Tuesday, September 20, 2011

American Electorate Needs to Get Smarter

A few days ago, I posted a link to this article about the fact it was three years ago to that day, when Lehman Brothers collapsed and set off the Great Recession.  The point being made was that Lehman Brothers and other major investment banks thrived on high risk investments and derivatives with little or no regulatory oversight.  Here we are three years later and all the Republicans want to talk about is the fact that we have to much regulation and that is inhibiting growth, especially with respect to the financial sector.  Lesson.  Not.  Learned.  Steve Benen went on to comment, "Republicans are awfully lucky most Americans don’t follow politics closely. If the public was better informed, I suspect GOP candidates would struggle to win any races at all."

This FB post spurred a couple of comments, the first being about how if we did have a smarter electorate, we wouldn't need political parties and people could run on their own merit.  And, second, we should disband the electoral college.

Certainly some interesting discussion points and they actually tie together.  So, another civics lesson.  One of the reasons why the Electoral College exists in the first place is that the founding fathers knew, quite simply, that most people were really not smart enough to vote directly for the President of the United States.  This is not to say our ancestors were stupid.  No.  Back then, we didn't have 24-hour news cycles and cable TV.  Newspapers were rare and most news was disseminated by a town crier.  The population as a whole was simply not informed well enough to make decisions on such important matters.  Hence, the Electoral College.  The idea simply being that the people should vote for someone they know locally, who they would trust to make the right decision as to which candidate for President they should vote for.  The Electoral College would then meet and cast their votes.  Back then, I think the runner-up became the Vice President, regardless of ideological affiliation.  I may be wrong on that.  Also, at some point, it became a matter of voting for the group of Electors who were committed to a certain candidate and their hand chosen running mate.  This certainly deviated from the intent of the founding fathers.  Also, at some point, it became a winner take all approach for most of the states.  Regardless of the percentage vote, the candidate who "won" would be able to send all of their Electors to the Electoral College.  Only a few states split their electoral votes.  Nebraska being one of them (They went 3 for McCain, and 1 for Obama I believe).  In the news more recently is the fact that Pennsylvania is thinking of abandoning the all for one approach and adopting the split Electoral process used by Nebraska. 

Also, I know of a couple of times where an Elector elected for one candidate did change their vote at the Electoral College.  These vote changes never had an effect on the outcome of an election however.

As for the party system, I think they are inevitable.  Having watched a number of governments with multiple parties try and and govern through coalitions seems somewhat crazy.  But then, the Republican Party has gone crazy with the Tea Party within a party.  I'm just not sure in this day and age if an independent candidate could pull off a national election without a major support base.  If a candidate were to be able to pull that off, I would have major concerns about special interests, like, say, the Koch brothers, being able to fund a candidate with now restrictions on amount they could give....Oh, wait...

As for that, getting smarter thing, I don't have any answers except that we need to do a better job of educating our kids about how government works, and how to think critically about things, and how to ask questions, and how to check facts, etc.  Most of the BS coming from the Republican candidates can't pass a basic sniff test, yet millions of sheep follow along.  The less informed the electorate, the better of Republicans will be, because that is when propaganda, when done correctly, can swing entire nations into doing some very despicable things.

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