I might as well use that word “crisis” to describe our upcoming presidential election, since it apparently feels like one to the more partisan members of the electorate. It’s funny – this is the eleventh presidential election I have memory of and I have heard every one of them described as “the most important election in our history” – or words to that effect. I don’t want to say that the choice doesn’t matter, but we need to keep some perspective here – our presidents rarely live up to either our greatest fears or our greatest hopes. I say that to the fellow who assured me a few years ago that W’s administration would be abolishing the election system in order to keep his party in power. I also say it to the fellow who told me that Bill Clinton would be our last president because he was one of the demons foretold in the Book of Revelations. Whew! Bill and W have both demonstrated their own unique ways of violating standards of decency, but if either one of them is a demon foretold in Revelations, then they don’t make demons like they used to.
Some of the election alarmists I’ve encountered remind me of an actor acquaintance of mine. I recall a conversation I had with him in the fall of 1999. He was getting revved up on the subject of the impending Y2K crisis – remember that? He advised me that he had been reading up on it and that it was going to be far worse than most folks suspected. Some relative of his owned a place way out in Colorado and he planned to be holed up there with months of provisions come December 31, 1999. After that conversation, I didn’t see him again for a couple years. I suppose I should have asked him where he was when Y2K hit, but I let it pass.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of genuine crises out there – political, financial, climatological, ethical, and otherwise. But if you think that solving them is just a matter of whether you vote for McCain or Obama, then you’ve seriously underestimated the enormity of these problems, or you’ve seriously overestimated the power of the presidency. Yes, our next president will be a major player in some awfully important decisions, but his role will be but one of many in a very large cast. So let there be no despair – even if the “wrong” guy wins, our work as individual citizens will go on.
For the last word, I will turn to Neil Steinberg. He’s a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. I blow hot and cold in my appreciation for his work, but he made some good points in today’s column, which was devoted to the topic of bipartisanship:
“I’ve voted for Republicans – I voted for Jim Edgar, who to his credit became one of the few Illinois governors in recent history who didn’t have to worry about ending his retirement in prison. Party loyalty – like faith – can be something that enriches and ennobles your life. Or it can be something that hobbles and blinds you.”