Now, we just have to figure out what they said.”
May I take advantage of the noise surrounding our presidential election to bring up something that seems to me to be nearly as important as determining the winner. Amid the clamor for re-counts and re-votes, the dismay over confusing ballots and close races, and while protesters wave signs, “Abolish the Electoral College,” no one has mentioned the appalling failure of our U.S. history and government classes.
If my public high school experience is in any way indicative of high school experiences for most of the country’s population, completing a semester of U.S. government is a graduation requirement. That’s over four months of representative democracy, three branches of government, checks and balances, state versus federal rights, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Since most of us finished high school, I will assume that most of us passed the class.
Somehow, since then, many of us seem to have forgotten the bulk of what we were supposed to have learned. What remains appears to be a widespread belief in individual “rights” and an expectation for government to simultaneously take care of the citizens while staying the hell out of our lives. People demand legislation to ensure themselves retirement money and to increase pedestrian safety, all the while resenting the taxes necessary to fund these programs.
It is easy to latch onto a phrases like “democracy” and “of the people, by the people,” but America is no more a true democracy then ancient Athens. It’s a representative system, founded that way in the late 1700s by a group of educated men who couldn’t bring themselves to make intelligence a requirement for voting privileges, (although they had no trouble excluding women, men without property, and people who weren’t white) but who feared what might happen if uneducated masses were allowed to influence government. Since France was experiencing a particularly bloody manifestation of mob-rule, they had reason to be fearful. Furthermore, the population has never been equally distributed through the United States, nor have the state boundaries ever attempted to contain uniform quantities of land. A representative system ensures that California and New York, the most populous states, may not choose the path for the entire country, benefiting themselves while ignoring the Midwest.
With the developments of last Tuesday’s election, people seem to be in a hurry to demonstrate their ignorance. While it is certainly desirable to be certain of an accurate tally of votes, now is probably not the time to demand extensive revision to our electoral system and the dismissal of the Electoral College. This is not to say that just because something has always been done is certain way, it should never be reviewed and changed if necessary. Many, many things have changed since the founding of our country, and I am not prepared to believe our founders infallible and all-knowing.
However, the folks making the most noise these days are those who either supported Vice President Gore or who didn’t want Governor Bush in the White House. While, personally, I don’t much like the idea of a man with such a loose grasp of the English language representing our country to the world or someone so steered by special interests deciding policy for the entire nation, I would like even less rashly rewriting the Constitution because the election didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. And, to my ears, that is exactly what the protesters are asking for.
There are several things to take from this moment in history. I hope that whoever lands at 1600 Pennsylvania next January never forgets how close he came to not being there, and that he strives to win the trust and respect of the citizens who didn’t vote for him. I hope the population will take this opportunity to become better acquainted with the American political system. Perhaps these events will lead us to reevaluate the effectiveness of our government. If a change is truly necessary, I hope it will be it the product of careful thought rather than a knee-jerk reaction of a group of sore losers. And I hope this prompts us to take education more seriously. For few things will be as frightening as a country run “by the people” if those people are as uneducated, short-sighted, and self-serving as we are currently demonstrating ourselves to be.