November 7, 2006
Parties continue to press on as clock winds down (Bill Nichols, 11/07/06, USA TODAY)
Candidates made final appeals and party tacticians worked to boost voter turnout Monday as Americans prepared for potentially critical midterm elections.
Tuesday's results will decide the fate of all 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats and governorships in 36 states and set the tone and agenda for the final two years of President Bush's second term.
The key question: whether Democrats can take advantage of national dissatisfaction with Bush and the war in Iraq to win the 15 seats they need to control the House of Representatives and six seats they need to take the Senate.
All too many people will vote today with a mad on, when it should instead be a joyous occasion. After all, we are about to elect the 110th Congress of the United States of America, a representative legislature that has served without interruption for longer than any other in the history of human affairs. If it sometimes seems less an august body than an Augean stable, it has nonetheless served us remarkably well, regardless of which party was in power and irrespective of peace, war, plenty or poverty. Sure, each of us imagines that if we had absolute personal power we could make it run more efficiently and accomplish greater things, but each of us would run it differently and seek to do different things, which is why we have it in the first place. That's why, while there's never a bad time, this is an especially good time to recall the words of Eric Hoffer, that most American of creatures, a longshoreman who's one of the few significant philosophers of the 20th century:
Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
So, when you head over to your local school or wherever you happen to vote, don't just trudge dutifully past the gaggle of folks with signs and the candidates hoping to shake your hand or the pollster begging you to answer a few questions. Soak it all in and enjoy it.
Election Day is one big pageant and you are just as much a part of it as every single one of your fellow citizens. Today should be as fun as your favorite holiday, with that same touch of solemnity for leavening. Feel a bit sorry for the folks who voted by mail, who won't get to take their full part in the civil ceremony. Pity the folks who choose not to vote at all, who do not even grasp the great gift our forbears have handed us. And shed a discrete tear for the many in other lands who either don't get to choose their leaders or whose choices make the blood run cold.
You will naturally prefer your candidate, Mr. Smith, to his opponent, Mr. Jones, but in just about every other country on Earth, in nearly every other year of human existence, government by 500 Mr. Joneses would be the best that nation had ever experienced. Despite working on two losing campaigns, the one election that I recall least fondly was 1992. We were living in Chicago and, despite my vote, Bill Clinton carried Illinois, Carol Mosely-Braun was elected to the Senate, and Dan Rostenkowski was returned to the House. But, you know what, the Republic didn't skip a beat. The simple truth, which both parties would rather we lose track of at election time, is that America has, and has generally had, a broad enough consensus on the things that matter that whoever wins today is unlikely to mess things up too badly and whoever wins isn't going to rock the ship of state overmuch. And, best of all, in just two years we get to do it all over again....