The New Anti-Federalists?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
We don’t mind saying that we enjoyed the debut of the New York Times’ latest columnist, Michelle Goldberg. It was nice to find on the Gray Lady’s editorial page a columnist reasoning out our national travail in the context of the Constitution. Ms. Goldberg lays our current crisis to the fact that Donald Trump emerged as president despite having lost the popular vote. The country, she reckons, has entered a period of minority rule and is facing an existential crisis.
This is what passes at the Times for progress. Only a few years ago its editors came down with the fantods over the decision by the Republicans, who’d just swept to power in the House, to open the new Congress by reading the full text of the Constitution from the floor. “A ghastly waste of time” is how it was characterized by the Times. It also called the reading of the Constitution a “presumptuous and self-righteous act.”
Ms. Goldberg seems to have ignored such derision and taken a deep dive into the parchment. She’s struck upon our friend Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School. He’s the liveliest of left-wingers (he was not long ago guest of honor at an editorial dinner of the Sun). He’s also a critic of the existence of the Senate, where no state can, without its agreement, be denied equal representation. It drives Professor Levinson nuts.
“Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50% of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Mr. Levinson told Ms. Goldberg. “Roughly half the country gets 80% of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20%.” Into why the people ordained and established such a system Ms. Goldberg doesn’t delve. At least not in her first column. She does, though, put in a word for the national popular vote interstate compact.
We were introduced to that scheme for evading the Constitution, by another lively liberal, Rick Hertzberg. Member states of the compact undertake to direct their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. It becomes effective when the compact has been joined by enough states to control 270 electoral votes, or enough to decide the presidency. We once called it Sarah Palin’s path to power.
We wouldn’t have made too much of that possibility, even at the time we noted it. Or of the fact that, as we also noted, the national popular vote compact in, say, 2004, would have delivered the electors of New York State, which went for Senator Kerry by an overwhelming margin, to President George W. Bush. After all, if popular voting were the criteria, both parties would have pursued entirely different campaign strategies.
Our point has been simply that it’s a conceit of the left that people are more likely to stick with its programs than they are with the right. As we write this, the arch-populist former chief justice of the Yellowhammer state, Roy Moore, is seeking to gain the GOP nomination to the Senate Ms. Goldberg despises. If he wins, the West Point educated Vietnam veteran and Christian fundamentalist could himself be on the national stage. Just saying.
The part of wisdom is for neither side to take populism for granted. Both sides have taken shelter in the Senate (the left is doing so right now in its resistance to reforming Obamacare) and in the Supreme Court (where liberals have won some of their greatest victories against democracy). Ms. Goldberg also quotes advocates for changing the way the House itself is elected, so as to create a kind of proportional representation. If the left ends up in league with the anti-federalist remnant, it would be one of history’s most ironical tricks.