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1 November 2004

Electoral college reform

How would the election change if the electoral college weren’t around?  A few alternatives are offered in this article in yesterday’s paper.

For one, I agree that the abolition of the electoral college would
probably result in more attention being paid to urban concerns. 
But why is that so bad?  It’s not that we shouldn’t pay attention
to rural portions of the country, but it’d be nice to see more
proportionality in that attention.  With the electoral college, we
have a number of swing states (Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Mexico, to
name a few) that have sizeable rural populations that the candidates
spend a lot of time courting.  But since rural dwellers make up
about 2 percent of the national population, we need to hear less of
what matters to them.

Political scientists disagree on the wisdom of a popular-vote election;
some argue that it would destabilize the country by encouraging more
third-party candidates. But there is little doubt that it would force
candidates to pay attention to more voters in more places. Every voter
in the red and blue states would suddenly be worth just as much as a
dairy farmer in Wisconsin, and that may have implications for the
country’s policies and political culture.

I would doubt that most of us (political scientists) think that
third-party candidates would “destabilize” the country.  The
two-party lock is an institutionally tight one, and there are more
effective, more powerful structures that will keep this country a
two-party system by and large, even if the electoral college were

More importantly, the electoral college is highly unlikely to go away
anytime soon.  It’s a collective action problem.  It is in
everyone’s communal interest to get rid of the thing, but it is in no
one’s individual interest to abolish it.  No party or group can
gain by itself to push the reform or abolition of the college; it can
only work when all parties and groups make a joint move together. 
Otherwise, the first mover ends up reaping a larger share of the
disadvantages and a smaller share of the advantages than others. 
The problem is something like the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”: unless everbody
does the same thing at the same time, some actors will clearly benefit
at the direct expense of others.  And it’s easier by far to
“defect” in this case than to “cooperate.”

Posted in Politicks on 1 November 2004 at 8:37 am by Nate

The Reformation returns

From the Times yesterday.

“I see it as a spiritual divide between true believers and seculars,”
said Neil E. Kulp, pastor of First Baptist Church, echoing comments
made in dozens of other interviews….

At a prayer meeting here Wednesday night, Mr. Kulp led a dozen parishioners in thinly veiled prayers for President Bush’s
re-election. He prayed that God might do “whatever it takes on Election
Day,” including keeping some voters away while “bringing certain people
to the polls.” One parishioner prayed that members of other churches,
synagogues and houses of worship turn out as well. “Lord,” another
prayed, “for Mr. Kerry, I don’t know whether he knows you or not. I
pray he would know that being in a relationship with you is more
important than being president.”…

Oh, I doubt that.  The tone indicates that he’s pretty sure that
Kerry doesn’t know God.  At least, not in “a personal relationship
with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What’s fascinating to me is that there are so many of these people who
think of their spiritual life as a war.  It’s us against them,
Christians against pagans, “believers versus seculars.”  They are
going beyond by themselves trying to restrain people from going to the
polls — they ask for the Almighty to do the work for them.  Not
content with using the material to keep people from the polls (by
whatever means that might take), they ask for ultimate weapon: God’s
direct intervention in a partisan election.  This is more than
simply scaring black people from voting.  This is *God* scaring
black people from voting.

Let God do your dirty work.

Earlier this month, the evangelical group Focus on the Family released
“a must-read election message” signed by its influential founder, James
C. Dobson, and more than 80 prominent evangelical Protestants arguing
that the Bible teaches lessons about proper government, including not
only opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage but also support for
pre-emptive military action against suspected terrorists and looser
environmental regulations….

Yes, of course.  I remember reading those in the
gospels.  Right in there with “kill the infidels”, “slander your
enemies”, and “hate every sinner you meet –except yourself, of course.”

At the 1,200-member Bethany United Methodist Church here, Jim
Brashear, the senior pastor, said his congregation resolutely opposes
abortion, and prays each week for both the president and the military.
Social-issue-heavy voter guides from the Pennsylvania Family Institute
are stacked in piles throughout the church, and on Sunday Mr. Brashear
plans to tell parishioners that Mr. Bush won Florida by fewer votes
than his church holds.

Still, some conservatives balk at the idea
that there is only one way for believers to vote. Mr. Brashear said a
union member recently confided his worries that a Christian should not
vote for Mr. Kerry.

“I told him I don’t believe that,” Mr. Brashear said. “He was really struggling.”

But I can see how he might think that it would be wrong to vote for
a certain candidate in that environment.  in the church I grew up
in, I was told directly that you could not be a Christian and vote
Democratic, since the Democrats’ positions were anti-God.  The
only such positions that I can recall were school prayer and
abortion.  No mention of poverty, capital punishment, or equal

The reason I note that this is the Reformation redux is that the
Protestant Reformation ripped Europe asunder in the name of religon for
200 years.  Yes, the reformers were likely right in that the Roman
Catholic church needed to remove much of its encrustation, but they
also erred in extremity themselves.  Some swung to an outlying
position on the need for complete doctrinal agreement on all matters,
no matter the size.  They defamed (for centuries to follow) the
Roman church, claiming it to be the “whore of Babylon” noted in
Revelations (which is ironic, since they would then be the bastard
children of that whore).  They engaged in purges and oppositional
politics and military action, and in combination with their former
brethren and sistren in the Roman church, they spent 150 years ravaging
the politics and landscape of all of Europe’s countries.

And the sort of thinking exemplified by the Christians in this
article seems all to reminiscent.  Perhaps not the same in
quantity as the Reformers, but a similar quality seems to be there.

Posted in Rayleejun on 1 November 2004 at 8:32 am by Nate