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