Friday, September 28, 2012

Cheri G.'s Second Question: Where have all the veteran presidents gone?

Cheri G. has thrown yet another question of me.  Ahem:

Please give your analysis of the history of military leaders becoming political leaders. Why do you think our military leaders now refuse the transition? Should they or shouldn't they? 
She adds, in a comment, "Specifically, the Presidency."

Hmm.  That is a great question.  It is common wisdom that the presidency of the United States was once the domain of military commanders, yet today is largely a landing point for folk who served in primarily civilian government positions prior to taking office. 

Before we can be confident in this assumption, however, it might worth a little investigation - consider, after the break:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why should I vote, even though it seems to make no sense?

Tonight I addressed around 40 or 50 young minds at a nonpartisan event sponsored by the UVA-Wise Young Republicans on why informed voting matters.  I thought I'd share my notes - hope you enjoy them. [Thanks to Todd Galyean for organizing the event!]

The question, ladies and gentlemen, which brings me here this evening is a simple one: why should I vote?

The answer isn’t an obvious one, honestly.  Here is the problem. 

In the United States of America our electoral model is a plurality-based democratic-republican system.  I’ll break that down for you.  First, democratic-republican means that we have a representative system of government in which the candidates are chosen via popular election.  Nothing too dramatic there, eh?  But wait – there is more! In every democratic-republican system there is a simple truth – representatives will only be sent from a place if they win an adequate number of votes.  The more people that vote, the less likely any single vote will determine the outcome of the election.  Occasionally votes are close in modern polities, but functionally every office is determined by a single vote – the vote that pushes a candidate over the threshold.  Thus, the cost of voting (in time, primarily) is difficult to justify given the potential benefit that your vote will be the vote AND the potential risk that, by failing to vote, you might determine the outcome of an election in favor of a candidate which you would prefer not be elected.      

Secondly, as I noted earlier, the American political system is a plurality-based system.  This is understandable easily enough – whichever candidate in a given contest receives the most votes wins the contest.   A majority is not necessary in the American system.   Political scientists have lots of nicknames for the plurality system that illustrate pretty well how the system works.  One of these is “first-past-the-post” the other is “winner-take-all.”  These both refer to races – after all, whatever horse crosses the finish line first, whether by a nose, a length, or a lap wins the race.

This has several implications on its own, of course.  First, plurality based systems tend to limit the number of political options in a given race AND in a system of races.  Political scientists call this Durverger’s Rule: if you have a plurality race, then only the faction or coalition of factions that wins exercises powers.  Therefore when factions align under umbrella parties, they are more likely to win.  This results in, typically, two-party systems.  Secondly, these parties are often a bit problematic – lump too many factions into a single party and the outcome is that no particular voice wins for very long and the ideology of the party tends to become moderate and ambiguous. 

Finally, plurality systems constrain the problematic rationality of voting to its most extreme form – what are the odds, in a contest in which two gigantic groups of people are voting, in which only one group wins, that a single person’s vote will matter – under proportional systems of election at least you have a chance of electing a minority candidate – under this system minority party candidates have virtually zero chance of winning (on average). 

Damn.  Voting is beginning to seem downright silly.  Hold on – I’m going to make it look sillier.
In the United States we have an arcane system known as the Electoral College that we use to elect our Federal executive, the president.  The idea is – um – not simple.  But let’s see what we can do.

Every state is allotted, prior to the election (as of the most recent census) a number of electoral votes equal to the number of representatives it receives in the House of Representatives and senators it receives in the Senate (which, of course, is always two).  Each state is then allowed to allocate these in any manner that they wish.  All of the states except two (Nebraska and Maine) do so by employing a winner-take-all system – whichever of the candidates takes the plurality of votes in the state, that candidate receives all of the electoral votes for that state.  The result? In each state, functionally speaking, there will be a single vote that makes all the difference – all of the others? Well, they end up not really mattering (at least to the election).  Crazy, right?

Then of course, the electoral votes are counted – if one candidate gets a majority (at least 270 electoral votes) he or she is president-elect.  Nobody gets the majority?  Well, it goes to the House of Representatives where the states vote as delegations from among the three top vote-getters to determine the winner, over and over again, until somebody gets the majority.  Which of course, means, that the limited democracy of the popular vote is watered down yet again. 

Madness, you say to yourself, this is all madness.  Why should anyone calculate that voting makes sense given these hard truths.  Well, I’ll tell you why.   

(1) You should vote because it is your unique privilege to do so.  The vast majority of human beings, across the scope of history and space, have never had an opportunity to select a candidate for office, or to throw an officer of the state out of office in a manner that didn’t involve pitchforks or torches.  This isn’t merely true of humanity in general, however.  Consider in the United States the history of discrimination based upon property requirements, gender, ethnicity, and race.  We live in a wonderful time, and not participating in the political system is tantamount to spitting in the face of those men and women who fought to give you that right, both by force of arms and force of words.

(2) You should vote because it is your duty to do so.  The term political philosophers use to describe the origins of the modern state most commonly is the social contract.  A contract implies an exchange of goods and services between the actors party to the contract.  You don’t fulfill your end of the deal, the contract is dissolved and you can expect to lose your benefits in whole or in part.  Well, in the United States of America our contract is with one another – we wrote it down and we edit it from time to time.  It is called the Constitution.  In it we assert that certain things are absolutely true – that we have certain unalienable rights, that our logic of government is competition and exchange within rule of law, and so forth – but here is the kicker – in order for the contract to function we are all to be participants in the state insofar as we are able.  We are not merely obliged to passively submit to the state, but rather are expected to hold our state to certain standards.  The bare minimum manner in which an American citizen can do this, the very least, is to participate in elections and juries of our peers, to determine who is acting in the interests of our Union and who is violating its trust. 

(3) Just because the chances are that your vote will not be the vote does not mean that your vote won’t be the vote.  Somebody always wins the lottery. 

(4) Aristotle once noted that human beings are political animals, that it is in our nature to participate in the management of a state.  I however, feel that his sentiment is inadequate.  Rather, I turn to Thomas Hobbes.  Hobbes insisted that power, with regards to human society, could have three fundamental forms.  One of these forms was the physical power the human animal has in his or her frame – hardly much to speak of – humans are weak, slow, tender, fragile beasties.  Another of these is technological power, and it is on this front that humans begin to shine.  When human beings analyze their surroundings we seek to make our lives safer, more predictable.  We do this by creating tools, devices which increase artificially our strengths – they make us faster, stronger, smarter, safer, more durable, and so on.  It is important to note that we do not merely make tools from inanimate objects – rather, when we raise and manage plants, animals, fungi, and other life forms for the purpose of our service, of improving our persons, we are engaged in increasing our technical power.  Finally, Hobbes describes political power.  Political power includes all those means by which human individuals persuade other human individuals to alter their behavior to accord with their desired wills.  Influence, political institutions, rhetoric, and so on all fall under the realm of political power.  For power to be political, however, the assumption is that free, rational, equal human beings are engaged in discourse, debate, discussion, and mutual self-service – that is to say they are actively engaged in determining political decisions. 

This means, then, that human beings not engaged in actively pursuing politics, but rather only fulfill their socio-economic function, are not really human.  They are tools, devices, objects, domesticated animals controlled by those who do care about politics and engage in them.  Don’t like politics? I don’t care.  If you throw aside your political responsibilities you cease to be human in a meaningful sense. 

I suspect the Greeks were right - only gods and animals are beyond politics, and as I look out on my people, the American people, I don’t see many deities. 

Thank-you for your attention.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ms Farquharson's Question: On the Lionesses Seen and Unseen

Ms Wycliffe Farquharson of the Great State of North Carolina writes:

For the most part, throughout history, it has been men who are remembered for accomplishing great things. This was clearly the outcome of social and political limitations, but yet, the idea that "Behind every great man is a great woman," seems to be popular. Is this truth or a catchy song lyric?

Well, honestly this is a tough one to answer.  Certainly a lot of great political leaders were married, and many others maintained long-term relationships over much or all of their adult life.  But, certainly a lot of political leaders were never married or in such relationships or, perhaps more frequently due to the pressures to conform, were in relationships but did not share their political "work" life with their significant others.  And, of course, in the majority of relationships we simply have no record of how much influence one partner had over another. 

Observations I feel confident making, however, include the following:

(1) Outright partners, openly sharing in influence, decision-making, and rule are a recurring theme in history far more commonly than we often imagine.

ex. Theodora and Justinian I - see The Guardian's "Theodora: the empress from the brothel"

ex. Isabella and Ferdinand - see the Catholic Encyclopedia's "Isabella I"

(2) Shadow partners, in the terms of spouses and significant others clearly deserve more credit than they typically recieve in many cases; this means that a great number of women helped develop ideas with their spouses, even though (due to norms of their times) they were typically prevented from receiving credit OR their spouse feared revealing their influence would undermine their status, etc.

ex. John and Abigail Adams - see their letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society's electronic collection of Adams family papers

(2) Shadow partners have sometimes not merely been partners in the conventional sense, but the partner in the shadow has sometimes effectively exercised the power formally bestowed on their spouse or lover (or even other relatives, such as mothers, aunts, sisters, and daughters).

ex. Eleanor of Aquitaine - see Wikipedia's article

ex. The Empress Dowager Cixi - see Smithsonian's article "Cixi: The Woman Behind the Throne"

(3) Women have exercised political office effectively and definitively on their own or as formally senior partners in relationships many times in history and the frequency with which they are doing so is on the increase - radically.

ex. Elizabeth I - see the British Monarchy's site on the History of the Monarchy "Elizabeth I"

ex. Catherine the Great - see Biography and NPR's "Catherine the Great: First She Read, Then She Ruled"

(4) Women have always been critical to the formation of rebellions, conspiracies, revolutions, and reform movements and will continue to be so in the future - though increasingly (again) more sung of than in the past.

ex. The Trung Sisters - see Marc Jason Gilbert's "When Heroism is Not Enough"

ex. Tawakul Karman - see The Independent's article "Tawakul Karman: 'We brought down a tyrant.  Now we need the West to keep him out."



Also, check out Women Who Ruled - just for the fantasticness.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Obama Addresses the UN General Assembly: Links

Today President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly - I thought it might be useful to share a bit:

Speech Transcript (via Politico)

Speech Responses

The Internationalist @ the Council on Foreign Relations

"The Rumble" @ Daily News


Kendall Webb's Question: What the Hell is the Electoral College?

The good Mr. Kendall Webb of the Great State of Mississippi writes, asking:
 

What are your thoughts on the electoral college system? Does it need to be left alone? Modified? Eliminated? I've read pros and cons for each and still haven't the foggiest idea which, if any, would be the best course of action.

All my previous attempts to discuss this topic have resulted in my being berated by proponents/opponents of the system, none of whom would berate with specifics, only in abstracts and insults.
I suspect that as the campaign continues to heat up and swing states become even more contentious (or at least appear more contentious) this subject is going to come up ever more often both in public discourse and private conversation.  Perfect.

Preface

Before I go through and explain the thises and the thats, I think it is worth reading what the Constitution actually says.  First, I want to include the original relevant portions of the text of the Constitution in Article I, Section 1.  Ahem.

Article. II. Section. 1. The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Alright then, Doc, you're saying, why the strikethrough?  Easy enough - that portion of the Second Article was itself struck down by the Twelfth Amendment (Passed by Congress in 1803, Ratified by the States in 1804):
 

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; -- the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Superb - by the way, that last bit of strikethrough?  That was altered by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 3:


If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
Good.  Now we have the basics to work from.  Let's continue.

I. What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is an odd institution. In most democratic-republics today executives are chosen by one of two major methods.  In some systems the executive is directly elected by the population at large, either by plurality (whoever gets the most votes) or by majority (meaning that if anyone doesn't get a majority the top vote-getters have a run-off election) - we can refer accurately to this sort of executive as an independent executive.  In other states the legislature elects one of its own to serve as the executive - we usually call this office in the generic a "prime minister," literally the first legislator. 

The United States' method of selecting a president is different from both of these, of course.  In the US our executive is independent, that is to say the legislature does not play a role in electing him or her (usually - more on that later), but the executive is not elected directly by the people either.  Rather, there is a temporary, intermediary body known as the Electoral College.  Each state (and now, though not originally, the District of Columbia) is represented in the body by Electors equal in number to the number of representatives that state has in the House of Representatives and the number of senators that state elects to the Senate.   Of course every state has two senators, but
the number of representatives changes over time; reapportionment, the redivision of the available seats in the House of Representatives, is conducted every ten years, after each national census.  At that point the seats receive, lose, or keep Representatives according to their relative proportion of the total American population. 

To give you a sense of things, I snagged this chart from the FEC which shows changes in the Electoral College allotments since the 1980 National Census.
 

State
1981-1990
1991-2000
2001-2010
Alabama
9
9
9
Alaska
3
3
3
Arizona
7
8
10
Arkansas
6
6
6
California
47
54
55
Colorado
8
8
9
Connecticut
8
8
7
Delaware
3
3
3
D.C.
3
3
3
Florida
21
25
27
Georgia
12
13
15
Hawaii
4
4
4
Idaho
4
4
4
Illinois
24
22
21
Indiana
12
12
11
Iowa
8
7
7
Kansas
7
6
6
Kentucky
9
8
8
Louisiana
10
9
9
Maine
4
4
4
Maryland
10
10
10
Massachusetts
13
12
12
Michigan
20
18
17
Minnesota
10
10
10
Mississippi
7
7
6
Missouri
11
11
11
Montana
4
3
3
Nebraska
5
5
5
Nevada
4
4
5
New Hampshire
4
4
4
New Jersey
16
15
15
New Mexico
5
5
5
New York
36
33
31
North Carolina
13
14
15
North Dakota
3
3
3
Ohio
23
21
20
Oklahoma
8
8
7
Oregon
7
7
7
Pennsylvania
25
23
21
Rhode Island
4
4
4
South Carolina
8
8
8
South Dakota
3
3
3
Tennessee
11
11
11
Texas
29
32
34
Utah
5
5
5
Vermont
3
3
3
Virginia
12
13
13
Washington
10
11
11
West Virginia
6
5
5
Wisconsin
11
11
10
Wyoming
3
3
3

Trends?  The Sunbelt is growing in influence over the presidency, the Rustbelt shrinking, but since most Sunbelt growth is urban the outcomes are systemically complex - notably the Democratic party should be gaining in influence, but only can if it mobilizes Southern and Western minority voters.

To understand how the Electoral College works we first must understand that the Electoral College system of election, like all systems of election, is a game.  And as the rules of all games vary, inevitably, they bias the winning and losing potential of the participants, all other elements being equal.  Plug the same variables into a different set of rules the outcome potentially changes. 
So, what are the rules of the game?

Rule 1: The Federal government determines how many Electors each state shall post.
Rule 2: The state governments determine how Electors shall receive their commission.

Hold up.  Reread Article I et al.  Do you see any guarantee of democracy?  Nope.  Do you even see any guarantee of representation?  Not really.

This means in theory the state legislatures can chose electors in any manner they desire.  There are a number of manners possible, too: (1) the states can hold a series of elections for each elector in which each district wins a single elector and the senatoral-equivalent electors are chosen by the state in an election as a whole; (2) the states can hold a single winner-take-all election in which whatever candidate gets the plurality receives all the Electoral Votes; (3) the state legislatures can select the electors themselves in either a proportional or winner-takes-all manner; or (4) some combination of these elements. 

The third of these is completely legal, by the way - we can consider the Guarantee Clause (Article IV, Section 4, which asserts, among other things, "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government. . .") fulfilled because the elected legislatures are, well, republican themselves. 

That said, all of the states today have a winner-take-all system in place save two - Maine and Nebraska, who use the first plan, calling it the Congressional District Method (CDM).

Rule 3: In each state the Electors convene formally, publically cast their vote, then seal their vote.  Their vote is then conveyed to the Federal capital, specifically to the Senate, where the President of the Senate (the sitting Vice-President) shall, in joint session of Congress, open the sealed votes, formally count them and declare a winner. The winner must have a majority of the Electoral votes.

Rule 4: If no candidate wins a majority of the Electoral votes then the top three vote-getters are voted on by the members of the House of Representatives by method of ballot.  The method is unusual, however - each state's members function as a delegation and each state-delegation receives only a single vote.  The House continues to hold votes until somehow a single candidate receives a majority of the votes.

Rule 5: The states have, at least until the Federal Judiciary decides otherwise, the exclusive right to decide whether or not to punish faithless Electors - that is to say Electors who, for whatever reason, do not vote according to the candidate they are specifically affirmed to be electing. Twenty-four states make it criminal to be a faithless voter, but the remainer lack legal consequences for their actions - 157 Electors have been faithless. 

II. Who invented the Electoral College?
The short answer is: not the United States. 

The longer answer is as such:

Two of the most important political systems in the history of the Western world were (and in one case, is) presided over by monarchs elected by colleges of aristocrats. One of these is the Papacy, or the Bishopric of Rome, in which the College of Cardinals meet in conclave and elect a Pope to serve as the Roman Catholic Church’s monarch in matters temporal and spiritual; upon his death or retirement, the College reconvenes and a new Pontiff is elected.   The other of these is the Holy Roman Empire in which the Emperor, or King of Rome, was elected by seven Kurf├╝rsten, or Electors, all of whom were temporal or church aristocrats or monarchs.   Neither of these institutions could be described as new in any sense – the method of papal election was solidified by Gregory X in 1247’s Ubi periculum bull, while the method of imperial election was issued by the Reichstag of the Empire in 1356 in the form of Charles IV’s Golden Bull. 

In other words, the United States' Electoral College is part of a much older tradition in Western culture - one in which the aristocratic elites, be they lords temporal, lords spiritual, or elected parliamentarians, both saw the need for a strong, centrally organized executive and feared the consequences.  Fascinating, I say.

III. But why did the Founders choose to use the Electoral College?
When the Committee of 11, the Constitutional Convention’s working committee, proposed the Electoral College as an alternative to the more popular Virginia Plan-based parliamentary mode, the proposal was accepted on the basis that not only did it prevent the development of a legislative cabal, but it further guaranteed the relevance of the states and regions, and their independence with regards to influencing the presidential election – the southern states generally preferring to leave the decision to the state legislators, the northern states tending towards popular elections determining the electors. In other words, the institution of the presidency was designed, quite consciously, to be powerful enough to actually do things yet still eternally dependent on the will of both the masses and the elites within the context of each region and states’ biases. The system was complex and difficult to understand and it was built on a total lack of trust among the founding fathers with regards to themselves, their respective state governments, and the people as a whole.

IV. What are the consequences of the Electoral College?
The rules are known; the rationale elaborated.  Now what are the consequences?  There are a few regularities which emerge.

First, the Electoral College tends to manifest outcomes according to Durverger's Principle (I won't call it a law - too many exceptions).  Maurice Duverger, you see, asserted that when you have a plurality-based electoral system the tendency is for the bipartisan systems to emerge.  The reason, of course, is that only by winning the most votes does a faction (a group of people sharing a single identity of a sort that implies shared goals that are distinct from those of society as a whole) have the ability exercise power-in-office.  This means that factions are rationally forced to consider any means necessary to win as many votes as possible.  Therefore, rather than forming many parties that are smaller with high party discipline and a strictly defined party platform which then, in blocs, negotiate with one another after taking office, factions tend to align within umbrella parties in plurality-based electoral systems, negotiating constantly within the parties, having low party discipline based upon (comparatively) vaguely defined party platforms.

Secondly, Electoral Colleges guarantee that states (and regions within states) with comparatively low populations do not become irrelevant in the race for the national executive.  In the 18th Century this meant Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey - in the 21st it means North Dakota, Alaska, and Montana.  The Electoral College, in other words, can be said to guarantee the significance of interior and rural voters while muting somewhat the population centers' influence.

Thirdly, this condition means that certain states get disproportionate representation not only in the House of Representatives but even more disproportionate representation in presidential elections.  This in turn means that it is possible for presidents to be elected whom do not win the popular vote - that is to say presidents have and may in the future be elected who lack a popular mandate.

Damn skippy.  Well, how often has this happened?  FOUR TIMES.  Damn.  That is a consequence that is non-trivial, eh?  Four times! In 1824 with John Quincy Adams, in 1876 with Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1888 with Benjamin Harrison, and in 2000 with George W. Bush. 
 
IV. What would the consequences of eliminating the Electoral College be?

Well, the United States would almost inevitably adopt a popular election scheme - either one in which the president would be whatever candidate received the plurality of the vote or one in which a majority vote was required, where in the event of no candidate receiving the majority the two top vote-receiving candidates would stand for election again, this time in a run-off election. 

First consequence - the major parties spend a helluva' lot less time in rural areas, while the Megalopoli (the triangle from Boston to Richmond to Chicagoland; the West Coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, coastal Florida, and east Texas) plus St. Louis, Atlanta, Seattle, and Denver would receive, well, almost all the attention.  The result?  Never expect a rural America-oriented president again.  Ever. 

Second consequence - the major parties would be just fine if a plurality scheme was adopted, but if the reforms reached this far, well, I feel it is unlikely that they would stop there - in that case, we may see the final fracturing of the two-party system.  After all, Americans could vote for any party they wanted in the initial election and then, that is to say "with their heart," in the run-off could vote for either for their party or for whatever party they felt minimally diverged from their interests. The result could be the emergence of, if nothing else, strong Libertarian, Reform, Green, and/or conservative Christian-oriented parties.

Third consquence - electoral campaigns would look very different - though it is difficult to predict exactly how outside of the specifics of such a system.  A popular plurality systems would look similar to our own in its discourse quality and spending quantities (or should I say "quality"?) though I suspect New York would become far more of a focus and West Virginia far less.  Alternatively, in a run-off system one might expect donors to be hesitant to throw their hats in the races too early - better to spend big once the race has narrowed to a less ideological, more pragamatist duel.

Fouth consequence - the presidential election becomes more democratic, less representative.  The people, for better or worse, control the outcome of the election.  This means if the people elect a tyrant the states have no legal method of dealing with this - the only response is acquiescence or revolution.  It also means that the will of the people is represented, however - this means every vote is equal in a very literal sense of the term, a fact which makes it far more likely traditionally politically weak voters in urban areas - recent immigrant populations, as well as other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, will likely be far less alienated, which might truly revitalize the United States. 

Once more, for every benefit, there is a cost and a risk.