Friday, April 18, 2008

A few footnotes to Charlie Gibson's history lesson


This was the graphic that Charlie Gibson threw up on the screen the other night in that weird, misleading history lesson he used to introduce his question to Clinton and Obama about whether they would commit to putting the runner-up in their race on the ticket as the vice presidential candidate -- on the apparent theory that if it was good enough for the Founders, it should be good enough for them. Why wouldn't they commit? What was wrong with them? Were they un-American?

The quick peek at Article II, Section 1 without any explanation must have resulted in some real head-scratching and puzzled conversation in millions of households across the country. Was this really the law of the land? A few footnotes:
1. The quoted passage is about the Electoral College, not primary elections. There were no primaries at the time. In fact, the public didn't even vote directly for president at the time -- electors were chosen by state legislatures. So much for historical relevance.

2. The process stated here didn't work very well for the Founders, either. This was why, in the election of 1796, Thomas Jefferson (a Republican in the nomenclature of the time) ended up as vice president in a contentious relationship with President John Adams, a Federalist -- adding fuel to the fire of a lifelong enmity that lasted nearly until the day they both died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

3. In any event, this section was repealed and replaced by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1804. It's had nothing whatsoever to do with the selection of the vice president for more than 200 years. So why bring it up? Or, if you do -- given that most people learn what they know of the Constitution from television -- shouldn't you at least mention that it no longer applies?
Probably this was just some producer's cute idea of how to make the debate and its Constitution Hall setting more "relevant." But it was typical of the way show business packaging has taken over the network production of the debates. The. Worst. Debate. Ever. They should give the debates back to the League of Women Voters.

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