Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Day

One would think (then again, maybe one wouldn’t) that Mark Hyman would use the occasion of Election Day to use his “Point” commentary to talk in a nonpartisan way about the importance of voting in a democracy, the wonders of citizens freely choosing their own leaders, or celebrate the renewed enthusiasm across the political spectrum for getting involved in the electoral process.

But that’s not the Mark Hyman we know. In fact, Hyman not only
chooses to be partisan on Election Day, but to be partisan about the election four years ago.

Hyman trots out the canard that the media was to blame for the Florida debacle in 2000 because they projected Gore the winner before the polls closed in the panhandle section of the state, which includes a heavily Republican population. If not for the liberal media, we might have been spared all the hand-wringing over an “illegitimate” president.

But Hyman leaves out a crucial fact in his rundown: the first network to call the race for Gore in 2000 did so at 7:48 pm, only 12 minutes before the polls closed in the panhandle. Hyman’s scenario envisions tens of thousands of Republican voters sitting at home watching television, waiting until the last conceivable minute to speed their way to the polls and vote, but who decide not to because of one network’s announcement. This fails the giggle test.

Needless to say, Hyman also doesn’t mention a thing about the widespread disenfranchisement of voters, primarily African Americans, because of faulty voter purge lists, that actually did prevent many people (overwhelmingly Democratic, by the way) from voting. See the United States Commission on Civil Rights’
report for the details.

But let’s not play Hyman’s game. Election Day should be a moment when we are thankful for the opportunity to express ourselves in a democratic society. There’s something wonderful about the fact that although money, power, and connections certainly play a key role in getting people elected, ultimately the decision is made by individuals choosing the candidate of their choice, with every citizen counting equally, from the Nobel laureate to the high school drop out, from the temp worker to the corporate C.E.O., from the 80-year-old retiree to the 18-year-old kid voting for the first time.

We should also be excited that turnout, while not matching the astronomical figures some predicted, seems to be significantly up in this cycle.

Should George Bush win, we should take satisfaction in that it seems we’ll have a president who received an actual majority of the popular vote for the first time in 16 years and who will also likely have allies in Congress. This will give the nation an opportunity to evaluate Republican policies clearly. There will be no excuses.

Should John Kerry prevail, we can celebrate the peaceful transition of power even in turbulent times, when American soldiers are halfway around the world fighting a war.

Yes, we can bemoan the fact that the system isn’t perfect. Too many people are uninformed about the issues. Even with a higher turnout this time around, too many people don’t vote. The mechanics of the voting system itself is outdated and clunky. Money plays too big a role in elections. Candidates regularly distort and pander rather than honestly discussing the issues. The election cycle goes on far too long. Rarely do elections seem to come down to an honest and fair contest of ideas.

But, as Winston Churchill noted, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

As ugly as the process and the results can often seem, we should honor the fact that even the things that go wrong in a democracy are things that we, as citizens, ultimately have the responsibility for, as well as power to change.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

P.S. “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.” – Robert Graves, I, Claudius
(Those of you who get the reference know what I mean.--TR)


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