There’s a wistful tone in an article at the CNN blog by anchor Campbell Brown as she asks our presidential candidates to stop the negative campaigning. You can tell she’s earnest, and there’s an echo of Rodney King’s famous, ‘Can we all just get along?” But the truth is the presidential election of 2008 is a race that has not only drawn record voter registrations. This race, beginning with the primaries, has evoked a verbal bullet spray of tipping points, from accusations of gender bias, media bias, age bias, racial bias and a governor from Alaska who reminds me very much of the enduring lead female character in the drama ‘Fargo.’ Toss in another vice president who thought Franklin D. Roosevelt talked to America about the stock market crash of 1929 on TV and you begin to feel a bit like you’re in a Woody Allen movie. On the top of one ticket and on the bottom of another are two basically unknown quantities in politics on the federal level. To ask for kindness may be a laudable goal, but to expect it is naïve. This election has as many twists and turns as a backcountry road during a blizzard and really isn't very different from past elections in that regard.
American politicians rarely bring true kindness or unity to the campaign table. It’s my personal opinion that is a good thing. For one thing, candidates need to be vetted, arguably even harshly vetted. Consider what Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton confronted after finding what they sought. Both faced media assaults; both at times faced a hostile Congress. Whether you like either of those presidents, we would probably agree the office is not designed for those who are overly sensitive.
With amusement, I’ve watched partisans decry the possibility their own candidate would lose, possibly leading to the end of the republic. One individual who is the most peaceful man I know says he plans to stock up on guns in case Democrats manage to upend the 2nd amendment to the constitution. Another who plans to vote for a Democrat tells me if the Republican ticket comes out on top she will, predictably, leave the country. Yet another tells me she is going to write in Newt Gingrich’s name and another female friend intends to write in Sen. Hillary Clinton’s.
Throughout history, campaigns have not been kind to the nominees. Candidates have been knocked off the ballot for undergoing treatments for a mental condition or for having a vice-president who could not spell a word that made the Irish famous. We tend to hyperelevate the present, believing this is the most critical time in our history. Of course there’s absolutely no way to know that until we are history.
Consider what Lincoln faced as our nation attempted to divide itself violently. Weigh in on the challenges to Franklin D. Roosevelt who after promising American mothers he would not send their children to a war in Europe had to do exactly that. President George H. W. Bush found himself in a quandary after uttering, ‘Read my lips. No new taxes.” The line that gave him the oval office did him in eventually because the Democrats in Congress had different ideas about those taxes and he felt compelled to “reach across the aisle” as we are fond of saying nowadays.
Whatever promises are tendered by our candidates, the road to the oval office has never been a smooth one. In America, freedom of the press relies for its bread and wine on daily drama as each candidate takes the stage and pitches a platform. In some countries, guns and the military often decide elections and bloodshed may be part of the process. In the United States, our bloodshed is figurative, though it still may cause a candidate and his or her supporters to grimace.
I tip my hat to Brown’s entreaties for a more polite dialogue. But as a lover of history, I do not expect her pleas to be heeded. As Sen. John McCain’s townhall exchange with Sen. Barack Obama approaches, conservative diehards are urging their candidate to ‘go to the mattresses’ and liberal diehards are urging their man to ‘hit it out of the park.’
Meanwhile, I came across a quirky essay by Philip Fowler at the website President Elect. Fowler does a mathematical analysis of presidential elections, and declares via computations I barely comprehend that McCain will be the nation’s 44th president because, “America seems to prefer having a Republican in the White House, no matter how low the current occupant's approval ratings.” While I admire a man adept at numbers, I also know there can be a false sense of security in projections, whether they're computations of elections past or polls about elections present.
My hound dog has taught me this. Every time he wants a biscuit, he sits back on his haunches and holds his paws like a kangaroo standing up. You say the word, ‘treat’ and my dog will do this. That is, he will do this until you really want him to do it, such as when you are trying to show a guest the cute tricks your hound dog can do. At such moments, my dog will sometimes defy the odds and look at me as though he is the dumbest hound dog in Dixie.
That’s how presidential elections in history have gone—sometimes the odds are defied. And often, we voters wish the candidates could be, as Brown suggests, nicer to one another. But it is my personal opinion this is an impossible, even an unwelcome goal. Were nothing of value at stake, would voters come to the polls? Without the passion and clash of wills would we care?
What’s important is that after the election is over, we take King’s advice and just try to get along, bearing in mind that 4 years really does go by faster than we may care to admit. We accept that we won’t know who our next president is until we go to those polls. Nothing among the living is 100 percent predictable. Just ask my wise hound.