At Your Service: April 30, 2008

I am suffering from early onset election fatigue syndrome. It is a chronic condition that strikes every four years sometime in the fall; hence, the early onset. Perhaps it came early this year because the all-out battle for the American presidency has already been waging for a year now.
In prior years, the election wars went into full steam about a year before the actual election; which only gave us 12 months to develop a sense of disappointment toward the potential candidates. This time, we will have been given almost two years of close scrutiny to ascertain that the men, and for the first time, woman, seeking what is perhaps the most important job in the world, will not live up to our expectations of them.
Because of the esteemed position held in the world by the United States, people around the globe pay attention to our electoral process. They watch as, one by one, those previously honored for long and distinguished careers in public service fall on their swords over petty scandals and misdoings. Not a one is exempt from the brush that paints them petty in some way. Those who are or might be our friends and foes get to take a close look at the dirty linen hanging on our national clothesline.

Improvements promised
In the early months of the campaign, most of us become engaged by one candidate or another based on their dreams and aspirations for our country and we, its people. The candidates travel the nation, shaking hands and looking us in the eye to assure us that those things we hold most dear are values that they share. There is talk of ways to improve the lives we live and bolster our unique world position by good doings here and abroad.
In more recent campaigns, there has been talk at these early stages of efforts to keep the battles clean; promises to stand or fall based on their positions on those issues that concern the American people. This year, as before, that language is fading in the wake of closer primary outcomes. The Republicans finished their dirty business early and are now focused on building up their candidate. Deep divisions in their party are being mended as they prepare for the battles to come when the Democrats settle on their candidate.
The two remaining Democrats promised to act honorably toward one another. As with the Republicans before them, they have lost sight of that promise. Now we are subject to daily assassinations of the character of one or the other and everyone they know, from their children to their pastor. It is the stuff of which disappointment and indifference are made.
This weekend I heard Gwen Ifill, the esteemed PBS correspondent, refer to this year’s election as a “full employment plan for journalists.” She was referring to fact that this campaign has given reporters so much extraneous grist for the mill. Covering an election of historical significance could have been a big story in itself. It is the first election where both men and women of multiple ethnic backgrounds have been serious contenders. But the school of journalists has fallen into the trap of sensationalism and been complicit in obscuring the issues.
The challenges we face as a nation are of serious import on both the domestic and international scene; and in a world grown smaller by technology and communications advances, those issues overlap more and more every day. The importance of jobs for Americans must be weighed in the context of a global economy in which goods and services for all countries are interdependent. The question of who is entitled to freedom and certain liberties is being answered on real battlegrounds in over 100 nations.
This nation rose to its world position largely on the basis of the extensive creativity and innovative approaches to problem solving of our people. Call me naïve, but it seems that we could use this same creativity and innovation to find a better way to elect our leaders. Millions of young people are actively engaged in the electoral process for the first time, the lessons they learn will determine their participation at all levels in the future.
It is all too easy to say that this is simply the way the political process works and that no one person can make a difference. This is diametrically opposed to the basic tenet of modern democracy which says that every vote counts. When, we continue to vote for those who fall back on fear-mongering and political pandering, it sends the message that we really don’t care about the issues.
This election could be the one that is truly historical in nature if we stood up and said, “no more.” We do have the power to insist that real issues be addressed and cast our ballots consistent with our beliefs that one candidate or another represents our individual and collective best interests.