Thursday, November 08, 2012
Finally, the election is over
- Stop funding college clubs
- Governor's plan is worth a try
- Buchanan's lasting lesson
- Promises that can't be kept
From the RoundTable blog
One thought keeps running through my head — at least, at last, it's all over.
As I write this, people are standing in lines at polling places across the nation to take part in this great exercise in democracy. I voted a little while ago; my wife and adult daughters will cast their ballots later this evening. But the results are not yet known, of course. By the time you read this, you'll probably know who prevailed in the contest, but that's information that I am several hours from sharing. Such are the pitfalls of Tuesday deadlines in an election year.
Of course, by Thursday, we could be enduring some reprise of the interminable 2000 election that, to the best of my recollection, involved some guy named Chad from Florida. But I hope it will all be decided one way or another before Tuesday becomes Wednesday. I'd hate for this election to be any longer than it has been. I was annoyed last Saturday that daylight saving time made it 60minutes longer than necessary.
Modern presidential elections are marathons of annoyance, especially to those of us who knew months ago which way we would vote. And living in a battleground state, a fairly recent appellation for Virginia, made it all the worse. A steady diet of campaign commercials on TV or radio, pop-ups on websites, postcards, robocalls (no real person calls my landline anymore, it seems), endless editorials — it reaches an overload point pretty quickly.
I fantacize every four years about mandating stealth campaigns. No television commercials, ads, calls or mailings — each candidate merely announces his candidacy and refers voters to a web page to learn more or a phone number to request a brochure. If you aren't interested enough even to do that, you'll probably just sleep in on Election Day. Of course, turnout would plummet, but think of the money we'd save. It'll never happen, and shouldn't, but makes a nice quadrennial daydream.
I chanced this year to get Republican messages on one email address and Democratic emails on another. The return addresses were impressive: Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Mark Warner all sent me personal appeals for one side or the other — unless you cynically think someone else used their names. But that would mean Ann Romney really doesn't want to meet me!
Still, this doesn't mean I haven't taken it all seriously. Like every other thinking American, I have been keenly aware that this election is a weighty moment in our history, deciding which direction our nation should go. But being unable to comment on that direction as yet, allow me to make two observations about our electoral process itself:
1. The system is broken. Every four years, we ask if this is any way to elect a president. And four years later we get more of the same, only worse. Negative ads supplant cogent discussion of pertinent issues. Both campaigns concentrate on reasons to vote against the opponent, not why we should vote for their candidate. Debates are anything but debates — more a parade of talking points that avoid substantive answers, or any answers at all. We end up discussing which candidate had the best zinger or the worse facial expressions instead of why each believes his vision the best for our future.
But, I hasten to add, we get all this because we must want it. If candidates, wizards in the sophistry of modern electioneering, thought campaigns like this didn't work, they'd offer up something better to draw our votes. We get, in the end, the campaigns we ask for and which we deserve.
2. The system works. And yet, in the end, our nation rolls on. One side triumphs, the other licks its wounds and starts to look four years down the road. For all the fuss, for all the aggravation, for all the exasperating ads, name-calling and obfuscating speeches, in the end we get to enjoy a privilege many in the world today don't and few in history ever dreamed. We get a say in who leads our nation. That isn't something to take lightly.
By the time you read this, my candidates may have won, yours may have lost, or the other way around in reverse. But one way or the other, I'll be glad that of all the times and places I could have been born, that this is the time and place I got.
And I'll enjoy the three or four month respite before Campaign 2016 starts up.
Long is director of the Salem Museum and a Roanoke Times columnist.