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November 06, 2012

Election Day Thoughts

Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.

From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch:

Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night's dull ear,

And from the tents The armourers,
accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation:

The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,
And the third hour of drowsy morning name.

- Henry V, Act IV Prologue

There's an odd quiet in the air this morning. Pale sunlight filters weakly through branches turned suddenly bare and wakens glittering hills dusted with the first heavy frost of the coming winter. Even the cows are oddly silent. Most mornings, the jocular mooing of bovine rush hour drifts between the houses across the street as black and white cattle move here and there, doing whatever it is busy cows do of a morning. But not today. Not even the birds seem willing to break the heavy silence.

On Saturday, we flew to California.

As long as I live, I don't think I'll ever get over the sheer wonder of flying. In between reading and working, I gazed out the window as the landscape changed from lush green to thinly forested, rolling hills bisected with rivers to flat plains carved into rectangles or painted with green and gold irrigated circles: crops destined for a table in some far away burg, or for livestock or manufacturing or any one of a gazillion uses conjured up by the mind of man: the domesticating animal. Mountains rose jaggedly and the green turned to black and brown, finally fading into the pale tan of the high desert. Clusters of buildings and roads grew more infrequent, then downright rare.

Mist clung stubbornly to rivers and stream beds or thickened into dense, glowing blankets of clouds. For an instant, I imagined striding across them in my bare feet, knowing I wouldn't fall so long as I didn't think of the ground below. Focus.

And then, suddenly, Los Angeles, sweeping out as far as the eye could see like the Land of Oz. I've flown over so many cities but the sheer immensity of LA never fails to fill me with wonder and a vague sense of forboding. For an instant, I imagined the Pacific rising to cover the dusty, flat expanse. How little it takes to disrupt the elaborate house of cards we call civilization: the delicate supply chain that makes it possible to build a city in the middle of the barren desert; to feed emerald green golf courses thickly forested with palm trees and exotic flowers and luxury homes with terra cotta roofs and private swimming pools.

We forget how interconnected and interdependent we are. The miracle of civilization isn't uppermost in our minds as we cruise the produce aisle at the nearest Whole Paycheck, selecting grapes from Chile, strawberries from just down the road, lettuces from some state a thousand miles away. All this abundance just appears without our having to think about it, and we pull a plastic card from our wallets and pay with digital money and often don't even think about the total.

On the flight back Sunday night, the inky landscape was dotted with stars: the power grid that heats our homes and beats back the dark with lights that magically come on with a simple flick of a switch.

Throughout this election season, I've been struggling to find an organizing construct to help make sense of the relationship between government and private enterprise and industry. The closest I've been able to come is that I want government to do for us those things individual families and people can't do for themselves.

Individuals can take steps to protect their homes and possessions, but we can't protect a territory that stretches over 50 states and thousands of miles. We can take steps to keep ourselves fed, to save for retirement or illness or simply for a rainy day but a family can't build an interstate highway that stretches from sea to shining sea.

We can regulate our own behavior, but individuals and families cannot create and enforce a system of laws that regulates the behavior of millions - making the constant stream of traffic on 12 lane highways flow with amazing speed and order, or ensuring that most of us can walk down most any street without weapons. We send our children off to school or go to work and we expect order: peace. The horrible exceptions to this general rule are just that - exceptions. They are rare, and so we are shocked by them because they violate conditions we have come to take for granted: prosperity, order, plenty.

But somewhere along the line, we forgot the fundamentals. Our parents and grandparents worked hard to keep the wolf from the door.

We have forgotten that the wolf exists at all, and so we vote for politicians who assure us that we shouldn't "have to" struggle - the existential challenges our forebears took pride in mastering are transformed by the alchemy of rhetoric into assaults on our basic human rights. We aspire, not to escape hunger or privation or to build a secure future for our children, but to possess as much as our neighbor does.

Anything less is economic injustice. Inconvenience is hyped until it becomes an unacceptable sacrifice of human dignity.

Yes, you read that correctly. Someone actually wrote those words. Mind you, there are still sane people to be found - ones who understand, for instance, that it costs states money to allow early voting:

A common question I see is, “If people are waiting five hours to vote for early voting, how bad will it be on Election Day?” Actually, there are plenty of legitimate logistical reasons that voters have to wait in line for early voting but may not have to wait that long on the big day. When one goes to vote on Election Day, one goes to a church or a school or community center that is in your precinct, or a similar location that houses several precincts but is still close by. But you can’t have schools and churches open for early voting for an entire month, so early voting necessarily takes place at fewer locations.

Further, you would have a hard time staffing wider polling hours. The kindly old folks who staff our precinct might look like sweet volunteers, but they are pocketing more than $100 a day. That adds up in smaller counties and rural areas with tight budgets.
I still remember going with my parents to vote when I was growing up. Our polling place was my elementary school, and we would stand quietly behind our parents when they went into the mysterious booth and made all those mysterious grown-up decisions. I looked forward to the privilege and responsibility. And I have voted in every election—and almost every primary—since I turned 18, whether it was local or presidential, or whether I lived in a swing state or the bluest of blue states. I think that everyone should have a fair shot at getting to the polls. Early voting and absentee voting are great, and making Election Day a holiday would provide a great civics lesson for new generations of voters. The system could be better, but the system—at least in Ohio—is not broken.

There are even people who understand that we don't actually have a Constitutional right to vote:

... the Constitution never explicitly ensures the right to vote, as it does the right to speech, for example. It does require that Representatives be chosen and Senators be elected by "the People," and who comprises "the People" has been expanded by the aforementioned amendments several times. Aside from these requirements, though, the qualifications for voters are left to the states. And as long as the qualifications do not conflict with anything in the Constitution, that right can be withheld. For example, in Texas, persons declared mentally incompetent and felons currently in prison or on probation are denied the right to vote.

Flying across the country, I was continually awed by the complex network of individual bargains, laws, contracts, and simple handshake agreements that makes the world we live in possible. This amazing human infrastructure exists because - in order to gain cooperation and resources from people who may not share our values - we are required to offer them something they value in exchange for what we value. We cannot force or coerce their participation in this great experiment we call America: the simple requirement to provide value for value provides a powerful limiting force on selfishness and greed. This force is not perfect - we still need some laws to regulate the minority of people who, if given the chance, will run roughshod over anything in their path.

But by and large, it works. The requirements of self interest limit us to what we can gain by bargain or mutual assent.

This President wants to change the system that built the prosperity and plenty I glimpsed from the window of a Southwest airlines jet. Commerce, which has for centuries been voluntary and accomplished by the appeal to mutual advantage, is now to be enforced by a third party whose power and might dwarf those of any business or private entity: government.

The stakes could not be higher. Please vote. Vote to preserve over 200 years of continual human progress. Vote to keep government a servant rather than a master. Vote to distribute power to individuals who cooperate for mutual advantage rather than concentrating it in the hands of a disconnected elite intent upon confiscating the fruit of our productive labor and redistributing it to their cronies or buying votes with it.

Vote for an executive who will uphold the law rather than ignoring it.

No matter who wins this election, your vote and your voice do count.

Posted by Cassandra at November 6, 2012 07:01 AM

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I woke up this morning, planning on voting when my precinct opened, but dozed for another half hour, until my big old yellow lab stuck his nose in my face and my little black cat jumped all over me. So I got up finally and began the day.

Went to my precinct to vote, which is really where 5 precincts vote in one big church. The line was actually not as long as other years, as I think a lot of people voted early. Saw a few familiar faces among the hundreds there.

Election day sometimes makes me a little sad. I am reminded of my late father and his friends, WWII veterans who are all gone now, who saved this country and a large part of the world from a tyranny uglier than Mitt Romney allegedly banning tampons. I hope I have kept the faith with them, and every other man and woman who have labored to keep this Republic free, which has led to this particular Election Day.

Regardless of the outcome today, the sun will come up tomorrow, and another day will dawn. We will all muddle forward somehow.

Keep the faith with those who made our vote possible, who voted with more than a ballot to keep us all free.

".....That this nation of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 6, 2012 09:52 AM

Vote to keep government a servant rather than a master. Vote to distribute power to individuals who cooperate for mutual advantage rather than concentrating it in the hands of a disconnected elite intent upon confiscating the fruit of our productive labor and redistributing it to their cronies or buying votes with it.

Well said. I voted in kind.

Posted by: kavu at November 6, 2012 10:15 AM

I prefer to vote for this reason.

Posted by: DL Sly at November 6, 2012 10:30 AM

Election day sometimes makes me a little sad. I am reminded of my late father and his friends, WWII veterans who are all gone now, who saved this country and a large part of the world from a tyranny uglier than Mitt Romney allegedly banning tampons. I hope I have kept the faith with them, and every other man and woman who have labored to keep this Republic free, which has led to this particular Election Day.

You have, my friend. Thanks for the laugh, but more importantly for the tears you brought to my eyes with your words.

The capacity for reverence is something we seem to have lost. Over the past week I've been fighting back tears - they swell up for the dumbest reasons. But as Sly's link attests, I do love this country with all her glorious faults.

And I'm afraid, but also hopeful for the future. Voting is an act of faith; hard to maintain at times, but so necessary for the continuation of the republic.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 6, 2012 10:51 AM

I early voted. Spoke to a work friend this morning. She was going to vote at the school across the street from her house before coming to work. She thought there wasn't much of a line, until she discovered they had moved the voting from where it had been in the past: no longer in the gym, now in the library... Once she (and the other 30 people in that same line prior to the polls opening) got over to the correct line, she determined she would not be able to get through that line and still make it to work on time. So, she will go with her husband this evening, no matter how long they have to wait. Texas will go red, so their votes "won't really count" for the presidential election, but that's not the only thing on the ballot. Me? I'll get home before the polls close on the East Coast. We will eat dinner, then I will settle in for an evening of watching the returns, praying the American people choose change once again. Change back to the path of liberty and the Constitution...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at November 6, 2012 10:53 AM

I voted with my Daughter #3 this morning. Both of us standing in line out in the cold church parking lot sipping coffee from thermal mugs and trying to guess who around us was voting for whom based upon a scientific study of their shoes.
Whatever the outcome tonight, that just made my day.

Posted by: spd rdr at November 6, 2012 01:01 PM

You and daughter #3 would have had a heck of a conversation predicting my vote then, spd.

Posted by: man riding unicycle naked at November 6, 2012 01:12 PM

Bare feet? Easy. Libertarian.

Posted by: spd rdr at November 6, 2012 01:36 PM

It turns out you were wrong. What really matters is not the rule of law at all. People are chiefly interested in using the state for other things.

How will you resist this state, which is so strong because we have so long supported it?

Posted by: Grim at November 7, 2012 12:39 AM

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