False Populism vs. Constitutional Democracy

by Peter Bearse

Al Gore and the Democrats tried to perpetrate a fraud on the American public. Fortunately, our nation's Constitution, represented by the final bulwark of its defense, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled otherwise. The fraud was false populism. The Gore campaign played this card throughout. Then, in its desperate last days, it appealed to "the will of the people" and "the voters' intent" to justify repeated efforts to find enough voters to validate the true intent of the appeals, one man's ambition.

The appeals were those of a demagogue, not those of a man who would be President of a federal, constitutional republic. The tradition that Al upheld is otherwise. He is the latest in a long line of American demagogues -- pretend populists who play on people's passions without informing them as to what they can or should do if they really want to "count." The appeals of such pretenders also rests upon what they do not say. They rely so much on people's ignorance of what it takes to make a democratic system work.

Our Supreme Court knows. They properly focused on HOW votes need to be counted to ensure equal protection under the law. No totalitarian allusions to "will of the people" here. Voter is as voter does.

We can now look at the 36 day episode as a much needed civics lesson on what we as citizens need to do if we really want to count in the future. We don't have to buy into continued, misleading, negative interpretations generated by the media "commentariat." The brunt of the lesson is positive, promising and constructive if the majority of the American people see that they need to be active participants in the political process if they want the political system to be theirs. The importance of voting is now obvious to all. But democratic political participation means more than just voting. People need to participate actively in the political process through which candidates are selected and elected.

The example of Florida is hardly negative. We saw dozens of volunteers helping to count thousands of ballots over hundreds of hours. We observed the critical importance of many more people than the "usual suspects" -- the political "junkies," "hired guns" or "pro's" -- paying attention to basic features of how "our" political system works (or sometimes falls short) -- as in ballot design, voting machines and procedures, whether voters pay attention, protest demonstrations, influence of the media, poll closing times, and so on.

If these lessons are taken to heart and acted upon, then the experience we have been through as a nation will turn out to be a big plus. Our federal democratic republic will be the better for it. We will continue to light the way for other nations whose people were as fascinated with the counting controversy as ourselves. If the episode rings like a wake up call for American democracy, then our children will benefit most of all, in more ways than Sesame Street can "Count." They will benefit by example -- seeing more parent-citizen role models as actors, not just spectators, of the drama of American democracy. They may even get involved enough to "Take Back Your (their) Government," as a non-science fiction book by Robert Heinlein enables them to do..

Peter Bearse, Merrimac, MA, whose own book, "Laboring in the Vineyards," forthcoming in 2001, details needs and ways to revive grassroots political participation in the U.S. of A.