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Thursday, May 24, 2007

How Madison and Co. Tried to Save Us From This

(Editor's note: It's been brought to my attention that a way to separate my political columns from the rest of the smorgasbord of blogs was to infuse one of my other loves: history. So, here goes nothing.)

It was the most brilliant section of one of the most brilliant publications in the history of man. That would be an accurate description of James Madison's Federalist #10.

The tie in to presidential politics? Federalist #10 lectured its readers on the necessity for the President to be appealing to a wide range of people. Madison argues it's easy for a local Congressman to embody a caricature of what his constituents are looking for in a representative. You're in the Iowa 4th district? Ethanol rules! You're in the Connecticut 2nd? Go sub base! You're in the California 30th? Take care of our environment! Nevada 1st? Labor rules! Kansas 4th? Hail Mary! Florida 17th? Vamanos, amigos!

It's that simple when you're a candidate for Congress.

But when you're a candidate for President? It's a whole different ballgame. You have to try to appeal to the Iowa 4th AND the Florida 17th. You have to woo Texas voters by lauding the second amendment while simultaneously telling Massachusetts that we need stricter gun control. If you don't cross appeal, you might be okay, but you better make darn sure that none of your base is even thinking about going with the other guy, or you're toast.

Madison and other Constitutional Framers knew this, of course. It's why they did it! They understood that a Greek-like democracy, with no central, unifying figure, would be torn apart by competing factions. It'd be mob rule. The President and Vice-President, as the only nationally elected members of our government, should find a way to bring the country together. It is through this motivation that, for years, Presidents were elected on their ability to moderate themselves and appeal to as many different types of Americans as possible.

Then, however, there was President Bush, and not without fault, John Kerry. Perhaps beginning in the election of 2000, and certainly solidified in 2004, the country turned into two factions: Red States and Blue States. To win an election meant to solidify your political base and get two out of three swing states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida) to your side. The product of this strategy is 40% of the country all but ignored. Regardless of who ended up winning the election, there were going to be a lot of people displeased with the results. It's hasn't been this drastic since the election of 1860.

Now, as we enter our first election Post President Bush, who knows how this election will be won? Will we have a Clintonian or Reaganesque unifier? Or will we have someone who finds and exploits the political divide, further pulling apart a steadily entrenched and close-minded country in order to win an election? Will there be two candidates blindly pulling at the wishbone that is America (ironically the land where wishes supposedly come true)?

Ultimately, will 2000 and 2004 be a fluke, or is it the new norm?

All I know is, James Madison is rolling in his grave.

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