The events of the past few weeks reminded me of a very unfair incident that occurred back in my school days. I walked into class one day and was greeted with an unexpected pop quiz. Always the scholar (geek), I was actually excited for the quiz because I was confident I would know the answer to every possible question asked. While passing out the papers, the teacher stressed twice that we should carefully read through the entire exam before beginning. Eager to get started, I plunged right into the math section, solving for “x” without even needing a calculator. I then proceeded to comprehension where that recently completed Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course came in handy. I then aced the geography part, naming the capitals of the states without any problem. (Good thing I don’t have to take this test today.) As I breezed through the quiz, I glanced around the room and watched as my scholarly (geeky) competitors worked diligently as well. I also noticed that many other students were merely sitting back in their desks, not even attempting to answer the questions. I laughed to myself as I knew they would surely fail. And then I read what I thought was the last question. “Without answering any of the questions, write your name at the top of the page and turn the quiz over on your desk.” At once, panic set in.
As the teacher collected the papers, I began to protest the unfairness of the quiz. It was incredibly confusing and didn’t measure my will to succeed or my knowledge of the subject matter. Instead it rewarded others who were far less prepared and qualified than myself. The teacher resisted my complaints and even acted quite “snippy” as she explained that I did not follow her instructions. But I was far from finished. A few other students (geeks) and myself took the matter to the assistant principal and demanded a retest, pointing out the irregularities of this unfair process. At first she agreed with our arguments but was later overruled by the principal himself, a man I always found to be far more partisan to teachers than to students. In the end, I failed that exam and have often wondered how different my life would be had I passed.
From the state that brought us Elian, his cousin Marisleysis, and the fisherman, another “fairness” controversy captured the nation’s attention. While the rest of the world looked on (unfortunately) to see true democracy in action, the presidential election became tied up with public bickering, legal wrangling, and accusations of fraud and partisanship. New conspiracy theories are prevalent with each passing day. One side tried to sway the election by intimidating, confusing, and outright defrauding voters. The others side is made up of a bunch of sore losers who will do anything to get the election to turn out their way. There are certainly merits to both arguments. The ballot may have been confusing as was seemingly confirmed by the number of elderly Jews who apparently voted for Pat Buchanan. Then again, the ballot had been approved and samples had even been distributed and appeared in the newspaper.
The process lingered on with both candidates pretending to go about their daily important duties of touch football and ranching. (Apparently, it’s not that difficult to be Vice President or Governor these days.) Fair or unfair, confusing or not, the events of the past few weeks have portrayed another embarrassing picture of the last remaining Superpower in action (though it has made for some entertaining TV). The bottom line is that the people have spoken; they are evenly split between these two candidates.
Prognosticators and politicos predict gloom and doom for a country that will be run by a president without a clear mandate. Then again, did Clinton have a mandate these past few years (or ever)? Half the country despised the man, filing lawsuits, investigating old land deals, and interpreting the definition of the word “is.” Half the country respected him, hanging on his every word, and crediting him with all of the country’s successes. The other half of the country were mixed in their feelings, angry over his moralistic lapses, while generally approving of his role as president. (Fuzzy math rears its head again.) After eight years, the domestic economy remains strong, the country is at peace, and things are generally good throughout the land (present election notwithstanding), all despite the lack of a mandate.
Though the country is closely watching now, don’t underestimate our short memories and abilities to quickly lose interest at first sign of a new crisis (in Florida, most likely). When the dust settles and the new president takes office, a few staunch supporters will praise the process; a few adversaries will cry foul; and the rest will simply go about their business. Further, without a true mandate in Congress, gridlock may prevail. In reality, however, gridlock may not be half bad. While little will get accomplished in government, not much will get messed up either.
A CIVICS LESSON
Perhaps the best side effect of the current conflict is that the country is getting a civics lesson about the political process. (Most people now realize that the Electoral College is not an institution of higher learning.) Since the overabundance of polls told us that the race was so evenly divided, more people actually watched election night coverage on television. I observed some viewers thrust their fists in the air and slap high fives when certain “swing” states were projected (prematurely, I might add). Many of these folks could not have intelligently talked about either candidate’s position on any of the issues; still, they watched and rooted as if it were a ballgame. And their newfound knowledge does not just apply to presidential elections. They have learned that $60 million can buy you a senatorial seat in New Jersey. Or being alive is not a requirement to winning a seat in Missouri. Or a candidate does not even need to have ever lived in the most populous state in the country to be elected its junior senator.
The networks took advantage of the public’s interest in order to boost their ratings. They rushed to be first to call elections in certain states and then rushed to be first to retract it. Esteemed journalist Dan Rather even disregarded the professional tone he normally displays and delivered some quips designed to appeal to the masses. “He swept through the South like a tornado through a trailer park.” “This race is tight, like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach.” (Thankfully, I watched CNN.) The circus-like atmosphere turned into the OJ trials, Monica-gate, and Elian all over again. But is that necessarily a bad thing? With each passing crisis, the country becomes a little better educated. First we received a lesson in the criminal justice system; then on morality, then on immigration law, and finally, we learned about the political process. Who says that public education is falling apart in this country? I feel much smarter and can’t wait for the next pop quiz (just so long as it’s fair).