mind that The Federalist Papers are at once a great work of political theory and an at times quite cynical exercise in political propaganda, and some essays are much more one than the other, and #68 obviously leans to the propaganda side. Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue. Since the electors will be selected by virtue of their loyalty to that party, they’re hardly likely to be the kind of people capable or likely to recognize the demagogue as such, in an actionable way, either because they’re under the demagogue’s spell, or because they’ve convinced themselves the other side is always worse. During less partisan times, of course, the obviously dangerous and unfit demagogue capturing a party will more likely dealt with by ordinary means; the voters will simply vote for the other party.

But since this is 2016, the fallout could be far worse. The following chain of events seems at least plausible going forward:

1. Washington fines the faithless electors, in accordance with state law. (Satiacum, at least, is practically begging them to do it. The other three were at least pretending to engage in some sort of Machiavellian strategery; he’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Clinton will never get his vote, even if it’s the 270th one, for months.)

2. This provides a test case for faithless elector laws, and they are ruled unconstitutional. (This would hardly be a stretch; it’s a perfectly plausible and perhaps the most straightforward way to read the relevant constitutional language.)

3. By taking away a disincentive, faithless electors become a greater threat going forward.

4. This threat is, in the present political climate, asymmetrical, because for whatever reason, party activists on the Democratic side are more prone to approach through the lens of intra-party disputes, and be driven into madness by contested primaries.

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  • junker

    At Vox yesterday Andrew Prokop made the good point that the electoral college today is the worst of both worlds – parties can’t expect uniform support among the electors, but at the same time the electors can’t decide truly independently either.

  • delazeur

    Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue.

    Really? I’ve been grossly negligent and have not actually read the Federalist Papers, but I’ve always been under the impression that they don’t address partisanship. Hamilton obviously got some fast, blunt lessons about partisanship after the Constitution was ratified, but was he already thinking about it in 1787?

    • Katya

      Probably not, what with political parties not really existing in the United States at the time. The Federalist Papers do address partisanship–both Hamilton and Madison warned against the dangers of political factions. The Election of 1796 was the first time that candidates ran for office as members of a political party.

      • ThrottleJockey

        That’s the problem with the OP’s line of argument:

        Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue. Since the electors will be selected by virtue of their loyalty to that party, they’re hardly likely to be the kind of people capable or likely to recognize the demagogue as such, in an actionable way, either because they’re under the demagogue’s spell, or because they’ve convinced themselves the other side is always worse.

        First it assumes a full recognition and appreciation of the impact of political parties.

        Second it double downs by assuming that Hamilton should foresee parties eliminating the role of states in selecting presidents. The Framers didn’t even know that the states would assign all of their electors to one candidate.

        Yes were Hamilton to draft such a system today he’d be quite daft but, as is often written here, the hyper partisanship of our present political system functions today unlike it has in any previous era of it’s existence.

  • Hercules Mulligan

    I’m not 100% sure about #4, though I share the overall concern. If you take away the three Machiavellian who-knows-what-they-were-doing, then both sides had the same number of defectors: two. (It is true that one or two more potential defectors were prevented by state laws that would be removed in your scenario, but it is unclear whether this would impact the GOP as well).

    Moreover, it seems plausible enough that when the stakes are lower (I.e., candidate is going to lose anyway), more defectors emerge. See, for example, that guy in Maine, who issued a statement saying he was casting his vote for Sanders but only because he knew it was too late to elect HRC and he wanted to express his appreciation etc. etc.

  • JustinVC

    I think you’re overstating #4. The more obvious explanation is that it’s easier for an elector to go faithless when your candidate LOST than when your candidate WON. And there’s no evidence for what electors would do in an election where the faithless elector’s vote really matters.

  • humanoid.panda

    You are missing the key point here: those electors in Hawai and WA got to express their unique individuality AND made the crucial point that the voice of the people is an illusion under condition of NEOLIBERAL hegemony and its imposition of false consciousness, as embodied in the world historical evil of the sheeple voting Hillary.

    • NeonTrotsky

      Nothing says standing up to Neoliberal hegemony like voting for Colin Powell!

      • humanoid.panda

        Since HRC was candidate of Wall Street, any name other than hers is a vote against Wall Street. It is known.

      • Rob in CT

        Right?

      • bizarroMike

        They just wanted to express how much they preferred his private email server to Clinton’s. And maybe also the integrity it took to give that speech at the UN — much better than the one Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs.

        • MidwestVillager

          Powell didn’t use a private email server, he use America Online email for State Department business. Clearly the electors felt this was much better.

      • It was a statement against hillary’s voter for the Iraq War

  • LeeEsq

    The false hope that the Electoral College would save us from President Trump did reveal some useful information but how many Democratic voters approach politics. It doesn’t reveal anything that nice about most Democratic voters. The best you can say is that many people are on our side are really naïve about how politics works. There is too much faith put into the institutions protecting the republic rather than ensuring politicians who agree with you are in office. There is a sort of laziness when it comes to electoral politics.

    • humanoid.panda

      I’d be a bit more generous. Losing an election to what you perceive as mortal threat to the Republic is horrible. Liberals respond to that by launching quixotic drives to get institutions to act better. Republicans stockpile on weapons.

      • humanoid.panda

        I’d also add that the period between the election and inaugaration is kinda dead zone, when its difficult to organize or do anything useful, except behind the scenes. I don’t fault people for taking that time to perform their grieving process.

        • NeonTrotsky

          Yeah, but Colin Powell? Really?

      • LeeEsq

        My brother NewishLawyer got angry about the entire Cal-Exit thing because he thought that the people he knew fantasizing about it were being really unrealistic. He saw them as cozy sweaters and hot tea type people rather than people willing to learn how to fight in the violent insurrection that would be necessary for California to become independent. I feel similarly about the Electoral College fantasy. Besides being a bad idea, it wasn’t going to happen. It was a waste of time and just made us look foolish.

        • humanoid.panda

          I don’t disagree! I just think that in the grand scheme of things, looking foolish in the December of an election year doesn’t matter all that much.

          • JKTH

            Hell, we’ve seen that looking foolish in October of an election year doesn’t matter all that much.

          • q-tip

            Yeah. And if politics is going to be a War of Stupid Memes now, throw as much spaghetti against the wall as you can, within reason.

          • NewishLawyer

            I get that people are doing some venting.

            Maybe the issue is myself but when I see these memes, I just go punching through all the short-comings. I don’t know if people think there can be a peaceful transition but why would the US give up their access to the Pacific? Why would Canada admit new “provinces” when the population of California is 3.5 million more than the total population of Canada?

            Democratic-American politics are different than Liberal-Canada politics.

        • I, too, had that brief moment when Cal-Exit seemed inviting, but quickly went on to more productive grieving, involving bottles and cans.

          James Fallows on Friday posted a piece, with video, regarding Jerry Brown’s address to a meeting of the American Geophysical Union about how to resist Trump at the state level. It makes me wish, once again, that Jerry wasn’t near the end of his career, cause this is a dude we could rally around. He’s not perfect, but he’s not lying down, either.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Dude whether it was a bad idea that makes us look foolish depends on your assessment of Trumps presidency. If you assume it’s a GWBush Administration Redux then perhaps you’re right but if you assume it’s a Republic-killer in which Putin played a leading role then By Any Means Necessary, not Kumbaya, is perhaps the best political mantra of the moment.

          • brewmn

            Am I the only that gets a chill when someone mentions the coasts seceding? You all would bring Illinois along with you, right?

            Right?

            • rea

              Illinois has a coast

              • Hogan

                It even has a naval station.

        • los

          was a waste of time

          It was worth it for the noise.
          The putinbots’ howling and bawling reaction proves that.

          and just made us look foolish

          If you didn’t support that particular Resistance, then you cannot be declared foolish for that reason.

    • Murc

      There is too much faith put into the institutions protecting the republic rather than ensuring politicians who agree with you are in office.

      This.

      People who speak about institutional power often seem blind to the fact that institutions do not exist in any real way. They’re organizational abstractions run by… people. They will function as well or as badly as the people running them wish them to run.

      • LeeEsq

        Somewhere during the 1960s, liberals seemed to have lost interest or faith in electoral politics and fallen too much in love with protest politics and lawsuits. You can protest and sue all you want but having legislators and executives that agree with you in office is much better for pursuing liberal goals.

        • Hogan

          I think you’re overstating this dramatically, but . . . that would be about the time liberals started losing elections, no?

          • LeeEsq

            Yes.

        • tsam

          lost interest or faith in electoral politics and fallen too much in love with protest politics and lawsuits.

          Maybe when a guy with a “secret plan” to end Vietnam won in a landslide–everyone except his idiot voters knew that was total bullshit. By the time everyone figured this out, it was too late. Democrats have an instinctive fear of being craven liars during elections, for the most part. Republicans do not–in fact their entire ideology is a 50 story house of diarrhea built on nothing but jingoism, mysticism and hatred. If they got serious about policy with people who know what they’re talking about, they’d get laughed out of the room. What are Democrats left with, given that they’re fighting a losing battle against humanity’s most primal and ancient impulses?

          • Dennis Orphen

            50 stories high and miles deep.

            • LeeEsq

              Its a solidly built foundation of lies.

        • I think you don’t want to lose sight of the fact, though, that protest politics and lawsuits are also part of the toolkit, along with winning, or at least vigorously contesting, elections. Ideally, you use all of them as much as you can. Public Employee unions in California remain as robust as they are in California (through the end of this year, at least) because they (their leadership and members) not only worked to elect Democratic legislators but then continued to pressure them to pass legislation to provide them with a strong footing.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Was there anything happening in the 60s that might make rank and file democrats skeptical of their elected leaders?

          Nope can’t think of any. Not a one.

        • efgoldman

          Somewhere during the 1960s, liberals seemed to have lost interest or faith in electoral politics and fallen too much in love with protest politics and lawsuits.

          THIS HERE!
          When the time comes, the Republiklowns ALWAYS close ranks, both institutionally (in the house, senate, and state legislatures) and at the individual voter level.
          Purity ponies are going to kill the Democratic party much quicker than Republiklowns ever could.

      • Right. When people bring up our precious checks and balances, I counter with the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow, and Japanese-American internment camps. A constitution is only as good as the people enforcing it.

      • ASV

        “Institutions are people, my friend.”

      • ThrottleJockey

        Institutions are real things built on sociology and economics. They exist on a foundation of relationships and incentives. Institutions aren’t a panacea– they’re subject to the same frailties of any human organization– but they are real things.

        • Murc

          Only if you consider abstractions to be real things, which is an entire philosophical debate that will never be settled..

          But even eliding that for a moment, institutions aren’t conscious. They do not have agency; only people have that.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        I hear people saying that it isn’t possible that abortion will be outlawed, that Obamacare and Medicare and Social Security and marriage equality will be repealed.

        It’s just magical thinking. These advances all came about as a result of a political process, and they can be reversed in the same way.

        But as so many are convinced, voting doesn’t matter and both parties are exactly the same.

        • Murc

          I remember back in 2010 being assured by a lot of people that it was okay that Obamacare was an incrementalist kludge that wasn’t as broad-based a benefit as it could have been, because expansions to the welfare state are always built upon and never rolled back.

          >.<;

    • ASV

      This is a weird read. Nobody was suggesting before the election that we just let the EC handle it. Your take is like saying a football offense based on chucking it into the end zone from your own 40 yard line is hopelessly naive. Trying to maneuver the EC a very low probability move that, given the particular circumstances, was higher probability than anything else available.

      • q-tip

        This.

    • MidwestVillager

      Institutions meaningfully constrain leaders who cross the line unintentionally and who want to obey, or at least think of themselves as obeying, the law. Most American politicians have at least wanted to give the appearance of lawfulness and will actually change their behavior if you get a court order. If you have a President who wants to break the law, then the only way to stop him is a Congress that is willing to impeach and security services that will protect Congress as it does so and refuse orders from a President who Congress has removed from office. The problem is we don’t necessarily have such a Congress anymore.

  • I think a more relevant question is this: What can Trump (and/or those behind him) legitimately do to keep Republicans in the majority forever?

    • humanoid.panda

      That depends on what you define as forever. The single best thing he could not to tank in 2018 so that GOP keeps control over governorships, and then win the election in 2020 so that GOP keeps control of statehouses for another decade. Killing unions is also going to help the GOP. All this stuff can give them an incredible advantage on the local level -but they are bound to lose presidency at some point.

      As for “can Trump be Putin?” query? I sincerely doubt that. Putin became Putin because he already had all the powers that he needed, and had the Russian elite unified behind him. This is not where we are.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        Trump is going to be starting a hell of a war in the next year or two. He’ll solidify the public’s support for him in the short to medium term in that way, enough to carry him through those first few hurdles. Certainly no president is going to get impeached for massive corruption in the midst of a war.

        • humanoid.panda

          I have serious doubts regarding how war-thirsty the public is.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            At the moment. We can’t see the future but let’s just say that an incompetent president who doesn’t bother to read intelligence briefings isn’t likely to avert catastrophe.

            • JKTH

              It doesn’t even take catastrophe. As we’ve seen this century, the GOP can hype anything and the media will dutifully elevate it to crisis level.

          • Hogan

            Once they get going, wars tend to sell themselves.

          • tsam

            I don’t know what you think the public is actually going to be able to do about it. They might appear to not be war-thirsty on the outside, but they’ve loaded Congress with hateful, spiteful shits who think war is a good answer to anything and everything, and now they have a president who thinks war is like on TV.

            • humanoid.panda

              Huh? I wasn’t arguing regarding whether new wars are likely under Trump, or if the public will stop them. I was just saying to not assume that a new war would be popular. (mostly because the most likely wars are against Iran or China- and neither is Iraq c. 2003..)

              • tsam

                That comment came out argumentative, but shouldn’t have been. Sorry. It was more a random tantrum than addressing your point.

        • njorl

          The one Republican group that still doesn’t seem to be on good terms with Trump is the Iran war hawks and FPI types.
          Blundering into a war is still a significant possibility.

        • Murc

          Trump is going to be starting a hell of a war in the next year or two. He’ll solidify the public’s support for him in the short to medium term in that way

          Not always guaranteed. Poppy’s war didn’t get him re-elected, after all.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Good point.

          • njorl

            He won it too quickly.

    • sneezehonestly

      Just look at what’s happening in North Carolina, and customize it for other states. Enact statutes that change the composition of the state’s Board of Elections in ways that favor Republicans. Enact strict voter identification requirements and cross-check procedures that disproportionately affect poor/minority voters. Gerrymander, gerrymander, gerrymander. Appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold all of the above. Continue to make things miserable in smaller states so that all of the liberals move to New York and California, concentrating their voting power in ways that ultimately favor Republicans in the electoral college and in Congress.

      • humanoid.panda

        Continue to make things miserable in smaller states so that all of the liberals move to New York and California, concentrating their voting power in ways that ultimately favor Republicans in the electoral college and in Congress

        You do realize that the major demographic move of the last couple of decades is liberals moving from blue states to red/purple ones, gradually making them more and more bluish? And that there is zero indication that liberals are moving to New York/California in any significant numbers? (ambitious people do, and they tend to be liberals, but that’s a different story).

        There is this American tendency to presume that whatever happened a month ago is the wave of the future that really annoys me..

        • humanoid.panda

          Enact statutes that change the composition of the state’s Board of Elections in ways that favor Republicans. Enact strict voter identification requirements and cross-check procedures that disproportionately affect poor/minority voters.

          And as for these: the Republican war on voting is despicable. But it’s also important to point out that in the states that moved most towards the GOP this year (WI,MA,PA, MI, ME, FL,MN) only one (WI) enacted new voter suppression measures since 2012, and two (MN, and surprisingly, FL), had better voter access laws. Voter ID bills etc matter on the margins, and one could envision a more draconian version of them that can create real havoc. But in their current iteration, they can’t guarantee eternal rule.

      • njorl

        I think the most likely horrible move will be to have MI, PA, OH and FL split their electoral college votes up like Maine and Nebraska. Winning those states this time gives them cover for doing something that will benefit them in the long run.

        • humanoid.panda

          I’d give you 1:50 odds that this doesn’t happen. Why would the local GOP act to marginalize themselves, when they have good evidence they are not just potential winners, but quite likely the single most important set of state parties?

          • efgoldman

            Why would the local GOP act to marginalize themselves

            The legislatures in Michigan and PA contemplated such a move after the last cycle. Neither caught fire, both were slagged as major power grabs.
            But the reason they tried was, the assumption that their states were locked in blue electorally, so they could steal some EVs by going proportional.
            Of course, if they’d actually done it, as things turned out, it likely would have bitten them in the ass.

            • humanoid.panda

              Right. And that’s my point: if that didn’t go anywhere after it seemed those states are lost for the GOP for the foreseeable future, why would they do it now, when everyone is convinced that the GOP has an iron hold on the rust belt forever?

            • njorl

              Had they done it, Trump would still have won. In fact, had they done it, Trump would have been favored going into election night.

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      Voter suppression laws enacted nationwide by Congress. US Passport required to vote, the end of all early voting, proof of hardship required for absentee ballots, eliminate the federal law requiring employers to allow time off to vote, cops in every voting station for “security” (heavily armed and visible in minority areas, discreet in white ones.)

      All of this would be *entirely* legal (states set voting laws, but Congress can restrict them), especially if (or rather when) Trump gets a second Supreme Court pick.

      And Democrats would never win a national election again.

      • This sounds overly optimistic. I fully expect the return of poll taxes and literacy tests as well.

        • tsam

          That’s a good way for some poll workers to get gunned down

          • humanoid.panda

            Nice horror porn, but here is a bold prediction: while the DOJ absolutely guts its civil rights division and lets state run rampant, there is no federal legislation on elections, whatsoever. (And, FWIW, someone found that Hillary won by something like 20% among passport holders..)

            • tsam

              I’m just saying they’re going to go too far and some bad shit is going to go down.

              I still have hope that somehow they find a brake, but it’s a pretty faint hope.

        • Redwood Rhiadra

          There won’t be *official* poll taxes or literacy tests, as those would be blatantly unconstitutional. But the passport requirement would be a fairly substantial poll tax in disguise.

          And while lower courts have often recognized that non-free ID requirements are effectively a poll tax, I do not believe this has been tested by the Supreme Court – and a Trump SCOTUS will certainly rule otherwise.

          • They may be blatantly unconstitutional to us, but I strongly doubt that after the shitgibbon nominates two Supreme Court justices, that will matter in the slightest. Precedent doesn’t matter to these people. They’ll overturn the ban on them and they won’t care in the slightest.

  • aturner339

    Liberals have an oddly deferential attitude towards American political institutions. Odd only insomuch as people confused about conservatism and burying their heads in Oakeshott might think that conservatives are institutional preservationist.

    Actually conservatives don’t give two figs for continuity unless it keeps them at the top of the food chain while liberals are in a never-ending battles to prove that they really do love America and look how much!

    The electoral college is an abomination. We should have noticed earlier but we’d better know it now.

    • LeeEsq

      Part of liberalism as opposed to leftism is the belief in rule of law and procedural due process. How you get there is just as important as what there your trying to get to. This translates into support for the institutions of whatever country you belong to.

      • aturner339

        But we take that support well beyond the pursuits of liberal aims. The electoral college is an walking talking violation of the difference principle. It distorts the basic right to have a say in one’s society and does so in a manner which favors already privileged groups.

        • Lost Left Coaster

          It is but this year I think this Hamilton elector stuff was just a Hail Mary and doesn’t necessarily reflect a deep faith in the institution of the Electoral College.

          • aturner339

            I agree. I think most of these folks just wanted the right to be hoisted on its own anti-democratic petard. I’m mostly arguing with a cloud named Nate Cohn.

            • humanoid.panda

              Not even that : most of these people were in the bargaining /denial phase of the grieving process. Which is fine, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

            • tsam

              I think most of these folks just wanted the right to be hoisted on its own anti-democratic petard

              This want is not without merit. These guys don’t have a line they won’t cross to secure power and control. Now they have a golden opportunity to consolidate that power and make it permanent. I wouldn’t bet that they don’t give it their best try.

      • efgoldman

        This translates into support for the institutions of whatever country you belong to.

        This used to be more or less symmetrical. Both sides supported and worked within the institutions, even though their ends and means were different.
        It’s taken significant portions of the electorate (and some don’t get it yet) a long time to grok that one of the players has discarded the previous rules and institutions in favor of Nihilist Calvinball.
        We hope it’s not too late.

    • Simeon

      People in many countries have a tendency to think that their country’s way of doing things is objectively the best. (As someone from a country with unicameral, parliamentary government with proportional representation, I am a big believer in the advantages of unicameralism over bicameralism, parliamentarianism over presidentialism, and proportional representation over non-proportional methods of election.)

      This is why you get otherwise liberal Canadians waxing lyrical about the virtues of hereditary monarchy and an unelected chamber of the legislature. And why so many Americans love to play the, “Actually, these awful features of our political system merely prove the ETERNAL GENIUS of the Founding Fathers” game.

      • LeeEsq

        We should have a game where the non-American posters give us random facts about their country and the American posters have to guess what country they are from.

        • njorl

          Unicameralism with proportional representation is pretty rare. The screen name “Simeon” and English fluency give additional clues. While the name is of Jewish origins, I don’t think Israelis use that form of it, so I’d go with something from the old Soviet sphere of influence. I believe Estonia has the largest Jewish population of the old Baltic Republics (which all have the described government), so I’d guess Estonia.

          • Simeon

            Not even close.

            • njorl

              As far away as possible with the right government type would be New Zealand. Speaking English would also make a lot more sense there.

      • Gareth

        Hereditary constitutional monarchy is good. I realise this is the same effect you’re talking about – I’m from New Zealand. But I actually do believe that. Wouldn’t you prefer Donald Trump to be Prime Minister now, with King George VIII of the House of Washington as an check on his power in a crisis?

  • Jameson Quinn

    I understand that the Clinton electors who voted for Twilight Sparkle were doofuses, and that the “Hamilton electors” movement was doomed to fail from the start.

    But I still strenuously disagree with the tone of this OP. The Hamilton Electors was still a worthwhile attempt to overcome Trump, and it would have been better if more people, not fewer people, had joined in. We should be fighting on all fronts! If we only fight the battles we have a better than 50% chance of winning, as seems our wont, we’re going to be giving up on all the most important issues. That is not a way to win, and even if you’re doomed to lose for the near term, that’s not a way build a movement in the long term.

    So. Next stop, #Jan3HighNoon. Call and write the Dem senators from class I and II.

    ETA: I agree we need to end the EC, and that moving forward faithless electors are a net negative. But I think that in a world of the NPV interstate compact, faithless electors would not ever be able to swing the outcome, any more than they swung it this time.

    • Dilan Esper

      Jameson:

      So you really want to live in a world where the following happens:

      1. People vote for “Joe Smith” or “Sarah Jones” for President.

      2. Unnbeknownst to them, they are really not voting for Smith or Jones, but for electors whose names aren’t disclosed to them.

      3. The electors are not pledged to support Smith or Jones, and can literally vote for anyone they want for President.

      4. When they choose a different President from the one who was announced as the winner on election night, it is justified by telling the public “you never really voted for Smith or Jones, you only voted for electors who could do whatever they want”.

      You really think that will fly?

      No– the electors cannot have any role other than a symbolic one. (And for what it’s worth, I think state laws binding electors are completely constitutional.)

      • Jameson Quinn

        I want a world where Democrats fight every battle that’s in front of them, and stop worrying about the precedent it might set in some hypothetical future.

        When we have 6 sane judges on the Supreme Court, I’ll probably be ready to go back to “normal” politics. But until then, damn the torpedoes.

        • Dilan Esper

          You have to separate “what you want” from “what’s a good idea”. I mean, if a 9-0 Supreme Court majority decided to announce tomorrow that it was summarily reversing the results of the election and installing Hillary Clinton as President, you could say that was really good. But I wouldn’t, even though I voted for Hillary, and it isn’t merely because of some goody two-shoes good government worship of procedure. It’s also because in such a scenario, the seeds would be planted to tear the country apart and undermine democratic institutions and, ultimately, towards political violence and even revolution.

          It’s like what Justice Jackson said in his Korematsu dissent– these things sit around as loaded weapons.

          One way of putting it is that as bad as our institutions get frayed, there’s always the possibility of worse. The fact that Republicans have gotten away with busting some norms without destroying the country doesn’t argue for busting other norms that may well actually be protecting the country.

          The EC as symbolic ratifier is a norm that protects us from freelance electors deciding to overturn accepted election results. If we fuck with that, it’s a powder keg.

          • Jameson Quinn

            The question is, which frays our institutions more: committed Republicans acting as faithless electors to replace a literally insane foreign-agent troll with a normally-horrible Republican, or 4 years of the troll in the White House.

            I know which one I think is worse.

            • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

              OK, let’s say the electors either didn’t give either candidate a majority (throwing the election into the House for a decision) or elected Clinton.

              If Clinton had been elected, I think on Day 1 she would have been impeached, and when the Senate failed to remove her, the House would have refused to transact any business until either she resigned or the Senate removed her.

              Eventually, I think the House and Senate would have been forced to make Trump President. His supporters would have forced the Republicans to do this because Ryan or anyone else wouldn’t have been acceptable to them.

          • djw

            I mean, if a 9-0 Supreme Court majority decided to announce tomorrow that it was summarily reversing the results of the election and installing Hillary Clinton as President, you could say that was really good. But I wouldn’t, even though I voted for Hillary, and it isn’t merely because of some goody two-shoes good government worship of procedure. It’s also because in such a scenario, the seeds would be planted to tear the country apart and undermine democratic institutions and, ultimately, towards political violence and even revolution.

            Yeah, another thing I hated about the movement is how blase and utterly naive they seemed to be about what they were about what they were (ostensibly) trying to do. An EC coup is quite likely to be end of our current political system. It might be worth doing (if we could) because we have good reason to believe it will be a less painful death than the one that’s coming, but it wouldn’t be a “saved from the villain at the last minute” happy ending.

            • q-tip

              An EC coup is quite likely to be end of our current political system. It might be worth doing (if we could) because we have good reason to believe it will be a less painful death than the one that’s coming, but it wouldn’t be a “saved from the villain at the last minute” happy ending.

              Well, no, but generally these kinds of movies don’t end with the ONE CLEVER TRICK working – the trick just opens up room for the hero(es) to kick ass, fair and square! Because they’re the good guys!

              (Silliness aside, since a GOP victory was pretty much assured – the EC wasn’t going to elect Clinton! – I don’t think this particular ploy was likely to lead to a major crisis, and hence wasn’t risky.)

              • rea

                In the real world, Frodo and Sam get burned to death in lava. No eagles are coming to make HRC president after all.

            • Simeon

              Well, it would get Republicans on board with the “abolish the electoral college” movement.

        • Colin Day

          But until then, damn fire the torpedoes.

          FTFY

      • Jonas

        It is the actual world (well, #4 hasn’t happened recently). But you’re right, I’m not sure I want to live in it.

        You can either work to change things so that the popular vote winner becomes president, or you stick with #1 to 3 with the possibility of #4..

      • efgoldman

        Unnbeknownst to them, they are really not voting for Smith or Jones, but for electors whose names aren’t disclosed to them.

        Isn’t that what happened? ~3 million more people voted for the “loser.”
        We are basically telling ~128 million voters “your votes don’t mean shit in our crappy electoral system because ~80k voters in three states made a bad choice.”

    • djw

      ETA: I agree we need to end the EC, and that moving forward faithless electors are a net negative.

      This is why I have nothing but contempt for the movement. It’s chances of success were painfully, obviously, not “less than 50%” but as close to zero as imaginable. And while it will probably end up being a pointless but harmless temporary distraction, if it were to have a long-term effect it would be a negative one–legitimizing the institution itself and electors going rogue for a good cause. If there was any reason to think it had a prayer, we’d have to weigh the negatives against that potential positive, but since it didn’t, we don’t.

      • Jameson Quinn

        Again, fuck precedent. This is a crisis, and we should be acting like it’s one. I’d rather people like you and me who realize that this fight was quixotic and a slight net negative in the long term join out of solidarity, than have everybody too fixated on long-term hypotheticals to fight the battles here and now.

        I know that what I’d rather doesn’t change things, and that’s just how Democrats are. But I’m on team No Holds Barred.

        • Hogan

          Something needs to be done.

          This is something.

          • Jameson Quinn

            Something needs to be done.

            Various people have various ideas about what that something should be.

            If everyone only signs up for the things they like the best, we’re screwed.

            Thus, actually having a chance to win requires being ready to fight some battles you think are unwinnable.

            • Hogan

              I’m not sure “everybody should do everything anyone can think of” is a better ending for that syllogism.

          • random

            Given that the cost and opportunity cost of the effort is basically non-existent, at worst it’s a wash.

            You really can at least try to take him out in the EC without any drawback, it’s actually a lot sillier to admonish people for making the effort than it is to just do it in the first place.

            • Jameson Quinn

              Exactly.

        • djw

          It also encourages and indulges bad mental habits about how politics and institutions work, and I am worried those habits will be costly going forward. Our institutions will not save us, and we need to adjust our thinking to that fact.

          “Do all the things” without actually weighing costs and benefits of the things is a terrible approach to resistance.

          • Jameson Quinn

            Sure, weigh costs and benefits. But that balance should be very much skewed towards the short term right now. The chances that US democracy survives Trump, only to be undone by this “time bomb” — that is, in 2032 or whatever by a faithless Democratic elector — are, well, not so much implausible as utterly not worth worrying about.

            • Jameson Quinn

              I mean: US democracy at the moment is fundamentally broken. The priority right now is to take over from the people who broke it and want to break it more. Once we take over, we can worry about fixing it.

              The ends don’t justify any means, but they do justify proportionate means. I think that Hamilton electors and #Jan3HighNoon are both very much within the bounds of proportion when weighed against 3 branches of united Trumpeter government.

              • djw

                Just to be clear, I don’t mean to suggest it’s a bad idea because it’s somehow disproportionate. I’m saying it’s a bad response because it obviously won’t work, and to think that it might indicates a very poor read on the current political situation–sufficiently bad that I worry they don’t understand the threat they’re preparing to resist.

      • sneezehonestly

        If I had to predict the future, I’d say that there’s a much higher chance of faithless D electors switching sides to elect an R president than the other way around.

      • If the choice is between President Trump or legitimizing the EC, I’m comfortable legitimizing the EC — especially when we’re talking about the EC working against its countermajoritarian design.

        • djw

          That would be a conversation worth having, in an alternative universe where it actually was a choice.

    • mds

      But I think that in a world of the NPV interstate compact, faithless electors would not ever be able to swing the outcome, any more than they swung it this time.

      *Sigh* Okay, it languished largely unread in an earlier comment thread, so I’m gonna go over it again. The National Popular Vote compact manages to be less stupid than appeals to the Electoral College to save us, while still being fundamentally stupid. North Carolina shows the way. If a state with Republican state government somehow joins the NPV compact, and that compact ever leads to that state’s electors switching to a Democratic national popular vote winner, that state will hold a lame duck session reneging on the deal so fast it will make your head swim. So at most the only thing an NPV compact achieves is blue states unilaterally surrendering any possibility of a Democrat scoring an EV win and a PV loss (see 2004).** If we want an NPV compact that really works, we need state governments that act with decency and good faith. Which means we need Democratic voters to turn out more for elections. Which means we’re already in much better shape for presidential elections, reducing the need for the compact in the first place.

      I do actually agree that something should be tried with seating Merrick Garland, though, given that norms have already been trampled into bloody paste there. But it would require Obama’s cooperation, and he’s repeatedly demonstrated he’s really not a trillion-dollar-coin sort of guy.

      **What states have actually enacted the NPV compact? California, DC, Hawai’i, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington. Do you notice anything all of them have in common?

      • Jameson Quinn

        Interstate compacts are constitutionally binding. So you can’t withdraw from the NPVIC less than 6 months before the election.

        Sure, if there’s a Bush v. Gore SCOTUS who’s willing to ignore the constitution, all bets are off. But in that case, ALL bets are off, with or without NPVIC.

        • mds

          Uh, could you elaborate on that? Because while interstate compacts might be constitutional (though the jury is apparently still out on whether Article I Section 10’s requirement for congressional approval applies to NPV), I’m not really clear on how they can be made constitutionally binding without, you know, literally adding them to the Constitution. Traditionally, legislatures can’t pass legislation that they cannot also repeal. I’m not sure how that basic principle would even rise to the level of a SCOTUS case.

          • Jameson Quinn

            This isn’t a case of the legislature of state X in year M binding the hands of state X in year M+n. It’s state X bargaining away some of its freedom to change with less than 6 months’ prior notice, in a deal with state Y. That’s the meaning of the word “compact”: both sides give up some freedom. And the word “compact” is in the constitution.

            IANAL, but this seems pretty clear-cut to me. And if you want to go look at the NPVIC website, they cover this in the FAQ in pretty excruciating detail.

            • mds

              And the word “compact” is in the constitution.

              Welp, that certainly settles it, then. :-P

              As I understand it, such compacts are binding as contracts (see, e.g., Dyer v. Sims), but all it would take is a Supreme Court willing to declare an interstate compact surrendering a plenary power of the states to be unconstitutional. Which, regardless of the actual legal merits, it certainly would if it were a majority-Republican SCOTUS deciding whether to install a Republican President. And it’s not going to be anything other than a majority-Republican SCOTUS for quite a while, now, barring some major good luck for a change.

              Anyway, fine, I’ll look at the FAQ. Grumble, grumble, I hate reading the documentation.

      • Dilan Esper

        that state will hold a lame duck session reneging on the deal so fast it will make your head swim

        And it would be declared unconstitutional under MacPherson v. Blacker. (Plus what Jameson says about interstate compacts, if the NPV were ratified as one.)

        All rules changes in Presidential elections are required to be passed before election day. There can be no changes thereafter. That has been the law for more than a century.

        • sneezehonestly

          You’re counting on a majority-Republican Supreme Court to follow precedent when they have the chance to put a Republican in the White House?

          • mds

            In this matter, a majority-Republican Supreme Court would in fact be amenable to following the precedent of McPherson v. Blacker, which wholly affirmed that the method of selection of electors was entirely up to states. What wasn’t allowed was a state changing the date in which members of the Electoral College to meet, which is assigned by the Constitution to Congress.

            I’m probably missing something, but as near as I can tell, McPherson v. Blacker unambiguously declared that a state legislature’s power to select the manner for appointing electors is plenary, including the power to appoint the electors itself. This case was even invoked in Bush v. Gore, which of course isn’t supposed to be used as precedent, but still.

            • Cassiodorus

              Exactly. And considering how they ignored a lot of precedent in Bush v. Gore, it’s odd to think they’d stop behaving in a hyper-partisan manner.

          • Murc

            You’re counting on a majority-Republican Supreme Court to follow precedent when they have the chance to put a Republican in the White House?

            If this is actually true, then the only rational response is to actually take up arms.

            I mean. Every time we have a thread on this, it always devolved into “well, we should try to do X” and the response to that is always “if X had a chance of actually working the Republicans will lawlessly ignore it, so we can’t do that.”

            And if all that is true, it means we either have to resign ourselves to losing forever or get some guns and start killing Republicans.

            • mds

              Ideas, newsletter, etc.

              More seriously, in my case my response to “We should do this thing that might not survive even a legitimate Constitutional challenge, let alone a Republican-controlled Supreme Court,” is “Maybe we should make the brute political solution of turning out our voters the biggest priority, so that faithless Republican state legislators, a misbehaving Congress, and narrow losses in the Electoral College become less of a problem.” I mean, the NPV compact looks nice, and all, but all else aside a big flaw is that it’s probably not going to pass any even partially-Republican state governments for a while, what with Clinton winning the popular vote so spectacularly. And if we make more state governments fully Democratic, we’ve already solved a lot of our problems.

              • Murc

                And I agree with all of that, but the thing is I keep seeing the response to “Maybe we should make the brute political solution of turning out our voters the biggest priority,” be “you think the Republicans will allow that? They’ll be bringing back poll taxes and tests next.”

                And it’s like… well, fine, okay, but if you believe that why haven’t you bought a shotgun yet, and why are you wasting your time talking with people who are trying to operate within the system when you’ve already decided nothing done within the system will be allowed to work?

                • Can’t speak for anyone else, but the main reason I don’t own any firearms at this point is that there would be a greater than 50% chance of my killing myself at some point if I had one in the house. Depression sucks that way.

                  I do encourage any liberals/leftists who don’t suffer from such issues to arm themselves, however, and, more importantly, practise shooting on a regular basis. Having a firearm in the house actually increases your personal danger if you do not know how to handle it, but if you do know how to use it, it can be beneficial.

                  This piece from Adam Silverman at Balloon Juice is absolutely worth reading for anyone who is thinking about purchasing a firearm.

                • efgoldman

                  “Maybe we should make the brute political solution of turning out our voters the biggest priority,” be “you think the Republicans will allow that?”

                  I don’t know how (I’d be rich if I did) but at least part of that is “maybe we have to find a way to beat some sense into the purity ponies and Steiniacs so that they vote for the fucking Democrats for a change.”

                • mds

                  well, fine, okay, but if you believe that why haven’t you bought a shotgun yet

                  Because … I’m waiting for Christmas morning first? The Mossberg 500 line is very nice, and made in the USA!

            • sneezehonestly

              There are steps in between “resigning ourselves to losing forever” and “taking up arms.” We’re going to have to go back to the 50s and re-fight the entire civil-rights movement. Civil disobedience, massive protests, general strikes, etc.

          • efgoldman

            You’re counting on a majority-Republican Supreme Court to follow precedent

            Hahahaha
            What a card

      • efgoldman

        If we want an NPV compact that really works, we need state governments that act with decency and good faith.

        Which means one way or another, we have to turn over some red legislatures and governors.

    • Murc

      So. Next stop, #Jan3HighNoon. Call and write the Dem senators from class I and II.

      I don’t understand your massive affection for something that’s transparently illegal and will not actually work.

      • Jameson Quinn

        If the Democrats actually did this, it would probably work. It’s “creating facts on the ground”; it works as well as a half dozen things the Republicans have successfully done in the last 20 years.

        I agree that the chances that they will do it are very low.

        ETA: right now, you have two back-to-back comments. In the first, you say “we’re desperate” and the second you say “but not that desperate”. I understand they are not exactly in contradiction, but they are certainly on opposite sides. I agree with the former.

        • Murc

          If the Democrats actually did this, it would probably work.

          No, it wouldn’t. The Republicans would sue, the case would go to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court would go “we just fucking decided this issue 9-0 two years ago, why the hell is it in front of us again?” and decide in their favor, and that’s it, game over.

          • Jameson Quinn

            What case are you referring to? NLRB v Canning? Because that was about recess appointments. The #Jan3HighNoon idea is about taking over the Senate during the brief window when the Democrats (can irrefutably* claim that they) have a 35-30 majority (not counting King because he’s useless).

            *By “irrefutably”, I mean that there’s nobody with the power to refute them, not that there are no reasonable counterarguments.

            • Murc

              … okay, I’ve been deeply misinformed, then, because I’ve seen a lot of “on Jan. 3 Obama can do a recess appointment.”

              How will this work? Is there some sort of weirdness where some Senators leave office at staggered times before their replacements are sworn in or something?

              Because if we have a legitimate Senate majority that is just as legitimate as the pro forma sessions the Senate holds to keep itself in session, then yes, of course we should make use of it. Not making use of it in the face of Donald fuckin’ Trump would be an act of staggering moral and political calculus, an open admission you don’t give a shit about the Republic.

              • Jameson Quinn

                It’s an untested theory. There are arguments on both sides. But in the end the Senate sets its own rules. If they do this and swear in a SCOTUS justice within half an hour, it will be a fait accompli. The counterarguments won’t matter at that point.

                • Murc

                  I’m down for this. That seat is ours and we should take it.

                • Jameson Quinn

                  Link to petition is above.

          • mds

            This isn’t a recess appointment maneuver that Dr. Quinn is talking about, though. It’s using a majority of already-sitting senators to push through Garland’s nomination before swearing in any just-elected senators. Which … yeah, I can’t help thinking that this would be smacked down pretty hard, too, but I can’t yet put my finger on how.

            ETA: Too slow, so, what JQ said.

            • Jameson Quinn

              Um, not “Dr.” yet. That’s my mother.

              • Murc

                Um, not “Dr.” yet. That’s my mother.

                I didn’t make a whole bunch of jokes using this information that I absolutely, 100% could have. I may have injured myself inside resisting the impulse.

                This is your Christmas gift.

                • Jameson Quinn

                  I’m actually surprised by how few times people have made those jokes to me. When the show first started, I was sure that I’d be at “seriously groaning” level within a year or two; as it is, such jokes can actually still amuse me sometimes.

                • Murc

                  I should start a joke on your name from an unexpected direction: constantly and deliberately confusing you with Jamison Fawkes.

                • Jameson Quinn

                  But I’m going to go back to my nym one day. So your plan is foiled. Or at least, if you carry it out, you’re going to cause a lot of head-scratching.

              • mds

                (1) Sorry, I somehow misremembered you were a postdoc already instead of a graduate student. No hurry, though.

                (1a) I’m guessing there’s actually some hurry.

                (2) Holy shit, that’s your mother? As someone who’s first grad school attempt was in particle physics, I’m totally charmed by this. (I presume everyone already noticed I was strange.)

                (3) I looked at “Dr. Quinn” for a while after I typed it, then finally went “Nah.”

                • rea

                  I thought he must be an Inuit.

  • random

    accept it for what is was (essentially, a strategy to avoid facing reality for a few more weeks) and move forward.

    I don’t think this is at all a fair take, most everyone involved agreed that it wasn’t going to succeed, but that the effort would draw attention to and help to further discredit the institution while everyone’s eyes were focused on it.

  • Nick never Nick

    I think it’s important to remember that the movement to get the Electoral College to overturn Trump was strongest when it looked like active collusion with Russia was going to be revealed, and based on the assumption that people would care about that. Now, it’s plain that people don’t care about that — Republicans now approve of Russia, Putin, and anything associated with them, and the hard evidence hasn’t been released yet.

    Jameson Quinn is also right, above. Democrats need to stop worrying about which battle is the right battle, or criticizing each other for fighting the wrong battle — every battle is the right battle, there is no such thing as looking foolish, precedent doesn’t matter, and the fate of the world is at stake. For cripes sake, we’ve spent the entire existence of the Internet making fun of the right wing because it looks foolish, fights stupid battles, doesn’t care about precedent, etc. And who controls all three branches of government today?

    • djw

      every battle is the right battle

      We should be fighting on all fronts! (Jameson upthread)

      There’s really some crucial missing premises in the implied argument you and Jameson seem to be making here: “Trump elected, therefore weighing potential costs against potential benefits of political action no longer necessary.”

      • Nick never Nick

        Yeah, it doesn’t sound so great when put that way, maybe I’ll think about it a bit.

        • Nick never Nick

          After thinking, I think I agree with econoclast, two threads down.

          Even if the Hamilton gambit is stupid, that doesn’t mean that Democrats who don’t care for it have to spend their time attacking it, or mocking it. Republicans offer a rich target universe right now — it’s not like we’re going to somehow organize all Democrats into agreeing or anything.

      • Jameson Quinn

        I’m not saying stop weighing costs against benefits. I’m saying that any costs that don’t happen within the next 4 years don’t matter.

        The “cost” of messing with the EC is that maybe one day a faithless Democratic elector throws the presidency to the Republicans. The expected time until that happens is at the very least 16 or 20 years. The chances that US democracy survives but is still hanging by a thread that far in the future are tiny. Either it survives and grows more robust, and we can fucking fix any issues before then, or we lose for good. Either way this doesn’t matter.

        • Jameson Quinn

          Or, more succinctly: precedents are for losers.

          • Dilan Esper

            There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Jameson.

            Our political and legal systems are built on a latticework of precedents. The fact that you don’t see them or know about them, or have the incorrect perception that the Republicans have destroyed any reliance on any precedents, doesn’t mean they aren’t there or aren’t working.

            Precedents are not for losers. Precedents are what make the whole thing work.

  • ASV

    I would be very interested to hear Satiacum’s thoughts on superdelegates.

  • econoclast

    I thought the Hamilton elector thing would go nowhere, and spent zero time on it, but: This analysis is terrible, and is the exact reason why we keep getting our asses kicked. Democrats always think they can think everything through, work out the consequences, and make a judicious decision. Republicans don’t think — they just do. Some Republican (probably a billionaire) comes up with a strategem, and then they just try it and see what happens. This is how they went from every Republican idea being totally discredited in 2008, to absolute power in 2016.

    Imagine if the roles would have been reversed. The Republicans would have been all-in on the Hamilton elector stategy (they already had plans to do it in 2000). Maybe it would have worked, and maybe it wouldn’t have. They would just shrug their shoulders, and try something else. The Republicans are entrepreneurial, and recognize that trying is an important part of succeeding, while Democrats fancy themselves as experts who already have all the answers.

    • Murc

      Democrats always think they can think everything through, work out the consequences, and make a judicious decision. Republicans don’t think — they just do.

      This is not a weakness on our part. This is a strength.

      Emulating the party that lets its id make every decision will only ruin us.

      • Nick never Nick

        Uh, we are ruined right now — we control no branches of the federal government, a minority of state governments, and all of our accomplishments since the New Deal are under relentless attack.

        Tell me more about our strengths?

        • Murc

          Uh, we are ruined right now — we control no branches of the federal government, a minority of state governments, and all of our accomplishments since the New Deal are under relentless attack.

          This was also the case in 2002. We weren’t ruined then and we’re not ruined now.

          Tell me more about our strengths?

          Certainly. There are far too many to list comprehensively in a blog comment. Which ones in specific would you like to know about?

          • Nick never Nick

            If you can’t see the differences between 2002 and 2016, I doubt I’ll find your interpretations of the Democratic political might convincing. But go ahead, list some — any current strengths will do.

            • Murc

              I doubt I’ll find your interpretations of the Democratic political might convincing.

              … who was talking about political might?

              But go ahead, list some — any current strengths will do.

              Uh. We’re still the party of decency, morality, of good governance? We’re still the party of justice and equality? We still live in the reality-based community and believe in crafting policies based on observed reality as opposed to near-religious adherence to insane first principles?

              Those are all tremendous strengths. They comprise the soul of the party and make us who we are.

              • Lost Left Coaster

                I’d say that 2.8 million more votes for president shows something good. The fact that it didn’t translate into the presidency itself shows that this is going to be a hell of a battle, but not a hopeless one.

        • Jameson Quinn

          I honestly agree with you 100%. Yet my snarky liberal soul can’t resist a comeback, so here goes:

          “Napoleon has beaten all of us, and you’re saying that our strength is being smarter than him? So we’re supposed to just sit around hoping that he invades Russia or something?”

          Meaning: while I absolutely still advocate for total war, I also realize that probably our best hope is not anything we do, but for the other side to do something monumentally stupid. We shouldn’t sit waiting for it, but it likely that we will.

      • econoclast

        Procedural liberalism has failed. We are this close to every accomplishment of liberalism, foreign and domestic, being undone. The only question is whether the Republicans will lose their nerve.

        • Murc

          Procedural liberalism has failed.

          Even if this is true, which it isn’t, that doesn’t mean that we should embrace anti-intellectualism and acting based purely on our animal hindbrains. That’s madness. It will lead to our degeneration into a pack of dangerous tribal loons, precisely as it has done to the Republicans.

          • Jameson Quinn

            Who’s being anti-intellectual? I’m arguing that we should be fighting by default, and that we certainly shouldn’t be too quick to criticize each other for doing it wrong. I’m not arguing that we should turn off our brains.

            • Hogan

              Who’s being anti-intellectual?

              econoclast.

              • Nick never Nick

                Just a technical point that probably only an intellectual would make . . .

                We say ‘anti-intellectual’ as if it’s a bad thing; but it’s not obvious why politics should be an intellectual affair. Weddings and potlucks aren’t intellectual; union meetings aren’t intellectual; giant protest rallies aren’t intellectual; why should politics be intellectual? They are firstly about the organization of society and the allocation of resources, and even more basically than that, they are about power.

                • Murc

                  We say ‘anti-intellectual’ as if it’s a bad thing; but it’s not obvious why politics should be an intellectual affair.

                  Yes. Yes, it is.

                  Weddings and potlucks aren’t intellectual;

                  … not true and also not relevant.

                  union meetings aren’t intellectual

                  Yes! Yes, they bloody are! It requires a great deal of intellect to craft effective union policy!

                  giant protest rallies aren’t intellectual

                  Wrong again.

                  why should politics be intellectual? They are firstly about the organization of society and the allocation of resources,

                  Your second statement answers your first question. Organizing society and allocating resources is an immensely complicated task in which actual human lives are at stake, and in order to perform this task well intellectual heft is required.

                  and even more basically than that, they are about power.

                  Using power wisely and well requires intellect!

                • Hogan

                  It shouldn’t JUST be intellectual, because people aren’t JUST intellectual.

                • Murc

                  It shouldn’t JUST be intellectual, because people aren’t JUST intellectual.

                  I also agree with this.

              • djw

                Technically, he’s making an (intellectual) argument on behalf of anti-intellectualism. (Well, not so much making as gesturing towards.)

                • Dilan Esper

                  Well, I suppose that’s better than an anti-intellectual argument in favor of intellectualism.

            • Murc

              Who’s being anti-intellectual?

              Econoclast, who explicitly laid out that it is a weakness of the Democratic Party that we think before acting.

              • Jameson Quinn

                But that IS a weakness. We should act and think, not put one on indefinite hold until we’re done with the other.

                If that attitude is anti-intellectual, then so’s the original organic intellectual.

                • Murc

                  But that IS a weakness.

                  … no! No, it isn’t! People and organizations that act without thinking usually very quickly end up fucking up extremely hard and extremely constantly!

                  We should act and think, not put one on indefinite hold until we’re done with the other.

                  This is just a statement that we don’t need to think through our actions before taking them. You are, of course, never DONE thinking and analyzing, but you need to do some level of thinking before you begin to act.

                  I am astounded that this is controversial. People who do as they please without thinking about it first are usually regarded as dangerous loose cannons.

                • Jameson Quinn

                  I think that this argument is mostly semantics by this point.

                  What I’m saying is that “think before acting” is good advice in the abstract, but that concretely, the US left tends to have the opposite problem.

                • Murc

                  What I’m saying is that “think before acting” is good advice in the abstract, but that concretely, the US left tends to have the opposite problem.

                  I would disagree here; I don’t think the problem you’re indicating is a result of overthinking things, but rather that we have an inability to establish consensus.

                  I’m actually not sure that problem is solvable, tho. Leftism in the west tends to suffer from constant splitting both because it tends to attract anti-authoritarians who are digusted by rightist authoritarianism, and when it does attract authoritarians said authoritarians can’t have dissenters purged.

                • Hogan

                  Who’s talking about “indefinite hold”?

              • so-in-so

                Possibly he/she was arguing that Democrats respect for political norms is a hindrance when their opponents lack such respect and never suffer as a result. That would hardly be a new position on this blog.

            • djw

              Who’s being anti-intellectual?

              Yeah, Murc was too quick to accept econoclast’s framing. This isn’t passion v reason or id v ego. The people who I see putting their hopes the EC are very much trying to reason and strategize. The problem is they’re doing it badly.

              • Murc

                Yeah, Murc was too quick to accept econoclast’s framing.

                … I do not accept it. That’s the whole crux of this sub-thread. I reject their framing.

          • Nick never Nick

            When one half the a government, or a country, is in thrall to dangerous tribal loon ideology, then that is the government, or the country. The level of discourse is determined by the lowest faction, not the highest.

          • efgoldman

            that doesn’t mean that we should embrace anti-intellectualism and acting based purely on our animal hindbrains.

            Nobody’s saying that. We ARE saying that running around arguing with each other, calving off splinter groups like a bunch of college freshmen in the dorm at 300am, DOESN’T GET PEOPLE ELECTED.
            IDEAS DON’T MEAN FUCK ALL IF THE ASSHOLES ARE IN POWER.
            When I’m in danger of losing my Social Security and mrs efg her Obamacare, the fact that we’re intellectually pure and superior ain’t gonna’ help us.
            WE HAVE TO START ACTING LIKE FUCKING POLITICIANS.

            [sorry for yelling, but….]

            • UserGoogol

              IDEAS ARE EVERYTHING. The difference between good politicians and bad politicians is that they represent bad ideas. The politicians themselves are just bags of meat, it’s how ideas flow through the larger social system that matters. And it is only through intellectual analysis that we can determine which are good ideas and which are bad ideas.

              • econoclast

                Jesus Christ, this is why we are doomed. Intellectual analysis is frequently useless for determining good ideas from bad ideas, and it’s the fact that Democrats think so why there’s no hope for us. The way you tell a good idea from a bad idea is trying it out. That’s why the Republicans win — they try it out. We sit back and imagine we can reason out all the possibilities ahead of time.

                Political strategy is synthetic a posteriori, not analytic a priori.

      • efgoldman

        This is not a weakness on our part. This is a strength.

        No Murc. It’s only a strength if it WINS US SOME FUCKING ELECTIONS!
        Moral victories don’t mean shit if the nasty assholes control all the levers of power.
        Democrats have to stop acting like a goddamned grad school study group and start playing to win. And if that means candidate x doesn’t meet all your purity criteria, shut up and vote anyway. Any other action is a vote for the assholes.

        • Dilan Esper

          I would say that Obama’s two wins are powerful evidence in support of intellectualism.

        • BartletForGallifrey

          It’s only a strength if it WINS US SOME FUCKING ELECTIONS!
          Moral victories don’t mean shit if the nasty assholes control all the levers of power.
          Democrats have to stop acting like a goddamned grad school study group and start playing to win. And if that means candidate x doesn’t meet all your purity criteria, shut up and vote anyway. Any other action is a vote for the assholes.

          Yesyesyesthis.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      Imagine if the roles would have been reversed.

      I see what you’re saying. But remember, one of these two parties is, in fact, actively destroying our democracy. Don’t want to burn the village in order to save it. We still have a lot of tools in our chest. The big one is taking to the streets. People power coupled with solidarity is our best bet to stop Trump.

    • efgoldman

      Democrats always think they can think everything through, work out the consequences, and make a judicious decision. Republicans don’t think — they just do.

      Yeah, that’s the other side of Republiklowns at the end always vote, at every level, as they have to, Democrats unfortunately throw votes away to make a “statement.’

    • econoclast

      I’m going to write a catch-all reply here.

      I’m not making an argument against intellectualism. I’m arguing against a characteristic vice of intellectuals (among others) — an inability to tell the difference between “have a strong opinion about” and “know”. Like I said, I thought that there was little chance that the EC strategy would work, and I largely ignored it. But did I know it wouldn’t work? Did djw know it wouldn’t work? Of course we didn’t know. It’s the fucking future! We don’t know the fucking future! Predicting how a political strategy will play out is not an application of Newtonian mechanics. We imagine that the future is a big decision tree, and we already have the correct labels on each node, and our idea of tactics is to pick the node that we’ve assigned the highest probability to.

      This is where the Republicans have an advantage, with their more entrepreneurial approach. Probably each entrepreneur is deluded about their chances, but it means that collectively entrepreneurs try a bunch of stuff, and some of it works. Entrepreneurs succeed out of energy and luck, not out of judicious calculation. The Republicans try a great range of tactics, many of which are unprecedented in American politics, and some of them work. You don’t see them clucking in disapproval over procedural norms, or prejudging the effectiveness of someone else’s tactics. (You did see some of them clucking in disapproval over Trump, and I bet we’ll never hear from those people again.) In 2000 when it looked like Bush might lose Florida, they acted. If Bush had lost the EC, they would have acted (they have said as much).

      In 2009, the Republicans had the weakest hand of any major political party in 60 years. They had led the country into a useless war, and then destroyed the world economy. They got killed at the ballot box at every level. Then they picked themselves up, and through innovative tactics that they made up on the fly, over the next 8 years they proceeded to completely kick our asses. We don’t know what we think we know.

  • q-tip

    The idea that this attempt to sabotage Trump via EC shenanigans was due to naive trust in the institution itself is … naive.* It was totally cynical and partisan! Why else would the proponents cite Clinton’s popular vote margin? That, and Trump’s various and obvious failings, are just convenient arguments to muster in service of this argument to this particular constituency (EC voters).

    Originalism had nothing to do with it.

    Now, placing much hope in this ploy succeeding – that was naive (though somebody had to do, or at least fake doing, it). But I don’t see a significant downside to exposing the idiocy of the EC while throwing a Hail Mary, to use the metaphor someone proposed above. It’s not like this is likely to make Trump any worse.

    *Apologies if I misread/overgeneralized the OP and some commenters as advocating this POV – there is a lot of nuanced ground to stake out in this debate, and I may not have read as carefully as I should have.

    • mpavilion

      The “Hamilton Elector” proponents actually weren’t citing Hillary’s pop vote margin, because they weren’t aiming to have Hillary elected. They acknowledged that convincing GOP electors (even 38 of them or w/e) to vote for Hillary was impossible. Instead, the goal was for Hillary to “release” her electors to vote for some so-called “moderate” Republican, along with enough GOP electors, to install said stupid Republican whom no voter voted for, as President. It was all a dumb GOP stunt to disrespect the public’s choice, as expressed thru the popular vote – and disrespect the woman herself – even more. (Of course, the Dem electors who actually did “defect” paid her the final, sexist insult of the campaign.)

      • Hogan

        Ah. That explains the votes for Colin Powell.

      • q-tip

        You’re right that I’m conflating the “Hamilton” folks with others trying to influence the EC vote through protest/petition – it’s just that I see those groups as allies that disagree on tactics. All of them would have been happy with a non-Trump outcome. That they failed to coordinate is not surprising. (Not that it would have helped, in all likelihood.)

        Also, fair point about the lingering sexism of the campaign(s) rearing its head yet again. But I have to say, I don’t think that students years from now looking at the EC count in their textbooks will view those Powell/Sanders/Spotted Eagle votes as marks against Clinton!

  • mpavilion

    If skeptical voters begin to perceive that their vote is worth even less than they may have previously thought, because electors are free to write in whatever name they chose, then said voters may be even less likely to vote next time around. In that sense, these idiot Dem elector defectors have done a great service to the GOP (which prizes low voter turnaround however it can be achieved).

    • q-tip

      If skeptical voters begin to perceive that their vote is worth even less than they may have previously thought, because electors are free to write in whatever name they chose, then said voters may be even less likely to vote next time around.

      Well, yes, but they’re also more likely to support a system that would let their vote count, right? Assuming the Democrats get serious about electoral reform as an issue.

      I just don’t get the tut-tutting over a doomed-to-fail tactic that drew attention and outrage to this issue. It cost nothing but lost hope among the naive. Considering attention paid to the EC alone, it’s almost certainly been a net plus.

  • thispaceforsale

    One of the many, many things that worry me about the 2020 election, what actual, for real, unbreakable safeguards are in place to prevent a sitting president from influencing/purchasing/forcing members of the electoral college to vote for him?

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