To the editor:
Thank you, Al Gore. As a high school history teacher, owe you a debt of gratitude. You see, the way you have conducted your campaigns (the election campaign and the ballot-manipulation campaign) has provided me with endless opportunities to show my students the beauty of our Constitution and the wisdom of our founding fathers.
Take the electoral college system. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Al. For six years, I have done my best to explain the logic and benefits of the hammered out by Mr. Madison and a few of his cronies. High school students just don't get why they chose such a complicated process.
Why not simply go by popular vote? I'd
patiently explain that the electoral system was designed to allow the people to
speak through their states. The tricky part was making my students understand
why that was especially beneficial to small states like ours. I knew that,
proportionally, Rhode Islanders have more clout in the presidential election
under this system, but I wasn't able to illustrate it dramatically until this
When I showed my students the US map, colored red for Governor Bush and blue for you, they finally got it. Anyone can clearly see that the popular vote of only a handful of major cities is almost equal to that of the entire rest of the US. Thank God the founding fathers had the wisdom and insight to provide this protection to those of us in small states or sparsely settled areas. The look of shock on my pupils' faces when they realized that public policy could easily be dictated by a handful of the largest and most liberal population centers made me realize that I had them hooked. They could begin to see why Senator-elect Hillary Clinton, in one of her first post-election speeches, promised to fight to abolish the electoral college.
This was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Pulling out my well-worn copy of The Federalist Papers, I seized the advantage
and began to read from No. 68. "It was also peculiarly desirable to afford
as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.
Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption," Alexander Hamilton wrote in defense of the electoral college system. As I told my students, you can insert the phrase "in the year 2000 in Florida" throughout this letter and be amazed at Hamilton's gift of prophecy.
The spectacle we are now witnessing in your campaign to overturn the election in Florida, Al, is the very thing that our Founding Fathers most feared. Although they couldn't anticipate the advent of television, they were familiar with the harm that an inflamed and largely uninformed populace could wreak. What a tremendous lesson you have provided the youth of our country. No longer are Hamilton, Madison et al. dead white men," incapable of teaching us anything. Rather, they reach out to us through the ages, warning us of "these most deadly adversaries of republican government."
This reminds me of another teaching opportunity you have afforded me. In the past few weeks, you have lectured about your desire to uphold our "democracy," but surely you realize that our government is not a democracy, but a republic. Don't worry about it; most of my 10th graders didn't know the difference either until they read The Federalist No.10.
In it, James Madison brilliantly outlines the advantages that republics have over democracies, which he deems "spectacles of turbulence and contention." The founding fathers anticipated the drawbacks to a democracy and instead created a republic because "the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves convened for the purpose."
Those "spontaneous" demonstrations led and orchestrated by the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Florida are proof of the validity of the founders' concerns. Still, I must thank you, Al, for the boon you have been to my teaching this year. By continuing to stir up passions in Florida, by dragging out the inevitable, and by convincing segments of the population that they have been wronged at the hands of other groups, you have proved the founders' concerns justified. No need for me to paint a hypothetical picture of the dangers of mob rule; my students can see examples of it on the nightly news.
Finally, Al, you've helped me to get across the most salient aspect of any civics lesson -- that a republic is only possible where the people are virtuous. All these years I have lectured, with minimal success, on the fragility of our system of government, stressing the need for wisdom, honor and self-sacrifice among our nation's citizen, and leaders. How easy you have made it for me to show my students the dangers of the politics of selfishness, disingenuousness and division. During your election campaign you tried, with some success, to disassociate yourself from your predecessor, who so blatantly tarnished our nation's highest office and was the poster-child for self-absorption. Since election day, however, you have shown yourself to be even more dangerous: a demagogue.
Your win-at-all-costs attitude has resulted in a nation that is deeply divided; violence simmers beneath the surface. My students, indeed all Americans, are contemplating the consequences of electing a man who has admitted he would do anything to win. No matter what happens as a result of this election, Al, your legacy is assured. We will learn the lessons you have taught us.
Carol B. Smith
Ms. (Boissoneau) Smith is a member of the Tiverton
High School Class of 1973.