Saturday, October 30, 2004

After the Vote – Now What?

The campaign is drawing to a close and I truly don't know what the outcome will be when we go to the polls on Tuesday.  Is it too close to call, or have a majority of Americans decided on change or continuation?  Needless to say, in casting my ballot for John Kerry, I'll be hoping for change, even yearning for it.  However, in a way what really concerns me now is exactly the same thing that troubled me on March 9, 2003 when I wrote a blog about the Iraq war entitled "After".  Millions of words have been spoken during this campaign, but what happens after?  The conventional questions are how many of those promises will be kept and how will governing differ from campaigning?  These remain valid, but my real concern is about something totally different.

We're told time and again that the nation is deeply divided.  Being skeptical about oft repeated truisms, I am prone to suspect such pronouncements.  Sadly, I find it difficult to refute them.  I was struck in this morning's Times Book Review by the title of Ann Coulter's most recent book, "How to Talk to Liberal (If you Must).  Of course, Ms. Coulter is part of that slick group, both Conservative and Liberal, who engage in Crossfire Speak focused as much on provocative rhetoric and entertainment as expressing a coherent point of view.  Nevertheless, the troubling fact is that our national discourse has been poisoned in such a way that most of us old enough to have lived through many of the 20th Century's ups and downs have never before experienced.  This is not to suggest that there weren't times when people didn't speak past each other, but the arguments never got quite as personal.  Also in the Times was the photo of a couple sitting angrily side by side in bed, his wall decorated with Kerry posters, hers with Bush's.  They are staring straight ahead, certainly not talking to one another and that tells it all.

Leaving aside where one stands on the various foreign policy and social issues that hang in the balance as we move toward Election Day, I think all of us should mourn the tragic fact that George W. Bush's single greatest failure may have been not delivering on his promise to bring the nation together -- "a uniter, not a divider".  He made it during a campaign that also was conducted against the backdrop of division, but incredibly what we thought of as polarization four years ago pales in comparison to what we experience today.  What's even more damning is that the President squandered a historic opportunity of binding the wounds of division immediately after 9/11, something that in the long run may have caused even greater damage to the nation than the horrendous events of that day.

I am a Liberal.  I believe in a government that supplies a safety net to those in need, that treats the citizenry with equality, that doesn't impose one ideology over another, that affords us the right to manage our lives and control our bodies and that really goes to war only as a last resort.  Other's believe differently, sometimes diametrically so.  I am convinced of my beliefs, they are convinced as well.  Why can we no longer talk about those differences, defend our beliefs, without acrimonious character assassination?  Ann Coulter doesn't want to talk to me, and I really don't want to talk to her.  That's where we are, and nothing good can come of it.

The campaigns are coming to an end.  I'm glad.  I can't stand listening to another of the same speeches or hearing the predictable scripted spin from each side's spokes folk.  I've given up on hearing about all those unspoken issues and most assuredly won't be burdened with anything thoughtful in the next two days.  I hope John Kerry is our next President.  If he is, then in addition to bringing together his new cabinet, I hope he spends some time, and political capital, in bringing us back together.  I hope George Bush is defeated, and that his loss is decisive.  If he loses, historians may look back to 9/12 and the opportunities cast aside.  If he wins, and despite all the evidence of his ability to do so, I hope he too will look at bringing us together.  The campaign is over.  Now what?

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