Politics Mondays: An E-Mail From Poland Regarding Black America and Ending The Electoral College
Tomorrow marks the fifth year anniversary of the launch of BlackElectorate.com. And the entire five year experience has been an enormous privilege, full of 'spiritual rewards', that are often hard to describe and put into words for others, or to even expect some to believe. One of the rewarding and 'hard to believe' factors that is part of the BlackElectorate.com experience has been getting acquainted with the thinking and personalities that are part of the vast body of viewers of the website; and receiving the benefit of their unique perspective on the service that we provide. To say the least, it can be striking and perhaps transformative - witnessing to, and learning from a world of thinking, breathing, feeling people. To know that every day thousands of viewers from over 45 countries are accessing your perspective and services and seriously considering your thoughts and presentations is humbling. Initial agreement or disagreement is irrelevant due to the quality of the dialogue and information exchange.
An sign of this is an e-mail communication received in February from a BlackElectorate.com viewer, living in Poland. A Mr. Krzysztof Nedzynski kindly took the time to comment on a BlackElectorate.com piece, and an exchange, which took place in the year 2000, between myself and Mr Jude Wanniski regarding the Black electorate and the Electoral College. The exchange between myself and Mr. Wanniski (http://www.wanniski.com), the former associate editor of The Wall St. Journal, supply-side economist and presidential adviser, occurred in the immediate aftermath of the controversial Presidential election, highlighted (or lowlighted) by what took place at or near election sites in Florida.
While I remembered the subject matter, of our correspondence I honestly did not remember the content of my arguments, made in the exchange, when I first saw Krzysztof Nedzynski's e-mail regarding what was written. It was quite an experience for me to think over the succinctly expressed view of our BlackElectorate.com viewer in Eastern Europe alongside what was presented nearly 5 years ago; its bearing on us today; and how my views would be presented in say, November of 2005.
I hope that what follows is as stimulating to all of our readers as it has been for me.
First, the e-mail note from Mr. Nedzynski; followed by my original editorial; Jude Wanniski's reaction; my final reply; and a concluding response from Mr. Peter Signorelli, a former senior analyst working with Jude Wanniski at the time.
April 4, 2005
By accident I run into your response to Jude Wanniski's argument that the
Electoral College is a good thing. You may wonder why such an issue may be
interesting for anybody but an American. Well, there is a reason, actually
Primo, there is a growing popular movement in Poland which aims to
introduce one representative per electoral district rule to legislative
branch of government. I am very supportive of that idea and I hope that
such a reform will, as Duverger observed it frequently does, generate a two
party system in Poland. I think the history clearly shows that such a
system is much more effective than unstable coalitions of an always changing
myriad of political parties. That at least was the Polish experience for the
last 15 years. I believe that one representative per electoral district
rule will reinforce popular control of the ruling class as well.
Secundo, I am completing my master thesis on the political philosophy of Jude
Wanniski so anything that has to do with this great thinker interests me
So what about Electoral College (EC)?
I believe that Jude is right about efficiency of two-party systems and at
the same time you are right about the need for reduction of entry costs to the
political market for minorities. In other words, I think that
winner-takes-all rule is a good one as is direct election of the President by people, and
introduction of Same-Day-Voter-Registration (SDVR) rights as well.
I do not see how removal of the Electoral College could destroy the two-party
system - what Jude seems to worry about. And I believe that, as you pointed out,
electing presidents directly by the people is totally consistent with
Jude's political model. If an electorate as a whole is wise then the less its
judgments are mediated by the elites, the better a political system works.
I have a feeling that election in two turns (if there is no clear majority
in the first round, two strongest candidates compete for final victory in
the second) may be a solution if EC is to be removed. That would leave
room for some vote trading for minorities and I believe this could be
beneficial for political system. This would also give a means to the
electorate to show its displeasure at the political menu offered by main
parties. A recent example of such event was the last presidential election
in France, when antiestablishment Jean-Marie Le Pen got to the second
Go Slow But There Is A Case For Black America To End The Electoral College
While the dissatisfaction, confusion, and bitterness surrounding the election is driving many to push for the elimination of the electoral college (as much as 60% are in favor of such a move, according to some polls), Blacks would be wise to consider such a decision in terms of their own best interest and not in the interests of those who wish to elect George W. Bush or Al Gore. Deep thought and an enlightened collective interest on whether to keep or discard the Electoral College may go a long way in avoiding a mistake that will be hard to correct.
There are some good arguments for keeping or eliminating the current system by which we elect the President of the United States. And the more I consider the issue the more I begin to realize that one's opinion on whether to scrap the electoral college depends upon how one feels about Black unity and America's two-party system because under the current system or one that relied upon the popular vote; Black unity and the two-party system would be rewarded differently and would produce different political results.
Under the Electoral College system, because Blacks vote overwhelmingly in a bloc, they have forced politicians, to a degree, to treat them as 40 million people as opposed to 40 million people in 50 states. This has served Blacks well on issues like lynchings, civil rights legislation, police brutality and racial profiling that have a strong likelihood of affecting Blacks equally (as they are crimes based upon the color of a person's skin and Blacks share such skin equally).
Because Blacks have been able to speak, in effect, with one voice on such issues they have been able to distort their numerical weakness and minority status in a manner that gives the Black electorate a disproportionate amount of influence in an election. When the majority group is split along regional and state lines on a variety issues, Blacks are united and able to get the attention of a presidential candidate, or two, in several states throughout the country where heavy Black populations reside, as opposed to just one or two states.
Lani Guinier, who advocated that the majoritarian rule be disaggregated by a variety of means, dealt with this phenomenon at great length and brilliance. What Lani Guinier was afraid of was a majority of Americans - as little as 51% - solidifying their rule and repeatedly gaining the levers of power while they ignored the interests, candidates and will of the minority. She described this as one of the biggest dangers of America's majority-take-all electoral system.
Under the Electoral College, the national majority is disaggregated along state lines with each state having a say in the final determination on who will become the next president of the United States. This can and has served to break up majority rule. If there were no electoral college, the case could be made that the wishes of the numerical minority could be consistently ignored as candidates could in effect, campaign for the votes of majority group in the country and ignore the minority. It would be easier for them to do that with the elimination of the 50 separate state elections that occur on Election Day via the Electoral College system.
With candidates no longer concerned about winning the Black vote in order to carry a particularly critical state, some argue that Blacks would have less of their issues of concern addressed. On the other hand, life without an Electoral College may not be that bad and may actually reward Black unity in ways that the Electoral College stifles. Because the electoral college is biased toward the two-major parties that are institutionalized on all 50 state ballots and because numerical ties in the electoral college are broken in the House of Representatives - where the two parties dominate - certain issues of concern to the Black electorate never come up or are only addressed in times of social unrest when one of the two parties moves to earn electoral votes from calming the social disequilibrium caused by an irate minority.
In the post civil war era, Blacks in the U.S have only had one relationship with the two-party system: one party has taken the Black vote for granted while the other has ignored it and the Black electorate has suffered with only one or two "Black" issues permitted upon the presidential agenda in an election year.
Independent and third-parties that champion issues that are relevant and supported by Blacks are not allowed a seat at the national table because of ballot access laws that discriminate against them and which make it difficult for them to become national in scope. Under a popular vote system such barriers could be circumvented, as regions with populations of varying backgrounds would become increasingly important, as would independent parties with considerable influence in different parts of the country.
Without having to worry about becoming a "national" party - Independent political parties could hold considerable influence and even determine what issues were addressed in various regions.
And as independent parties became stronger on a state and regional level, all political parties, including Democrats and Republicans, would be forced to become responsive to Black concerns in their efforts to win seats in the US Congress and the various governor's mansions.
The key to understanding all of this is that once the popular vote takes precedence over the Electoral College, campaigns will be run differently as candidates will go to areas with the largest populations.
Theoretically, a candidate could win the presidency by winning New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit as opposed to a variety of states under the Electoral College system.
The emphasis in campaigns would move toward heavily populated urban areas with large Black populations as candidates seek to win the most amount of votes with the least amount of time and travel.
And if states are what a candidate still wanted to focus on, under a popular vote system, a candidate could win an enormous amount of votes in Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Michigan while ignoring the rest of the country. That would mean that specific issues of concern and state and regional political parties in any of these areas would receive attention by the presidential candidate(s) as opposed to "national" issues that are poll-tested for the most popularity with the least amount of alienation.
But because Blacks traditionally vote as one "nation" they would benefit disproportionately as their issues would be similar across regional and state lines.
The increased focus on local and state issues championed by local majority groups who are national minorities, would make it harder for the Republicans and Democrats to hold their broad-based coalitions together which seek to please everyone and offend only a few.
A political realignment of epic proportions would result.
Under this scenario, once the duopoly of the two-party system was broken and independent parties became more influential, candidates for president would have to campaign with different messages to different parts of the country or one message that the candidate determines in advance would have regional appeal or appeal across different regions among different groups.
Some say that this would balkanize the country further but I think that it would disaggregate the majority even further while giving minority groups a greater voice in political affairs.
While some focus on the possibility that eliminating the electoral college would give Blacks less power as the national nature of their numerical minority status would become more obvious, I think that such an effect would be more than compensated by an increased disaggregation of the majority along regional and state lines through the increased power of independent parties.
And if a Black-led political party, open to all, were established while the rest of the majority was being divided, it would increase Black political power as never before.
Not to mention the development of a Mexican-led political party that could effectively win election after election in the Southwest United States.
A scenario could develop where the Black-led political party dominated politics in urban areas throughout the country particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S and pockets in the Southeast.; the Mexican-led party would hold sway in the Southwestern US and the white majority's interests would dominant in the Midwest, Northwest and parts of the South Eastern U.S.
If the white majority did not mind sharing power, it could result a government that is more "for the people and by the people" than any that we have had under the Electoral College system.
If the white majority could not tolerate the sight of increased power for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans it could be the beginning of the disintegration of America into ethnic territories and even one day - separate nations.
So if there are legitimate reasons to end the Electoral College, for Blacks, they have nothing to do with Al Gore or George W. Bush and everything to do with increased Black political power. If a Black-led political party, open to all, were established while the rest of the majority was being divided, it would increase Black political power as never before. Not to mention the development of a Mexican-led political party that could effectively win election after election in the Southwest United States. A scenario could develop where the Black-led political party dominated politics in urban areas throughout the country particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S.; the Mexican-led party would hold sway in the Southwestern US and the white majority's interests would dominant in the Midwest, Northwest and South Eastern U.S. If the white majority did not mind sharing power, it could result a government that is more "for the people and by the people" than any that we have had under the Electoral College system. If the white majority could not tolerate the site of increased power for Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans it could be the beginning of the disintegration of America into ethnic territories and even one day - separate nations.
But what would that say about America, if a white majority could not tolerate increased political power among the nations other ethnic groups?
So if there are legitimate reasons to end the Electoral College, for Blacks, they have nothing to do with Al Gore or George W. Bush and everything to do with increased Black political power.
Monday, November 13, 2000
Memo on the Margin
November 20, 2000
Minorities and the Electoral College
Memo To: Cedric Muhammad
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Lani Guinier
Thanks for linking to Lani Guinier’s article in The Nation at your website and re-posting your own comments. I’d actually been wondering what she would have to say about the Electoral College in this interesting situation, as I do consider her the Black American who has been the most thorough in thinking about the importance of the Black vote within the American political complex. Because the Black community only gave 8% of its vote to Governor Bush and he seems on the verge of winning the presidency, even while losing the popular vote, I guess I should not be surprised that Ms. Guinier does not think much of the EC.
Ms. Guinier's argument against the Electoral College is the best I've seen, but it still is not persuasive, even regarding its bias against minorities: She says: "Winner-take-all is the great barrier to representation of political and racial minorities at both the federal and the state level. No blacks or Latinos serve in the U.S. Senate or in any governor's mansion. Third-party candidates did not win a single state legislature race except for a handful in Vermont." What does this have to do with the EC? Senators and Governors are not elected by the EC. Does Ms. Guinier suggest that if the EC gave way to a national popular vote there would be blacks and Latinos elected to the U.S. Senate and state houses?
I believe the EC gives more power to minorities, as it clearly has in this election, and that its elimination would marginalize blacks and Latinos. With polls showing most of the nation clearly with Bush or Gore, the candidates spent the last several weeks focused on the "battleground states" of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida -- where there are higher concentrations of Black voters than there are in the rest of the nation. The Black vote clearly tipped the balance to Vice President Gore in Michigan and Pennsylvania and if it had not massed behind Gore in Florida, we would not still be counting ballots.
I’ve argued for several years that the EC is one of the chief reasons our government has lasted as long as it has and is now the only superpower. By forcing winner-take-all, permanent third parties cannot take root, because it is to the advantage of all interests groups to align with one party or the other in the presidential and the congressional races. I’ve compared it to the basic family unit, where there is two-party leadership in the husband and wife, father and mother. They must compose their differences before making family decisions and it is frequently the case that when the interests of the children are taken into consideration, the majority of the family members will "vote" in favor of the minority. Because of the EC, the United States is the only nation in the world with a two-party system that on the surface may seem to be more turbulent that those nations with many parties, but we finally do come to a conclusion every two and four years. In most of the rest of the world, it is only after the elections are held that coalitions are pieced together to manage the country.
If we had popular voting for President on November 7, we cannot say Gore would have won the election, because both he and the other candidates would have gone about their campaigns in much different ways. Instead of concentrating on the battleground states where the polls showed a dead heat, it’s possible they would have ignored those states and concentrated on areas of the country which showed them trailing badly. When the rules of the game change, the game is played differently. Without the Electoral College, I’m certain our two-party system would quickly come to an end. There would be too much incentive for special interests to come together to found new parties. We might then have several permanent political parties, at least one Black and one Latino party, perhaps even two of each. There would be less, not more pressure on the two dominant parties to court and represent minorities.
I think if was wise of you, Cedric, to suggest caution to your largely Black audience in assuming Blacks would be better off with a popular vote of the President and no EC -- even though you believe that might be the case. You should think through the possible scenarios that might result, including those which would produce less, not more movement in the direction of Black aspirations within the national family. Be careful, or you may get what you wish for. Another old saying, remember, is that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.
E-Letter to Jude Wanniski Re: "Minorities and the Electoral College"
Thank you for the very thoughtful memorandum that you wrote to me entitled "Minorities and the Electoral College". As I have indicated in the past, you make a reasonable case that the Electoral College may actually be in the best interests of the Black Electorate. I do see the logic of your argument. However, I do think that our difference of opinion regarding the Electoral College springs from our different perspectives regarding America's two-party system.
You were the first of those who persuasively argued that America's two-party system represents a yin and yang. You believe that the Democrats represent America's "Mommy Party", concerned with the collective security of all of the members of society while the Republican Party represents the "Daddy Party", concerned with risk-taking and individual opportunity and advancement. In your political model you explain how each party is valuable in its own right and that this yin and yang represents a balance that allows various interests groups to form effective and peaceful coalitions on either side.
While I think you have identified a very useful way of looking at this country's political system I do think that your model breaks down where the Black Electorate is concerned.
There is no yin and yang where Blacks are concerned and has never been in over 135 years of Blacks having the right to vote nationally because there has never been a two-party competition for the Black vote. As Republicans ignore the Black vote today, Democrats ignored it in the 19th century and as Democrats take it for granted today, Republicans did the same in earlier time periods.
So if I were to apply your model to the historic and current relationship between Blacks and the two-party system, I would have to say that Blacks have only had a relationship with the Mommy Party in American politics while the Daddy party has been missing in action. In your model, we have a single-parent home with an absentee father.
Today, the Republicans, in the role of "Daddy Party" are that absentee parent, politically speaking.
And it is because of this reason that I have little interest in the maintenance of America's two-party system.
It has not worked as advertised for Black America.
In your memo to me you wrote,
I've argued for several years that the EC is one of the chief reasons our government has lasted as long as it has and is now the only superpower. By forcing winner-take-all, permanent third parties cannot take root, because it is to the advantage of all interests groups to align with one party or the other in the presidential and the congressional races. I've compared it to the basic family unit, where there is two-party leadership in the husband and wife, father and mother. They must compose their differences before making family decisions and it is frequently the case that when the interests of the children are taken into consideration, the majority of the family members will "vote" in favor of the minority. Because of the EC, the United States is the only nation in the world with a two-party system that on the surface may seem to be more turbulent that those nations with many parties, but we finally do come to a conclusion every two and four years. In most of the rest of the world, it is only after the elections are held that coalitions are pieced together to manage the country.
This portion of your memorandum represents the crux of our two different views of the Electoral College.
The bias of the Electoral College toward the two-party system makes it that much harder for a real Black agenda to be addressed by the American political establishment. This is because all interest groups are only forced to be concerned with "winning" elections. With the system biased toward the Republican and Democratic parties, politicians and interest groups become more concerned with the access to power, the resources of an entrenched party machine, and the patronage that accompanies loyalty to a political party, than they are with truly representing an agenda that is by, of and for the people.
That is the problem in the Black community today.
Black leadership, recognizing that the deck is stacked in favor of the two parties, year-after-year throws its hand in with the Democratic Party because "they have a chance to win" and not because the Democrats are willing to represent a Black agenda.
The Democratic Party doesn't get its support from Blacks because it has an agenda that reflects the diversity of thought, economic interests and religious worldview of Black America.
Quite the contrary, the Democratic Party gets its leading support from Blacks, largely because of the patronage and resources that it dishes out to Blacks every year and because it makes the argument that Republicans will end that patronage and cut off those resources.
Sometimes it takes two options to make a bad choice.
By limiting the political options of America to just two, people are pressured to pick one political party over the other, rather than to think clearly in terms of one's own enlightened self-interest.
I also oppose the two-party system as it has worked in America because it represents some of the worst things that you write against in economics. It represents barriers to entry and production - in political terms. The two-party system and the help it receives from the government represents a barrier to entry and production in the political marketplace; it stifles political creativity and ingenuity and encourages the creation of a bureaucracy that is more interested in maintaining power than in solving problems. In terms of the supply-side economic model that you represent, the two-party system backed by the power of the federal, local and state government has created a "wedge" which limits political expression and which ultimately leads to socialism.
You wrote about this in economic terms on page 92 of your book, The Way The World Works. It has an application to America's two-party system that you may have not considered. You wrote:
It is the government wedge that produces the socialistic impulse in the electorate. As the wedge expands, crushing small, weak firms and leaving only the larger and stronger, political pressures emerge to break up the larger firms into smaller ones again. This further increases the government wedge and hastens the contraction of the industry as a whole. There would be also a redistribution of risk; with twenty small firms instead of three - a large, medium, and small - there is at least a chance the small will survive the new competition. The process can end only in the extinction of the industry or collective ownership of it.
The two-party system represents the crushing of smaller, weaker minority interests that have the deck stacked against them when they attempt to set up shop in the political marketplace. Their only option is to form a coalition and in effect, "work for" one of the two established parties. The wedge, which is government intervention in the private political marketplace of civil society, has hurt political expression and the effective development of public policies that satisfy the American and Black Electorate. You know that government intervention disrupts the mechanics of capitalism. I see it as having the same effect on democracy and I see the Electoral College as having the same effect on electoral politics.
The Electoral College is a "wedge" that doesn't increase political participation but actually limits it- particularly among Blacks and minorities. It is Blacks who are most skeptical of the political process and it is Blacks who believe that the Electoral College (the aspect whereby others "electors" pick the president in December when the people voted for president in November) means that their vote does not count. So, I am among those who desire the elimination of the wedge in American politics which protects the two parties and makes them less responsive and inefficient and incapable of producing enough political options and products to satisfy the demand of the marketplace.
If that is considered socialist, then so be it.
But I believe that in a political model, good socialism is better than bad capitalism and something has to be done to break up this two-party duopoly and the political welfare that it receives that has stifled the Black Electorate. And it is this political welfare that produces the wedge that keeps Black and minority political interests from being completely expressed.
How is it "political welfare"?
Republicans and Democrats every year receive this welfare in the form of ballot access laws in the 50 states that make it extremely difficult for third parties and their candidates to compete and run for national political offices. They receive this welfare in the form of draconian voter registration laws that require voters to be registered to vote 30 days before an election and just when people are only beginning to become interested in who they will vote for in Congressional and presidential elections. Both parties every year fight Same-Day Voter Registration (SDVR) laws legislation that would allow people to register and vote on election day (Had it not been for SDVR, Jesse Ventura never would have won the Governor's office in Minnesota - Not surprisingly, the states that have SDVR have the highest levels of voter turnout in America). Of course SDVR increases voter turnout among the young, poor and independent voters. The two parties receive welfare via the presidential debate commission which mandates that presidential candidates reach a certain percentage in polls taken by corporate media conglomerates before they be allowed to participate in presidential debates. And lastly, the two parties receive welfare from the Electoral College, which potentially forces the presidential candidates to run 50 campaigns in all 50 states. Of course with it being so hard for a presidential candidate and third candidates to get on the ballots in all 50 states - this protects the status quo power of Republicans and Democrats.
And far from protecting the interests of Blacks, the Electoral College actually may hurt Blacks because Blacks do not have significant populations in all 50 states. In fact 80% of Blacks live in urban areas in only a few states. The vast majority of Blacks live in only 12 cities in 7 states.
A candidate can easily win an election under the Electoral College system by ignoring the Black vote. And this has happened several times. George W. Bush may become the most recent person to successfully do just that. Blacks are not guaranteed victory for their candidates even when they vote over 92% in that candidate's favor!
Some like to humor the Black Electorate with references to the community's increased voting power but I think that it is a travesty that 93% of a people can vote for a candidate under the Electoral College system and then that candidate still loses.
The Black Electorate recognizes that the Democratic Party does not represent the complete interests of the Black community but the Black Electorate also realizes that the deck is so heavily stacked against a third-party candidate, that even if that candidate more closely represents their interests, they will shout down efforts to support that independent candidate. Many in the Black community justify such action by saying that a vote for an independent party is a vote for the less responsive of the two parties. This argument is essentially a scare tactic designed to frighten Blacks, by labeling the expression of their political will in the voting booth as an act that takes support away from the political party that provides the most patronage and access to power.
If you notice, it wasn't grassroots Blacks close to the street that attacked Ralph Nader the most viciously. It was "professional Democrats" those who had appointments and government jobs or who were local politicians whose campaigns the party machine supported with manpower and financial resources. Not all Blacks benefit equally from the Democratic Party.
And this is an important consideration.
Most of the Blacks among my own circle of family and friends that supported Al Gore work for the local or federal government. They weren't supporting Al Gore because he was speaking to Blacks in the street, they supported him because, in part, their jobs depended upon it or their livelihood would be improved by Al Gore in the White House or a Congress controlled by Democrats.
Democrats do so well in the inner cities, in large part, because the local, state and federal government in many states has become the leading employer of Blacks in urban America. And it was the American political establishment that decided that it would use government jobs to appease Blacks in the inner cities in the 50s, 60s and 70s who were unemployed by the departure of the manufacturing base from America's inner cities and who were exercising civil disobedience.
The era of Big Government and the boom in government employment of Blacks occurred during the same time period that Blacks were disrupting the social equilibrium of this country.
Think it over, Republicans were indifferent or opposed the civil rights movement while Democrats responded, some times with federal troops. Black patronage from the Democratic Party and employment by the government boomed soon after.
It was the same with the two-parties in the late 1860s and the 1870s when the efforts of southern Democrats to stop Blacks from voting was causing riots and disturbances.
The Democrats opposed the right of Blacks to vote, or were indifferent, while Republicans responded to Black pleas for help, sometimes with federal troops. Black patronage from the Republican Party and employment by the government boomed soon after.
And so, while the two-party system may represent a yin and yang that is positive for White America, what the two-party system represents to Blacks is the execution of a gentleman's agreement between two wings of America's political establishment on how racial issues are to be handled.
Some people in America's political establishment have always recognized that a two-party responsiveness to the Black vote could destabalize the power structure of this country.
Jude, that is part of why your courageous efforts to get the Republican Party and Republican presidential and Congressional candidates to reach out to the Black electorate have been ineffective.
It is not because Republicans can't see what losing the Black vote is doing to them. They know that they are being killed by their poor performance among Blacks. What Republicans are afraid of is that if they appeal to Black voters, they will lose their white base. Just look at that argument. What it really is saying is that some Whites in power and in the street cannot tolerate prolonged periods of time where Black issues are the focus.
If Republicans were to successfully reach out to Black voters, it would cause a political realignment. They would gain Black votes but lose White votes. The question and delicate balance remains over how many Black votes they would gain and how many white votes they would lose.
The Republicans will only reach out to the Black Electorate once forces inside of the Democratic Party begin to move away from the Black Electorate, in a way that offends Blacks- preserving the "ignored and taken for granted" scenario that works so well in keeping Blacks from benefiting from the political and economic options that both parties offer.
Even if that is not the aim of every White Democrat and White Republican, that is the effect of their inability to accept an open two-party competition for Black votes.
This is the true yin and yang that the two-party system represents for Black America. It is a system of power control that originates from a time-period when Blacks were viewed as subhuman. The two-party system and the lack of a national two-party competition for the Black vote ensures that only the bare minimum of security and survival for the Black Electorate will be on the political menu for Blacks and scheduled to be addressed by only one of the two parties.
America's legal and institutional bias towards the two-party system ensures that Blacks will only have the option of continuing to vote for "the lesser of two evils" and that Black political leaders will be on the payroll of the political party that appears to be the most sympathetic and which provides the most patronage, makes the most appointments and gives the most manpower and financial resources.
Whether we like to admit it or not, the two-party system functions by Blacks today, exactly as it did 135 years ago.
The Electoral College is one of the major factors in the maintenance of this unfortunate legacy and that is why I do lean toward eliminating it.
Black America now has to consider the damage that has been caused by its consistent decision to align itself with only one of two political parties and maybe more importantly its decision to join political coalitions whereby the other members of the "team" benefit more from the Black vote than do Blacks.
The two-party system forces Blacks to join a coalition that is so broad and diverse that the only way it gets the attention of the other members is by protesting and burning down neighborhoods. Surely, there has to be a better way to communicate the interests and issues of importance to Black voters.
After all, political parties are to be a bridge by which civil society communicates with the state.
That should be done in an environment of mutual respect and peaceful discourse.
Jude, while I understand your position on the Electoral College and recognize its great insight, I do not believe that it has its best application with the Black Electorate.
In my opinion, Blacks would be much better served by an increase of independent political parties than they have been by the artificial maintenance of a two-party system that conveniently controls the issue of race in American politics and which limits the political options of 250 million Americans.
Let's continue to discuss this and other issues concerning the racial divide before our two web audiences.
Wednesday, November 29, 2000
The Black Vote and the Electoral College
Dec 7 2000
Memo To: Cedric Muhammad
From: Peter Signorelli
Re: A Difference of Opinion
It has been a long time since I have looked at the question of independent black political action, but back in my days of youthful zealotry I did support and work vigorously on behalf of the efforts of Milton Henry and the Freedom Now Party in Detroit during the early 1960s. At that time, I too shared your view of the two-party system as a vice rather than a virtue, and also thought the Electoral College narrowed voting options to an unacceptable choice between the so-called “lesser” of two evils. It is not any burned-out weary cynicism, though, that today drives me to agree with Jude Wanniski in his appreciation and defense of the Electoral College and with his belief that an independent black political party as advocated by you would be a serious step backward for the African-American community as well as the nation as a whole.
On an immediate level, look at Italy and its myriad parties today -- where for fifty-some years it was considered near miraculous if a government lasted more than a year -- for an example of the instability that accompanies a system of multiple parties. No less dramatic is Israel with its narrowly focused plethora of parties that always can throw the country into political crisis or keep it in inertia. Israel’s multi-party arrangement is akin to the 1960's term “relationship,” which simply meant you were cohabitating with someone until something better came along. Not much of a commitment, even less responsibility.
Imagine an independent black political party, competing alongside a Hispanic Party or two, a feminist party, a gay-lesbian party, a reform party, an anti-protectionist party, an organized labor party, a pro-growth capitalist party, an anti-capitalist party, a pro-life party, an abortion rights party, an Earth-in-the-Balance party, a tax-reform party, Christian or other religious parties, a youth party, a retirees party, an Asian-American party, a Native-American party, a states-rights party, an anti-affirmative action party, a white-pride party, etc., etc. It would mean the Balkanization of American politics, Cedric. By nature such an arrangement favors conflict over compromise, as each party acts only in its own self-interest.
Assuming there would be just one black qua political party, it might win, say, 10% of the vote nationally -- at best. But what it might win in the aggregate is far less than the power the African-American community currently has. In this election the African-American vote (setting aside all questions of voter “irregularities” in the urban centers) was the margin in many key states, decisive in securing large chunks of the electoral vote, turning out incumbent GOP senators, nearly taking back both houses of congress for the Democrats, and coming within a hair’s breadth of keeping a Democrat in the White House. You may lament the existence of the Electoral College as the reason why a Republican is going to be president even though he did not win the popular vote and was rejected overwhelmingly by black voters, but without the EC the aggregate vote of the African-American community would have had far less an impact on the outcome within each state where it commands significant numbers. Michigan, with its Republican governor, is a prime example of this, where the heavily-Democrat black vote was the key factor in Gore’s win and the defeat of an incumbent GOP Senator. The community’s concentrated vote would have been dissipated if cast nationally for a black candidate.
The Dewey-Truman race of 1948 is another striking example of the efficacy of the EC, and it contradicts your belief that the Electoral College’s “bias toward the two-party system makes it that much harder for a real black agenda to be addressed by the American political establishment.” Facing a revolt within his own party from the Southern Dixiecrats and a popular GOP presidential candidate, Harry Truman, in order to win the necessary electoral votes, was compelled to wage a broader, more inclusive campaign, building new national coalitions. The element on the margin was the black vote. He had to go after it to win. When he desegregated the Armed Forces, he received two-thirds of the black vote, although taking slightly less than 50% of the popular vote. It was the black vote on the margin in states such as Ohio and Illinois that gave him his electoral lead and made the difference.
Yes, the Electoral College does work to preserve the two-party system, because it is designed to compel the parties to govern by consensus, as well as ensure that the candidate elected also will have a nationally distributed popular vote -- a regional balance of support (although not necessarily an absolute majority) -- sufficient enough to be able to govern. However, we have seen instances when existing parties could not come to consensus on the direction for the country, and the electorate found a means to alter that situation. Lincoln’s Republican Party, after all, came into existence as a new party only one national election prior to his presidential victory. Most “third parties” though, are more accurately third forces, an organized political opposition that finds some acceptance because the consensus of the two parties is the establishment’s consensus, but not necessarily a consensus reflective of the governed. That was the situation with Ross Perot’s Reform Party, as well as other “third parties” in the past.
“Blacks,” you advise, “have only had a relationship with the Mommy Party in American politics while the Daddy Party has been missing in action.” This certainly is accurate today, although it was not until the second-term presidential campaign of Franklin Roosevelt at the depths of the Great Depression that the African-American community fully abandoned its strong, traditional attachment to the Republican Party and went over en masse to the Democrats. I also agree that there has not been a serious contest between the two parties for the African American vote on a national level. The old liberal, labor, black coalition still characterizes the makeup of the Democrat Party, but recall how closely Ronald Reagan came to breaking that up, when scores of blue-collar unionized workers left the Democrats to vote for him. Before President Bush reversed his “no-new-taxes” pledge, the number of African Americans moving toward the GOP was up. However, the GOP still is not trusted that the community, and will not be until it wages a serious campaign to go after the African-American vote. But abolishing the Electoral College in no way would end the political attachment of the black community to the Democrat Party. As you point out, there is a dependency of the community on Democrat largess at local, state and federal levels.
If we were to elect presidents by a majority of the popular vote, the current mess in Florida would be multiplied thousands of times We would be fighting over the totals in one precinct after another where the vote is close or irregularities appear. The EC may seem to contradict the notion of “one man, one vote,” but in our federal system, the Senate also contradicts that notion, as each state -- regardless of population -- has two U.S. Senators. But that arrangement is essential for preventing any tyranny of the majority, or the domination of rural America by urban American, or one regional voting bloc over another.
I think that in the early 1960s there was some utility in the threat of an emerging black nationalism that might seek an independent black political option outside the two parties. The African-American vote certainly was taken for granted, which is why the Democrat Party that the community supported also was the same virulently racist party of Bilbo, Rankin, Talmadge, et alia. There had been no black senators and precious few congressmen since those black Republicans from the days of Reconstruction. New York state, for example, had 41 congressmen in the 1960s, 19 from NYC itself, and Adam Clayton Powell was the sole black among them! There were no blacks among the delegations of the southern states to national political conventions.
I recall Malcolm X speaking at the Group on Advanced Leadership in Detroit, April 12, 1964, telling his audience that “Any time you throw your weight behind a political party that controls two-thirds of the government, and that party can’t keep the promises that it made to you during election time, and you’re dumb enough to walk around continuing to identify yourself with that political party, you’re not only a chump but you’re a traitor to your race.” That message made its way to the liberal and labor union leadership within the Democrat Party, which had to find a way to head off any independent black political action and to put an end to the effective political disenfranchisement of southern blacks. It was Malcolm X, and other black nationalists -- although still few and far between that early in the 1960s -- whose activity on behalf of independent black political action drove the northern Dems into motion.
Less than a year later, February 14, 1965, Malcolm X flew into Detroit after he and his family had just escaped that very morning from a firebombing of his house. He was a guest of attorney Milton Henry of the Freedom Now Party and spoke at Ford Auditorium. His message was quite different as the political struggle then was taking place at the southern voter registration centers and within the Democratic Party: “...our internal aim is to become immediately involved in a mass voter registration drive. But we don’t believe in voter registration without voter education....we will work with all others, even civil rights groups, who are dedicated to increase the number of Black registered voters in the South.” He added that he and his followers would defend “by any means necessary” the right of black citizens to register and vote in the south. After his death, there was a decline in efforts to form an independent black political party, a renewed surge of black Americans into the Democratic Party, and the adoption by the Republican Party of its deadly “southern strategy” in which it wrote off the black electorate.
If nothing else, the 2000 election ought to be an occasion for optimism for you, as it clearly demonstrates to the GOP how close it is to becoming a minority party nationally because of its self-imposed estrangement from the African-American community. Now, I believe, is hardly the time to chuck those institutions that will enable the black community and others to re-orient the GOP into a competition for its votes.
Monday, April 4, 2005