No tanks are in the streets.
No one's going to the guillotine.
No competing armies are ravaging the countryside.
No leader is executing his family to stamp out intrigues.
No one's being exiled or imprisoned.
No armada is sailing to seize the throne.
No heads adorn pikes at the capital gates.
No senators hide knives under cloaks and lie in wait to assassinate their leader.
No newspapers are being shut down.
Heck, nobody's even posting curfews.
In a country so evenly split that the identity of our next leader hinges on a few dimpled
ballots, life goes on pretty much as normal.
In the long, sordid history of power transference, the American electoral system stands
out as a miracle. Thank God and the Founding Fathers.
Things could be a lot worse in this country, and I get impatient with people who hate
politics on general principle.
"How can you stand that stuff?" a friend asked several weeks back, when I brought up the
election. "All politicians are corrupt. They'll say anything to get elected."
Fair enough. But better to say than do, especially if by "do" you mean wresting power
How strange it would be if lies weren't told. If mud wasn't slung when the stakes are this
high. The most powerful office in the history of the world is up for grabs. Political
philosophies are clashing. The future of the world could hinge on who wins this election.
We're not playing charades here.
Of course Bush is going to sound like a radical conservative in South Carolina and a
moderate in New Jersey. Of course Gore is going to rail against the rich when he's
addressing labor unions, yet tout free trade to merchants. So what?
Better that than tactics employed in, say, ancient Rome, where emperors such as
Caligula, Nero and others killed their own wives, children and numerous friends,
generals, philosophers and artists in paranoid plots to hold power. A few miles and years
away, King Herod had every male born in a certain year killed, according to scriptures.
English rulers routinely displayed heads of enemies on palace gates as a warning to
others. King Henry VIII had his own wife beheaded in his quest for a male heir to his
throne. Instead, he fathered Queen Elizabeth, who had her own cousin, Mary, Queen of
Scots--a devout Catholic--executed for conspiring against her. This prompted Spain to
launch a great Armada in an effort to seize the throne for the Catholics. Less majestic but
no less bloody dramas have been the norm for millennia.
In our own time, Pol Pot came out of the hills of Cambodia, emptied the cities, and
systematically slaughtered his own people. Don't get me started on Stalin, Hitler and
So you say Gore's trying to steal this election? I suspect Bush of the same thing.
What's remarkable is that you and I may hold these mutually antagonistic opinions and
go about our business reasonably confident of a peaceful resolution.
For that we owe thanks to those dead white males who sat in Philadelphia pubs two
centuries ago working out details of electoral machinery that--even in an age of punch
cards and satellite TV--assures a peaceful transfer of power. The machinery those patriots
bequeathed is composed in large part of pressure valves, such as the Florida courts. Even
if the Florida election should not get certified, the state's legislature could choose a slate
of electors. If that should fail, the U.S. House of Representatives can seat electors. The
Supreme Court, no doubt, will uphold its prerogatives and responsibilities in this elegant
system of checks and balances. Even if no electors are seated from Florida, the Electoral
College is empowered to choose a president without them.
One way or another, however, the pressure building up in the system will be peacefully
released. Most of us take it for granted that a new president will place his hand on the
Bible and vow to uphold the Constitution come Inauguration Day. There'll be questions
about legitimacy, but the electoral system is worth upholding.
Sure, it could use reforms--I mentioned several possibilities here last week--but even
with its flaws our system is little short of a miracle compared to most every other system
for transferring power that civilization has yet devised.
Again, give thanks.