Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Give Thanks!

James Skillen


November 20, 2000

Despite some very disconcerting and even disgusting things that the Bush and Gore teams have done since election day, we citizens should not fail to thank God this week for the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Unlike those countries which do not hold elections or in which the military or some other elite decides what to do regardless of elections, the United States manifests much that is good in a fallen world.

First of all, the simple freedom of speech allows citizens, media, and presidential candidates alike to express themselves. The speech is sometimes wise and sometimes outrageously foolish and untruthful. Minor candidates do not have as much opportunity to be heard. More nonsense than good sense is often carried by airwaves and the Internet. Nevertheless, the speech goes on, and no one is shot or locked up by the authorities for speaking. Give thanks.

Second, fools can be exposed and criticized. Many, if not all, of the networks did mislead us on election night with their too-early calls and misinterpretations. But instead of having to bow under media sovereignty, citizens have taken the networks to task and denounced their biases and errors. Who knows, perhaps by the time of the next election we will witness more cautious and careful media. There may even be new rules, established through legislation, to make sure that early calls do not ruin the electoral process for those in later time zones. Give thanks.

In the third place, rejoice that you had an opportunity to vote. In countless precincts, counties, and states, despite the many different kinds of ballots, citizens were given every encouragement to register and to cast their vote. Yes, our electoral system discourages too many eligible voters who know that their views will not be represented. Many votes are lost for dozens of reasons. All is not perfect, and perhaps this election will spur on the nation to enact additional electoral reforms. We certainly should not put up with broken systems and faulty processes. Yet even the opportunity to pursue reforms is ours, just as the opportunity to vote was ours. Give thanks.

Fourth, one must come away from this election with new respect for the legal system, particularly in Florida. In the end, you may disagree with the decisions made by one or more of the judges or courts that have handed down rulings. But can you imagine the outcome if all we had were candidates and party operatives fighting for control of ballot counting without any courts to turn to? You may be discouraged with how much partisanship has been exhibited by those who hold various public offices, but stop for a moment to imagine a system with no legal process for settling disputes. Give thanks.

And finally, although at the time of this writing we do not know what the final outcome of the presidential election will be, I am impressed that however antiquated our system is, there are still several more levels of decision making that can be used if fights over the Florida counting do not stop before the electoral college meets. The electoral college voters can themselves do some weighing and measuring. Then the Congress bears responsibility to assess the quality of the electoral college's decision. And once the process reaches Congress, several steps can and may be taken in the event of conflict. The process may take a while, but at each juncture a further lawful procedure opens up to deal with stalemates or unresolved conflict. During all of that time, citizens have an opportunity to evaluate what is happening, and the candidates themselves have time to come to their senses and decide when enough is enough.

Yes, there are flaws and limits and confinements that ought to be reformed or overcome, but this Thursday, give thanks. We are richly blessed.

—James W. Skillen, President
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”