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Progressives and the Constitution

Jay Cost of National Review Online probes progressives’ attitudes about our nation’s governing document.

Last week, conservatives in the Twitterverse had a good chuckle at the expense of MSNBC host Chris Hayes for something he said about the Electoral College on his show.

“The weirdest thing about the Electoral College,” he offered, “is the fact that if it wasn’t specifically in the Constitution for the presidency, it would be unconstitutional.” …

… Hayes is right in a very narrow sense: Neither the Senate nor the Electoral College would make any sense in a strictly national government where the states no longer had any sovereign function. At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, this is what Madison wanted, more or less: to strip the states of their power in national affairs. But it just could not pass muster, and the Convention embraced the compromise pushed by small-state delegates: a compound republic embracing both national and federal modes.

This is really Civics 101, and I’m not at all sure how many pundits on the left fully understand it. I rarely if ever see prominent progressives seriously engage with The Federalist Papers or Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention. Sometimes I wonder if they even know to look in those places for explanations of our constitutional structure. I get the impression that they think the whole design is a product of simple-minded men who lacked their sophisticated views on government. Yet when you read through the original debates about the Constitution, it becomes clear that the Founders often thought through these issues more carefully than contemporary intellectuals.

Why are they so intent on attacking the Constitution in this case, anyway? There are, after all, other ways to ameliorate the problem of divergence between the popular vote and the Electoral College.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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