The worst part about the political drama unfolding in Florida may be what the "experts" are saying about the Constitution. They tell us that the Electoral College is an outdated and outmoded form of calling presidential elections. They tell us that the only reason it was ever created was out of a fear of the stupidity of uniformed voters. As Hillary Clinton put it last week in her call to abolish the current system with a constitutional amendment: "I've always thought we had outlived the need for an Electoral College, and now that I'm going to the Senate, I am going to try to do what I can to make clear that the popular vote, the will of the people, should be followed."
The men who wrote our Constitution had greater fears than voter stupidity something that distinguishes them from the Gore camp making a ruckus in Palm Beach. In fact, the framers did not fear stupid voters as much as they feared the wiles of overly ambitious politicians who could mislead large segments of the population by promising bread and circuses in exchange for their votes.
The Constitution is designed to stand as bedrock in times of great change and turmoil. It reflects a rational and considered opinion of the American people. If the rule of law prevails in our hearts and minds, we will respect it as the representation of our solemn will. Opinions change and fluctuate for all kinds of reasons and with great speed. But our respect for fundamental opinion the Constitution can and should guide us through these tempests.
America's Founders understood that a nation is composed of more than individual citizens. The United States is not now, nor has ever been, a simple democracy. That may work in small, homogeneous communities. But even in the Founders' time, the United States was considered too diverse for such a simplistic plan. There are competing interests, geographical and regional differences, and in the case of rural versus city life, completely different approaches to daily life. A president represents the whole country, not just part of it. If he owes his election to a popular majority energized and fueled by one set of interests, citizens outside of that segment cannot feel secure that their interests or rights will be protected.
Remember, the Founders drafted the Constitution, but they did not legitimize it. It had to be ratified by the American people. To the extent that we do not object to it (lawfully, that is, through the amendment process), we are bound by it. If we choose to change the Constitution, we may do so. But an unconsidered opinion on changing our fundamental law is as dangerous as a conscious disregard of the law. If we are going to debate such monumental questions as the usefulness of the Electoral College, let us have it apart from the heated discussions that pre-occupy the nation right now.
The great irony, not seen by partisans of "popular will," is that the Electoral College was designed to secure a voice for minorities. But above all, it is part of our Constitution and, as such, it is the solemn will of the American people. A refusal to acknowledge that is a willingness to cast a blind eye upon the tyranny that comes when the rule of law is ignored. But in the age of Clinton, should that really surprise us?