Jonah Goldberg

Except for the pesky fact that the Keyes candidacy is the latest example of a disturbing trend in which both parties are overturning the norms of democracy, with help from the media. Just in the last few years we've seen a dead man (dubiously) elected out of sympathy in Missouri, so that his widow could get a Senate seat as consolation. In New Jersey, Democrats were able to yank Bob Torricelli off the ballot after the deadline, knowing he would lose. In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor because the voters wanted a do-over. In Texas, Republicans violated the longstanding tradition of redistricting only once a decade. And, of course, in 2000 Hillary Clinton won her vanity campaign in New York as a carpetbagger. And, while I think there's a lot of liberal myth-making about the Florida recount, there's no denying the event undermined many Americans' faith in the system.

Now, just as with the Keyes candidacy, each of these irregularities may be justified by no shortage of good arguments. But so what? That just demonstrates the political and cultural pressures driving efforts to rewrite the written and unwritten rules of our system.

The trends at work are complex and numerous. The cult of celebrity allows famous but unqualified candidates to drop into politics in ways that, say, scholars or economists cannot. Loopy campaign finance rules encourage the super-rich to buy their offices, and weakened political parties are only too happy to serve as closing agents for the sale. Worse, consumer culture has infected civic culture. The push to make voting so convenient you can do it with a remote control exemplifies a growing tendency among voters to regard their "choices" as more important than their obligations. Indeed, for some reason, lots of people think it's imperative that criminals vote. Put your ear to the ground and you'll hear the bulldozer coming for the electoral college.

Taken to its logical extreme, these trends would produce a nationalized political system in which voters in California, New York and a few other states would have undue power to select presidents, senators and congressmen.

Keyes understands all of this and admits that, as a matter of principle, carpetbagging is a bad idea because it violates the small-r republican principle that representatives should be products of the communities they represent. (Hillary Clinton, typically, derided such arguments as "dirty attacks" on her character.) In fact, Keyes wants to repeal the 17th Amendment, which empowers voters rather than state legislatures to elect senators.

Keyes also says in his defense that he was asked to run by the party in the state he hopes to represent - unlike Hillary, who foisted herself upon New Yorkers. Fair enough. But doesn't such institutional desperation illustrate how much worse things have gotten in just four years?


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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