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Mail Time!

Osita Nwanevu
5 min read
Mail Time!

Hey all. Let’s hop to it.

Recent Work

I have a piece somewhat related today’s post in The New Republic. It’s about Fix Our House, a new campaign to move to proportional representation in the House. An excerpt:

“The basic theory of Fix Our House is that our system is broken and that it’s only going to get worse,” Eli Zupnick, co-founder of Fix Our House and former spokesperson for the anti-filibuster Fix Our Senate campaign, says. “There are major structural problems with a two-party system where one party simply rejects democracy. And the only way it’s going to change is if we make the structural changes to pull us back from the brink.”
Proportional representation could disrupt the two-party duopoly by making basic changes to the way House elections work. Proportional systems vary widely in design and specifics, but the underlying idea is a simple one. Currently, each House district elects one representative—whoever wins at least a plurality of the vote. If Party A’s candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, Party B wins 40 percent of the vote, and some third Party C wins 10 percent of the vote, Party A’s candidate goes to Congress while Party B and Party C’s voters aren’t represented at all. In a proportional system, each district would elect multiple representatives, with each party getting a share of them equal to their share of the vote, provided, perhaps, they meet some threshold level of support—maybe 10 percent of the vote. In this case, voters from Party A, B, and C would all send people to Washington—5, 4, and 1 representatives respectively in a 10-member district, for instance. This would grant Party A its due advantage while also granting all the district’s voters a seat at the table they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
This would functionally put an end to solid-seeming red and blue districts rendered “safe” by ideological polarization, geographic separation, and gerrymandering. Our most Republican districts would likely send at least a few Democrats to Congress and vice versa, making votes cast everywhere truly meaningful. What’s more, proportional representation would be a boon to voters in small parties like the Greens and Libertarians—so much so, in fact, that dissident left-wing Democrats and centrist Republicans would have good reason to strike out on their own and create new parties essentially guaranteed representation in Congress.


I owe a Mail Time response to Richard, who wrote in asking for a post about flaws in the Constitution:

Out of curiosity I recently looked up "flaws in the US Constitution" and got a handful of hits.  One site had a single entry - "No prohibition of slavery" and pointed out that slavery was actually protected in the Constitution. Another site had a long list.  Try picking your favorite one or two for a newsletter topic.

This is a particularly good prompt because I spend my time talking and thinking about the intentional features of the Constitution ⁠— many, if not most of the features of our Constitutional order that progressives dislike were deliberately designed to obstruct political, social, and economic change. But that’s not to say the Framers didn’t also make straight-up mistakes. Here’s Michael Klarman on the Electoral College in The Framers’ Coup for instance:

For example, the electoral college system they devised required electors to cast two votes for different candidates but did not permit them to designate one of those voters for president and the other for vice president. Not anticipating the rise of political parties which nonetheless happened almost immediately, the Framers did not imagine party tickets that combined a candidate for president with one for vice president. Yet by coordinating support for candidates among the electors, political parties fostered the realistic possibility of tie votes in the electoral college, as each party’s electors cast their two (undifferentiated) votes for the presidential and vice presidential nominees of their parties.
This gaffe by the Framers nearly led to a debacle in the presidential election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, both Democratic-Republicans, received the same number of electoral votes. Although everyone knew that Jefferson had been the party’s choice for president and Burr for vice president, it remained uncertain for weeks who would become president. Even worse, members of the opposition party ⁠— the Federalists ⁠— controlled the decisive votes in the House of Representatives that would determine which of their adversaries’ candidates would become the nation’s third president.

As Klarman suggests, the Framers’ key oversight here was their failure to envision organized political parties. I’ve always been mystified by this. If you read Madison’s notes on the convention, you’ll find a lot of fairly granular conversation about the extent to which geographic and economic divisions might create political factions along with some speculation about people grouping themselves around particular individuals. But there’s not much grappling, that I can remember, with the fact that people have a tendency to form durable political organizations based on interest and ideology ⁠— this despite the fact that the ideological divisions that would shape politics during and after the Constitution’s ratification were already present among the Framers at the convention! It’s really beyond me why they didn’t assume those divisions would survive within the structures and procedures the Constitution put in place, especially given that they obviously knew about the Tories and Whigs in Parliament.

If anyone who knows more than I do has insights on this, I’d love to hear them. I’d love any and all recommended reads on the Constitution, really ⁠— my reading list of folks whose great work on the Constitution I discovered after writing my 2020 piece on the Barrett nomination is already long (Sanford Levinson, Robert Dahl, etc), but I wouldn’t really mind making it longer. You can send your correspondence ⁠— including questions for the next Mail Time ⁠— to

Reasons to Be Cheerful

College is now tuition-free in New Mexico. From CNN:

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed on Friday Senate Bill 140, otherwise known as the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act. First introduced in 2019, the plan will waive tuition for any students attending any in-state public school or tribal college, including community colleges.
"For over a quarter of a century, New Mexico has been a national leader in providing free college to its residents. A fully funded Opportunity Scholarship opens the door for every New Mexican to reach higher, strengthening our economy, our families and our communities," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "Signing this legislation sends a clear message to New Mexicans that we believe in them and the contributions they will make for their families and the future of our great state."
Eligible students must enroll in a minimum of six credit hours and maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5 during their time in college. The scholarship has already been awarded to more than 10,000 students over the last two years, but now $75 million has been allocated to the fund, according to a press release by the governor's office. That could support up to 35,000 students this fall alone, according to the statement, and allows part-time students and adult learners to take advantage, as well.

A Song

“Bel Air” - Can