The Progressive War on Federalism

by Bill O'Connell on December 6, 2010

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I still find myself in awe of our Founding Fathers who created our form of government.  The competing ideas that they sifted through to come up with our Constitution and the safeguards in it is wondrous.  The designs upon it by the progressives is by equal measure disturbing.



The progressives envision a national government that they can dominate and that, in turn, will dominate us.  There is no activity over which they do not feel they can or should control.  Private property is a panacea, to keep the masses from open revolt, but they really believe that all wealth that is generated belongs to the government except for the portion they permit us to keep.  If you think that statement is unimaginable consider this.  How often do you hear, concerning the current debate over the Bush tax cuts, that we cannot afford them for the rich?  Think about it.  They say our government cannot afford to allow certain citizens of this country to continue to pay the same level of taxes in 2011 that they pay today.  That the government somehow has to pay for a tax cut, that actually isn’t even a cut but rather a continuation of what has existed for the last ten years.  How is getting less than you want a cost? If you awake on Christmas morning and do not find the present you have been hoping for under the tree, do you say, “Man, that’s gonna cost me?” Of course you do not.

A Massive Federal Government

Think about the many federal departments and agencies that exist today for which you will find no authorization in the Constitution: Education; Agriculture; Housing and Urban Development; Energy; Health and Human Services; Transportation.  Did they not have education in the eighteenth century? Are we more agrarian today than we were in 1789?  If not, why do we need a Department of Agriculture today, but the Founders didn’t see a need for it then?

The progressives are fighting for the continual concentration of functions at the federal level where the voices of the people are faint, but the voices of the special interests are robust and clear.  The branch of the federal government that is closest to the people is the House of Representatives.  But ponder how small your voice is in that chamber.  You are one of some 700,000 in your congressional district; your congressman or woman is one of 435 in the House of Representatives.  How do you get your voice heard at the federal level?  And yet Congress will tell you what kind of light bulb to buy or what kind of toilet you must flush.  Is this what our founding fathers envisioned?

The Bloody Revolution

To establish our country they fought a brutal revolution; a revolution where 50% of the mortal wounds were caused by bayonets.  Now that’s up close and personal.  It is not something they entered into lightly and a reading of the Declaration of Independence will tell you that they pledged their lives when they signed that document and their death warrants as well.  If captured by the British they surely would have been tried and executed for treason.

In designing our form of government they were very suspicious of strong central power and authority, having just thrown off one.  They did not trust government.  As Jefferson said, “When governments fear the people, there is liberty.  When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”  Here is a simple test, do you fear the IRS or does the IRS fear you?

The Founders designed the Constitution to have strictly enumerated powers given to the federal government with all other powers retained by the states or the people.  They did not design a democracy, but a republic.  In that republic they built numerous checks and balances to prevent the accumulation of power. It has been the goal of the progressives to remove those checks and balances and put in place the tyranny that fears no people.

The Structure of the Federal Government

Among the balances they put in place was that the people would directly elect the members of the House of Representatives.  That is the body of government closest to the people.  If you recall the wording of the Tenth Amendment it speaks of the federal government, the states and the people.  The Senate was to be appointed by the state legislatures to represent their interests.  The president was to be elected, not by the people, but by the Electoral College.  Lastly, judges were to be appointed for life by the president with the advice and consent of the senate.  Why did they do this?  One reason is that they believed that if a proposed law had the backing of the majority of the people (House of Representatives) and a majority of the states (Senate) then it was probably a good thing, otherwise slow it down.  The fewer the number of laws, the greater our liberty.

The Progressives Attack

The progressives began their designs on the Constitution with the introduction of the income tax through the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913.  By allowing the government to tax incomes the government could now afford to greatly expand. However, to be able to expand it had to have the consent of the states, which was not likely to be granted.  So two months after the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified.  The Seventeenth Amendment called for the direct election of Senators, rather than having them appointed by the state legislatures.  The individual citizens picked up two more votes in the federal government, in most cases an even weaker voice than their Representative, and the states were shut out.

Do you think things such as unfunded mandates could pass in Congress if the states still chose the members of the Senate?  Social Security? Medicare? The Department of Education? The Department of Housing and Urban Development? And on and on?  Think of some of the more radical members of the Senate.  Do you think Al Franken would have been appointed by the Minnesota state legislature?  For many years in New York, the State Assembly was under the control of the Democrats but the State Senate was under the control of the Republicans.  The governorship passed back and forth between representatives of the two parties.   However, New York’s two Senators are Democrats and win reelection easily because of the concentration of Democrats mainly in New York City.  Could Hillary Clinton have moved into New York and immediately become its newest Senator with a Republican governor and Republican controlled State Senate? She was elected Senator from New York before she even moved out of the White House.  So instead of representing their state legislatures, Senate candidates focused on the population centers of their states to appeal directly to the people and to get elected and reelected.  The states were reduced from sovereign entities to subsidiaries of the federal government.

The Supreme Court

When Franklin Roosevelt was president he tried to pass his massive socialist programs but found that the Supreme Court was striking down many of his programs as being unconstitutional.  Roosevelt wanted to pack the court by increasing its membership from nine justices to fifteen.  He argued that the justices were old and over worked.  So he wanted to appoint a new justice for every existing justice that was seventy years or older.  His plan failed.  But when he broke with George Washington’s precedent and that of every president who followed him of serving no more than two terms, he was eventually able to appoint every justice to the Supreme Court.  So he got his way, it just took longer.

The Supreme Court can be considered the collateral damage of the Seventeenth Amendment.  The Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.  However once the Senators became directly elected by the people things changed.  Would a distinguished jurist like Robert Bork be treated as shamefully as he was by the lie filled speech of Ted Kennedy if Kennedy and Joe Biden weren’t doing the work of the pro-abortion lobby?  Would Clarence Thomas be subjected to the electronic lynching he faced if not for some Senators pandering to their special interest groups?  What we now have are potential Supreme Court justices who have learned that if you don’t want to get “Borked” keep your mouth shut during your confirmation hearings.  So we don’t know who we are going to get until a lifetime appointee is on the bench and then it is too late.

The 2000 Presidential Election

Who can forget the 2000 presidential election?  The Democrats still say Al Gore won, not because of Florida (he lost the election there, he lost the re-count, he lost the re-re-count) but because he won the popular vote.  The debates raged, why do we have an Electoral College?  The president should be elected by popular vote only. 

The argument follows the one made previously about the direct election of senators.  The Electoral College forces presidential candidates to campaign everywhere because everywhere counts.  There are at least three electoral votes to be had in every state.  The Founders were very concerned about balance.  They did not want the president just to be elected by the people of New York, Boston and Philadelphia, the large cities of that time.  Today, if the Electoral College was abolished the election would focus on the media  and population centers of New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and the large cities because that’s where it is easiest to get the message out and that is where the majority of the people are.  The progressives would put up pretty much the same candidates as they do today, perhaps more to the left.  This is their home turf and power base.  Instead of traveling around the country they could concentrate their time and money in a few large cities.  The Republicans would probably field candidates of a far more moderate stripe to not get hooted off the stage in New York.  Let me illustrate.

Electoral College vote Bush-Gore 2000

The Democrats claim Gore won in 2000 because he won the popular vote.  He lost in the Electoral College by five votes.  If you look at the breakdown of the states Gore won versus Bush, Gore took the Northeast, the Great Lakes area and the West Coast.  With the exception of New Mexico, Bush took everything else.

Let’s dial it down a level and look at who won at the county level.

Bush-Gore 2000 Winners by County

If you look at it at the county level, you could drive from the east coast to the west coast without entering a single county that Gore won.  You could do the same driving from Canada to Mexico.  But if popular vote was the metric, the man who won 80%-90% of the land mass of the United States would have lost.  Why should you not have a say, if you don’t live in a major population center?  It is not like Bush won in an Electoral College landslide and it is not like Gore absolutely trounced Bush in the popular vote.  The purpose of the Electoral College is to act as another brake on the tyranny of the majority.  

Where Do We Go From Here  

We are presently at a crossroads.  We have an electorate that is more knowledgeable, more aware, and more engaged than at any time in my memory.  We can continue to go down the socialist path toward a massive central government that takes all of our liberties for a measure of sustenance, or we can turn the tide and demand our liberties back.  

Let us begin by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.

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  • mvy

    The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates, after the primaries, do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all method (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states), under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on only a handful of closely divided “battleground” states and their voters. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states (CO, FL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, and WI). 19 of the 22 smallest and medium-small states (with less than 7 electoral college votes) were not among them. Nor were big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.

    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

    Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

  • mvy

    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States and the population of the top 50 cities (going as obscurely far down in name recognition as Arlington, TX) is only 19% of the population of the United States.

    When presidential candidates campaign to win the electoral votes of closely divided battleground states, such as in Ohio and Florida, under the state-by-state winner-take-all methods, the big cities in those battleground states do not receive all the attention, much less control the outcome. Cleveland and Miami certainly did not receive all the attention or control the outcome in Ohio and Florida in 2000 and 2004.

    Keep in mind that the main media at the moment, namely TV, costs much more per impression in big cities than in smaller towns and rural area. So, if you just looked at TV, candidates get more bang for the buck in smaller towns and rural areas.

    For example, in California state-wide elections, candidates for governor or U.S. Senate don’t campaign just in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and those places don’t control the outcome (otherwise California wouldn’t have recently had Republican governors Reagan, Dukemejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger). A vote in rural Alpine county is just an important as a vote in Los Angeles.

    If the National Popular Vote bill were to become law, it would not change the need for candidates to build a winning coalition across demographics. Any candidate who yielded, for example, the 21% of Americans who live in rural areas in favor of a “big city” approach would not likely win the national popular vote. Candidates would still have to appeal to a broad range of demographics, and perhaps even more so, because the election wouldn’t be capable of coming down to just one demographic, such as voters in Ohio.

    • William O’Connell

      You are right, the way that Electoral Votes are allocated are up to the states. If the states want to change it, that is well within the Constitution. Currently Maine and Nebraska do not have a winner-take-all method. They award an electoral vote for the winner in each Congressional district and two votes to the overall state winner. The intent of the electoral college was to make sure the voices of every state can be heard. If the voters in a state have made up their mind early, identified through polling, then there probably isn’t a reason to campaign there. Why not use the Nebraska and Maine method across the country? It the balance that is important and the reason the Founding Fathers designed it that way. They also had the sense to leave it up to the states to decide how the votes are allocated.

      • mvy

        The congressional district method of awarding electoral votes (currently used in Maine and Nebraska) would not help make every vote matter. In NC, for example, there are only 4 of the 13 congressional districts that would be close enough to get any attention from presidential candidates. A smaller fraction of the country’s population lives in competitive congressional districts (about 12%) than in the current battleground states (about 30%) that now get overwhelming attention , while two-thirds of the states are ignored Also, a second-place candidate could still win the White House without winning the national popular vote.

        • William O’Connell

          If you favor the National Popular Vote bill, which I think you do as you mentioned it in previous comment, I think that would be disasterous. On the NPV website they give as an example six states that has been enacted with 74 electoral votes. In the 2000 election, all of those states went for Gore, and under the NPV bill they would also vote for Gore as he won the popular vote. But this is really a Trojan Horse for abolishing the Electoral College, without a Constitutional Amendment. In other words if all fifty states had adopted this method every Presidential election would be unanimous with an Electoral vote of 538-0. So if every person in Texas had voted for Bush, but Gore won the popular vote this plan would have all 32 of Texas’ electoral votes be cast for Gore. Where am I going wrong?No plan is going to make presidential candidates visit all 435 congressional districts plus the District of Columbia. The reality is some districts are uncompetitive. That’s reality. As another example, take the 1992 election. Bill Clinton only got 42% of the vote and in Nevada he finished third behind both Bush and Perot, but under the NPV plan, if I understand it, Clinton would get Nevada’s four electoral votes. To me, NPV would be the worst possible plan and likely unconstitutional.

          • mvy

            State-by-state winner-take-all laws to award electoral college votes were eventually enacted by 48 states AFTER the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.

            The Founding Fathers only said in the U.S. Constitution about presidential elections (only after debating among 60 ballots for choosing a method): “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . .” The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.”

            Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election.

            In 1789, in the nation’s first election, the people had no vote for President in most states, Only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote.

            In 1789 only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

            The winner-take-all method is not entitled to any special deference based on history or the historical meaning of the words in the U.S. Constitution. The current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method (i.e., awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state) is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the debates of the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist Papers. The actions taken by the Founding Fathers make it clear that they never gave their imprimatur to the winner-take-all method.

            The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

            As a result of changes in state laws enacted since 1789, the people have the right to vote for presidential electors in 100% of the states, there are no property requirements for voting in any state, and the state-by-state winner-take-all method is used by 48 of the 50 states. Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district — a reminder that over time states can and do change their method of awarding electoral votes.

          • mvy

            The whole point of the National Popular Vote bill is that the state-by-state outcome and district-by-district outcome would no longer determine the Presidency, but, instead, the candidate who gets the most votes in all 50 states and DC, would become President.

            Every vote, everywhere would be politically relevant, wanted, and counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

            Most voters don’t care whether their presidential candidate wins or loses in their state . . . they care whether he/she wins the White House. Voters want to know, that even if they were on the losing side, their vote actually was counted and mattered to their candidate.

            When every vote is equal, candidates of both parties will seek out voters throughout the country, as statewide candidates seek out voters throughout their entire states, and district candidates seek out voters throughout their entire districts, and county candidates seek out voters throughout their entire counties, and town/city candidates seek out voters throughout their entire towns. When the goal is to get the most votes throughout the entire jurisdiction you’re running in, candidates can’t afford to and in reality do not ignore any potential voter in their jurisdiction. Now they have no incentive to go after every vote everywhere.

            The Electoral College that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws.

            Rather than the votes for loser(s) in states being wasted, and essentially “counted for” the winner, individual voters are empowered, as each and every one of us would have an equal vote for president – something we are sorely lacking under the current system.

          • William O’Connell

            Great comments and thank you for bringing this subject to my attention. I will be dedicating a post to this topic and I look forward to your comments on that.

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