Liddick: Voting gives us license to gripe
Hey you. Yeah, you, reading the column. If you’re a citizen and haven’t voted yet, go do it. I’ll wait here…
There. Now, no matter what the outcome you’ve got a license to gripe.
That’s right. Today’s the day when the vote is real and the outcome final. The months of fibbing, stretching, push polling, hollering, zombie glad-handing, platituding, spinning and furious exercise of the mute-button thumb is over. And unless the lawyers get dragged in, we’ll have a pretty good idea by the time Jay Leno makes his appearance just which crowd will be in control for the next two, or four, or six years: the two-faced, lying axe murderers or the thieving, conniving demon children.
Politicians are truly wondrous creatures. They spend months trying to convince us to give them our vote because their opponent is a weasel in league with the Devil, or the reincarnation of Richard Nixon, or both, without considering that eventually we have to vote for someone who’s running for the office – which means that we’re stuck with a weasel in league with the Devil, or the reincarnation of Richard Nixon, or both. Is it any wonder the political class has the reputation is does?
Which makes it tricky for those of us with normal lives. After the hyperventilating, we have to deal with those who are elected, so let’s hope they remember that around 45 percent of the electorate – a decent estimate of the number on the losing side in a sweep year – neither agrees with, nor trusts them. That will be at least a bit of a restraint both on their activity and on that of their colleagues who may be headed for the door.
A critical test will be the inevitable lame-duck session of Congress. If defeated Democrats take a pass-it-all-and-the-kitchen-sink attitude to – in the president’s words – “punish their enemies” before they skip town, they will make accommodation and cooperation difficult if not impossible for those who follow. Look for a continuation of hyper-partisanship and confrontation instead, this time on a more even footing. If, on the other hand, this shot-across-the-bow election results in a more reasonable attitude among those formerly in control on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the public’s business may get done with a minimum of kung-fu steel-cage death-match politicking on Capitol Hill. Time will tell.
The good news – if there is any – is that the country has seen this a number of times before. Between 1870 and the turn of the 20th century, both the White House and the Congress changed hands frequently. Campaigns were brutal, divisive, and people took them seriously. The same was true of the 1980s, and of Colorado politics during the ‘teens through the 1930s. In most cases, after the social changes fueling the political turmoil were worked out, we got along with one another well enough once the bruises healed.
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson beat John Adams in a campaign full of personal insults, slanders, malicious gossip and outright lying. In the end Jefferson, who had been Adams’ vice president, engaged in office-trading to win; the two presidents and founding fathers did not speak to one another for years afterward. But when they finally reconciled through the efforts of Adams’ wife, Abigail, they discovered that, political views aside, they had far more in common than not.
These examples should speak to us. Liberal or conservative, populist or plutocrat, we all live here. We should attempt neither to disenfranchise, nor to despoil one another, because we rise or fall together – and at the moment, we’re falling pretty rapidly. It might be time to pull the ripcord before we encounter the ground.
Then again, perhaps not. The violent hatred expressed for years against George Bush and his cohorts was returned in spades over the past two years, and much as retaliation does in other fields of endeavor, this provoked not a thoughtful pause, but an instinctive groping about for an even larger bucket of mud. And I doubt that in the short run cooler heads will prevail regarding its use. Instead, what is past may be prologue, until the American public cries a halt to what, way back in those quaint days of the 1990s was referred to as “The politics of personal destruction.” Until then, prepare for an orgy of vindictiveness; a tsunami of sleaze. And remember two things:
First, before setting out for vengeance, one should dig two graves.
Second, keep that mute-button thumb limber. You’ll need it later.
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