The United States November 6 2012, A House Divided Against Itself. Editorial
This week we saw an election that has split the nation almost evenly along ideological lines that are incompatible with one another. On Tuesday President Barack Obama and continuation of his polices were supported by 61 million voters, but rejected by 58 million voters. That is 51% voted for Obama while 49% voted for Romney. Although individual voters will describe the distinction between the two leaders differently, there is an overarching and fundamental difference that distinguishes the two policies. Obama’s policies are based on a strong centralized federal government that acts as a caretaker for the people. Romney’s polices are of a weaker federal government where the private sector takes the lead role and government only comes into play where needed.
The real outcome of the election is that 51% voted for “bigger” government while 49% voted for “smaller” government.
The nearly equal proportion of this difference is intentionally muted by our system of electing a President by the Electoral College. Although the net effect is the usually the same, that the candidate winning the most popular votes is elected by the Electoral College*. The most common effect of our election system is for a small difference in the popular vote to be magnified by the Electoral College vote. That magnifying effect is exactly what happened last week. Although the popular vote was 51% to 49%, the Electoral College vote outcome was 62% to 38%. This is inherent in our system of electing the President and in a close race, has the effect of giving additional moral authority to the newly elected President to govern.
It is exactly this effect that understates just how divided our house is. If more than 62% of the voters wanted the country to head in one direction the mandate would be clear, but with 51% seeking one the direction while the other 49% are seeking the opposite, then our house is almost equally divided on the role and size of our federal government.
The Phase, “A House Divided” is best known as used by President Lincoln when in 1858 he spoke about slavery and the inevitability of our Civil War, but it has origins in the Americas that preceded that including Thomas Paine's 1776 booklet Common Sense. Common Sense has the distinction of being the only book ever read by the majority of Americans. In less than six months immediately preceding the American Revolution this small pamphlet altered the course of American history.
That is in the Americas but this phase is much older then the American Revolution. The first written use was biblical, in Mark 3:25: “And if a house will be divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” In context, the meaning is that a family splintered by feuding, will fall apart.
Is our populous so divided on principle and economics that we risk failure as a nation, or a civil war as we did over slavery?
Much like today's call for a middle ground and compromise, the argument in Lincoln’s day was very similar. Lincoln's goals using the “Divided House” phase were, firstly, to differentiate himself from Douglas, the incumbent; and secondly, to publicly voice a prophecy for the future. Lincoln's opponent Stephen Douglas had long advocated that each new territory could decide their own status as a slave or free state; he had repeatedly asserted that would end slavery-induced conflict, and would allow northern and southern states to resume their peaceful coexistence. Lincoln, however, responded that the Dred Scott decision had closed the door on middle-ground option and left the Union with only two remaining outcomes: the United States would inevitably become either all slave, or all free. Lincoln said, “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Today’s circumstance mirror that moment in history. Many moderate voters ask that politicians take the middle ground, compromise and work together, without realizing that there can be no compromise, that there is no middle ground. Today’s issue is not slavery; it is “Bigger Government” or “Smaller Government.” The middle ground is no change in size of government but this is simply not possible. As our Federal, and many State governments, have been running significant deficits there are only two choices possible: Reduce the size of government or increase taxes to fund the level of government we have now. The large Federal Deficit has closed the door on middle-ground option and left the Union with only two remaining outcomes: the United States government will inevitably become either bigger, or smaller.
Even keeping government at the current size will require higher taxes to fund it, as the current deficits are unsustainable. To the 49% that voted for Romney the bigger government is represented by the government’s intrusion into their lives, their liberties, and their pocketbooks. It represents social issues like mandated healthcare that includes birth control and financial issues like the elimination of the mortgage interest credit, higher taxes for Marriage couples compared to two single taxpayers, and the Phase-Out Rule for Itemized Deductions and Personal Exemptions. For many taxpayers the size of government is measured in the size of their tax bills or by how many days they must work to pay their tax bills, known as Tax Freedom Day. The average for us in California is that all the income from the work we do through April 20th will be used just to pay our tax bills.
If bigger government and smaller government are mutually exclusive and there is no middle-ground, what can we expect?
Conservative politicians believe that they have the support of 49% of the voters in pursuing a less intrusive, less taxing government. For them, this is fundamental principle that cannot be compromised. They know that they have been outvoted but also that those whom did elect them to office expect them to adhere to the fundamental policies and continue to represent the 49% in pursuing a smaller government. As they have been outvoted, they can only hope to either outmaneuver liberal policy makers or, at the minimum, that the majority will give them some accord because they do represent a significant minority of 49% of the voters.
Liberals believe that they have been given a mandate by voters to support Obama’s policies by reelecting him with more than 60% of the (Electoral) votes. For them, government as caretaker of the people is a fundamental principle that cannot be compromised. They know that the majority of voter support their policy and that taxpayers, particularly high-income taxpayers, will have to pay for the government’s policies and programs through higher fees and taxes. They know that if there are negotiations with conservative policymakers, it will not be “if” the government grows bigger, but by how much bigger: not “If” taxes will increase, but how much they will increase.
This premise of liberal policy makers willingly negotiating a serious middle-ground compromise with conservatives is somewhat naive and would only be expected by a Pollyanna.
Our founding fathers were worried about a simple majority running roughshod over the minority and put safeguards in place to prevent this. The framers of the Constitution believed in a weak central government so they divided powers between the judicial, legislative, and administrative branches and further divided the legislative branch into two houses. They then gave all powers not called out in the federal government to state governments. More than 200 years ago, the US Senate changed rules and provided for a method for a minority to stop a bill from passing by simple majority. What is known today as the Filibuster protects the rights of a significant minority and can only be stopped by a 3/5 vote. In California the voters enacted restrictions the required a “Supermajority” vote to raise taxes.
In 4-8 months, Democrats in California will have achieved a supermajority in the Statehouse and will have the power to unilaterally raise taxes. On the federal level, many Democrats are calling for repealing the Filibuster rule of the Senate, a rule they call obstructionist. New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley would end the current filibusters rules and other options being discussed in the Democratic caucus include holding a vote to allow a filibuster — instead of a vote to end one — and limiting its use.
A relatively new erosion of the powers of a significant minority is the extra-constitutional advent of large and far-reaching federal agencies. These agencies were not foreseen by our founding fathers and were not calculated into the balance of powers as originally designed. Agency head are usually appointed by the President and effectively multiply the power of the administrative branch. Most citizens have only titular protect from federal agencies in the judicial branch because of the resources of the federal government as an opponent means that the costs and time required to fight an Agency in court is a functional impossibility for most.
This week we see a perfect storm brewing for the 49% of voters that did not vote for President Obama. A House that has not seen the Democratically controlled Senate passed a federal budget in three years thereby stopping a House reconciled bill from being sent to the President. A Senate that may attempt to limit or strip away the only rule that protects a significant minority. A President that has vowed to act unilaterally if the Congress cannot agree to act in the manner he demands. Federal agencies that do not believe in the concept of State’s Rights.
Today we see an emboldened Democratic Party that is poised to quickly move forward with their policies without any cooperation or dependence on legislators representing those 49% who voted for reversals of the current administration policy direction.
The phrase "tyranny of the majority" envisions a scenario in which decisions made by a majority place its interests so far above those of an individual or minority group as to constitute active oppression, comparable to that of tyrants and despots. The Federalist Papers refer to the broad concept, as in Federalist 10, first published in 1787, which speaks of "the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."
The concept itself was popularized by Friedrich Nietzsche. Ayn Rand wrote against such tyranny, saying that individual rights are not subject to a public vote, and that the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.
In 1788, James Madison wrote on the dangers of elections resulting in overbearing majorities who respect neither justice nor individual rights. "The valuable improvements made by the American constitutions on the popular models, both ancient and modern, cannot certainly be too much admired; but it would be an unwarrantable partiality, to contend that they have as effectually obviated the danger on this side, as was wished and expected. Complaints are every where heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable (the democratic model); that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties; and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true."
An early American politician developed the theory of the concurrent majority to deal with the tyranny of the majority. It states that great decisions are not merely a matter of numerical majorities but require agreement or acceptance by the major interest in society, each of which had the power to block federal laws that it feared would seriously infringe on their rights. That is, it is illegitimate for a temporary coalition that had a majority to gang up on and hurt a significant minority. The doctrine is one of limitations on democracy to prevent the tyranny.
“And if a house will be divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
Is our house divided?
• The election on Tuesday was 51% in favor of more of the same Presidential policy and 49% was for reversal & elimination of those policies.
• Congress and the Administration have passed a watershed healthcare program without a single Republican Congressional vote and that is opposed by the majority of Americans.
• A President that has vowed to act unilaterally by Executive Order if he does not get what he wants from the minority party in Congress.
The house of the USA is most certainly divided, but will this lead to failure? Will this lead to a bloody civil war as it did in Lincoln’s day?
We can be sure that both sides will stand firmly on their fundamental principles. We can also be sure that the Democrats control most of the levers of governmental power. We are sure that the President has acted unilaterally, and pledges to continue to do so, when the Republican majority House of Representatives will not go along with his policies.
There are three potential results if the 49% feel they are being unfairly oppressed by a "tyranny of the majority": They will take it quietly; they will go away; they will fight back. History has shown repeatedly that we are not a society to take offense or oppression quietly, so that is not a realistic result. That leaves just two other “reliefs” for the feeling of tyranny and oppression. Many have already fled from states like California with oppressive business regulations to more business friendly states like Texas. Some with the resources have left the country in favor of counties with more favorable tax policies. Last year, 1,780 Americans relinquished their citizenship to avoid the Internal Revenue Service. This is a sharp increase over 2010, when 1,485 renounced citizenship. In 2009, the number was 731 and in 2008 226. Eduardo Saverin, the billionaire co- founder of Facebook, renounced his U.S. citizenship before his company’s initial public offering. Saverin joins a growing number of people giving up U.S. citizenship ahead of a possible increase in tax rates for top earners.
That still leaves the vast majority of those that will not take it quietly and will not be leaving for better prospects elsewhere. Those that will fight, but how will they fight?
An attempt at succession being attempted in places like Louisiana is very unlikely to succeed and a bloody civil war is even more unlikely. Organized and spontaneous civil protest will undoubtedly rise. At the forefront of these civil protests have been American TEA parties, whom derived the acronym TEA from “Taxed Enough Already.” Although not a political party, TEA Parties are well organized and energetically attended by regular citizens of all political parties that feel the government is growing too big, is out of control in spending and taxing, and far too intrusive in their daily lives. The pressures on these fronts will undoubted increase over the next four years and we can expect TEA Party activism to be a primary relief value for this pressure.
How much will the TEA Party movement grow and how much power it will weld in government is unknown, but it may be the best example of the health and strength of the American republic called the U.S.A. A lesser society so fundamentally divided would see riots in the streets rather than peaceful protests. The motto for the TEA Party movement seems to be, “We cannot expect to agree in politics but we can hope to disagree, agreeably.”
The American TEA Party movement is essentially a loosely knit group of citizens that advocates minimizing coercion and emphasizes freedom, liberty, and voluntary association. They generally advocate a society with significantly less government compared to our present day government. The TEA Party movement will continue to grow and will have an increased place in American politics. This growth is fueled by “big” government policies, high taxation, and infringement on personal liberties.
Will the TEA Party movement by dissuaded or discouraged by the 51% victory of President Obama and his big, powerful, central government ideas? This quote from President Kennedy may best reflect the TEA Party member’s answer to that question, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, or oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Cris Alarcon, Nov 11, 2012.
• The Electoral College winner might not match the popular vote winner.
The candidate winning the most popular votes is usually elected but it is not always the case because of the “winner take all” virtue of a state’s Electoral votes. If a candidate losses big in some states but wins by thin margins in more states it is possible to win the Electoral College vote without winning the popular vote. This is rare but it has happened. An example of how it could happen is if the vote in Florida would have been different. Obama won Florida with 50% of the vote, but let us say that he got the same 25% of votes as he did in Utah. Then he would have lost the popular vote with 59 million votes to Romney’s 60 million votes, but he still would have won the Presidency with an Electoral College vote of 303 to 235. The elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive the plurality of the nationwide popular vote.
• The Electoral College prevents an urban-centric victory.
Proponents of the Electoral College claim the Electoral College prevents a candidate from winning the Presidency by simply winning in heavily populated urban areas. This means that candidates must make a wider geographic appeal than they would if they simply had to win the national popular vote.
• The Electoral College maintains the federal character of the nation.
The United States of America is a federal coalition consisting of component states. Proponents of the current system argue that the collective opinion of even a small state merits attention at the federal level greater than that given to a small, though numerically equivalent, portion of a very populous state. The system also allows each state the freedom, within constitutional bounds, to design its own laws on voting and enfranchisement without an undue incentive to maximize the number of votes cast.
Proponents argue that, in the end, the election of the President must still come down to the decisions of each state, or the federal nature of the United States will give way to a single massive, centralized government.
In his book A More Perfect Constitution, Professor Larry Sabato elaborated on this advantage of the Electoral College, arguing to "mend it, don't end it," in part because of its usefulness in forcing candidates to pay attention to lightly populated states and reinforcing the role of the state in federalism.