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Web Letter

Ms. Pollitt would do well to take a comprehensive American History course.

In 1788, chattel slavery was still lawful in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. While Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York had "officially" abolished slavery within the preceding decade, they had adopted a course of "gradual emancipation" that would allow chattel slavery to continue in those states until at least the mid 1840s.

The so called three-fifths compromise of 1788 benefited small population states at the expense of larger states, regardless of the question of slavery. At the time the compromise was adopted only Vermont, which was not yet even recognized as a separate entity, had both in law and in fact abolished slavery.

In all of the thirteen original colonies save Massachusetts, institutionalized chattel slavery still existed as a fact in 1788. And Massachusetts was less than a decade past its own slave-state history.

The real beneficiaries of the compromise that established the rules for Senate representation were Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware and Georgia, the five states with the least population as determined by the 1790 census.

Dividing the original fourteen states by population, four of the traditional "slave states"--Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina--were among the most populous, with population of half a million or more in the 1790 census; while six Northern states--Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island--were among the least populous, with only Connecticut having a population greater than 200,000.

John Sessoms

Raleigh, NC

Feb 25 2010 - 5:17pm

Web Letter

The most disappointing thing about Obama and the establishment (currently in the hands of the Democrats) and their unwillingness to do something productive for this country is that the Republicans think they can either fix it, or do better. The December 2009 issue of Time called the 2000s the "Decade from Hell." This is what the Republicans represent to the rest of the world. The most atrocious eight years we have ever lived in this nation, with an endless cycle of corruption, recklessness, deregulation, unaccountability and fear-mongering that destroyed any vestige of morality and self-restraint with the mantra of “the enemy will get you."

I became a naturalized citizen just so I could vote in 2004 to eliminate the Bush cartel. I worked hard, got involved in local state and federal political actions, for the first time ever. I compiled articles from both sides, documenting the hypocrisy of the Republicans on one side, and the fierce desire for revenge from the Democrats on the other. Articles I have archived from Harry Reid (D-NV) warning that when the Democrats regained the majority in the Senate, that if he beat the Nevada mafia, he would beat the Bush mafia (sic); articles from House minority (at the time) Leader John Conyers (D-MI) who, same thing, warned of articles of impeachment against the Bush junta. On and on. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could be seen “shaking” hands with Dick Cheney in 2006 (when the Dems regained majority) as if shaking hands with the devil.

The whole country, the whole world was anxious to shed some light on this malicious, dark evil empire. The word Hope expressed messianic wishful thinking for us Americans. This country had (at least not in my lifetime) never seen the energy, the hope, the relief, the sense of unity (as in “United States”) that it saw during the 2008 elections. We progressives were not 100 percent sure of candidate Obama. We knew he was in bed with the Wall Street czars; we knew he was in bed with many large corporations; we knew, we knew, we knew. Personally, I believe it was these very power$ who put him in the White House, with the help, of course, of the roughly 70 percent of the country who were sick of the Bush/Republican years. Now the same Republicans, with whom we wanted nothing to do in 2008, claim they can fix it! Thanks to President Obama and all those coward Democrats in office, I may lose my voter registration card, and prove my own theory that true democracy is a myth; whether in (the Third World) country I came from, or in this Third-World-country-to-be, the USA.

Frank Garciarubio

San Diego, CA

Feb 24 2010 - 1:25pm

Web Letter

The republic today eerily resembles something Rod Serling might have dreamed up for a Twilight Zone episode.

Our ship of state is actually embodied in the Titanic; but this time, it is not predestined that we collide with the iceberg. Yet it is still possible. (OK, a shaky TARP, a half-baked stimulus package, a brutal 9.7 percent official unemployment rate, two savage wars in search of exit strategies, and the squandering of political capital on an undersold and oversniped healthcare reform announce a bunch of frosty leviathans are floating around out there; but we haven't definitively hit one yet.)

Meanwhile inside the vessel's crammed navigation control center, a raw but gifted captain, Obama by name, peers intently into the dank gloomy night; he is determined to guide the ship through this treacherous stretch. Yet despite his considerable resolve and vision, the captain appears tense and even melancholy. Perhaps the demands of his position are too much, the waters too treacherous. Or perhaps he's in denial--the GOP have temporarily barged into steerage where they've doused the ship's coal-fired engines. (No, let's go green: they're snipping the wires of the ship's massive electric batteries.) The Titanic is slowing down dramatically and may lack the sudden thrust required to avert danger.

Yet the captain, a collaborative leader, resists rumors of sabotage. Many of his crew blame the previous skipper. Yet the ship's momentum is waning and compelling reports of passengers growing restless and fearful are common. An ever loyal first mate, Biden by name, murmurs quietly: "Captain, this is a mess. Even I'm speechless." To which Obama quietly barks, "Stay the course, m'man. Don't be a sunshine patriot."

Meanwhile, the heart of the iceberg field (the 2010 elections) approaches. Already the ship has grazed three small icebergs--one oddly resembling Massachusetts. And as the fog thickens, Biden senses the captain may need a spell. Then suddenly with great fanfare, a motley fiery crowd comprised of crew and passengers bursts into the navigation lookout. Activists, closet liberals, indies, union members, peaceniks, gays and straights, whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and many others all exulting--and they have tied up the dastardly right-wingers who were putting the ship and its passengers at risk. They insist they be heard!Heartened by this dormant groundswell, the captain perks up--and just as a towering iceberg pierces the shroud straight ahead.

jay allain

East Greenwich, RI

Feb 22 2010 - 11:15pm

It's increasingly hard to take the Obama fringe seriously. It's as if this is just a big online game to them.

It's increasingly hard to take the Obama fringe seriously. It's as if this is just a big online game to them. Before the Massachusetts election, the far left complained, for various far-left reasons, that the Senate health bill was garbage. Now they complain that our constitutional structure is antidemocratic because the bill they called garbage will not become law. To all the complaints about the fillibuster, I say: (1) If the American people wanted Obamacare, Obama would not even need sixty votes. Republicans could not fillibuster a bill voters want, especially when they were on the brink of oblivion in the Senate as it was.

And: (2) It is just a game for you, isn't it? You must be in some very special, privileged class of Democrats if you're willing to give up the fillibuster. Some of us will be at grave risk if the Republicans regain the majority, as they inevitably will, and we have no fillibuster to protect us. Others are not "real parties in interest." Their lives won't actually be affected. They'll just have something to write angry blog posts about.

"...from my perspective Republicans have nothing to offer." Sorry, but that sounds like the hometown crowd at a baseball game. Boo the other team, no matter what.

Having a woman president would be a net gain for misogyny? Wow, that's some imagination you got there.

Finally, while you're mocking the wisdom of the founders, consider that the US map might not even include those heartland territories without the two-senator rule. Compare our stability to any of the European Powers since 1789--try France and Russia, for starters.

Canaan Parker

New York, NY

Feb 22 2010 - 4:14am

The disappointment is that Obama and his staff can't get anything done.

The disappointment is that Obama and his staff can't get anything done.

They have known that jobs are the key to recovery for a year. The Jobs Summit, a one-day media blitz, is their answer. I think they hope it will correct itself, it will go away so they can continue campaigning. It is so much fun, and now they can play 'Hail to the Chief!'

Forget Democrat or Republican, he is an empty suit! Is that a surprise? Look at his résumé. You see these people in big business all the time: good school, good talker but can't get anything done. They are eventually rejected and seek their own level.

Obama surely doesn't think that the American people believe that you can provide health insurance for 20 to 30 milion and it has no cost--it will actually lower costs? Please!

Please point to one successful government program the ObamaCare will emulate. USPS, FAA, Amtrak, Senate Lunch Room, TSA. Homeland Security, DEA... Look out, something is going to happen.

John Hoff

Woodstock, VT

Feb 21 2010 - 6:13am

Ms. Pollitt makes an error historically in her criticism of the filibuster and the fact that there are two Senators from every state regardless of population.

This is a nice article, and Ms. Pollitt does a fine job of explaining the difficulties President Obama faces when dealing with the Senate. However, she make an error historically in her criticism of the filibuster and the fact that there are two Senators from every state regardless of population, saying "that little gift to the slave states of 1788 continues its antidemocratic work today."

The Constitution was heavily burdened with the three-fifths rule as a gift to slaveholders and the slave states. Indeed, the fact that the document endorses slavery is its most shameful aspect. However, the decision to grant two Senators to every state was not a slave state vs. free state affair. It was a populous vs. less-populous affair. At the time, the biggest opponents of the equal representation in the Senate were the Virginians, who had more slaves than all of the other states combined. James Madison's plan called for both the House and Senate to have proportional representation, and he was himself a slave-owner hailing from Virginia. It was the delegates from New Jersey and Connecticut who strenuously objected to the Virginia Plan, because they saw it as offering them very little in the way of a say in the new government, as their populations were much smaller than those of Virginia, New York, Massachusetts and, to a lesser extent, Pennsylvania. The smaller, less populous states refused to submit to the Constitution if all representation was based upon population rather than equally apportioned across the states. At the time of the Revolution, Virginia's population was growing the most rapidly and was the largest; and thus Virginians, with the most slaves, were the most opposed to equal representation among the states.

This is obfuscated by several things. First, in the decades following ratification immigrants headed to the more industrial North to find ready work for which they would not have to compete with slaves. As Virginia, especially, and the South generally became less powerful demographically they began to champion the Senate as the one body where they could maintain power equal with the Northern states' throughout the antebellum period. Thus, by the Civil War Southerners lionized the Senate as their bastion.

Second, it is a misunderstanding to believe that there were "free" and "slave" states at the time of the Revolution the way there were by the time of the Civil War. In fact, all of the colonies had slavery until the abolition movements that occurred in the wake of the Revolution. For example, at the time the Constitution was written, New York had more slaves than did Georgia (of course, in Georgia the percentage of slaves in the population was much higher, but New York did have more slaves). Most New England states abolished slavery in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution (within a decade) and most former middle colonies put the practice on the gradual road to abolition through gradual emancipation laws. The US naval officers that captured the Amistad Africans after their rebellion against their captors on board the slave ship took the prisoners to Connecticut on purpose because in Connecticut slavery was still legal as the gradual emancipation laws played themselves out.

The government still operates under what can be regarded as antiquated procedures and institutions. Your outrage that a person in Wyoming is many times more represented in both the Senate and Electoral College than someone living in NYC is the same outrage men like Madison felt when confronted with the Senate plan that made a Virginian many times less represented than a Rhode Islander or New Hampshire resident. Still, men from New York, Virginia and Massachusetts still agreed to the Constitution with this provision because they saw that without a compromise, there would be no union at all.

Gerrit Dirkmaat

Denver, CO

Feb 21 2010 - 3:03am

Pollitt's comment about supporting Obama over Clinton at least saving you from "a festival of misogyny" was not very amusing to me.

Pollitt's comment about supporting Obama over Clinton at least saving you from "a festival of misogyny" was not very amusing to me. I realize she was not apologizing for her choice, but supporting male candidates, even feminist males, over feminist women competitors hardly serves as some sort of remedy for misogyny.

I'm afraid that only electing women who are willing to "take it," as Clinton was, will bring about attitudinal change. Not supporting women candidates ensures that only male politicians will continue to receive unbiased and credible media and public attention, and will allow misogynist coverage to continue with impunity.

Women who supported Obama over Clinton for whatever reasons should have the integrity to stand behind their choice.

Linda Fraidenburg

Olympia, WA

Feb 20 2010 - 8:50pm

Web Letter

The major premise of this column, namely that the executive branch is subordinate to Congress, has some merit, as does Pollitt's "What if Hillary won?" summations. One would be remiss, however, not to point out the flaws within the same old tired arguments about the Senate: that the proportionality of that August body, as well as certain procedures such as the filibuster, are undemocratic. With regard to the former, comparing a state such as Wyoming to New York or California is about as fair as comparing Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware and other comparable "blue states" to Texas or Florida. As to the latter, the founding fathers created a constitution allowing for a republican and not democratic form of government (the small r and d does not reference political party). The checks and balances, including the filibuster (admittedly a post-Constitution invention) serves to protect Americans from themselves.

Michael A. Cox

Wilmette, IL

Feb 20 2010 - 5:44pm

Web Letter

For me, as a Middle Eastern woman and a lifelong Democrat, the past year has been a jolt of wakening. This behavior I see in the majority-Democrat Congress and within segments of the liberal establishment is worrisome and upsetting.

I am a Democrat--and I thought liberal-minded--not because I wish fundamental "change" to the fabric and foundation and Constitution of this country! My family dreamed only of this land, chose it above any other in the world, immigrated here through much hardship because of the principles and promise and values and foundation and doctrine that this land embodies... Yes, for mankind.

It truly astounds and mortifies and infuriates me when an American, self-righteous, over-indulged, and overbearing, holds views like: "Thank you, founding fathers, for setting up the Senate so that white, rural, conservative states with the population of Staten Island get the same two senators each as multiethnic urban powerhouses like California and New York."

Does this liberal have any idea what her words and the sentiment she holds mean? How tedious and reckless to turn everything into black-against-white issue. Why has it come to this that a foreign-born American must point out to these pampered legacy Americans that these checks and balances--on majority rule--is one of the marvels, in my opinion miracles, of the Constitution of this country, and a credit to wisdom and foresight of its writers? That for many other peoples of the world the US Constitution is a vision and a document they struggle and aspire to emulate? That though many have tried, by not fully comprehending the prudence and judgement rooted in the American Constitution, by disregarding the checks and balances and curbs on what the forefathers envisioned as the "tyranny of the majority," they fail to bring about government by the people and the prosperity and welfare it promises, creating instead quack "democracies" on steroids that smother nations' hope and promise and equality and opportunity.

If this is the new state of liberalism; if this is, or has been, the pursuit and goal of the American left or this new Democratic Party, I, a lifelong Democrat, want no part of it; I am not one of it, never.

afsaneh azadi

Denver, CO

Feb 20 2010 - 4:12pm

Web Letter

"If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny."

Instead, it's directed at Governor Palin. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Don Williams

Woodland Hills, CA

Feb 20 2010 - 2:55pm

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