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April 12, 2008


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Jen M.

Dear O.A.

It's like your post was designed to make me comment. Have you decided to smoke out all of your lurkers this week or something? Because, um gosh, I would hate to think that you despise the will of the people as much as your post indicates. As you well know the Founders had hoped that the president and vice-president would be elected by the House; or, better yet, just like they did under the Articles of Confederation, that the president would be _from_ the House.

The current line of succession may not be your ideal, but the people have chosen it nonetheless. We must all trust the collective wisdom of the people, it is a republic, after all.



Jen, I love the will of the people. I'm not sure what it has to do with an institution that gerrymanders itself like the House; better than 90% of its members get reelected. Didn't Tom DeLay "organize" elections for you Texans? By the by, is there a president who's ever been directly elected from the House?

And I'd also note that the Founders were perfectly happy with succession through the Secretary of State; in fact, they pretty much cut out the VP after 1800. I repeat: Colin Powell or Denny Hastert? Madeline Albright or Newt Gingrich? Jim Baker or Tom Foley? It's not always this easy, but the pattern is clear.

jen m

Well, I suppose Tommy's "election" in 1800 (happy birthday today Tommy!) and John Quincy Adams in 1824 are probably the best examples of the House choosing the president. After JQA the Jacksonians changed the way parties function in the election process, didn't they?

The Secretary of State made the most sense for the succession because the job of president was understood to be chiefly about foreign relations, which is one of the reasons why the House gave JQA the job over Andy Jack. Still could (should?) be, I think.

And, I agree that we shouldn't let politicians lay down in office (incumbent is such a lovely word, is it not?)

And, what do you mean by the House gerrymanders itself? I'd like to hear more about that. My understanding of the gerrymander is that it occurs at the state level, how could the House gerrymander itself?

Maybe we just both don't like the party system and its effects on elections? My dislike of parties seems to have grown of late...

I'm happy to hear that you love the will of the people, I didn't really doubt ya on that!


Tom Delay is the perfect example of the ways in which the House gerrymanders itself; he went back to Texas and used his influence to ram through a redistricting plan. Powerful House incumbents have enormous leverage with state legislatures controlled by their own party because, after all, they bring home the federal bacon.

Those two occasions are the times when the House chose a president. I didn't quite mean that. I meant that the American people don't think of House members, even Speakers, as people of presidential timber. I can't recall a candidate from the House ever winning the White House. James Blaine, I think, came close. Dick Gephardt did not. For at least a century, as far as I can remember, Gephardt is about the only member of the House leadership to make a serious try for the presidency. Jack Kemp was not a member of the leadership. In a time of crisis, such as a succession, I think you sort of want someone with national stature.

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