Constitutional Does Not Mean Democratic

By Rick Segreda

Some pundits and politicians, even Al Gore, have claimed that the 2000 election debacle was a great civics lesson. One can argue that the revival of interest in America' s history has pointed up that "democracy" as interpreted by law may not always be consistent with the common meaning of the word. This much was in evidence during the 2000 election debacle, when Bush-and-Electoral College enthusiasts played a curious, linguistic shell game with the words "democracy" and "constitutional" as if they were synonymous. I.e.; "The Electoral College is part of our heritage, it's in our Constitution. It's what makes this a free and democratic society. And those Gore folks are trying to take that away from us."

In brief, (as we have all been reminded by now), the Electoral College are delegates from each state who cast all their state's ballots for President based on the popular vote for President in their state. Thus, as in Florida, Bush got all 27 Electoral votes even though he barely (if at all) won the majority of votes. One of several bad reasons for the genesis of this back in the 18th century was that it was a concession to the sparsely populated southern states, which feared that their votes for President would never carry much weight. The College is based on population, and the South was quick to inflate their census with slaves, who could not vote. Another is that some of our Founding Fathers thought we were too stupid to make up our own minds. That tenacious Federalist Alexander Hamilton reportedly said that "the American people can no more be trusted to choose a President than a blind man can be trusted to choose colors." So much for the hard won "freedom" of the 1776 revolution.

Anyway, what was eerie on talk shows and news programs during all the fulsomely patriotic blather about the Electoral College and the Constitution is the historical echo that reverberates from 50,40, and 30 years ago. When Dixie defended racial segregation, it was not segregation per se, they claimed, but "constitutionally" guaranteed state "rights." As your typical Dixiecrat would put it back then: "The Federal guvmint has no right telling us how to treat colored folk-that's what makes this a free country!"

Former Senator Bob Dole was among those towing this line over the Electoral College on television debates, claiming it was justified by the "Constitution." Yet this was the same man who blocked Bill Clinton's appointment of Lani Guanier for Civil Rights Attorney General. Her proposed redrawring of congressional districts, giving more weight to the votes of minorities and the poor made her the enemy, in Dole's words, of "the principle of one man, one vote."

So, no, "constitutional" does not equal "democracy," much less "justifiable."

 To e-mail with comments or questions

 To return to Religion, Sex, and Politics

 To return to the Main Page