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November 20, 2004
Another Kristofian Fantasy

Nicholas Kristof once again takes the germ of a good idea and twists it into senselessness. Kristof starts off his latest column by pointing out the damage that the lack of competition in House races has done to the electorate. As he notes, getting elected to the House once often means lifetime employment:

The U.S. electoral system looks increasingly dysfunctional, and those of us who used to mock the old Soviet or Iraqi "elections" for lacking competition ought to be blushing.

In Arkansas, 75 percent of state legislative races this year were uncontested by either the Republicans or by the Democrats. The same was true of 73 percent of the seats in Florida, 70 percent in South Carolina, 62 percent in New Mexico.

And Congressional races were an embarrassment. Only seven incumbents in the House of Representatives lost their seats this month. Four of those were in Texas, where the Republican Legislature gerrymandered Democrats out of their seats.

He is right; turnover of less than 2% makes the House look less like the people's forum in government and more like a patronage system. Federal employment turns over more than that. He indulges in a bit of hyperbole to make his point -- the Soviets didn't allow anyone but Communists to run, of course -- but nonetheless he uses it effectively to shame ourselves.

Unfortunately, Kristof runs off the rails after that. After suggesting "nonpartisan" independent commissions to conduct reapportionment (is anyone nonpartisan anymore?), Kristof wants to dump the Constitution and elect presidents by direct vote:

Eliminate the Electoral College, so that the president is chosen by popular vote. This was seriously discussed as a constitutional amendment after the 1968 election, when George Wallace's third-party candidacy could have prevented Richard Nixon from receiving a majority of the electoral vote. And in this election, if just 21,000 voters had changed their votes in Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa, the electoral vote would have been tied and the choice of the president would have gone to the House.

In other words, Kristof wants the President selected by New York, Massachussetts, Texas, California, and Florida. Kristof compares the Electoral College unfavorably to the election in Afghanistan, but the truth is that America is a much larger, more far-flung country than Afghanistan; the electorate here differs widely between rural, suburban, and urban settings, as well as regionally. Kristof's vision would lead to the diktat of urban centers over the rest of the United States, a result I'm certain Kristof desires. Gone would be private-property rights and a host of other issues crucial to farmers, ranchers, and others.

All you need to know about that suggestion is contained in the county-based map of the presidential election. Kristof would have the sparse blue districts dictating policy to the vast red areas.

The last suggestion Kristof makes, however, transforms him from Machiavellian to moronic:

Funnel campaign donations through a blind trust. The funkiest idea in politics is to make donations anonymous even to the recipient. Citizens would make contributions through a blind trust, so that candidates wouldn't know to whom they were beholden.

If officials don't know who their major contributors are, they can't invite them to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom or write tax loopholes. A donor might boast about having made a contribution, but special interests will realize they can save money by telling politicians that they have donated when they haven't, and then politicians will doubt these boasts.

This one gave me a fit of the giggles until I realized he was serious. With money disappearing into all sorts of 527 ratholes in this past election, Kristof thinks the solution is to make all donations untraceable. Brilliant! I especially like the part about all the boasting making politicians doubt their constituents. I guess Kristof is unaware of a relatively new invention called the "receipt". It's necessary for all money transactions these days. How difficult is it to show a candidate the paper record of a transaction? How about another new invention, the "cancelled check"?

If you want campaign-finance reform, the best method is to quit being so hypocritical about it and insist on full disclosure. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and requiring instant disclosure on all donations will immediately allow the public to know who finances any campaign. End the silly distinctions between different uses of the same money, and force the cash back into the campaigns to make the candidates politically responsible for its use. Eliminate the 527 tax benefit for outside organizations. If people want to form groups to campaign for their cause, they don't have a right to be tax-exempt while doing so.

Nicholas Kristof and the New York Times have a vested interest in eliminating the Electoral College and hiding campaign contributions, but that doesn't make either one our national interest. If the Democrats fielded better candidates and quit being the party of conspiracy theorists, isolationists, and rabid anarchists, they might win a few elections regardless of the Electoral College.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 20, 2004 10:42 AM

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» Pitchfork the Vote! from Bradford Plumer
I know, I know, anyone who calls the Democrats the party of "conspiracy theorists, isolationists, and rabid anarchists" probably isn't worth taking seriously, but Captain Ed makes a bad argument in favor of the Electoral College, and it needs to be w... [Read More]

Tracked on November 20, 2004 7:21 PM

» A Quick Journey Around the Blogosphere from Decision '08
Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters takes Nicholas Kristof and the NY Times to task for their blatantly transparent attempt to dictate to the red states by replacing the Electoral College. The whole reason for the Electoral College, as Captain Ed rightl... [Read More]

Tracked on November 21, 2004 6:41 PM

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