Sic Transit…

It seem there might be a princess– princess in the sense of being the child of a European royal– somewhere in the Inland Empire. Albert Grimaldi, the ruling prince of Monaco (and one of the least inbred of Europe's royal relics, thanks to the genetic material of Grace Kelly), is reportedly about to acknowledged that he is the father of a 14 year old girl from Riverside County. Since Albert wasn't married to the mother, the girl will have no claim to the throne (given Albert's habit of spreading his genetic material far and wide, Monaco has a law covering this situation)– but on the bright side, this will give our friends at the Inland Empire Weekly a chance to momentarily turn their attention from the breeding (and inbreeding) habits of the locals, and consider those of Europeans instead. It'll make a nice change of pace. (Fun Monaco fact: before becoming a tourist-attraction royal family, the Grimaldis were a notorious clan of pirates– becoming minor monarchs was a lateral move for the family, the lazy man's way of separating people from their money.)

Meanwhile, in other royal news, France is turning its attention once again to Marie Antoinette, the queen whose reign and neck were cut short by the French Revolution. A new (and reportedly mediocre) movie has people debating whether the guillotined queen was a useless let-them-eat-cake royal parasite, or a wonderful but misunderstood royal parasite who wanted to let her people eat cake? Either way, according to the New York Times, bakers are looking to cash in on all the cake references– so at least some good may come from it. This debate crops up in France about once every 10 or 15 years, and is invariably about the current French political scene, since not even the most nostalgic monarchist would want to be ruled by the outdated thinking that animated the political regime of 18th century France.

Americans, on the other hand, show a surprising willingness to be bound outdated 18th century political ideas. Take, for example, the Electoral College. A product of the hard bargaining of the smaller states and the Founding Fathers' harden distrust of the average citizen, it still keeps us from directly electing our president. You don't have to Thomas Jefferson, calling for “a rebellion” every 20 years, because “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots N tyrants”, to realize that sooner or later the country outgrows the prejudices of its founders– whether we're talking about slavery, the role of women, what qualifies a person to become a citizen (the Naturalization Law of 1790 specified that only “white” foreigners were eligible for citizenship), or if the people can be trusted to elect their leaders.

Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) is willing to trust the public with the direct election of the president, and a bill he authored to make that a reality has just passed the Assembly. Since there is no way that states with small populations, like Wyoming, will ever willing embrace direct democracy and agree to amend the constitution, Umberg's bill calls for a compact between states (to take affect when states with at least the 270 votes needed to elect the president join the compact) to award their electoral to the winner of the nation's popular vote in a presidential election– creating the popular election of the president as a fact on the ground, if not a clause in the constitution. Not only would this change be a ringing endorsement of the principle of one man, one vote, it would also have the very practical effect of making California a more central player in presidential elections.

So where, at the beginning of the 21st century, can you find who would oppose the ideal of popular election? In the Republican party, of course. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Umberg's bill got only one Republican vote in the Assembly. Almost predictably, Irvine's gift to the Assembly, Chuck Devore, was full throated in his defense of the good ol' days of the 18th century, when the propertied white elites of the smaller states could bend the larger states to their will. “Direct democracies were properly seen by the founding fathers as very unstable because 50% plus one of the people can vote themselves anything and run roughshod over the rights of the minority, run roughshod over rule of law,” the Times quotes Devore as declaiming. “That is what the Electoral College is all about.” Of course, it's not. There's nothing about directly electing the president that will repeal the protections afforded to citizens by the constitution.

While the refreshing candor of the Republicans coming out against trusting the average citizen is entertaining, you have to wonder how hard they'll be willing to press it. How many people in the most populous state in the union will be willing to diminish California's potential influence in national affairs to remain obedient to an antique theory that states they shouldn't be trusted to elect their leaders. Except for professional Republicans like Devore– who understand that the status quo favors the GOP by giving weight out of proportion to population to less populated states, where Republican presidential candidates traditionally do well– I suspect you could feed them all with a rather small amount of cake. So, let them eat their cake, while the rest of us leave the prejudices of the 18th century behind.

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