November 4, 2008


I went and voted at the High School around 10:30 this morning. It wasn't especially crowded.

NH has done away with the option to straight line vote, so you had to fill in all the bubbles. I confess it was the first time I so much as saw the Republican gubernatorial candidate's name and I read it as Joe Kennedy--though The Wife assures me it's Kenney--which was confusing.

As you left the polling place there were exit pollsters, though they seemed too young to be professional. Maybe it was a class project? Anyway, the final question was: Are you a Dartmouth student? I thanked the kid for asking.

Then there were Obamanoids offering stickers that said: "I voted for change" I wanted one that said "I voted against change" but they weren't on offer.

Even having fairly low hopes for tonight's result it's just too difficult to sit around waiting for results, so I dragged the dog around the neighborhood and then threw stones for awhile. We moved this summer and the beds in front of the house needed serious work. The Wife pulled up a bunch of stuff this Summer to thin them out and for our Anniversary (17 years, miraculously enough) I've been lining them with stones.

Not only did that kill three hours, but, as always, it got me thinking about our forbears. Around here, when you walk off into the woods you are not unlikely to eventually come upon an abandoned and crumbling stone wall. Not only is it humbling to realize that some poor bugger once cleared all the trees, but then he cast up all these stones as he was plowing and used them to build a wall. Not for nothing is this called the Granite State.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were one of these earlier Americans and arrived at this field, facing the prospect of dong all that clearing before you could grow the food you'd require? Try telling them that you're depressed because the election might not go your way this year.

As it happens, our family has been here that long--some lunkheaded ancestor was clearing fields like these hundreds of years ago. Indeed, for something like 176 years an Orrin Judd or two or three has cast his ballot in the presidential election. During just that time they've done so with the country on the brink of or in the midst of Civil War, Jim Crow, depression, WWI, Great Depression, WWII, Cold War, and the late-70s/early 80s Recession, which rather puts a mild economic downturn and nearly casualty-free stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in perspective.

Most remarkable though is that for 220 years now we've gone to the polls and elected our own leaders. In that time we've had our fair share of great ones, crappy ones and everything in between. And it hasn't been the least bit unusual for the ones who seem to have greatness in them to turn out awful--Herbert Hoover, anyone?--nor the ones who seemed like mopes or bufoons to change history for the better: Abraham Lincoln? Ronald Reagan? The truly awful human beings have been blessedly rare: only Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon spring to mind. For the most part they've just been decent enough guys trying their best to do right by the country with predictably middling results.

This year's choice doesn't offer us a candidate who you'd expect to be particularly successful. For one thing, neither has the sort of executive experience that ought be the minimum we expect of a guy who wants to be Chief Executive of the Republic. For another, neither
has the sort of governing philosophy that provides the steady grounding and the consistency, even predictability, that you'd like in a leader. There's something unsettling about men who you can have no idea where they'd come out on an issue of first impression or whether they'd stick to their guns on important decisions.

But the flip side of that is that at a time of great partisanship but few meaningful policy differences between the parties, both are pragmatists and compromises and might stand a chance of getting things done. And after 14 years of our politics being guided by big ideas, it's not unreasonable for Americans to want to pause and regroup under a president they expect to be harmless, precisely because he proposes so little.

So, once again, today we pick who we want to lead the country for the next four years. The process isn't always appealing, but it is almost ridiculously open and representative. It is no coincidence that the entire world is fascinated by our elections. Forty years ago tonight, John McCain was a prisoner of North Vietnam. Fifty years ago, blacks couldn't even vote in much of the South, nevermind be the Democratic nominee, like Barack Obama. Tomorrow one of them will be president.

We do a disservice to the ancestors who handed down this incredible system of government if we dwell over much on the negatives and don't pause to think about the positives, which far outweigh the former. We do a disservice to ourselves if we bitch and whine about how this person or that person would have been better or this strategy or that strategy was a mistake or this, that, or the other. Picking discrete pieces of bark off individual trees we may lose sight of the beauty and grandeur of the forest.

If it's never a good idea to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, it's an especially bad one in a democratic republic, premised on compromise and requiring the acceptance of imperfection. Election Day is a time for us to celebrate who we are, what we have, and what we've done and to hope and pray that we do well in the future and hand down to those who come after us a country that's free and fair and safe.

And if we Republicans get our butts kicked tonight, then we congratulate the Democrats, find ways to work with them for the good of the country, and figure out how to whip them next time. That's the fun of democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 4, 2008 5:08 PM
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