A review of The Unfinished Election Of 2000 Leading Scholars Examine America's Strangest Election, edited by Jack N. Rakove
Six liberal academics contribute to yet another rearguard action in the Bush vs. Gore contest of 2000. Of the six, two — John Milton Cooper, Jr. of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and editor Jack N. Rakove of Stanford — signed the famous New York Times letter claiming that the impeachment of Bill Clinton would "leave the Presidency permanently disfigured and diminished." That keen perceptiveness is again on display here.
Cooper's essay is a workmanlike look at critical elections and partisan allegiance. He alleges that Republicans have historically been the party of "victory at all costs," while "Democrats, by contrast, have usually approached politics more like sports or business and less like war." Maybe by sports and business he means bare-knuckle boxing and Murder, Inc.
Most of the other essays bemoan the U.S. Supreme Court's euthanasia of the chad. That decision, Stephen Holmes argues in the afterword, "seems finally to have persuaded liberals to shed their last illusions about the progressive potential of judicial review." Let's hope so. No such collection would be complete without a swipe at the electoral college. The tedious duty falls to Rakove, a major figure among contemporary American historians. When his book Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution — which argues that the Constitution has no original intent — won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, he described it as "the standard work for historians about the framing and ratification of the Constitution." (It isn't.)
His essay here is definitely substandard. Defenders of the college often explain how it strengthens the two-party system. Forcing candidates to win entire states and assemble broad national majorities suppresses the influence of extremist parties and "spoiler" candidates. Similarly, the "winner take all" system encourages candidates to leave their bases and compete for the undecided middle. Far from refuting these important arguments, Rakove hardly even seems aware of them. Evidently, he did not read the Winter 2001 issue of the CRB, in which Michael Uhlmann patiently explained the true history, purpose, and merits of the college.