Two Cheers for Good Old, Sloppy Democracy

  • Share
  • Read Later
Democracy isn't pretty.

We're lucky — we think negative campaign ads, fat-cat fund-raisers and an overzealous media are the nastiest things in a democracy.

Things are dicey in West Palm. But compared to what? To Joseph McCarthy, to the Civil War, to the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II? We've hit a speed bump, we're not in a head-on collision.

Things are so much easier in totalitarian systems. As Joseph Stalin once noted, it's not who votes that matters, but who counts the votes. In authoritarian societies, the government tells people how to vote and then they count the votes and then they win. It's so much neater and less confusing that way. You don't need butterfly ballots when there is only one person to vote for.

Democracy means the people rule. The ancient Greeks invented it, but they were very skeptical about it. Plato thought it far too unruly. Equality was dangerous, he said. If everyone is equal to everyone else, there is no order. To Plato, democracy was mob rule. If he were around and looking at Palm Beach County, he'd be saying, I told you so.

In our democracy, as the founders noted, every man is a king. (Of course, women didn't count in those days.) That can get to be a problem. One king is simple; 100 million kings is chaotic. Let every voice be heard is the rule in democracy, but it makes for cacophony, not harmony. "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention," said James Madison, who helped create ours.

What's going on in Florida is not pretty. But it is democratic. At the same time, we have to be careful. Al Smith once famously said that all the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy. I don't think that's true in Palm Beach. What's going on there can only be cured by reason and common sense.

In a democracy, we count votes, we do not weigh them. But the last and final votes counted, like the ones in Palm Beach county, seem like they have more weight. They don't. It only seems that way. There are a thousand other counties in this country that if you put them under the microscope would look as nasty as Palm Beach.

The Constitution has remedies for fraud and injustice, but not for incompetence and sloppiness. I'm afraid that stupidity is allowed under our democratic constitution. Yes, that butterfly ballot is awfully confusing — and I'll tell you why: It was created by a human being. But the Constitution does not protect us against our own folly and our own mistakes; no one and nothing can do that. Sorry, there are no "do-overs" in a democracy.

"We want democracy fulfilled," said Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley. It's a lovely idea, but an impossible one. In a country that seems to promise everyone life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, someone is always going to feel gypped.

Oh, you voted twice, but you meant to vote only once for the candidate of your choice? It's too bad, but there is really nothing you can do about it. It's human error, and there's no remedy for that. We've just got to live with it. There will be no winners even when Florida is resolved.

John Adams once said that there never was a democracy that did not commit suicide. We're having a bit of an anxiety attack; let's not drive off a cliff.