There are more than a few lessons to be learned from the Florida fracas.
First, your vote did not matter.
Unless you live in Florida.
If you live in Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, or New Mexico, or perhaps New Hampshire and Maine, your vote just might come into play. But otherwise: nope.
I voted in Pennsylvania. My candidate did not win, and the race was not close. Did my vote count? No. It counted only in the sense that all the runs scored by the Mets counted in losing the World Series to the Yankees, or in the sense that all those points scored by the Buffalo Bills counted in losing four Super Bowls, or in the sense that the board of elections will see that I voted in the year 2000. But it did not count in the sense of affecting the outcome.
It would have been wrong to say so in advance, but only Florida counts in this election. The rest of the nation could have stayed home, hindsight being 20-20.
The real news from this election is the overwhelming ignorance of the voters and the media. The process is working exactly as it is supposed to work. It is merely an historical accident that there has not been such a close race in a very long time. But one should find it disturbing (but not surprising) that so many persons have no concept of how the Electoral College functions, nor do they understand that elections are controlled, for the most part, by the states. Three cheers for the American educational establishment!
Second, it is time to scrap the 17th Amendment and time to relish the existence of the Electoral College. Bill Press, co-host of CNN’s crossfire, opined on the CNN web site that the election “proves the danger to democracy of keeping an archaic institution like the Electoral College in place.” Sadly, Press does not offer any arguments to support his position. There are sound-bite assertions “don’t trust the Founding Fathers because they denied the vote to women and blacks” but nothing of substance. Hillary Clinton, on a victory tour of New York state, has also pledged to introduce a bill allowing for the direct popular election of the president.
So I will reply to Press with substance. The reasons for the Electoral College to exist are as strong as ever. The united States are polarized between slavish and libertine, between servile and noble. The united States are polarized between socialists and entrepreneurs, godless and god-fearing, urban and rural, dependent-minded and independent. (It is worth noting that the Florida vote is divided in a manner exactly matching the national vote: urban areas for Gore, everywhere else for Bush.)
If Press thinks that there is chaos now, imagine a country where the Clintons and their ilk were untrammeled by the law. On the other hand, since Press and the Democrats revile Pat Buchanan, imagine if someone like Buchanan were elected after we had thrown out the entire system of checks and balances. There would be serious civil unrest in a dictatorship at the hands of either Clinton or Buchanan. (This is not to lend credence to leftist smears of Buchanan). To put this in perspective, consider the dissatisfaction among football fans at the ever-changing status of instant replay, or the fights among baseball fans over the strike zone. Those clashes will pale in comparison to a fundamental tampering with the electoral system.
The law protects everyone, whether Libertarian, Green, Democrat or Republican. If the country is to stay together, there must be restraints upon those who have no concept of limited government. At this point, the Electoral College may be all that stands between Gore’s continuing the rush to totalitarianism, and the chance for religious and social traditionalists to repair the damage done over the last eight years.
One item that should go to the top of traditionalists’ agendas is the repeal of the 17th Amendment. Like the Electoral College, the appointment of federal senators by the state legislatures (which the 17th Amendment repealed) was a check on centralized power. The Electoral College prevents the large, urbanized states from having too much say over who is the president. The appointment of senators prevents the federal government from riding roughshod over the states, as recently happened in lowering the blood-alcohol limits of the states from .10 to .08 in the name of saving 500 lives a year. If the states are to control any branch of the federal government, the Senate is the ideal branch to control, with its six-year terms and its more deliberative, insulated processes.
Traditionalists (i.e., conservatives and libertarians) should seize upon the moment to make a push for repeal of the 17th Amendment. By “the moment,” I do not mean the election fracas, but rather the historical crossroads of the aftermath of Clinton’s social engineering presidency and whoever is coming next, be it Bush the Second or Gore the First. No better time than the present for the states to reassert their existence.
Third, Aristotle writes that a man’s actions shape his moral character; his character in turn shapes his future actions. Thus, the way someone acts is sometimes called “second nature” to them.
Watching the election fallout has allowed an insight into the character of many Democrats.
Consider Al Gore’s current game plan: suing his way to the Executive Mansion. For the Democrats, this is standard operating procedure. When you lose at the ballot box by however narrow a margin (300 or so votes, plus or minus the absentee ballots which arrive by November 17) go to court. When tradition, religion, and common decency are against you, find a judge to let you have your way. When the states will not give you what you want, federalize the issue and take the states out of the equation (read: abortion, drinking ages, blood alcohol content, and certain crimes). It should be no surprise, then, that a pack of attorneys is foaming at the mouth for Florida to be turned upside down in a quest for cosmic justice.
But the flaws of the Democrats are not limited to their benevolent leaders. A particulary telling quote was reported by MSNBC:
“Mary Girardi of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., phoned the Washington Post to say, “Don’t you believe for a minute that the American people will abide Jeb Bush [Florida’s Republican governor] stealing the presidency for his brother. The country voted for Al Gore.”
Jeb Bush has already recused himself from the recount process, and the election will not be “stolen.” That being said, the presence of Bill Daley among Gore’s Florida shock troops shows that the American people will indeed abide the theft of an election, such as the one Daley’s father, the mayor of Chicago, stole for Kennedy in 1960. Speaking of Illinois, one should not forget how Senator Carol Mosely-Braun was elected. In a tight race, it came out with a week before election day that Braun’s mother had committed social security fraud, and Braun was implicated. Braun’s campaign called the reporter, and asked the reporter if she wanted to be responsible for keeping the first African-American woman out of the Senate. Braun won, and has done nothing to distinguish herself in the Senate.
To be blunt, Bill Daley’s actions show him to be a demagogue of the worst kind. He has no business in the public eye at a time of political sensitivity. The fact that the Democrats have not put a leash on him speaks volumes about the nature of the Democratic party.
Who is running the Democratic party these days? The TV networks have speculated that the challenges “are coming straight from Gore’s campaign headquarters,” but I smell Bill and Hillary behind this. If you examine the relentless, illogical smear campaign which would throw the law aside in the name of “fairness,” you will find the Clinton label.
Fourth, other voters have wondered why the state of Florida appears so inept at the intricate procedure of counting pieces of paper, or, in some counties, counting the number of marks on pieces of paper. The answer is simple: the government controls the process. There are no profit incentives for a government to have a streamlined process. If anything, Florida should be delighting in its inefficiency, since it will stay front and center in the national mind so long as this saga continues. And that’s good: Washington, DC gets far too much ink. (After living in the DC area for two years, let me tell you that it is a pit. If you want to see what Democrats do in power, go to DC.)
Fifth, the overseas reaction has been amusing, especially among illiberal regimes. The Washington Post quoted a Turkish newspaper columnist as saying “For us, it is a bit strange” that the candidate who wins the popular vote can lose the electoral vote. But of course, Turkey recently forced the entire nation to stay at home for an entire day under threat of a three-month jail sentence (in a Turkish prison) for leaving one’s house. The reason? The government was conducting the census, door-to-door.
Similarly, the Post quoted Russian political analysts as saying “that Vice President Gore would improve relations and that a Bush victory could lead to more tension between Washington and Moscow.” Given the reports of Gore’s deal with Viktor Chernomyrdin allowing Russian arms sales to Iran, in violation of American law, this should not be surprising. It should also not be surprising given Gore’s penchant for sending troops around the world to settle domestic disputes, and the ongoing Russian pacification of Chechnya. Gore would be at home in the Kremlin.
But one final lesson. The only real democracy is the marketplace. It is a mistake to look for salvation in democratic voting, especially when those voting believe that a vote entitles them to run the lives of all their countrymen. Since the 1940s, tyrants legitimized by the vote have whittled American liberties down to the bone, in the process seizing 50% of the wealth of the nation. In contrast, the democracy of the marketplace allows men and women to choose without restraint. Coke or Pepsi, Apple or Gateway, Subaru or Chevy, people get what they want without compulsion.
If the leftist intelligentsia truly cares about democracy, they should applaud the political, constitutional, and legal processes which will put George W. Bush in the Oval Office, for better or for worse, and leave the market alone.
November 11, 2000
Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.