Lessons from Election 2000

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I
don't think it too much an exaggeration to describe this past week
as one of the wilder rides of our lifetimes. On Tuesday night I
observed a seesaw battle between Bush and Gore, with one leading
in the Electoral College, then the other, then back again. Florida,
at first, had been acceded to Gore. Then, abruptly, at shortly after
9:30, it was pulled back into the dwindling group of undecided states.
As the evening progressed, Bush and Gore continued to run neck and
neck. I watched until 1 a.m. (by then I was nodding off repeatedly).
Four states including Florida were still undecided, but Bush was
ahead in the vote count there. If he won Florida, he would win the
election; the state's 25 electoral votes would pull him over the
line by one electoral vote.

Then
the fun really started. Apparently, at around 2:20 a.m., Florida
was given to Bush by Fox. (One lesson of this election is that the
methods yielding these results are not an exact science!) A number
of newspapers sent their first editions press shortly afterwards
with screaming headlines declaring Bush the winner. I received one
on my doorstep Wednesday morning. But sometime around 4 a.m., Florida
was again designated undecided. And remained so. The newspapers
all had to print new editions declaring the election on hold until
the Florida vote could be recounted amidst allegations ranging from
a confusing ballot to voter fraud. Eight lawsuits have so far been
filed, and the Gore liberals are already threatening litigation
if Bush is given Florida's 25 electoral votes. In my last
article
I predicted a crisis – the fourth major crisis in our
history fitting a 70-plus year pattern going back to the Constitutional
Convention of 1787. Is this its beginning? It is too soon to tell.
Such pronouncements can only be made safely in hindsight. But the
question is certainly an interesting one.

At
the time of this writing (Friday morning) there is still no decision,
and it clear that this thing is going to continue at least into
next week. Life will go on as usual, of course. The battles waged
by politicians do not much affect our workaday lives as much as
they wish it did. But certain features of Election 2000 strike me
as worthy of comment.

First,
there was one thing we could all agree on. It was going to be close – so
close, in fact, that third-party candidates could actually affect
the outcome. In that last article which turned out to be (judging
from my email) rather controversial, I was working under this assumption,
which turned out to be right on target. But I get ahead of myself.
Another thing we could all agree on was that despite the closeness
of this race, we could all go to the polls – those that did – without
worrying about being intimidated by lawless thugs or shot at from
passing cars. There are a lot of places in the world where attempts
at holding American-style elections have failed because their lawless
elements could not be controlled.

Moreover,
we now have a situation in which the official outcome is undecided
on the third day after! While there have been some rather heated
exchanges (including one between Gore and Bush following the former's
refusal to concede the election), there has been no mayhem. No violence.
No random shootings. No grabs at power by one candidate's backers
or the other.

Can
anyone imagine an outcome like this taking place anywhere outside
the Western world without a rapid descent into chaos?

To
what do we attribute these amazing results? I attribute them to
what is left of our tradition of liberty, Constitutional government
and the rule of law. Since arguably there isn't a whole lot left
of this tradition after the past 50 years of attacks, this is a
testimony to its tremendous resilience. It's very simple: traditions
of liberty work. Traditions of slavery, statism and state-sponsored
thuggery do not. Traditions of liberty help preserve the peace,
even in a situation like this that is threatening to precipitate
a crisis. Their absence ensures eventual mayhem and dictatorship
at the hands of the first gang of thugs to seize the reins of power.

This
tradition of liberty, its origins in the natural rights tradition
as espoused by philosophers such as John Locke, is what we need
to highlight. Not this or that candidate, or this or that political
party (though some, obviously, are more mindful of our roots than
others). We also need to highlight the deeper roots: a fundamentally
moral citizenry whose common morality is rooted in Christianity.
A number of philosophers of liberty have tried to find a different
moral basis for the free society; in this writer's judgment, while
their results are interesting and challenging, they don't succeed – typically
because they get human nature wrong. The tradition of liberty as
it was originally developed here was founded on a mistrust of human
nature – particularly its tendencies toward egocentrism and shortsightedness,
and the desire for power on the part of a possessed few. This is
why we have a division of powers in the federal government, why
certain powers were delegated to the branches of the federal government
and others explicitly withheld from them, why the Framers instituted
divided sovereignty; and why, finally, we ended up with a Bill of
Rights, with certain unnamed rights "reserved to the states,
or to the people."

The
people who would destroy this tradition are the real kooks. This
is the case whether they sit in tenured chairs in prestigious universities
and harp about the oppressive nature of "Eurocentrism,"
or whether they sit, safely ensconced in the United Nations and
scheme to set up a global empire.

Some
have claimed that because Gore got slightly more popular votes (if
it turns out that he did, once the dirt has settled) he should win
the election, and that it should not be decided by the Electoral
College. Typically, leftist professors from prestigious universities
are now condemning the Electoral College as an anachronism, which
strikes me right there as a good reason to support it. A better
answer is surprisingly simple, and – hopefully! – familiar: the Framers
did not create a direct democracy but a Constitutional republic.
They did not trust the masses to set policy that would protect liberty.
They realized that so-called majority rule is dangerous! Political
philosophers of various stripes – who disagree vehemently on other
matters – are in agreement on this basic point: majority rule tends
to degenerate into mob rule and from there to anarchy and then totalitarianism.
This was realized as far back as Plato, who criticized what we now
call direct democracy in The Republic. Liberty and direct
democracy should not be confused with one another.

So
where do we go from here? We wait. And we observe. To rephrase a
cliché, what the candidates do will speak louder than anything
they say does. The Gore people are behaving predictably: arrogant
and demanding, and unwilling to accept results that do not conform
to what they believe they are entitled to. The protesters are out
in force, over skewed ballot results that may reflect nothing more
than an inability to read and think. Even a few racial opportunists
have crawled out from under their rocks, alleging discrimination
on what grounds I haven't a clue. The Bush people have threatened
to call for recounts in other states where the vote was extremely
close, such as Wisconsin and Iowa. We are looking at a situation
that could escalate, and then drag on. If this drags on through
the rest of November and into December, with the December 18 meeting
of the Electoral College which actually elects the next president
looming closer with no resolution in sight, then we have
a problem. Some are going so far as to call for a new election.
Our system was not designed to accommodate such an eventuality.
We are entering uncharted waters here in any event. That's the stuff
crises are made of.

Last
week, I recommended biting the bullet and voting for Bush. Some
who wrote to me noticed how reluctant my endorsement was, and their
agreement was equally and understandably hesitant. They hoped I
was wrong, but didn't think so. I hoped I was wrong, that one of
the third parties would surprise me. There is a sense that this
both was, and was not, an election where third parties
made a difference. It was, in the sense that Nader clearly
did receive votes that would have gone to Gore. If Bush is declared
the victor, Nader may well have cost Gore the election. It's in
the numbers. Nader's Green Party, ironically, is the complete antithesis
of the tradition of liberty. Nader's efforts to be a "man of
the people" as opposed to being puppets of the superelites
(charges that can justifiably be leveled against Gore and Bush)
have him leading a socialist movement whose programs, by involving
central government, would empower the superelites all the more.
This is a major reason why the calls for a new election that are
coming from some quarters are so absolutely nuts. Sooner or later,
Nader will figure all this out. When he does, he will endorse Gore,
since Gore, too, is a socialist at heart. If that happens, Gore
wins. I wrote what I wrote because I cannot imagine anything worse.
(With the possible exception of Bill Clinton using this opportunity
to seize a third term!)

It
wasn't, in the sense that those parties most concerned about
diminishing individual freedoms, political correctness, increasing
immorality, unlimited immigration and its effects, etc., barely
even registered in the exit polls. Assuming we can trust the figures
at hand, Pat Buchanan received less than one percent of the popular
vote; Harry Browne, less than that. Both came out ahead of "physicist"
John Hagelin's TM high-fliers, for whatever that is worth. And this
returns us to the basic theme of my article last week, which some
rejected as a sell-out, telling me in no uncertain terms they were
voting for Browne (in some cases it was Buchanan) – or, in one case,
calling me a "coward." My purpose was not to tell anyone
how to vote; I explicitly said, Exercise your own best judgment.
My purpose was to highlight the trouble we are in because of the
low educational level and overall complacency of the American masses,
many of whom really believe, for example, that this is the greatest
economy in the history of all Western civilization and that the
Clinton Regime deserves credit for "prosperity" and "surpluses"
that don't exist.

To
illustrate this low educational level still more concretely, a reporter
on Prime Time Live Thursday night asked a student down in
the Florida county where controversy erupted what the Electoral
College was. He answered with something like, "Isn't that some
school where a lot of politicians go?"

Small
wonder such people can't figure out one of today's ballots! Maybe
our crisis is that we actually let such people vote!

Those
of us who believe in individual liberties, morality, Constitutional
government and the rule of law – all of which are now largely the
province of third parties (and a few Republicans who haven't figured
out that the Republican establishment stopped taking them seriously
years ago) need to redouble our educational efforts. This includes
supporting private educational efforts, cyber-education start-ups,
and homeschooling ventures as much as we can. There isn't much else
we can do. These people are the future of freedom, if it is to have
a future in these United States.

We
might begin by noting what I noted at the outset, which is that
we have held an election, its outcome is uncertain days after the
polls have officially closed, and the country has not degenerated
into chaos. This exhibits the resilience of our tradition of liberty
and Constitutional government. Its resilience is not unlimited,
however. Our present predicament, and the response to it particularly
by the Gore camp, is just part of the fruit of the last 50 years
of abandonment, along with a perverse understanding of liberty as
unlimited freedom to do anything one wants or to have anything
one wants.

But
then again, we cannot beat people over the head. It is clear to
me that many people just plain couldn't care less.

Hmmm.
Maybe a major crisis – something to remind the masses that
there are things more important than football, celebrities, or their
stock portfolios – might be good for us at this particular
historical moment. It might even be useful to imagine ways in which
those of us who want to live under Constitutional government can
get free of our two worst enemies – those who want power over
us and those who don't care one way or the other – by rejecting
the Washington Empire and establishing our own governments, here
in the South and elsewhere. But that's another column.

November
11, 2000

Steven
Yates
has a Ph.D in Philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action

(San Francisco: ICS Press, 1994). A frequent contributor to LewRockwell.com
and The Edgefield Journal,
he lives and freelance writes in Columbia, South Carolina. He
is at work on two manuscripts tentatively entitled The Paradox
of Liberty and View from the Gallery.

Steven
Yates Archives

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