Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't blame me... I'm not from anywhere

I'll assume most of us remember the popular bumpersticker slogan, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts." I think the sentiment first started appearing on Massachusetts Liberal Mobile bumpers sometime in 1973. Richard Nixon's landslide in 1972 had missed only one state, ours —Massachusetts was the one state in the Union not to popularly elect Nixon, but as more and more of Nixon's perversions of power came to light after his election and the country was compelled to come to terms with the downside of its decision, our standing as a sole dissenting voice (along with the District of Columbia) became a matter of pride rather than chagrin.

I'm reminded of this when I read the MWDN editorial "Home Stretch for the NPV" in support of a measure passed by the Massachusetts legislature and now waiting on the Governor's signature —a measure that would out maneuver the Electoral College (and the U.S. Constitution) with the state's membership in an interstate compact that would in effect put in place a National Popular Vote for the presidency.

I'm just reminded that there are things more precious in a democracy than siding with the winner.

In every argument on behalf of the NPV Compact I encounter, that fact seems lost on people. They argue for their vote to "count" or to "matter" it must side with the winner. That vote for McGovern in 1972, those votes in years past for Stevenson, for Goldwater, for Gore or even Nader simply didn't matter or mean anything as they were too few to effect the desired result. They acknowledge no layers of meaning to our electoral process beyond the popular result —the popularity contest.

I submit that they are mistaken.

My sense of it is that an NPV that dispensed with the structure of the Electoral College in its entirety would not improve our politics one bit. Rather it would serve to atomize the American voting public and only further disaffect them from the debate on the level where it matters most, not among the candidates having it out in thirty second advertising spots and media orchestrated contests —contests of resources and package design —but on the scale of community —on the scale of neighbor to neighbor with a stake in how a neighborhood votes, how a district or how a state votes.

The debate that matters is the one we have among ourselves.

As a means to an end, the legislation now before the Governor would effect a novel change in the name of election reform, it would empower the Secretary of State to instruct the electors who represent our Commonwealth in the Electoral College to vote contrary to results of our own popular election if those results don't happen to jive with the national popular vote tally.

Proponents of this measure argue that it insures that a vote will "matter" or "count" no matter where it's cast —no matter where you live. I just think the opposite is true, that a vote that comes from anywhere comes from nowhere —and becomes so anonymous as to mean next to nothing at all.

I don’t disagree with certain of the sentiments or intentions behind the bill —not much anyway. We are all better off when the presidency is held by the popular choice. But where the folks who have put this together smelled smoke and suspected fire, they’ve gone and designed a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline.

Were we to have the kind of close contest where the electoral and popular results were potentially at odds under this “compact” we would have the decisive mass of Electoral College votes balanced on results being challenged not just in a few counties in Florida or Ohio or Chicago. The scrutiny and suspicion and games of counter accusation would be countrywide without any ordered way of resolving them and the whole of the election would revolve about (and be put in doubt) with suspicions of six fingered countings from every corner. This bill tries to effect the profound constitutional change of adopting a NPV without bothering with the civic culture or systemic infrastructure that would be truly necessary for it to work. It assumes those things will just sort themselves out.

Yup, this bill is essentially firefighting with gasoline —having chosen to wear a blindfold.