The Wisdom of Average People

Waking up on Wednesday morning, I quietly waited for some huge voter fraud to be discovered (most likely linked to bad electronic voting machines) because I could not possibly believe that there were actually so many people in this country that would want to reelect the President. I just could not believe that after everything with Iraq, after a new video from Osama Bin Laden serving as a reminder that the man behind 9/11 was still out there while we waste American money and lives in Iraq, after horrible performances at the debates, after a complete lack of fiscal responsibility on the part of this administration, Americans would still reelect the President. I just could not believe that, with record turnout at the polls, the majority of Americans would choose President Bush over Senator Kerry or frankly, anybody else. So many people came out of the woodwork to vote this past Tuesday– who knew that they would be Bush supporters?

Many are saying that supporters voted along moral lines in support of President Bush. Well, I wonder about our own moral compasses if the majority of Americans saw President Bush as moral and sharing the same values, values that we wanted to see in our leader. So many questioned President Clinton’s character because of his extramarital affairs and impeached him because he lied about them. But why are we not holding President Bush to the same standard when it comes to going to war on false premises and continuing to risk American lives on a fool’s errand? Why are we willing to ignore that, to let President Bush get away with that, but we find it so hard to forgive President Clinton? In the case of President Clinton, I would say his wife and his daughter paid the greatest price for his indiscretions, they are the real victims. But President Bush’s crusade? The real victims of his mistakes are those we lost on 9/11 as well as their families and loved ones. America’s presence in Iraq is disrespectful to their memories– the tragedy of their deaths are used to wage an unjust war and their murderers walk free. And ultimately, the victims of President Bush’s mistakes are all Americans as our tax dollars are spent and our brothers and sisters are sent overseas while real social, political, and economic problems continue at home.

The problem with democracy is that the majority wins. Unfortunately, the majority isn’t always right and it’s strange to think that when it comes to choosing our political leaders, a candidate winning the popular vote means he has a mandate (although, interestingly enough, this was not President Bush’s story four years ago– his mandate was from the Supreme Court). In so many other areas, the common wisdom is that “average people” aren’t that bright and that more often than not, popular opinion isn’t always the right answer. The times when the minority opinion has been able to push through and win have often been the most important turning points in our time– American independence, abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, the civil rights movement. They were not popular efforts, but in the end, they were the right ones.

So, how do we balance out this struggle between a committment to majority rule and the realization that popular opinion isn’t always the right choice? I’m not quite sure of the answer to that one, but I think part of the responsibility is in our political leaders. We have a representative democracy in this country and most political leaders are elected through a popular vote. Unfortunately, with the way elections and campaigns are run, political leaders are often more worried about keeping their jobs than doing their jobs and while they are representing the interests of their constituents, sometimes political leaders need to step out and go against the majority and fight for the minority opinion. And what if their constituents don’t like it? Well, then convince them of why the less popular choice is the better choice and in the end, maybe it won’t be less popular after all.

Of course, I’m not saying the minority opinion is always the right one, but just because a lot of people want something doesn’t mean it’s right. A lot of people want tax cuts, but a tax cut today doesn’t mean you’ll never have to pay. It just means you’ll pay later. We’re slowly marching toward a society where we’ve bankrupted important social programs– social security being the biggest one– and while we may not pay now, our children and grandchildren will certainly pay the price in the future. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave our children?

The truth is that as we move further into the new millenium, the world will only grow more complicated and the problems of tomorrow are far beyond the comprehension of “average people.” The problems of tomorrow will not be easily solved by sticking to “family and faith” because with the growing diversity of this country, the question always comes: who’s family? Who’s faith? Yours, mine, his, hers? With new technology and a whole new field of complicated social, political, and economic issues, the problems of tomorrow will not be easily solved by smart people or moral leaders. Intelligence, talent, character, integrity and courage must come together to solve the problems of tomorrow. The real question is– how long will we have to wait for that? Right now, it looks like at least four years.