Jonah Goldberg

"The electoral college method of electing a president of the United States is archaic, undemocratic, complex, ambiguous, indirect, and dangerous."

That's what the American Bar Association famously had to say in 1967 about the Electoral College, and the sentiment is echoed in the complaints we increasingly hear today. The ABA's indictment was wrong on points 3 ("complex"), 4 ("ambiguous"), and 6 ("dangerous"). But it was right that the college is archaic, undemocratic and indirect. And that's why I love the musty old thing.

When Dean Wormer threw Delta House - AKA "Animal House" - off campus, the fraternity president, Robert Hoover, exclaimed, "But sir, Delta Tau Chi has a long tradition of existence both to its members and the community at large."

I feel the same way about the Electoral College. The mere fact that it has been around for a very long time stands in its favor.

In Federalist 49, James Madison referred to "that veneration which time bestows on everything, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability." What Madison meant by this was simple. Anyone can write a new constitution. The Weimar Republic's constitution was, for example, arguably the best written constitution of the 20th century. We need not dwell on its successes. Meanwhile, old constitutions are a rare thing. Our political institutions and culture are deeply invested in the Electoral College, and its two-century-long success is something g we should respect on its own merits.

Which brings me to the Bar Association's second and third complaints. Yes, the Electoral College is undemocratic and indirect - which, I'm sad to say, is a redundant complaint in the modern view. Today we think that anything that buffers, dilutes or even improves "direct" democracy is automatically evil in some way. (Some, like Dick Morris, even want Americans to decide public policy by polls.) According to this logic, of course, we should abolish the U.S. Senate, since 35 million Californians get the same representation as fewer than 1 million Montanans do - not that I'm trying to give anyone any ideas.


Jonah Goldberg

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