Category Archives: Political science

OK, tell me again how direct, popular election of POTUS would make candidates more interested in SC

The queue at my polling place, November 2008.

The queue at my polling place, November 2008.

I’m directing my question at Bud and others who believe we should abandon the electoral college and choose the president directly, by popular vote.

I read this piece yesterday in The Slatest that tells of another movement to bring that about, or as Slate says in its headline with its usual sober impartiality and self-restraint, “U.S. Takes Small Step Toward Having System of Electing Its President That Actually Makes Sense:”

The best case for passing the law might be this map from the National Popular Vote group, which shows how many 2012 presidential campaign events were held in each state between the party conventions and the election:

screen_shot_20140416_at_3.25.59_pmNational Popular Vote

You’ll notice that the majority of states never saw Romney or Obama at all, because their electoral votes were already foregone conclusions. And when a president can get elected by basically ignoring the specific needs and interests of most of the states in the country, that is, like, pretty messed up.

So here’s, like, my question: How would this make candidates want to spend more time in SC?

I mean, I get why Democrats would like it personally, because it means that their votes would actually count in the general election for the first time in a generation.

But would candidates actually be much more interested in coming here during those few weeks between the conventions and Election Day? When it’s all about the national total, wouldn’t they concentrate most on the heaviest concentrations of population — the Northeast, California, Florida?

Sure, every vote they got here would matter, would count toward the total, whereas now Democrats know there’s no point in trying to win here, and Republicans take us for granted. So time here wouldn’t be wasted from the candidates’ point of view, but would it really be the best use of their time? And wouldn’t they prefer to spend their extensive, but finite, media dollars in New York and Chicago than Columbia? (Or would they only buy national media? I’m not sure what would be more cost-effective for them.)

Maybe the answer is obvious, and my head’s just so full of antihistamines today that I’m not seeing it. So help me out.

 

Cumulative voting might be worth trying…

… but it’s not a complete cure to extremism in politics.

Michael Rodgers made a reference to Cindi Scoppe’s column earlier in the week advocating cumulative voting as a cure to the extremism that single-member districts tend to foster.

The problem is this: Lawmakers draw safe districts for themselves — or rather, for members of their own party. They draw them so safe that the general election becomes meaningless. The primary of the dominant party becomes the election. That puts the loudest, most passionate elements in that one party in the driver’s seat. From that point on, representatives who want to get elected are constantly kowtowing to the more extreme elements in their own party, and couldn’t care less about what moderates in their own party, or independents, and certainly not members of the opposition, want them to do.

And so we get entire bodies of elected officials — Congress being the most extreme example of the sickness — who are there not for the good of the country, but as agents of the most extreme elements in their respective parties. Instead of a deliberative process, you get a perpetual mudball fight, and government becomes dysfunctional.

(Cindi traces the problem back to the race-based districting that was the unintended consequence of the Voting Rights Act. That, too, is a problem, in that it trains representatives to think of themselves as representing only constituents of a particular race. Which can indeed lead to a type of extremism, and has done so in South Carolina. But a system in which drawing districts to protect incumbency is allowed by the courts is a broader problem. In any case, when legislators go through the process of choosing their constituents, which is what redistricting has become, they do both of those things — choose by race and by party.)

Cindi has long favored a creative solution to the problem:

The key is to return to multi-member districts — the norm before the Voting Rights Act essentially outlawed them because they shut out minority voters — but with a twist that prevents the dilution of minority voting strength while reclaiming the centrist, community-focused effect of the old multi-member districts.

Let’s take the Richland County Council for an example of how this would work. Under cumulative voting, candidates for all 11 council seats would run countywide. Voters would get 11 votes, like they did in the old multi-member districts. But they could divide the votes any way they wanted — casting one in each race, giving all 11 votes to a single candidate or doling them out in any other combination. Under a modified version called limited-transfer voting, voters would have just one vote, to cast in whichever race was most important to them. In other words, voters could work together across the county to essentially create the “district” they lived in.

It wouldn’t be practical to have statewide races for legislative seats, but we could make Richland County a four-seat Senate district, Lexington County a seven-seat House district. We could even make Richland and Lexington county an eight-seat Senate district.

These modified proportional systems have been promoted for years as a way to stop fixating on race in our elections and our government, but they also would empower all voters and give us a greater sense of ownership in our government, because elected officials wouldn’t dare to write off those they consider the partisan or racial or ideological minority in their district. The fact that county residents could vote for incumbents or challengers for any or all of the seven House seats in Lexington County means the representatives would need to appeal to all of them….

I’ve always thought the solution sounded a bit confusing. But I think it would be worth trying.

That said, cumulative voting would not solve all of our problems with extremism in SC. It would do nothing, directly, to address one of the examples Cindi cites in her column:

A Theatre de l’Absurde production starring a U.S. senator who could easily win a general election, no matter who his opponent, being seriously challenged in his party primary by obscure opponents who can most charitably be called political outliers…

Even without districts of any kind, radicalism has long been a feature of SC politics. The only cure for Lindsey Graham’s problem would be a reform that would have little chance of being enacted: Repeal the 17th Amendment, and have U.S. senators elected by the Legislatures again, as the Framers intended (House members were supposed to be elected by the people; senators were supposed to represent states, not bodies of voters). But of course, that would only work reliably after you do something to make the Legislature more moderate — something like what Cindi suggests.

How the media contribute to political, governmental dysfunction

Meant to mention that I liked the point (in boldface) made in this piece in the WSJ yesterday, headlined “Obama Is No Lame Duck“:

There are more than 1,000 days until the 2016 elections, about as long as the entire Kennedy administration. But you’d never guess it from today’s political discourse. How badly will Bridgegate damage Chris Christie’s race for the Republican presidential nomination? Will Republican opposition research undermine the narrative of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton‘s forthcoming memoirs? These are the “issues” that dominate the conversation.

A lengthy new profile of President Obama in the New Yorker feeds this tendency by adopting a distinctly elegiac tone. As New Yorker editor David Remnick puts it, “Obama has three years left, but it’s not difficult to sense a politician with an acute sense of time, a politician devising ways to widen his legacy without the benefit of any support from Congress. . . . And so there is in him a certain degree of reduced ambition, a sense that even well before the commentariat starts calling him a lame duck he will spend much of his time setting an agenda that can be resolved only after he has retired to the life of a writer and post-President.”

Call me naïve and old-fashioned, but I object to this entire way of thinking. Policy debates may bore the press, but that’s no excuse for defaulting to horse-race coverage. Only journalistic complicity can allow the permanent campaign to drive out concern for governance. For their part, elected officials should understand that they cannot afford to leave the world’s greatest democracy on autopilot for the next three years. When it comes to advancing a national agenda, surely there’s a midpoint between grandiosity and resignation….

Yep, that’s what the media do — and have long done. And the press are almost as guilty as the broadcast people.

News people tend to treat politics like sports, because it’s simple — it fits into the idiotic binary view of the world, where there are only two teams and two choices, such as winners and losers — and because it’s easy, and fun. You don’t have to think very hard about who’s going to win the next election. So you write about that and write about it and build up this pitch of excitement like the buildup to the big game, and then you cover the election, and extensively cover the aftermath of the election.

And then, you start writing about the next election. And everything that happens, from events to scandals to policy debates, are couched in terms of how they will affect candidate’s chances in the next election. (James Fallows wrote an excellent book on this subject back in the early ’90s, called Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. I reviewed it at the time. Nothing has gotten better since he wrote it.books

And so we get this foolishness of treating a president as a lame duck from the moment he wins a second term, because hey, he has no election coming up — which means all too many reporters just can’t come up with a reason to be interested in what he does. If it doesn’t have an impact on his electoral chances, it has no meaning to them. Oh, they’ll try to work up enthusiasm about the unrelated subject of how his party will do in the next election, but their simple little hearts just aren’t really into it.

(I say “unrelated” because it’s unrelated, and decidedly uninteresting, to me. But in their simplistic, dichotomous worldview, one member of a party’s fate has tremendous meaning to other members of that party, because there are only two kinds of people in the world, rather than six billion kinds, and only two ways of thinking.)

Anyway, this is the media’s big contribution to the sickness in our political system, and the dysfunction of our government. By taking this either-or, column A or column B, approach (when in reality there are thousands, millions, an infinity of possibilities in each policy question), they make it difficult for Americans to frame political questions in any way other than hyperpartisan terms.

Video: Sheheen explaining his restructuring bill in 2008

I was looking for a picture of Vincent Sheheen to go with the last post, and ran across this video clip that I had forgotten.

It’s from the meeting on January 29, 2008, when he unveiled his restructuring plan to Cindi Scoppe and me, in the editorial board room at The State.

It’s short — the camera I used then would only shoot video for three minutes at a time — and there are several other clips from after this one that I did not upload.

But I share this one because in it, he shows how well he understood the actual power situation in South Carolina.

When talking about South Carolina’s unique situation as the “Legislative State” (even back in 1949, when some other Southern states had some similar such arrangements, political scientist V. O. Key called South Carolina that in his classic. Southern Politics in State and Nation), we tend to use a lazy shorthand. We say that SC lawmakers don’t want to surrender power to the governor.

That glosses over an important truth, one that we elaborated on in the Power Failure series back in 1991, but which I don’t stop often enough to explain any more: It’s that the Legislature, too, lacks the power to exert any effective control over state government. This leads to a government in which no one is in charge, and no one can be held accountable.

There was a time, long ago — pre-WWII, roughly, and maybe for awhile between then and the 1960s, which saw expansions of government programs on a number of levels — when lawmakers actually could run executive agencies, at least in a loose, informal way. On the state level, agencies answered to boards and commissions whose members were appointed by lawmakers. On the local level, they ran things more directly, calling all the shots. This was before county councils were empowered (more or less) in the mid-70s.

But as state agencies grew, they became more autonomous. Oh, they kept their heads down and didn’t anger powerful lawmakers, especially at budget time, but there was generally no effective way for legislators to affect their day-to-day operations. And while lawmakers appointed the members of boards and commissions, they lacked the power to remove them if they did something to attract legislative ire.

And on the local level, the advent of single-member districts broke up county delegations as coherent local powers. Yes, we have vestiges of that now — the Richland County elections mess is an illustration of this old system, as is the Richland recreation district and other special purpose districts, all legislative creations — but largely, they’re out of the business of running counties.

Increasingly in recent decades, the main power wielded by the Legislature has been a negative power — the ability to block things from happening, rather than initiate sweeping changes. And that’s what the General Assembly is best at — blocking change, for good or ill. That’s why the passage of this Department of Administration bill is such a milestone.

Anyway, while he doesn’t say all that stuff I just said, in this clip, Sheheen shows that he understands that no one is actually in charge, and that someone needs to be, so that someone can be held accountable. Or at least, that’s the way I hear it.

You may wonder why I think it remarkable that a state senator would exhibit such understanding of the system. Well… that’s just rarer than you may think.

Nice to see Tom Davis backing away from nullification

I’ve always seen Tom Davis as a (mostly) reasonable man, and have been distressed to see his drift into extremism over the last couple of years.

So I’m pleased to see him take a deliberate step away from the antebellum notion of Nullification:

Davis,TomCOLUMBIA, SC — A Republican lawmaker says he plans to take the “nullification” out of the Obamacare nullification bill before the state Senate….

“The conversation really has gotten off the rails a little bit,” Davis said Wednesday, after holding three public hearings across the state that drew hundreds. “Everybody talks about nullification. This isn’t nullification. We can’t nullify.”…

Amen to that, senator. No, we can’t. That’s been pretty clear ever since 1865, if not sooner.

But it’s a bit disingenuous for Tom to act like other people have somehow gone “off the rails” with all this nullification talk:

  • I remember his presence at this Ron Paul press conference at which nullification was spoken of approvingly.
  • Then there was his speech at a… Nullification Rally… at which he praised John C. Calhoun as “a great man who has been maligned far too long.” And by the way, Tom himself called it a “nullification rally” when he thanked someone for putting up video of his speech.

So… Tom no longer wants to nullify Obamacare. However, he does want to sabotage it, to do all he can to make it fail. Which is not the most positive attitude I’ve ever heard of with regard to respecting laws legitimately passed by the Congress.

But this is progress…

The Shandonistas strike back: Strong-mayor was stopped by insiders. Again.

During a lively discussion on a previous post, Phillip Bush wrote:

You should be happy, Brad. The State’s article today alluded to the “unusual bedfellows” who were joined in opposition to this measure, it crossed all sorts of party/ideology lines. (For that matter, so did the Yes side)….

In reply to that, and in response to a comment from Kathryn Fenner about us “outsiders” who wanted the change, I wrote the following (and then decided it should be a separate post rather than a comment)…

Oh, DANG! In copying the above comment from Phillip, I lost it! OK, I’ll try to reconstruct it…

This reform was defeated by insiders, no question about it. Insiders who managed to persuade a majority of the few who turned out to vote with them. So congratulations to them for winning. Again. The strategy of having a completely unnecessary extra election in order to separate the issue from the re-election of a popular mayor worked. (The idea that an extra month was needed for discernment, after all these years of discussion, was risible.)

But as for the idea that I should be happy…

It’s facile to say, look, there are Democrats and Republicans, black and white people, working together on this. Those are granfalloons, within this context. As I’m sure Bokonon would tell you if he lived here, as meaningless as granfalloons can be the rest of the time, they are particularly irrelevant to a city election in Columbia. The group I saw aligned against this was, to my eye, homogeneous — a true karass, to keep the Vonnegut theme going.

This was, on one level, a case of the Shandonistas striking back. Look at the chief apostles of “No,” who celebrated their victory in the ultimate Columbia insider salon: Kit Smith’s house. Kit herself, Howard Duvall, Rusty DePass, Tameika Devine, Moe Baddourah (a relative newcomer to insiderism, but a very quick study — he changed his mind on strong mayor between the day he was elected and his very first council meeting).

Am I saying these are bad people? Absolutely not. I like and respect all of them. The kind of insider I’m talking about is generally someone who has given much to the community. These are good, dedicated people. But as I say, they have gained, I’ll even say earned, a certain access — through election, or through years of volunteer advocacy — to the current power structure.

Now, the power structure that exists is a feeble thing. It moves slowly and ponderously, and is far better at stopping things from happening than at making them happen. But it is power, and it’s the kind these folks have access to. Power that, let me hasten again to add, all of them want to use for good. But whether you want to do good or ill, in politics, you “dance with the one that brung you.” And this system is the one that “brung” these folks to the point of being able to achieve whatever they have accomplished thus far. They are invested in it.

Meanwhile, strong-mayor is a more open, less controllable, broader, more dynamic system. Empowering a chief executive who has a mandate from a majority of voters increases volatility, makes it more likely that things will happen. Those of us who have enough faith in democracy to believe enough good things will happen to outweigh the bad — and believe in the power of greater transparency (which is a feature of strong-mayor) to correct the bad — tend to favor it. Those who fear the bad that can happen tend to oppose it — especially when they themselves have access to the keys that can occasionally move the present, slower, less dynamic, more conservative system.

Strong-mayor — and Steve Benjamin himself — represent a broader view of what Columbia is and can be, a view that includes all of us who live in the de facto city, all of us whose destinies are tied up with it. Those with a narrower view — who can speak in terms of “them” telling “us” how to run “our” town — will reject it. To them, it’s just far too risky. Interests that don’t have their acutely-tuned sense of the community’s good might have an impact on what happens, and that’s just too uncomfortable.

Phillip says I’m wrong to equate this with the Legislature’s ongoing refusal to empower the executive (and thereby the people who elected the executive). Perhaps he’s right, but I don’t think so. I’ve been here before. When we did the Power Failure series back in the early 90s (which advocated for local reforms as well as statewide ones), I noticed how many really good, smart, dedicated people who cared deeply about South Carolina — officeholders, political operatives, lobbyists for idealistic nonprofits, and so on — reacted negatively to what we were writing. I thought a lot of most of these people. They were people I’d like to have arguing for these reforms rather than against. They were important influencers. So we hosted a series of luncheons — about 30 people at a time — consisting of these vocal opponents, to address their questions and explain why we were doing this. But with most of them, I had trouble selling our idea of cluing the Great Unwashed out there into why South Carolina didn’t work better than it did. And that’s because all of these people had learned to move this system as well as it could be moved, although in limited ways. They knew how things worked, to the extent that they worked, and many of them believed that was enough.

Bottom line, many smart people will see diversity in the successful opposition. But I see what the chief opponents had in common more clearly than their differences.

How to cure gerrymandering: Draw all districts to look like South Carolina

800px-South_Carolina_in_United_States

Easily the most beautifully shaped of all the states.

End of last week, Bryan Caskey shared with me this link to an MSNBC host (apparently, his name is Touré — no last name) seeming to suggest that some red-state U.S. senators were voting more conservatively because they live and govern “in a gerrymandered world.”

Which seemed to suggest that this guy thought that, you know, states were gerrymandered.

This caused Bryan to riff, “Yup. I’m OK with redrawing some state lines, though. Who knows, it might be fun.”

To which I responded, “Not SC, though. It has the most aesthetically pleasing shape of all the states.”

Which it does. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve grooved on SC’s beautiful, kinda-but-not-exactly-regular triangle shape. (There were several irregularly-shaped paving tiles outside my grandparents’ back door, and one of them looked just like SC, which to me had some sort of cosmic significance.) If it were a perfect, equilateral triangle, it would be less beautiful. It’s more of a naturalistic triangle. I like the cockeyed top, which makes it seem to be wearing a hat rakishly tilted to the side.

And then it occurred to me — if all districts (as opposed to states) had to be drawn to look more or less like South Carolina, gerrymandering would be dead. A district that looked like SC in shape terms would also look like real communities in a demographic sense, rather than having these super-white and super-black districts side-by-side.

And there would be relatively few “safe” Democratic and Republican districts. Which means elected representatives on the federal, state and local levels would have to reach out to voters across the political spectrum. Gridlock would end, and sensible, pragmatic legislation would be a commonplace.

And we’d all live in a better country.

I like this idea more and more…

Cindi’s thoughtful piece on SC chief justice contest

Someone was praising Cindi Scoppe’s column today on the contested election for chief justice of the SC Supreme Court, and I agreed: “Yes — Cindi’s probably the only journalist in SC who knows enough even to have the idea of writing it.”

You may be disappointed after that buildup to find that there’s no hard-hitting, simple editorial point in the piece, and she certainly doesn’t take sides between incumbent Jean Toal and challenger Costa Pleicones. The overall point is to lament the system we have for picking justices, and the lack of transparency in it after that one, brief, qualification hearing — which everyone knew that both of these exceptional jurists would pass with flying colors.

What she does is provide perspective on the court and its place in our, um, unusual system in South Carolina.The piece should be required reading for legislators, who will be the voters in this particular election.

The piece does a number of things. First, she explains that this is yet another chapter in Jean Toal’s precedent-breaking career, and I don’t (and she doesn’t) mean that in the facile sense of trailblazer for women, yadda-yadda:

1118photo1

Jean Toal

But things never have been normal where Jean Toal is involved, and by that I’m not referring to the fact that she was South Carolina’s first female justice and chief justice.

In 1988, she became the first non-judge elected to the high court in more than three decades. That happened after ethics questions derailed the candidacy of Circuit Judge Rodney Peeples, who entered the race with more than enough votes sewed up to win.

Eight years later, Mrs. Toal became the first sitting justice since 1893 to be opposed for re-election, when Circuit Judge Tom Ervin challenged her amidst anti-tax groups’ absurd efforts to paint her as a liberal; her support was so overwhelming that he dropped out of the race less than two hours after legislators were allowed to start making commitments.

Now she’s the first chief justice since at least the 1800s to be opposed for re-election…

Clearly, the Legislature will break precedent if it elects Mr. Pleicones. But even if it re-elects Mrs. Toal, the status quo already has been interrupted, making it much easier for lawmakers to break with tradition and skip over Mr. Pleicones and, who knows, perhaps skip over Mr. Beatty, possibly even select a chief justice who isn’t on the court….

In future SC history books, there will likely be quite a few footnotes devoted to Jean Toal.

As I said, while this piece may be interesting to other readers, it should particularly be read by lawmakers. Cindi takes it on herself a lot to put things into perspective for legislators. Someone needs to.

One key thing she explains — and these days we have more and more lawmakers who need this explained — is that there are important issues at stake here, but they have nothing to do with notions of left and right, Democrat and Republican, the way those things are force-fed to us today out of the Beltway:

1127photo1

Costa Pleicones

Some Republicans in the Legislature — and lots outside, particularly of what we now call the tea-party variety — have been grumbling for years about having a court full of former Democratic legislators.

I suppose it’s understandable that people would be confused about the role that partisan politics plays on the S.C. Supreme Court — none — given the diet of hyperpartisan Washington politics on which a frightening number of South Carolinians feed, forming not only their world views but their state views.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court is in fact composed of two well-defined ideologies, you’d be hard-pressed reading state Supreme Court decisions to guess the partisan or ideological inclinations of the justices. So I was a little disappointed when Justice Toal, asked about complaints that she’s too “political,” dismissed them by noting how well she has gotten along with the Legislature and governors, even as their politics have changed.

The political temptation Supreme Court justices face has nothing to do with party or ideology. It is the temptation to kowtow to the Legislature, whatever the Legislature’s partisan leanings or political philosophy. It’s to look the other way when the Legislature tramples on our state constitution. It’s to pretend that the laws say what the Legislature meant them to say rather than what they actually say.

That temptation must be greatest for the chief justice, whose dual role as chief executive officer of the entire judicial branch of government brings with it the heavy burden of convincing the Legislature to fund the courts adequately, and keeping lawmakers from exacting retribution, financial or otherwise, when court decisions go a way they don’t like…

It is for this reason that Cindi laments that “Justice Toal, asked about complaints that she’s too ‘political,’ dismissed them by noting how well she has gotten along with the Legislature and governors, even as their politics have changed.”

And of course, in SC, things get very personal, as Cindi suggests in suggesting an apparent reason why Associate Justice Pleicones is making this extraordinary challenge to his old friend:

… one of the themes of criticism that Justice Toal received in anonymous surveys from lawyers stemmed from what Justice Pleicones has called her broken promise to retire when her term ends next year, which would give him an extra year and a half as chief justice….

In the end, the main concern expressed is that from here on, we won’t know what these candidates are saying to individual electors: “For the mind reels at where even the most honest and well-intentioned justices might be tempted to go when they meet behind closed doors with legislators who have votes to provide them — and requests to make of them.”

Cindi doesn’t mean to besmirch either candidate. She notes in particular how Jean Toal’s tenure has been characterized by a “steady move toward judicial independence, toward calling out the Legislature when it needs to be called out.”

But moments such as this create enormous potential for undermining that kind of essential independence. And that is indeed disturbing.

Cindi Scoppe on the now-rare ‘loyal opposition’

Cindi Scoppe had a good column in the paper today — one I might have written myself (ironic, self-mocking smiley face).

She was praising Leona Plaugh for attitudes that used to be fairly common among elected officials, but now are alarmingly rare — and practically nonexistent within the District of Columbia.

An excerpt:

Ms. Plaugh, you might recall, helped lead the opposition to Mayor Steve Benjamin’s rush job on the contract the city signed this summer promising tens of millions of dollars in incentives to Bob Hughes in return for his developing the old State Hospital property on Bull Street in accordance with city desires. She criticized the way the deal was rammed through so quickly that people didn’t know what was in it and she criticized what she did know about its contents. And she was happy to repeat those criticisms when she met with us.

But when my colleague Warren Bolton asked her what happens next, she said, essentially, we make it work.

“Once you vote for something and it’s done, it’s done,” she said. “We all need to get on the bandwagon now and hope it’s the best it can be.”

A few minutes later, when she was talking about her surprise at ending up on the losing end of a 2010 vote to turn control of the Columbia Police Department over to the Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, and we asked why she hadn’t brought that idea back up as the department’s woes have mounted, she recalled all the debate and public hearings that had preceded that vote.

“I don’t think you continually go back and harp on things that this council has already voted on,” she explained, “unless someone on the other side is ready to change their position on it.”

Well.

Then we got to the city’s decision this spring to purchase the Palmetto Compress warehouse over her objections, and the news in that morning’s paper that a local development group had tentatively agreed to buy the property, at a small profit to the city. And there wasn’t even a hint of sour grapes when she told us, “I hope I lose my bet with the mayor and that that will be a roaring success.”

What put an exclamation point on all of this was the timing. Our conversation with Ms. Plaugh took place at the very moment that what passes for grownups in Washington were racing the clock to reach a can-kicking agreement to keep the federal government out of an elective default. An agreement that we weren’t at all certain they’d be able to sell to their colleagues.

Which is just mind-boggling….

As Cindi went on to say, Leona was expressing the attitude of a member of the loyal opposition, “a concept that no longer exists in Washington, outside the occasional Senate gang, and is falling out of favor at the State House, replaced with open disdain for the idea of even talking with people in the other party, much less accepting defeat and moving on.”

And our republic is much, much worse off for that quality being so rare.

The Tea Party as Jacksonians

Yesterday, Kathryn said something about the Tea Party and the deliciously comic line about keeping “your government hands off my Medicare,” and it reminded me of something I’d read earlier in the day:

Jacksonians care as passionately about the Second Amendment as Jeffersonians do about the First. They are suspicious of federal power, skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad; they oppose federal taxes but favor benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that they regard as earned. Jacksonians are anti-elitist; they believe that the political and moral instincts of ordinary people are usually wiser than those of the experts and that, as Mr. Mead wrote, “while problems are complicated, solutions are simple.”479px-Andrew_Jackson_Daguerrotype-crop

That is why the Jacksonian hero defies the experts and entrenched elites and “dares to say what the people feel” without caring in the least what the liberal media will say about him. (Think Ted Cruz. )

The tea party is Jacksonian America, aroused, angry and above all fearful…

That piece goes a long way toward explaining — at least to me — why I’ve had a problem with the Tea Party since it first emerged. I have always — or ever since I studied American history in college, which is kinda like always — had a problem with the Jacksonian mindset. I’ve always thought of the day he defeated John Quincy Adams as one of the darkest days in the leadership of this country.

I’m not a Jeffersonian, either. I’m more of an admirer of John Quincy’s Dad.

Anyway… I don’t think I had heard the tea partisans referred to as Jacksonians before. But now that I have, it seems a fairly neat, coherent way of describing their political pedigree.

Obamacare, the Constitution and the Bible: A Facebook conversation

Just thought I’d post portions of a conversation I jumped into over on Facebook.

First, Bill Connor posted:

In watching the fight to defund Obamacare, I have this to say. I am a Christian first, as I believe the Bible is the inspired word. Therefore, it is Truth. That said, the Bible is not silent about the role of government and it’s sphere of authority. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 give the mandate for governmental authority. That mandate is for the “sword” of protection. Protection from external enemies, and protection from lawlessness (law enforcement, Courts) from within the nation. The government is about force in protection. The Church is given the mandate to care for those in need. The Church does not possess the power of the sword, as “Charity” means love. God wants men to give freely and without coercion when it comes to taking care of the less fortunate in society. When Government exceeds its sphere and gets involved with church functions (as in Obamacare, among other things like welfare, etc.) it destroys the idea of Charity. Forcing someone with the sword to give to another is not a Christian ideal. Our founders believed in the Biblical spheres of authority for Church and State and the Constitution makes this law. The Constitution enumerates powers to Government, and those powers do not include Church type functions. Government is to be restrained by the Constitution to the “Sword” functions. Otherwise, Government essentially takes over the Church and all else and attempts to become “god”. That is a reason while I believe the Biblical position to to oppose Obamacare. We care about those in need. However, we are to give to those truly in need through Charity (Love). We did not give the government the power

After a bunch of other people had had a say, I posted:

Bill, in a representative democracy, we vote to elect people to decide what government does. When enough people are elected to decide to undertake something like universal health care, then that’s what we do. If enough people are elected who don’t want to do that, we don’t do that. That’s how the system is supposed to work. It’s really a stretch to make like the government is something outside ourselves coercing us to do something. We, the people, acting through our elected representatives, have decided to do this with the money that we will all pay into it. Does that mean all Americans wanted to do this? No. There probably hasn’t ever been a single action by the government of the United States that all Americans favored. We’re all in the minority on something. But what we do is accept that fact, and work to have our preferred candidates win the next election. In the meantime, we accept the lawful actions of those who have already been elected. We certainly don’t declare lawful actions illegitimate. Nor do we claim, with very thin evidence, that it’s contrary to the Bible. On that last point, I’m not seeing anywhere in the Bible where it says we can’t pool our resources as a people and provide health care for all, and I’d be shocked to find it. Near as I can tell, in terms of saying what the civil government should do, the Bible is pretty silent on something like Obamacare. That leaves the decision up to us and our elected representatives.

Then Bill responded:

Brad, first I appreciate you posting thoughtful note, even though I disagree. Daniel spelled out my opinion exactly. The reason we have the Constitution is to protect certain rights from the whim of the majority. In this case, we had a very quick period of time in which Democrats controlled the House and POTUS. The founders intended to restrain gov’t to its legitimate functions (drawn from the Biblical worldview) and Obamacare exceeds those Constitutional and Biblical limitations.

The another reader (Ltc Robert Clarke) responded:

Brad is right in that the law was passed following our system….but since not a single person in the opposition party supported it, it is bound to face stiff resistance. The people house holds the pursestrings and they should be able to cut the $ off? If you are going to do something this big, best to do it as a bipartisan effort.

And finally, I said this:

Yes, that is best. But when is the last chance we had in this country to do that? Both parties operate on the strategy of getting 50 percent plus one, and then doing whatever they like — which sets off the other party in paroxysms of desperation, because both parties look upon the other, and all its works, as completely lacking in legitimacy. Both parties need to chill, and accept the fact that sometimes people they disagree with are going to win an argument, and just try to win themselves next time around. It’s really getting overexcited to see Obamacare as some sort of Gotterdammerung, the end of all that is good and holy and American and Constitutional. It’s just not. It’s a fairly ugly, pieced-together mish-mash that IS so ugly because there is such opposition to taking the simple approach that Britain and Canada have taken. This is the kind of mess that our hyper-polarized politics produce. It may be too much of a cobbled-together mess to work. But we’ll find out when it’s implemented. It’s going to work, or it’s not going to work. Or it will work in some ways, but not in others. But we won’t know until it’s been in place for awhile.

I didn’t want to get into arguing about whether our Founders intended the Constitution to be “Biblical.” I preferred to stick to this not being the end of the world, or even of the country.

Columbia City Council jealously guards the status quo

In The Federalist No. 59, Alexander Hamilton asserted that “every government ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation.”

Whether it ought to or not, every system seems to contain in itself, and anxiously embrace, that capability.

That’s certainly the case with the Columbia City Council, which voted last night not to allow the city’s residents to move to a more rational and accountable system of government, that is to say, a strong-mayor system.

At the risk of sounding like a believer in direct democracy, which I am not, allow me to remind one and all that this was not a vote on whether to institute a strong-mayor system, but merely whether to allow the people of the city to choose.

And the council said no. Perceiving a threat to their own power, the council members refused to allow even the possibility.

By doing so, the members in the majority demonstrated that they are not worthy to wield the power that they so jealously guard.

Happy side-effect of SCOTUS ruling on Prop 8 — undermining government by plebiscite

I thought this was an interesting sidelight on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that advocates of Proposition 8 had no standing to defend the law made by referendum:

SACRAMENTO — Activists on both sides of the bitter fight over same-sex marriage managed to agree on one thing in the wake of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The justices, they said, set a worrisome precedent by giving elected officials undue power over ballot initiatives.

The court essentially voided Proposition 8, a measure placed on the state ballot by foes of gay marriage and passed by voters in 2008. The justices said supporters of the initiative had no standing to defend the measure after state leaders — who opposed the law — had refused to do so.

Their reasoning drew a testy dissent from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Sacramento native, who wrote that the decision “disrespects and disparages” California’s political process — a staple of which is the ballot initiative.

The court, Kennedy wrote, did “not take into account the fundamental principles or the practical dynamics of the initiative system in California.”…

I read that, and I think, “Good.” Nothing worrisome about it. Anything that undermines California’s chaotic government-by-plebiscite process is a good thing for representative democracy (a.k.a., “The American Way”).

Everybody’s writing about this now. I first saw the subject raised in the WSJ, this morning, and here’s the Washington Times take on it:

DENVER — The Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday on Proposition 8 unlocked the door for same-sex marriage in California but also may have stifled the voices of the state’s voters…

No, it didn’t stifle anything. They still get to elect their representatives, and that’s how things are supposed to work in a republic.

Whether it’s the definition of marriage in California, or the Confederate flag flying on the State House grounds in Columbia, or more routine, everyday laws, they are far better made through the deliberative process of representative democracy, as imperfect as that is.

There is almost no issue that is best defined as an option between “yes” and “no,” which is all you get in a referendum. True, as our politics have become more and more polarized, far too many issues get defined as “yes” or “no” even in our supposedly deliberative bodies. And that’s a tragedy.

But the cure for that is not to dumb things down further by reducing them to “yes” or “no” on a ballot voted on by people who haven’t even had the opportunity to interact with each other through ordered debate.

So anything we can do to move away from that trend, in California and the rest of the country, is a plus.

Another great Brooks column, on the nature of moderation

In response to my praise of David Brooks’ column from earlier in the week, Cindi Scoppe Tweeted this:

.@BradWarthen It’s a very good column, but if it’s the best you’ve seen in years, you obviously missed THIS one http://nyti.ms/QJ87fm 

Well, she knows what I like to read, which shouldn’t be surprising, since I first became her editor in 1987.

The column, from Oct. 25, 2012, was headlined “What Moderation Means.” Excerpts:

First, let me describe what moderation is not. It is not just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there. Only people who know nothing about moderation think it means that.

Moderates start with a political vision, but they get it from history books, not philosophy books. That is, a moderate isn’t ultimately committed to an abstract idea. Instead, she has a deep reverence for the way people live in her country and the animating principle behind that way of life. In America, moderates revere the fact that we are a nation of immigrants dedicated to the American dream — committed to the idea that each person should be able to work hard and rise.

This animating principle doesn’t mean that all Americans think alike. It means that we have a tradition of conflict. Over the centuries, we have engaged in a series of long arguments around how to promote the American dream — arguments that pit equality against achievement, centralization against decentralization, order and community against liberty and individualism.

The moderate doesn’t try to solve those arguments. There are no ultimate solutions….

The moderate creates her policy agenda by looking to her specific circumstances and seeing which things are being driven out of proportion at the current moment. This idea — that you base your agenda on your specific situation — may seem obvious, but immoderate people often know what their solutions are before they define the problems.

For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation. For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.

The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right. Situations matter most. Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis sets in then deregulation might be in order….

Very, very good stuff. I can see why Cindi would like it, and not only because Brooks uses the trick of an inclusive “she” rather than the traditional inclusive “he” to indicate a hypothetical person whose gender doesn’t matter, which is something Cindi does.

More to the point, it should be easy to see why I would like this column as much as the one I praised earlier this week. Both of them speak for me, and the way I see the world. (Which is an argument for why Brooks should have used “he” instead of “she.” Hey, there are bits where he should have just gone ahead and written “Brad.”) There are particularly sharp insights in both columns, expressed in ways that had not yet occurred for me. Some of the highest praise I’ve gotten from readers over the years is when they say, “You write what I think, but don’t know how to say.” Brooks did a better job of explaining some things that I believe than I have been able to do.

I particularly appreciate this statement: “The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right.” That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to say in everything I’ve written about the UnParty and the Energy Party and the Grownup Party. (Brooks later says that moderates are misunderstood because they don’t write manifestos. Well, I’ve at least tried to do so….) This is such an important point because there are so many deluded souls out there who fervently believe that there are policies that ARE right in every instance. Promising, for instance, always to vote against tax increases (or, as Brooks said, for higher taxes for the wealthy) is as arbitrary as promising to vote “yes” on all bills that come up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I don’t know that I like that column from October better than the Snowden one. But they are both really, really good, and I wish everyone would read them. They say things that are profoundly true, but counterintuitive for too many Americans. These things need to be said as often as possible, and by someone who says them as well as Brooks does.

Of COURSE we trust the NSA more than Facebook

Someone over at Slate seemed to be marveling over this “contradiction:”

One big reason why Americans aren’t that outraged by the revelations that the U.S. government runs a massive online and cellphone spying operation: People already assume they’re being tracked all over the Internet by companies like Google and Facebook.

Yesterday’s Washington Post/Pew poll showed that 56 percent of Americans view the NSA’s snooping as “acceptable,” while 45 percent think it should be allowed to go even further. Contrast that with a 2012 AP-CNBC poll that found only 13 percent of Americans trust Facebook to keep their data private, while another 28 percent trust the company “somewhat.” The majority had little to no faith in the company to protect their privacy.

The numbers aren’t perfectly parallel. But they suggest that the average American is more comfortable with the government’s spying than with Facebook’s control over their personal information…

Well, duh. Of course we trust the NSA more than we do Facebook. The NSA, the hysteria of recent days notwithstanding, works for us, and is constrained by the laws of this country and the elected and appointed representatives who have oversight over it, and who ultimately answer to us. Yes, that’s the way it actually is, contrary to all the “Big Brother” hyperventilating from the likes of Rand Paul.

Whereas Facebook works for Mark Zuckerberg. I didn’t elect Mark Zuckerberg. Nor did I elect anyone who appointed Mark Zuckerberg, or in any way keeps an eye on him and holds him to account in my behalf.

And in fact, after pulling us in with the headline, “People Trust the NSA More Than Facebook. That’s a Shame,” the Slate writer acknowledges some of the reasons why that would be so:

From a selfish perspective, that makes some sense: Most Americans assume they’ll never be the target of a terror investigation—and that the government has little use for their information otherwise. Facebook, in contrast, relies on the personal information of all of its users. It doesn’t intend to prosecute them for crimes, of course—just show them personalized advertisements. But for many people, the fear of having an illicit relationship, a racy photo, or personal communications unintentionally revealed to their friends and colleagues is more visceral—and more realistic—than the fear of being wrongly prosecuted for a crime. And whereas most people can appreciate the NSA’s interest in monitoring their communications, they have a harder time seeing the upside to Facebook’s data collection. It’s not like Mark Zuckerberg is going to use their old status updates to prevent the next terror attack.

And that doesn’t just make sense “from a selfish perspective.” It makes sense, period. As this piece notes, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t going to prevent the next terror attack, nor is he expected to. His job is making money for Facebook. Leave him to it. That’s his business, not ours (unless we’re one of the saps who jumped at his IPO).

If we trusted Facebook more than we did the NSA, now that would be a shame. It would mean that our whole system of representative democracy was failing. Which it isn’t.

Aw, Jeez, Edith — here we go with the ACLU again

Consider that headline my tribute to Jean Stapleton.

There are some things that bring out the Archie Bunker in me, and the ACLU suing the government for doing its job is one of them:

 WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, contending that the once-secret program — whose existence was exposed by a former National Security Agency contractor last week — is illegal and asking a judge to both stop it and order the records purged…

Oh, and for those who don’t think the government is “doing its job” in this case — well, yes it is, by definition.

On a previous thread, Mark Stewart wrote:

The issue is not whether bureaurocrats’ believe that data mining Americans’ communications is the most appropriate way to “protect” our country; rather it is whether Americans have decided that such “protection” is in the best interests of our society.

And we have not…

On the contrary, Mark — we have.

We’ve decided it through our elected representatives, which is how it works in a representative democracy. This is not a direct democracy; nor should it be.

We’ve had years and years to decide whether we want to elect people other than the ones who decided to follow this course, and we’ll have more such opportunities in the future.

Again, I stress that the fact that the government was doing these things is not new information. We’ve had this discussion before. It’s just that some new details have brought it back into headlines, and a lot of people who weren’t paying attention before are startled.

There’s nothing ‘right-wing’ about Mark Sanford

Just saw this fund-raising appeal from the Democrats:

ROLL CALL: Conservatives Buy Airtime for Mark Sanford

If you think Elizabeth Colbert Busch has a clear path to victory on Tuesday, think again.

She’s neck and neck with Mark Sanford — 46-46. And now, right-wing groups are throwing everything they’ve got at keeping this seat in Republican hands.

Brad — We can’t allow Elizabeth to be pummeled like this if we want to win on Tuesday.

There are only 4 days left. Will you dig deep for Elizabeth and Democrats in tough districts like hers?…

… and want to quibble with the wording.

Yeah, I get why the DCCC would want to say “right-wing.” Because it pushes their peeps’ buttons.

But Sanford isn’t “right-wing;” nor are those who tend to flock to his banner. He is libertarian, a classical liberal, which is why, even as his party establishment deserts him, he is backed by the likes of Ron and Rand Paul.

I looked up the group that Roll Call said was backing Sanford. It’s called “Independent Women Voice.” (Note that the Dems did NOT mention the name of the organization, because it might have provoked a positive response in their target audience, which of course is why the group calls itself that.) The organization describes itself this way:

IWV is dedicated to promoting limited government, free markets, and personal responsibility

Note that there’s no mention of traditional values, or a strong defense, or any of the other traits associated with conservatism, much less the “right wing” — only the libertarian values are mentioned.

Hey, I LIKE my pols to be off-message…

Today in the WSJ, Daniel Henninger asks the unmusical question, “Where Is the GOP’s Jay Carney?” By which he meant that the president — and by extension the Democrats as a class (as Henninger sees it) — has someone who can be out there constantly, every day, pushing a consistent message. And that message gets pushed without the president himself having to waste his own capital by commenting on every little thing.

An excerpt:

The whole wide world is living in an age of always-on messaging, and the Republican Party is living in the age of Morse code. It isn’t that no one is listening to the GOP. There is nothing to hear.

Smarting from defeat by Barack Obama’s made-in-Silicon-Valley messaging network, congressional Republicans in Washington are getting tutorials to bring them into a Twitterized world. I have a simpler idea: First join the 20th-century communication revolution by creating an office of chief party spokesman. One for the House and one for the Senate…

Henninger goes on at some length about how the GOP lack that everyday messenger — and complains that our own senior senator makes matter worse (for the party), not better:

The best members are becoming frustrated at the messaging vacuum, and some are moving to fill the void. Marco Rubio comes to mind, and more power to him given the nonexistent alternative. But others will follow, creating a GOP tower of Babel. The TV networks know they can dial up a Lindsey Graham to blow a hole Sunday morning in any leadership effort at a unified message. It will get worse, and the near-term consequence of getting worse is being out of power.

But of course, that’s precisely what I like about Lindsey Graham. He can be relied upon to think for himself. Oh, sure, he’ll mouth orthodoxies now and then, as with this release on the president’s gun proposals. But an unusual amount of the time for a Washington politician, he has something more thoughtful to say than what may be in the party playbook. Not as off-message as Chris Christie, perhaps, but he still says things that show he actually thought about the issue himself.

Would it really be a good thing for the House to have its own Ron Ziegler?

Would it really be a good thing for the House to have its own Ron Ziegler?

(Oh, and by the way — unlike some of my friends here, I see nothing wrong with Graham going out of his way to let us know when he DOES agree with the orthodox position. That doesn’t make him inconsistent, or a hypocrite, or anything else that some of y’all call him. I, too, sometimes agree with the party zampolits on an issue. And if I were a Republican officeholder — or Democratic; the dynamic is the same — and wanted to continue to serve in that office, I would put out releases emphasizing the issues on which I agreed with my likely primary voters. Why wouldn’t I? I’m sure I’d do plenty of things to tick off those voters at other times, so why not say, when I can honestly do so, “Hey, we agree on this one”?  I want Lindsey Graham to stay in office, so I’m glad he puts out such releases.)

Also, I think Henninger overemphasizes the extent to which a presidential press secretary is a spokesman for the entire party that the president belongs to. He speaks for the president. And yeah, in these hyperpartisan times, that can benefit his party. But it’s more of an institutional phenomenon than a partisan one. It’s in the nature of the presidency, and has been since long before the modern office of press secretary developed. The president speaks with one voice; the House is not expected to (and I would argue, should not, except in the context of the outcome of a specific vote). The presidential press secretary is a surrogate standing in the bully pulpit. I see no good reason for the House, or Senate, having a similar functionary.

No, actually, ‘Islamist’ has a pretty clear meaning

Just got a release from CAIR on this subject:

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 1/3/13) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today distributed a commentary urging media outlets to drop the term “Islamist” because it is “currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context.”…

In this connection, the group offered an op-ed from Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s national communications director. Here are the first few grafs:

As many people make promises to themselves to improve their lives or their societies in the coming year, here is a suggested New Year’s resolution for media outlets in America and worldwide: Drop the term “Islamist.”

Hooper-thumbnail

Hooper

The Associated Press (AP) added the term to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry reads: “Islamist — Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

The AP says it sought input from Arabic-speaking experts and hoped to provide a neutral perspective by emphasizing the “wide range” of religious views encompassed in the term.

Many Muslims who wish to serve the public good are influenced by the principles of their faith. Islam teaches Muslims to work for the welfare of humanity and to be honest and just. If this inspiration came from the Bible, such a person might well be called a Good Samaritan. But when the source is the Quran, the person is an “Islamist.”

Unfortunately, the term “Islamist” has become shorthand for “Muslims we don’t like.” It is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term “extremist,” giving it an even more negative slant…

Look, I sympathize with people who feel like their group is marginalized or misunderstood. But I’m sorry, “Islamist” has a clear meaning in newswriting, one that the AP set out quite well. It most assuredly does not mean “Muslims we don’t like.”

What it does mean, and what professional journalists are careful to use it to refer to, is someone or something based in a worldview that holds “the Quran as a political model.” It’s about theistic government (which is not the same as being influenced by the principles of one’s faith in seeking to serve the public good, although of course the two things can coincide). If that comes across as pejorative, that’s because in the West, we believe in pluralistic government that neither dominates, nor is dominated by, a particular faith. So yeah, even when we’re not talking about an Islamist extremist (another very useful word, which by its employment lets anyone who understands English know that not all Islamists are extremists), we’re talking about someone whose political views are fairly inimical to values we hold as fundamental.

“Islamist” is also useful from an American context (since we do distinguish between the political and the religious) because it allows us to separate the political viewpoint from Islam itself. It’s important to most of us to respect the faith, even as we disagree with the idea of its being used as a basis for government.

Distinctions are important. “Islamist” allows us to make distinctions. I’d be surprised, and disappointed, if any news organizations respond as CAIR asks here.

The Jeffersonian notion of ‘militia’ didn’t work all that well out in the real world

General Brock was mortally wounded, but his redcoats won the Battle of Queenston Heights.

General Brock was mortally wounded, but his redcoats won the Battle of Queenston Heights.

On a previous thread about the Second Amendment, I promised to comment further on the notion that the Framers had of a militia made up of a well-armed citizenry.

I got to thinking about it because of this column in The Wall Street Journal on Friday. It’s purpose was to argue, on that conflict’s bicentennial, that the War of 1812 was more important than many people believe. It did so ably enough. An excerpt:

First, the war validated American independence. The new republic had been buffeted between the two great powers of the age. Great Britain had accepted the fact of American independence only grudgingly…

Thus historians have sometimes called the War of 1812 the second war of American independence.

Second, it called into question the utopian approach to international relations. As president, Thomas Jefferson had rejected Federalist Party calls for a robust military establishment. He argued that the U.S. could achieve its goals by strictly peaceful means, and that if those failed, he could force the European powers to respect American rights by withholding U.S. trade.

Jefferson’s second term demonstrated the serious shortcomings of his thinking… As a result of the War of 1812, American statesmen realized that to survive in a hostile world, the U.S. would have to adopt measures, including the use of military power and traditional diplomacy, that doctrinaire republicanism abhorred.

Third, the conduct of the war exploded the republican myth of the civilian militia’s superiority to a professional military. Thus, during the three decades after the War of 1812, the Army would adopt generally recognized standards of training, discipline and doctrine. It would create branch schools, e.g., schools of infantry, cavalry and artillery.

It’s that third item that I call y’all’s attention to in particular.

The Jeffersonians, among whom we for most purposes can count leading Framer James Madison, had an image in their minds of what government in general should be, which in a word one would say minimal. It was close to the ideal that libertarians still embrace today. We were to be a nation of independent yeoman farmers, each of whom looked after himself, and should the need for national defense arise, these doughty free men would come together spontaneously to drive away the invader.

Consequently, Jefferson opposed both a standing army and a navy, for anything other than coastal defense.

It is in that context that the Second Amendment makes the most sense. If those citizens were to be any use in a militia, they needed to be armed, and to have some personal experience with firearms.

But it didn’t take long at all for history to teach us the utter inadequacy of the Jeffersonian ideal of an armed citizenry being the only defense we needed. In Jefferson’s own time as president, he discovered the need to project power far beyond our coast, against the Barbary pirates. Our young Navy and its Marine contingent came in very handy in that instance.

But it took the War of 1812, “Mr. Madison’s War,” to demonstrate how useless untrained or lightly trained militia, with an unprofessional officer corps, was against the army of a superpower.

We got spanked by the redcoats, in one land encounter after another. The Brits burned Washington. Until the Battle of New Orleans — which unbeknownst to the combatants occurred after the war was over — the irregular American troops were humiliated time and again. If not for the occasionally sea victory, in single-frigate-versus-single-frigate actions (which, until Philip Broke’s big win off Boston Harbor, totally demoralized the Royal Navy, accustomed as it was to dominating the French), there would have been little to give heart to Americans during most of the course of the war.

Being reminded of all this led me to an interesting train of thought, as follows: The constitutional justification for universal gun ownership, a well-regulated militia, was shown within a generation to be a deeply flawed model of national defense.

From then on, American history saw a fairly steady march toward maintaining professional military forces, led by a professional officers. The notion of the citizen-soldier is far from dead, but it’s highly amended. We created a mighty force out of the civilian population in World War II, but they were trained up to effectiveness by a core of experienced professionals. And today’s National Guard contains some of the most thoroughly trained individuals in our overall defense establishment. Technology has made warfighting such a specialized enterprise that no one expects anyone to be an effective soldier just because he owned a rifle growing up.

Oh, one footnote, from that same column. I thought the South Carolina angle intriguing:

Many of these military reforms were the work of John C. Calhoun, who proved to be one of the most innovative and effective secretaries of war (which was the title of the cabinet officer before 1947, when it was changed to secretary of defense).

Early in the war, our only victories were at sea. Here, USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere.

Early in the war, our only victories were at sea. Here, USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere.