November 6, 2012 11:18:33 AM
Today marks the end of another presidential campaign, and while the race for the White House may be hotly contested, there is at least one point on which everyone can agree: This day could not have come soon enough.
Modern presidential campaigns may have an end, but they seem to have no beginning. For almost a solid year now, the airwaves have been filled with presidential politics. In the final few weeks and months leading up to the election, few things have been able to push the campaigns from the spotlight and, even then, only briefly.
The infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars of PAC money has meant an onslaught of advertising that threatens to numb the senses and sour all enthusiasm for the process. In highly competitive states such as Ohio and Florida, the advertising has been nothing short of overwhelming.
Along the way, it seems, this campaign has produced a hysteria that probably has not been rivaled since the 1860 election. In that case, as we know, the Secessionist South made good on its warning of anarchy should Lincoln be elected.
Today, few are suggesting that the outcome may trigger anything approaching a civil war.
Even so, many citizens -- their passions inflamed by the never-ending hyperbole that dominates presidential campaign rhetoric -- predict grave and troubling consequences if America chooses the "wrong" candidate. We hear people solemnly claiming that they "fear for the future of our country," should their preferred candidate be defeated. Some say a wrong outcome is a step on the path to a Socialist regime. Others say the wrong outcome will insure a nation run by American aristocracy. Those given to extremes on either end of the political spectrum are equally confident that "this is the most important election in our lifetime."
To all this, we say: Take a deep breath. Our country has been electing presidents since 1788, when George Washington ran unopposed. The hallmark of our election process always has been the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. And, let's not forget that civics lesson about "separation of powers." To implement sweeping change, the president needs the assent of Congress, which is expected to remain Democratic in the Senate and Republican in the House. It is, after all, Congress who controls the purse strings of government.
Will supporters of the losing candidate be deeply disappointed? Without question. Will even the most bitter of defeats lead to anarchy? Nothing in our history, outside of the 1860 campaign, has produced anything even faintly resembling such a thing. It is important to note that even in the case of the 1860 election, the outcome of the race was not the cause of what was to follow, but an affirmation of the painful path America was destined to travel.
We have no reason to despair of anything so dramatic as that today.
When we get up Wednesday morning, our world will not be radically altered by the outcome of this election. Our system of government protects us against despots and the tyranny they might impose. One political party will lose, but it is never vanquished; it still has a place in halls of power. That balance of power is preserved through effective dissent.
Today, millions of Americans will go from spectators to participants in our great political process. They will exercise the right -- and, yes, the duty -- to vote.
Those who are inclined to stay on the sidelines by arguing that their vote "doesn't matter" would do well to remember that few Americans need trace their family history very far back to find ancestors who were denied the right to vote. At one point or another, access to the election process was denied on the basis of race, gender, religion, education and economic status. How sad it is, then, that the descendants of so many who were once disenfranchised should neglect such a cherished part of what it means to be an American.
Your vote may not change the outcome, but it most definitely matters.