Foremost among the many things to be said about the November elections is that they decisively confirmed what we have often observed in these pages: that the United States is now a nation in the grip of a cultural revolution. It goes without saying that liberals have regularly denied this fact; it pains us to observe that some happy, ostrich conservatives, too, have denied the significance of the transformations that have taken place in the social, intellectual, and moral fabric of America over the last forty years. But the November elections have vividly reminded us that, sooner or later, a cultural revolution has real political fallout.

As we write, almost a week after the election, the results of the presidential contest are still in abeyance. It is entirely possible that when you read this the results will still be in abeyance. At the moment, the entire race is said to turn on a few votes in Palm Beach County, Florida, a heavily Democratic redoubt. The Gore campaign did not like the original results there and demanded a recount. They did not like the results of the recount, either, and so demanded a hand count of some 19,000 disputed ballots. It is worth remembering that in 1960, when Richard Nixon narrowly lost to John F. Kennedy, and that again in 1976, when Gerald Ford narrowly lost to Jimmy Carter, the losers refused to demand a recount for fear of the political chaos it would bring to the country. It is also worth saying something about the now infamous “butterfly ballot,” retroactively declared to be confusing by Al Gore’s campaign chairman William Daley. This ballot was not only approved by Democrats in Palm Beach County, but is also the same ballot used in Mr. Daley’s native Cook County, Illinois. (Remember Cook County? It was there that Mr. Daley’s father, Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, played such a notorious role in “getting out the vote” for JFK in 1960.) No matter. Now Palm Beach County officials are demanding a hand recount of the entire county, some 425,000 ballots. Inspectors have not only been counting votes, mind you, they have also been scrutinizing ballots for “voter intent”: determining that this half-punched ballot should count while that half-punched ballot should not. (As Stalin remarked, “it’s not who’s casting the vote, it’s who’s counting it.”) Other close states— there are several—may also be subject to recounts. No one knows how long such a process would take.

What we do know, however, is that Election 2000 is shaping up to be one of the most fateful in the annals of American history. Not only is it probably the closest race ever, it has also been among the most bitter. The almost even division of the electorate reveals a deep and troubling fissure in our society. Along the fault-line of that fissure stand two increasingly different conceptions of American society: of who we are and what we should be. The difference, as the political commentator David Frum noted in Canada’s National Post, is “not class. . . . It’s values. One-quarter of American voters said that the most important thing to consider when voting for a candidate was whether he was honest. They voted 80 percent for Bush. One-eighth of the electorate said that the most important thing was whether he ‘cares.’ They voted 83 percent for Gore.”

The statistics that Mr. Frum marshals reveal the fundamental nature of the “values gulf” that divides contemporary America. Bush beat Gore among married people with children by a margin of 56–41; he beat Gore among those who attend church weekly by 57–40. Traditionally, middle-class voters have been thought to vote disproportionately for Democratic candidates. But in this election, Mr. Frum notes,

voters who described themselves as “middle class” preferred Bush 49–48. Democrats are the party of the highly educated: people with postgraduate education preferred Gore to Bush 52–44. They are the party of working women (58–39) and of those who do not have children in the home (50–46).

Democrats are the party of the secular: People who “never” attend church backed Gore 61–32. They are the party of the unarmed. Half of Americans own guns and half do not. The half who own them voted for Bush 61–36. The half who do not voted for Gore 58–39. Above all, they are the party of permissive sex. Seventy percent of Americans who believe that abortion should be legal under all circumstances backed Gore, as did 70 percent of self-described gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

No matter who emerges as president, the outcome of this election, as Mr. Frum observes, is “as troubling as it is unprecedented.” For not only does it reveal America to be a nation divided against itself about moral values, but it also highlights an equally troubling rift about fundamental political principles. As we write, it appears that George W. Bush might win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote to Al Gore by a slim margin. No sooner did that possibility arise than prominent liberals across the country—including the new senator-elect from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton—called for the elimination of the Electoral College and the institution of election by pure popular vote. “We are a very different country than we were two-hundred years ago,” she said. “I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

The First Lady is hardly the first person to call for the abolition of the Electoral College. Proponents of extreme, as distinct from representative, democracy have always been against it. Over the course of our history, there have been no fewer than seven-hundred proposals in Congress to reform or abolish the Electoral College. It is our good fortune that this important guarantor of freedom has so far survived. Proposals to abolish the Electoral College and turn the election of the president over to a simple popular vote is a signal instance of what James Madison warned about in his famous discussion of faction in The Federalist. Distinguishing between “pure democracy” and a republic, Madison pointed out that in a pure democracy there is nothing to check or counterbalance “the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.
We live in an age rife with the sort of “theoretic politicians” Madison conjured up. Now more than ever we need to cherish and protect those mediating institutions that disarm faction and protect us from the tyranny of the majority. As Alexander Hamilton pointed out later in The Federalist, entrusting the election of the president to a small body of electors would “afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.” Tumult and disorder, Hamilton continues, were
not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.
The authors of The Federalist and the other founding fathers painstakingly contrived a system of government that combined the advantages of democracy—equality, majority rule—with effective protections against its deficiencies—faction, “mobocracy,” political paralysis. They did this through a careful architecture of effective checks and balances. Over the last several decades we have seen the power of many of those checks and balances falter. Above all, perhaps, we have seen the power of the judiciary grow in relation to the other branches of government. As more and more elements of our political life are handed over to the courts for disposition, the will of the people is more and more frustrated by a cadre of elites bearing writs and backed up by teams of lawyers. It is an ominous sign, we think, that the presidential contest in Florida should already have become enmeshed in a web of law suits. As of this writing, the Gore campaign has filed at least eight law suits to challenge the results of the election, while the Bush campaign has asked for an injunction against the hand recount of ballots in Palm Beach County.

By the time you read this, the next American president may well have been chosen. Whether it can also be said that he was duly elected is a matter that, as of this writing, is impossible to predict. The Long March through the institutions of American life, which began as a protest movement by radicals in the 1960s, has now established itself in the mainstream of American life. The values of that march have insinuated themselves into our schools, our media, our family life, our churches, our foundations and business world, and our cultural institutions. It seems increasingly likely that they have even penetrated the electoral process. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, warning against the tyranny of the majority, wrote that “justice . . . forms the boundary of each people’s right.” What he meant was that majority rule has its measure in an ideal of justice that transcends the majority. Respecting that measure is what rescues us from democratic despotism. Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s—close to that two-hundred years that Hillary Clinton so cavalierly dismissed. It remains to be seen whether we still have ears to hear his admonition and the will to act with due discretion upon its message.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 19 Number 4, on page 1
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