Michael Nelson

Michael Nelson is a professor of political science at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He recently edited The Elections of 2000, which will be published in March by Congressional Quarterly Press.

Recent Articles

Flunking the Electoral College?

Should the United States abolish or alter the Electoral College system? If so, what should replace it? 12.18.00 Michael Nelson | Representative James Clyburn | Walter Berns | Representative William Delahunt | James R. Whitson Michael Nelson: End It The Electoral College was no one's first choice at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Various delegates had all sorts of ideas about who should elect the president, including Congress, the people, the governors of the states, even a randomly selected group of legislators. Unable to agree on any of these, weary after three months of rehearsing the same old arguments, and racing toward adjournment, the convention appointed a committee to deal with presidential selection and other "postponed matters." From this committee sprang the Electoral College, a mechanism so odd and complicated that it skirted the convention's established lines of division. The delegates accepted the Electoral College mostly as a stopgap measure, to be replaced with...

The Lottery Gamble

H ere's the best news to come out of the otherwise screwed-up 2000 election: The political juggernaut that during the last third of the twentieth century transformed the states from staunch foes of gambling into gambling's chief sponsors has slowed to a crawl. The voters of Arkansas rejected a lottery-casino ballot measure, joining the voters of Alabama, who turned down a lottery proposal in 1999. South Carolina voters were more ambivalent: They approved a lottery proposal, but they also elected a Republican House of Representatives that may refuse to pass the enabling legislation needed to put a lottery into effect. What a contrast to the period that began in 1964, when New Hampshire became the first state ever to create, own, and operate a lottery. New Hampshire is one of only two states with neither an income tax nor a sales tax, and therein lies the tale. A lottery seemed to the state's voters a painless, voluntary tax. Lotteries spread rapidly in this country during the 1970s and...

Chins Up, Liberals

A mericans are ideological conservatives and operational liberals. That was the finding of social psychologists Lloyd A. Free and Hadley Cantril, who based much of The Political Beliefs of Americans, their classic work about public opinion, on a massive survey they conducted during the fall of 1964. As ideological conservatives, Americans are skeptical about the "role and sphere of government in general and of the Federal Government in particular," the authors discovered. Yet as operational liberals, citizens have favored just about every "government program to accomplish social objectives since at least the days of the New Deal." Republican Senator Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential election, Free and Cantril argued, because he was an in-your-face operational conservative. He traveled to Tennessee, for example, to make a speech blasting the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). "As long as Goldwater could talk ideology alone, he was high, wide, and handsome," they wrote. "But the...

The Essential Tip O'Neill

Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century, by John A. Farrell. Little, Brown and Company, 776 pages, $29.95. Jimmy Breslin called Tip O'Neill "a lovely spring rain of a man" and John A. Farrell proves Breslin right in Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century. Farrell, a prizewinning veteran reporter for The Boston Globe, has written a book as lovely as its subject, and also as big and accomplished. Yes, there are stories--including a few that you may not have heard before, like this one: O'Neill, who was blissfully disengaged from the popular culture, was chatting at a fundraiser with a handsome young man who seemed to think that O'Neill knew who he was. After the young man left, O'Neill asked a friend, "Who was that?" The answer: "Warren Beatty." O'Neill looked blank for a second. "The lion tamer's son?" Then there was the time when O'Neill heard that Barney Frank, his fellow Massachusetts congressman, was going to announce publicly that he was gay. O'Neill quietly began to inform a few...

From Rez to Riches

Indian Gaming: Tribal Sovereignty and American Politics, W. Dale Mason. University of Oklahoma Press, 330 pages, $29.95. The Revenge of the Pequots: How a Small Native American Tribe Created the World's Most Profitable Casino, Kim Isaac Eisler. Simon and Schuster, 267 pages, $25.00. Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World's Largest Casino, Jeff Benedict. HarperCollins, 376 pages, $26.00. At a gathering of political scientists in 1997, W. Dale Mason's graduate adviser introduced him to an eminent scholar, noting that Mason's award-winning doctoral dissertation was about "Indian gaming." The scholar told Mason that there was someone in the room he had to meet; he called over a graduate student who studied game theory. The student was from India. The term "Indian gaming" is less likely to be misunderstood these days, as casinos owned by American Indian tribes have become a prominent part of the national landscape. Only 13 years ago...

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