Monday, November 5, 2012

It's not your right, it's your duty: vote!

Tomorrow, I will rise early and walk four blocks down to the nearest voting precinct -- a volunteer fire company -- and stand in line, as early as I can, to cast my vote for Barack Obama.
This year the popular vote will be close again, just as it was in 2000 and 2004. I suspect we may not know who won the electoral vote until the early hours of Wednesday. It may take even longer than that. For the sake of my country, I hope not.

As we approach tomorrow’s presidential election, if sometimes feels as if  America is coming apart at the seams. I don’t know what will happen if President Obama retains his position in the White House but loses the popular vote.  This seems like an increasingly likely scenario as we get set to go to the polls, and it's worrisome and worth pondering. What will happen after tomorrow?
It’s worth pondering because this is exactly what transpired in 2000, when George W. Bush wasn’t declared the winner until five partisan judges on the Supreme Court forced the state of Florida to stop recounting the ballots in a state that was too close to call some 40 days after the election, declaring Bush the winner.

We collectively discovered soon thereafter what should have been obvous: elections have consequences. They matter a lot. When he was sworn into office, George W. Bush inherited a $236 billion surplus, compiled by the Clinton administration after eight years of Democratic rule. Soon after that he emptied the nation’s treasury. First, President Bush instituted a huge tax cut that heavily  favored  the wealthiest  1 percent of Americans. Next he dragged the nation into two foreign wars, started largely because of Dick Cheney’s lie that Saddam Hussein was seeking to purchase yellow cake uranium from Uganda to produce a nuclear weapon.   
By the time he left office, eight years later, Bush he had turned the Clinton surplus into a $1.3 trillion deficit. (It is rarely noted in the national media that many billions of this debt was borrowed from China and that a significant amount of this borrowed money was transferred into the pockets of American defense contractors, such as Halliburton, which Dick Cheney headed before becoming Bush’s vice-president).  

Democrats never fully embraced President Bush because of the way he had won the election, not because Al Gore had won the popular vote but because the Supreme Court had injected itself into the election process and declared Bush the winner.
It may seem “fitting” to many Democrats if that scenario is reversed after the election tomorrow, and Obama retains his office despite losing the popular vote to Gov. Romney.  It could happen. And given the emotionally charged times we live in – and how vitriolic and spiteful politics American has become since the rise of the Tea Party – it is something to worry about.

Yesterday morning on The Chris Matthews Show, Howard Fineman, a senior political editor of the Huffington Post, speculated that  if Obama wins the election but loses the popular vote, it will give the right-wing crazies an excuse to de-legitimize his election and that armed chaos may ensue in isolated pockets around the country. Fineman does not strike me as an alarmist. He is a respected journalist who carefully measures what he says when he is making political predictions. The threat of post-election violence is more real that most Americans want to admit.
For that reason alone, tomorrow’s election is an historic event, and represents a true test of our democratic principles. The nation has not been as fractured as it presently is since the Civil War. How peacefully we come out of this election will, to a large extent, determine whether humankind can govern itself.

If chaos rules the day and, in the next few months, America slides over the precipice of rational thought, we will have our answer.  It won’t be pretty. There will be blood. If we can all manage to take a deep collective gulp, and live with the consequences of a duly elected govrnment, we will buy more time for what the founders called our "grand experiment." We can still set an example for the rest of the world. We will have a chance to show off, once again, our greatest national achievement: democracy.
No matter who wins—and I firmly believe the nation and the world will be better served if we stay the course with President Obama for four more years – the next president will inherit a divided Congress, a growing mountain of debt, and  a tide of rising anger from one-half of the nation’s electorate.  

That’s why this election is so important. Don’t sit on the sidelines and watch. The very least you can do is vote. It’s not your “right” as a citizen. It’s your duty. The whole world is watching.

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