In the closing hours the advertisements are redoubled; we see the candidates peddling their functional families, juxtaposed with a grim gallery of closed factories and soup lines and dead children, for which the fresh-faced candidates’ grainy-faced opponents are responsible, either in the past or the future or both.
We are urged to vote, because this is what makes a democracy function, though thankfully we don’t live in a democracy, if the democratic values reflected in opinion polls and reality television are any indicator.
We are urged to vote, alternatively, because not voting is voting, for the worst candidate, no less, a logical proposition that is at the same time Orwellian: not voting is voting.
Now if not voting is voting, then surely voting is voting, which means we voters ought to pause before pulling a lever to signify that we authorize someone to represent us when it comes time to pass laws against our neighbors, and take the fruit of their labors, and possibly send their children to die in some godforsaken desert.
All of which is to say that voting for Tweedledum because he’s a mite cleverer than Tweedledumber may not be the most patriotic thing a citizen can do. I’m not sure if we even think this way any more, most of us, so caught up are we in the tribalism stoked by the Tweedledums and Tweedledumbers of the world. The truth is that your Republican neighbor is likely to have far more in common with your Democrat neighbor than either of them has with the blow-dried speechifiers claiming to lead their respective tribes, pretending in turn to have nothing in common with one another though they are both likely to be attorneys who talk about growing the economy and creating jobs as if nations are built in a cobbler’s shop.
And this isn’t the fault of the speechifiers. It’s the fault of all we citizens who imagine we can grow and grow the array of protections and provisions our governments distribute, grow and grow our 401K’s without the corrective function of financial deflations, grow and grow our leisurely pursuits, and that all these bigger, better, newer titillations are our God-given rights as people who no more resemble the Founders of this country than a beanbag resembles a church pew.
The solution? Sometimes I think it’s as simple as putting toothpaste back in the tube. Teach reason and economics to a people inoculated against mental discipline, preach sacrifice to a nation accustomed to indulgence, take unearned lucre from a cabal of interests united in their fervor to sustain their claims on the productivity of their fellow man.
Maybe there’s no fixing such a mess, and the only right course is to favor Tweedledum, if only because he swings his hammer at the foundations of civility and prosperity with the occasional apology. But if there is a solution, I suspect it begins with telling the truth, and hearing the truth. But this demands courage, from both speaker and hearer.
It demands courage on the part of the politician, because he must seek out what is right, rather than what people want to hear. And it means courage on the part of the voter, who simply wants to be told that the real cause of this mess is some nefarious conspiracy of Others, and not his own avaricious, short-cutting, sacrifice-avoiding mentality, a mentality that has spurred politicians from both major parties to load down our children with debt, spend us to the brink of inflation, handcuff the small businesses that generate the majority of new jobs, impoverish poor nations with protectionism, and send young people to die in a ten-year, multi-front war of which most of us have grown bored, and in service to which few of us have sacrificed.
Do we have the courage to live in a world where not everyone wins, where not every bad event is caused by a villain, where our every want is not necessarily the responsibility of someone else? And do any of the leaders among us have the courage to forge this more American — but more arduous — path, even in the face of opponents who pander to our worst desires and fears?
It’s a question for Election Day, but I suppose it’s a question for every day. And I think we need a different answer than we’ve been getting.