The Fourth of July and the rule of law

The Fourth of July and the rule of law

The contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken over who would become the U.S. senator from Minnesota verged into silliness over the past eight months. But it was instructive, particularly in light of the contested election in Iran, about how a democracy works.

As Coleman himself said on Tuesday, “Ours is a government of laws, not men and women.” Some 20,000 pages of legal briefs had been filed, and ballots statewide recounted by hand, before Tuesday’s dénouement, a decision by the state’s Supreme Court in Franken’s favor. He won by a mere 312 votes.

Of course, the citizens of Minnesota, while they may have been thoroughly sick of all the political maneuvering, never took to the streets demanding that one or the other of these middle-aged Jewish men be seated in the Senate. And the incumbent never called out the riot troops to quell the opposition.

The very thought is laughable – except that it sends a superstitious shudder up the spine. What might this country have been if its guiding principles had not been framed by exceptional, far-seeing men? (We do not slight the “founding mothers” here but hew to history.) The founders were wise enough to know that they could not foresee the future. They set in place instruments – Congress, the Constitution, the Supreme Court – by which generations could plot a safe course. Sometimes the course does not seem all that safe and things may go horribly wrong. There are certainly inequities and inefficiencies in employment, education, and health care. (Go to for this week’s Web exclusive, “Groups lining up with Obama on health-care measures.”)

But ours is still a young country, with growing pains and possibilities.

As we write these words, the Iranian opposition leader, Mir Hossein Moussavi, has rejected an offer by the government to conduct a partial recount, calling the election illegitimate. We wish him and his supporters well but we fear, alas, that their pursuit of liberty is doomed to fail.

Dear readers, we wish you a glorious and meaningful Fourth.