George Will points out how far we’ve come—or is it how far we’ve gone?
In a Presidential contest replete with novelties, none was more significant than this: A candidate’s campaign—for his party’s nomination, then for the presidency—was itself virtually the entire validation of his candidacy. Voters have endorsed Barack Obama’s audacious—but not, they have said, presumptuous—proposition, which was: The skill, tenacity, strategic vision and tactical nimbleness of my campaign is proof that I am presidential timber.
James W. Ceaser, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, writing in the Claremont Review of Books, notes that, contrary to conventional understanding, the Constitution created not three but four “national institutions.” They are the Congress, the Supreme Court, the presidency—and the presidential selection system, based on the Electoral College. “The question of presidential selection,” Ceaser writes, “was just that important to the Founders.”
The Founders’ intent, Ceaser writes, was to prevent the selection of a president from being determined by the “popular arts” of campaigning, such as rhetoric. The Founders, Ceaser says, “were deeply fearful of leaders deploying popular oratory as the means of winning distinction.” That deployment would invite demagoguery, which subverts moderation. “Brilliant appearances,” wrote John Jay in The Federalist Papers 64, “… sometimes mislead as well as dazzle.”
Sorry about that.
Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Jay—what the hell did they know?