Electoral College Dynamics
Jude Wanniski
October 9, 1996

 

Memo To: Gerald R. Seib, Wall Street Journal
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Electoral College Dynamics

In your October 2 political column on what Ross Perot wants out of this election, you mention his demand for an end to the electoral college system and say that ending the system would not change the dynamics of politics. You could not be more wrong, Gerry, and it is important that you know why. Of course, a Third Party can never take root in the United States as long as we have the winner-take-all rules of the Electoral College. The fact that we have this system is the only reason we are the only country in the world with a two-party system. If we went to a popular vote for the presidency, we would soon have several ďmajorĒ parties representing the various regional, practical and parochial interests in the United States. Presidents would rarely get a majority of the vote because we are a country of such diversity. Congress would have to form governments as they do in parliamentary democracies. The end to the Electoral College system would guarantee gridlock at a much higher level of intensity. Louis Farrakhan is now talking about a third party of blacks, which would be inevitable without the Electoral College, impossible with it. Forget the melting pot forever.

Indeed, there are good arguments to be made that the Electoral College is one of the primary reason we have survived more than 200 years as a continuous government where most of the competition has trouble keeping together for more than a generation or two. This is because when you only have two parties, they are forced to eventually hammer out a working consensus. They cannot pass the buck to third and fourth parties. Thus, our system most closely resembles the primary unit of the nation, the family, which consists of only two leaders, father and mother, each with distinct roles. This is why Iíve been calling the Republican party the Daddy Party and the Democratic Party the Mommy Party. The former represents a bias toward the individual, the latter a bias toward the community.This is the perfect tension, which permits a balance of interests between individual and community, a balance that shifts toward the individual in peacetime and toward the community in wartime.

What we are going through now with Perot and the Reform Party is part of that shift toward the individual. In 1992, both parties were still organized around a wartime paradigm. Perot surfaced to force both parties to face the reality that the people want a return to peacetime normalcy. His major work in that regard has been completed, especially his original call for a brand new tax system, which has become a central feature of the political terrain, one that will not go away. He is struggling to maintain a foothold of national utility by discussing other issues, but they are as peripheral as those of the small gadfly third parties that have always been artifacts of the Electoral College system. Perotís vote could go back up if Dole continues to ignore discussion about a tax revolution, to which Perot so far has devoted one infomercial. If Dole gets serious about a commitment to a new tax system, in the debates and in his paid media, Perotís vote will shrink toward a vanishing point.

Remember the Founding Fathers faced a special problem in devising a political mechanism for us, in that we are the only nation state in the world that began as a state, one which brought forth a new nation. Where all other states began as distinct, homogenous cultures, organizing principles did not have to be as attentive to the interests of minorities as we had to be, in order to win the acceptance of 13 different colonial entities. It is the Congress which composes the practical and parochial interests of the nation. It is the President who sets the general direction for the nation. The Congress sets the pace and sequence of movement on the path set. The President proposes, the Congress disposes. When there are more than two major parties, the President has difficulty setting direction. This is the problem Clinton had in 1993, confused in interpreting his mandate. The Ď94 elections were midterm corrections for the President, and he did well in making the correction with the help of Dick Morris.

In any event, you see I am not only reading your column, but also being stimulated to comment on it. If you have disagreement with my comments, Iíd appreciate hearing them as well.