The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Friday, November 11, 2011

You have to understand the rules!

As I mentioned yesterday, the centrist blogger Solomon Kleinsmith is starting a new website called “,”. One of the things that I saw when I looked at that site Tuesday is a plug for the hopeless organization called Americans Elect, a group of centrists who are following in the footsteps of the Unity '08 group who tried to produce a centrist ticket for the last Presidential election. And the fact is, people who want to advance the centrist cause and try to do it in that way do not understand how our system works.

Over two hundred years ago, in 1800, Anthony Lispenard was a Presidential elector from New York State. In those days, the electors did not, as they do today, cast a differentiated vote for President and Vice-President. Instead they simply cast two votes, ostensibly for the Presidency; the candidate with the largest number, if it was at least a majority of the number of electors, got the Presidency, while the candidate with the second-largest number got the Vice-Presidency. So supporters of the Democratic-Republican ticket of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr simply voted for both. In previous elections, and among the rival Federalist Party even in 1800, a small number of electors (even just one!) would vote for the party's Presidential candidate, but vote for someone else, who was not a real candidate, with their second vote, so as to assure that their Presidential candidate got more electoral votes than their Vice-Presidential candidate. (In 1796, however, too many Federalist electors did this, so that Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republican candidate for the Presidency, outpolled the Federalists' Vice-Presidential candidate and became the Vice-President!)

Lispenard, in fact, preferred Aaron Burr, the Democratic-Republican candidate for the Vice-Presidency, to Thomas Jefferson, who was again the Democratic-Republican candidate for the Presidency, and tried to accomplish this by voting for Burr but not for Jefferson. But he didn't understand the system! He cast two votes for Burr. Now if he had voted for Burr and someone else as long as that someone else was not a New York State resident (the rules stated that an elector's two votes had to include one who was not a resident of his own State), Lispenard could have elected Burr President, with 73 votes to Jefferson's 72. Anthony Lispenard was one of the few people in history who could have, by one act, changed the course of history! But he didn't understand what he needed to do, and voted twice for Burr. Now this would not work. An elector could not vote for one person twice. And certainly if he was a resident of your own State, as Burr was in Lispenard's case, even if an elector could vote for one person twice, he could not vote for that person twice because one of the votes had to be for a candidate from a different State! So Lispenard's vote was changed to a vote for Jefferson and Burr, and he did not get his wish simply because he didn't realize how simply he could have assured Burr the Presidency!

What does this have to do with Americans Elect? Simply, in the system we have, which is Plurality Voting, any candidate other than the top two simply hurts the candidate who is closer to him. If a “centrist” candidate appeals to more Republicans than Democrats, he is likely to cause the Democrat to be elected. And if he appeals to more Democrats than Republicans, he is likely to cause the Republican to be elected. So unless he is truly dead center, which is pretty unlikely, he's going to have the effect that the people who voted for him will feel they've shot themselves in the foot. (Probably the reason that Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992 was that more Republicans were impressed with Ross Perot than Democrats were.)

As I have previously said, the way to get centrists and moderates elected, which is what ostensibly wishes to accomplish, is to change the voting system, not start a quixotic third candidacy.

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