Over the last few weeks we have all been watching the presidential campaigns heat up and particularly for those of us who live in swing states, the partisan rhetoric is getting angrier on both sides. It’s not the candidates or even their surrogates who seem to be the angriest, however; it’s the everyday voters — you and me.
Some of the things I have heard us say lately include:
“If he wins, it will be the worst thing that has EVER happened to this country,” and “I don’t care who wins; they all just want to screw us over anyway.”
Now I am as strong a partisan as any, and I have been known to yell my opinions loudly at the loyal opposition, but as the campaign enters its final week, I’m trying to take a deep breath and regain some perspective.
The president is not foisted upon us; he is the embodiment of who we are as a nation. At any given time, half of us may be very unhappy about that. Sometimes we can look back in hindsight and say we chose well. Sometimes we look back and know we chose poorly. Usually we just do the best we can and usually, even if that’s not great, it’s good enough to keep the Union intact for another four years.
Regardless, it was our decision and the winner is our president. It’s easy for us to forget that in the last angry weeks of a campaign, when we start to get hyped up with worry that if the Other Guy wins, he will usher in the End of Days.
I confess that I am one who tends toward the anti-Other-Guy hysteria but I keep thinking about a scene from the old TV show “West Wing.” The president is very upset that his old nemesis is about to win a local election. Very, very upset. His press secretary finally tells him to get a grip and reminds him that “In a democracy, often times other people win.”
It is a mantra I have been repeating to myself for the last 12 years, biting my fingernails with every poll for every election.
“In a democracy, often times other people win.”
And really, that’s okay, because the key word in that sentence is“democracy.” That we respect the process and the results is more important than which name is engraved on the presidential nameplate.
On Election Night 2008, John McCain’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, reportedly said that the most important speech in American politics is the concession speech. The loser points to the winner, in front of the entire nation, and says “This is your leader. This is OUR leader. We follow him now.”
That is an extremely rare occurrence in the history of the world but in America, it happens every time, for every race, from the local school board to the presidency. It happens so often that we take it for granted, and maybe we shouldn’t. It’s a unique and beautiful thing about American democracy and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because the truth is, I am not going to be happy if my candidate doesn’t win. But the guy who wins is going to be my president and I will have helped to pick him because I am part of America, just like everyone else who loves or hates the winner.
This is America. We don’t have to like the president. We don’t have to respect him personally. We get to call him names and make fun of him and insult his ears, his hair, his bank account, or his birth certificate. We get to work to bring him down, try to impeach him, try to have him voted out and try to stymie his initiatives at every turn. And, long live America, I like doing that as much as anyone.
But we respect the office and we respect the choice of the American people. Because it is OUR choice. The president and the Congress and the Supreme Court are not forced upon us by other people. They ARE us. These are our guys, the embodiment of who we are as a nation, for better or for worse.
The most important words in America are “We the people.” We are not the victims of our government – we are our government. Long live democracy.
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