Faithless Elector Watch: The Nation Gets Naughty!

Chatterbox welcomes The Nation to the Naughtiness Caucus, that assortment of people and institutions* who favor (or at least don’t condemn) the prospect that three Bush electors might go faithless and throw the election to Al Gore. In a Dec. 25 cover editorial, The Nation points out: “Even a Gore concession speech doesn’t bind the electors.” (This concern is somewhat less urgent now than it probably seemed when the editorial was written because the Florida Supreme Court just ruled in Gore’s favor. Still, it’s a worthwhile point.) Less credibly, The Nation insists, “We are not urging [Bush electors] to vote for the popular-vote winner because we support Al Gore.” Insert the word “only” before “because,” and you have a truthful statement. Yes, The Nation has good nonpartisan reasons to favor a ruckus in the Electoral College: It would honor the popular vote, and it “could concentrate the nation’s attention wonderfully and help jump-start a movement for reform”–that is, elimination of the Electoral College. (Chatterbox made the same arguments yesterday in “Ask Dr. Faithless,” his advice column for faithless electors.) And yes, the left-liberal Nation tends to view Gore as a weak ally at best. Let’s get serious, though: The Nation blanches–and rightly so!--at the thought of George W. Bush becoming president. If you don’t believe Chatterbox, check out its devastating cover photo from the Nov. 13 issue morphing Dubya into Alfred E. Neuman.

But Chatterbox wants to be a uniter, not a divider. Mostly, Chatterbox is delighted to see The Nation come out in favor of Electoral College faithlessness and establishing the popular vote as the mechanism by which the United States chooses presidents. It’s an important moment because in the past, liberals have quietly favored the Electoral College. The reason is that, in addition to exaggerating the power of little states, the Electoral College also exaggerates the power of big urban states that tend to vote Democratic. As Chatterbox pointed out yesterday (click here and scroll down to Dr. F.’s response to “Jangled in Jefferson City”), it’s really medium-sized states that get screwed by the Electoral College. (Click here to read Michael Nelson’s seminal piece in the Dec. 4 American Prospect explaining the unholy alliance between liberals and the Electoral College.) The Nation editorial offers no evidence that its authors were aware of this point, but Chatterbox assumes the magazine would have assumed the same enlightened stance even if they were.

In other faithless elector news, the Wall Street Journal’s faithless elector correspondent, Tom Hamburger, and Laura Heinauer report today that the Bush campaign held a conference call this week with all the Bush electors in Florida urging everyone to stay on board. The Gore campaign apparently isn’t bothering to do the same with its Florida electors, which may explain why a third of them told The Associated Press yesterday that they thought Gore should concede if the state Supreme Court ruled against him. Now that it has ruled in Gore’s favor, perhaps the Gore people might want to shore these folks up. (Jeez, does Chatterbox have to tell these people everything? He understands they’re spurning Bob Beckel for trying to flip electors, but they’re certainly allowed to talk to electors on their own side!)

The new ruling from the Florida Supreme Court makes it virtually certain that the Florida Legislature will send its own slate of electors to Congress. That’s bad news for Gore supporters who want to win on the new court-ordered recounts in Florida but good news for advocates of the faithless elector gambit. Why? Because it means the Republicans have made the first formal move to disenfranchise Florida voters. By the time faithless electors do it, the disenfranchisement issue may be a dead letter. (In any event, as Chatterbox noted yesterday–scroll down to Dr. F.’s response to “Appalled in Austin”–there’s some evidence to suggest that Bob Dole and the Ford campaign may have tried to lure electors into faithlessness back in 1976.)

*Chatterbox, Matthew Miller, Gregg Easterbrook, Bob Beckel, Daniel Schorr, the Coalition Coalition, Citizens for True Democracy, and some visitors to the E The People Web site