Empowered by the Vote: Now, What Are We—Yes, WE—Going to Do?Posted: November 6, 2012
As I stood in the poll lines today, I felt a sense of empowerment and belonging among the voters. Akin to the adrenaline brought out by gathering crowds before a concert or sports event, this impression flowed deeply into my soul and, I’m guessing, yours. This powerful sentiment carries us far beyond election day—so far that democracies like ours aim to fight our battles with ballots, not swords.
Contrast this sense of empowerment with the dispiritedness of campaign commercials. They preach largely a gospel of dependence: if our favored candidates win, they will solve economic stagnation, unemployment, poverty, pollution, child abuse, foreign threats, energy prices, and crime; if our candidates lose, then the best way to attack these problems is by working the next few years to kick out the current regime and replace it with one more to our liking. Republicans are as guilty as Democrats of implying that the answers to all our problems lie in whom we pick for elected office
A question, now asked constantly in campaigns, is whether we are better off than before. The question is no longer asking what we or our community can do to advance; it is as if our vote for George W. Bush 12 years ago or Barack Obama 4 years ago was the decisive element in putting the economy, our society, and our own personal well-being on or off track.
The gap between what candidates can possibly deliver and what they promise to deliver explains, as much as anything, why we have a federal government with power balanced delicately between two parties; the public doesn’t trust either one enough to grant it more exclusive power.
Here’s an interesting exercise. Count the number of times our modern presidents and presidential candidates use “I” in their speeches. Just imagine one of them giving the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seventy days ago, I had to make the tough decision to send our generals to Gettysburg. I thereby saved the nation. If Congress will only now adopt the additional requests I have put forward, I personally will make us yet more prosperous. Oh, I almost forgot, thanks to the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here to do as I directed.”
I have conservative neighbors who blame their poor job prospects entirely on the Obama presidency. I have liberal friends who think they are going to fundamentally change societal mores with their presidential vote.
When did we evolve to the point where so many think that the future of our society no longer depends upon our own efforts—to work, study, raise children, teach, save for tomorrow, take entrepreneurial chances, support those in need, provide opportunity to all races and age groups, build up charitable institutions, struggle for greater wisdom and understanding, and be there for our family, friends, and nation? Yes, conservatives and liberals claim to believe in these values, but when did so many decide that they are extolled mainly by voting for the right candidate? When did giving to campaigns become more personally valuable than giving to charity?
Of course, whom we elect does make a difference. It matters whether we spend or tax more or less and whether government functions fairly and efficiently. Both excessive government interference and indifference to need, the respective legitimate fears of conservatives and liberals, breed greater problems for society. And, as readers of this column well know, we’re far off the path toward both sustainable and well-functioning government.
For today, however, it’s worth carrying forward that feeling of empowerment and bonding that came from standing in line together at the polls. We united with the person standing next to us, without even knowing for whom she was going to vote. We have been endowed and gifted by our forbearers with the extraordinary possibility to make good things happen for others and ourselves. At the end of the day, our combined struggles to make full use of such possibility, and not the tax break or spending increase some elected official might get for us, will determine how well we advance as a nation.
Thanks for voting. It was fun uniting in this enterprise with you, even those who for some inexplicable reason find my own choices misguided!