October 28, 2004
The closer we get to Election Day, the more likely it seems that
we'll witness another razor-thin margin of victory in the
presidential race. That raises a depressing possibility: a replay
of the 2000 election, which some Democrats still insist was stolen
by President Bush.
As former Vice President Al Gore cynically joked at the Democratic convention: "America is a land of opportunity, where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote." Gore is hinting that he (and therefore democracy) was robbed.
By Gore's logic, the Florida Marlins "stole" last year's World Series. The Yankees scored more total runs across all the games, 21-17. But they blew their resources on two lopsided wins, while the Marlins won four tight games.
The Yankees seem particularly vulnerable to this kind of theft, as this year they lost the American League pennant to the Boston Red Sox despite touching home plate more often over seven games, 45-41. The same thing happened in the 2002 World Series when the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants while scoring fewer runs. In fact, you could argue that the Florida Marlins have "stolen" both of their World Series victories: They scored 37 runs to the Cleveland Indians' 44 in 1997, but still won four games.
Can you imagine the Yankees complaining that the Red Sox stole the pennant this year or the Marlins stole the World Series last year? Never. Professional ballplayers know the rules and play by them without complaining. If only our politicians were such good sports.
Even though Bush was the choice of 30 states, records from the Federal Election Commission show Gore received a plurality of votes, 50,999,897 to 50,456,002. But the fact remains that Bush won 271 Electoral votes, one more than he needed. In America, the most important "rule" of the election contest is known as the Electoral College.
Each state has a number of electoral votes effectively equal to its congressional representatives and senators combined. California has 53 representatives and two senators, and so it has 55 electoral votes. Less-populated states such as Alaska, Wyoming, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Vermont have only one congressman each (and two senators) and hence three electoral votes. Those seven states combined have one-third the population of Pennsylvania, but an equal number of 21 electoral votes.
Late in the 2000 campaign, the Gore campaign was actually concerned about winning the Electoral College without a popular majority and issued statements emphasizing the legitimacy of such a victory. But since the 2000 election, Gore has come to resemble the fox in Aesop's fable, who once coveted the electoral grapes but now calls them sour.
What's really gone sour is an appreciation of the grape vine's roots, the principle of federalism. The Founders used the Electoral College as a way to promote a balance of power to protect small states, which is the same reason every state is allotted two senators, regardless of population. The goal of federalism, of course, is to preserve state freedom against the inherent pressure of centralized power. Each community has a right to its own unique culture so long as it respects the natural rights of individuals.
But our understanding of culture is regrettably shallow. We're comfortable with the relatively superficial diversity of skin colors and food tastes, but not messy issues of ideology and religion.
The beauty of federalism is that it's policy neutral. If America were true to its federalist roots, policies would compete across state lines. Ineffective social and economic policies would be exposed; innovative policies would be copied. The "competition" would help everyone.
The idea of competition brings us back to baseball, where the playoffs are creating a typically exciting October. Can you imagine the champion team being determined by a 63-inning supergame instead of seven nine-inning games? By the same token, political junkies love the Electoral Map. It's a uniquely American battleground.
Let's just hope that after the election, the next president appreciates the federalist principles that bring him victory.
Edwin Meese III, a former U.S. attorney general, is chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org). Timothy Kane, Ph.D., is a research fellow in macroeconomics in Heritage's Center for Data Analysis.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire