A commenter considers some of my views on the Electoral College problematic.
He further writes: "I think the great compromise was a poor choice, and so is the bizarre, cultic emphasis on the founders' intent that pervades American discourse, as though some 18th century landowners somehow ate from the tree of knowledge and then chopped it down to deny future generations its fruit — cherries, perhaps."
I can see how it comes across as odd. Perhaps in my defense I'd offer that there are many social visionaries since the founders that I (and many of us) respect a great deal as well. Jacksonian democracy; Emersonian self-reliance; Lincolnian unionism; Wilsonian self-deterimination (*braces himself for libertarian onslaught*); the entrepreneurialism of our Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Ford and Morgans; the solidarity of our Debs, Gompers, and Haywoods; the democratic vistas of our Whitmans and our Deweys; the Rooseveltian new deals; the mountaintops of King and what he saw beyond them; the new federalism of Reagan, Clinton, and Rehnquist; the hope and change of Obama.
In American public life we do like ideas as well as the personalities that promoted those ideas. But I think it really is about the quality of the ideas. There's no personality we've embraced independent of ideas we've accepted. There's nobody we've adopted as The Leader simply because he or she lead us. They've all given us new ideas and new social hopes.
But the commenter is right, the 1770-1800 period seems to have a lot more ideas and personalities floating around with an enduring respect.
I think part of it is that we're not sure exactly what better alternative there is out there. I can think of places that have policy advantages over us. It's not a particularly long list (usually advantages have accompaniying disadvantages). But I can't think of very many that have constitutional advantages over us. I think that's part of the reason why we've done so well over the last two centuries and I also think it's part of the reason why so little has changed in any fundamental way.
It's not cultic, in other words.
There is a sense of awe around that generation. But there's awe because what they said and thought seems to have paid off. No one can seriously point to the record of the United States and fail to conclude that the founding fathers had at least as good a stab at how civilized, liberal society ought to go as just about any other contenders. The system has proven relatively self-correcting and flexible.
Either I have totally drunk the Kool-Aid or there's something legitimate here to respect.
And given how problematic and unstable radical change often proves, it seems entirely rational - the opposite of cultic - to say "I'll just see how the founders' institutions play out, thanks". I'm not sure what's supposed to be so enticing about the alternatives.
And these guys we'ren't just sitting back reflecting. They had an awful lot on the line. And it could have all broken down many times. It's not magic - it's a track record and a good sensible theory behind that track record.