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Daily Affirmations 4/24

1. Rick Hertzberg continues his excellent obsession with the National Popular Vote plan, citing the commentary of Yale Law professor Akhil Reed Amar. At a panel attended by both, Amar explained that the putative rationale for the electoral college was that voters would only be able to evaluate candidates who were in their geographical proximity, due to limits on the transmission of knowledge (a factor that obviously has no continued purpose.) The real rationale was to appease the slave states' demand for disproportionate representation. Obviously, slaves couldn't vote and just as obviously the slave states didn't want them to vote. But the electoral college was a device that gave the slave states added weight (three-fifths of a vote would, famously, count toward allocation.) Hertzberg notes:

You won’t read about it in the Federalist Papers, but you can in the private diary James Madison kept at the Constitutional Convention. The Amar brothers pinpoint some evidence. On June 1st, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, the man who contributed the phrase “We the People” to the preamble, expressed support for popular election, noting that “Experience, particularly in N. York & Massts, shewed that an election of the first magistrate by the people at large, was both a convenient & successful mode.” On July 19th, Madison summarizes a speech of his own:

There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.

 Good points, Rick Hertzberg, Akhil Amar and James Madison!

2. In the debate about Obama and bipartisanship, I've been struck by the apparent belief by Republicans that they have the unilateral power to make Obama fail by withdrawing their cooperation. The logic is that Obama promised bipartianship, and if we dont deliver it, then he'll have failed and the public will blame him. And it's true that, for Obama, getting GOP support is better than becoming mired in partisan recriminations. But the best outcome of all is for Obama to be able to pass his agenda with little alteration and for Republican instransigence to be so clear that they recieve all the blame.

Republicans seem not to have considered this possibility at all, but Obama obviously has. Politico's story about Obama's first 100 days has this aside about bipartisanship:

The truth is that Obama aides don’t really care if they win over Republicans, as long as the public sees the president as making a genuine attempt at it. In fact, some Obama officials think he’s better off with a standoff against an unpopular Republican Party.

Good point, Obama officials!

3. Charles Krauthammer may be routinely disingenuous, but he isn't dumb. Today he decodes Obama's grand budget strategy, which is to start by reforming health care, education, and energy, then agree to a compromise that trims Social Security's modest deficit, and finally set up the health care system to limit unnecessary care. (Krauthammer uses the term "rationing," which is loaded but not completely unfair, if you account for the fact that it's designed to limit medical interventions that don't help patients rather than deny needed care.) Krauthammer writes:

My own preference is for a highly competitive, privatized health insurance system with a government-subsidized transition to portability, breaking the absurd and ruinous link between health insurance and employment. But if you believe that health care is a public good to be guaranteed by the state, then a single-payer system is the next best alternative. Unfortunately, it is fiscally unsustainable without rationing.

Social Security used to be the third rail of American politics. Not anymore. Health-care rationing is taking its place -- which is why Obama, the consummate politician, knows to offer the candy (universality) today before serving the spinach (rationing) tomorrow.

Taken as a whole, Obama's social democratic agenda is breathtaking. And the rollout has thus far been brilliant.

Good point, Charles Krauthammer!

--Jonathan Chait