When Joseph Conrad appeared as an English author, a critic said he lacked the gift of bare narrative. To bring that thought up to date, I suggest that television lacks the gift of bare journalism. I've been watching the coverage of the election stalemate down in Florida, and I'm alarmed that TV harps on "the national election," and "the popular vote," as if we have them. One newscast showed the wee ones in school using the stalemate to learn something, and the teacher was banging away about the national election and how much better it would be to have a popular vote.
If this isn't treason, at least it's incipient sedition. In the United States of America, there is no provision for either, and no reason to suppose them in school. I surmise exposure to TV is to blame, for TV has been banging away, too. We do not have a nation of people; we have a republic of a union of individual states, the United States of America.
As for TV, not long ago the quiz-show Jeopardy! quoted, "As goes Maine, so goes the nation." That is wrong. The correct version ends, "so goes the Union."
Back when the saying originated and was true, the big thing was the Union. Our Civil War was fought to preserve the Union. My grandfather was a soldier in that war, and he well knew the price. "In order to form a more perfect Union." E pluribus unum.
The people of the United States have never voted for president. They vote only in state elections for members of the Electoral College, as specified in our Constitution. Why not teach that?
Here in Maine, it's hard to believe what happened in Florida, whatever it was. Our politics are conducted in upright fashion. The only indiscretion I recall was the year Sen. J. Hollis Wyman was reelected by 3,000 more votes than the total cast. He was running unopposed, so it didn't matter, but out of curiosity the election board held a hearing and a lobster-stew supper. They found that the blueberry pack and the annual sardine deficit had been counted by mistake. It can happen to anybody.
If the teachers in Florida want their kids to learn something, I suggest they disconnect the TV and study the situation in our Maine township of Butterfield Gore, where there has never been hardly any election irregularities in a long time. It is a model community.
Butterfield Gore is pretty far up in the Maine wilderness, and the three families who live there don't make population enough to have a real town. So they incorporated as Butterfield Plantation and have a limited township.
The three families are those of the Butterfield brothers: Leon, Mortimer, and Stinky. And then there's their sister, Sylvia, a maiden lady who operates the spruce-gum factory on the state road with its adjacent bowling alley, pool room, coin laundry, and agency for rafting on the West Branch.
Politically, Butterfield Gore is unanimous. Most of the town is owned by timberland interests and summer people who are nonresidents and can't vote, leaving town affairs to the Butterfields. On the second Monday in March each year, the Butterfields hold a town meeting at the gum factory, voting on town affairs and electing town officers.
Sylvia is always town clerk, but the others take turns. Each town officer is voted a salary equal to his annual taxes. The school budget is generous, all the pupils are Butterfields, and Mortimer teaches while Leon is the janitor and superintendent. Otherwise, the Butterfields manage woodlands, cut pulpwood and lumber, caretake summer dwellings, poach, and do guiding. That the town is run by unanimous consent came about in this way:
Mortimer, who serves as moderator at town meeting, was down to the shire town to lend some money to the bank. As he walked past the library, Mrs. Martin, the librarian, came running out shrieking and screaming as follows: "Oh my, oh my!" and so forth, "There's a snake in my wastebarskit!"
When Mortimer went inside, he found this to be true, so he carried the wastebasket outdoors and dumped the little fellow on the grass. In gratitude, Mrs. Martin let him borrow a book on parliamentary rules, which he memorized that winter. Thus he found out about unanimous consent.
The book said, "By unanimous consent any meeting may do in any way anything it is otherwise competent to do." He told his brothers and related citizens about this, and he said, "No need to offer motions and go through all the rigmarole of voting 'aye' and 'nay.' All we need do is go into unanimous consent, and then Sylvie can set down whatever it was and it's just as legal as if we did it! Saves time, and we can start supper that much sooner."
So after that, when town meeting started, Mortimer would say, "Unanimous consent!" The meeting would adjourn sine die, and Sylvia would record everything just as if they'd done it.
When the ballots come for state election from the statehouse, Sylvia votes them for everybody and mails them right back. That's the kind of stuff the kids in Florida should study! And don't forget that the Butterfield youngsters also get American history in good shape without neglecting how to dress out a deer, make a trout chowder, and fix snowshoe webbing.
Now, let's see: How'd that stalemate turn out?
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society