America’s Choosing Day

Even for  Republicans, there is much to celebrate on this the day-after the presidential election of 2012.


First and foremost, Americans cannot be bought.


Despite all the doomsday punditry about the Super PACs and the 6 billion spent this election cycle, we Americans are not taken by the hand and led into the voting booth by political ads and tweets.


Remember that, Linda McMahon, should you think about trying to buy a Connecticut Senate seat for a third time.  Remember that, billionaire Sheldon Adelson.  Your millions given to the Romney campaign have been humbled before the ornery self-determination of the American voter from the Age of Jacksonian Democracy forward.


Let me pause for a few caveats here.  Sheldon Adelson is not a crank.  Democrats should think hard about Adelson’s op-ed piece on how it came to pass that a Jew who grew up poor and Democrat on New York’s Lower East Side left the party.


Second caveat.  American democracy has a long history of vote-buying.  The Clinton campaign handed out “walking-around money” to precinct workers in her battle against Obama to win the South Carolina Democratic primary in 2008.  That same year older North Carolinians reminisced to me about the days when their votes could be bought for twenty dollars and a shot of whiskey.  Ward heelers passing out the bucks and the booze fueled the great party machines of the twentieth century and enabled city bosses from Daley in Chicago to Crump in Memphis to keep tenacious hold on power.


If anything, the rise in political spending and its spread through multiplying media (2012 is the first Twitter presidential election) have inured many American voters to influence.


Third caveat.  Political money is one of the forces chipping away at our personal privacy—and somewhere down the road, there will be a reckoning.  It may come as soon as a full account (and there will be one) of the depth of the Obama campaign voter data base and how campaign operatives acquired personal information about individual voters.  There will be a backlash felt by future campaigns.


Personally, I felt the chilling effect this campaign cycle when I received several emails from Obama informing me (first email) that there are ten voters in the United States with the first name “Mayhill.”  In the second email, last week, “Obama” (obviously, he does not send out these emails himself) told me how many of these Mayhills had already voted.


Done with the caveats.  This piece is not supposed to be a downer but a celebration.


Second reason for celebration.  We almost elected a Mormon.


And we did elect a Hindu, our first, Tulsi Gabbard, who will represent Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat.


Four years ago, Romney’s Mormonism was one of the reasons he did not get the Republican presidential nomination.  This year his church did not matter.


Although I have said “Forward” was a lame slogan for Obama’s second presidential campaign, maybe I should eat crow.  For we have strode forward here.


In so many ways, we Americans feel stuck-in-place, battered and cornered by opposing economic forces (the simultaneous needs to spend, in order to be globally competitive, and yet to cut our deficit spending), lethargic about national decline.


But here in 2012 we see further movement along a road that has always been central to the American experience.  So many of our ancestors (and yes, recent immigrants, as well) came here for religious freedom.  That fact is not just an old chestnut of American history that my generation (if not current ones) learned in grade school.

My maternal ancestors were English Puritans, Scots-Irish Presbyterians persecuted by the Church of England, and French Huguenots, forced to leave France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  After Thanksgiving, I will be visiting my younger daughter in the Netherlands, and I plan to spend a day in Leiden, retracing the footsteps of my English Puritan ancestors during their Dutch sojourn, before Dutch Protestantism turned inhospitable and they decided to sail for the New World.


Whoever I am, a woman of this modern century and the last, I am in part chiseled from first American bedrock:  the imperatives of faith.


Of course, my ancestors never dreamed of Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims sharing the American landscape of religious freedom.  Likely, they knew nothing of such faiths.  They didn’t take kindly to Catholics (indeed nineteenth and twentieth-century American politics is shot through with anti-Catholicism).  They knew Deists and atheists.  An ancestor, Ezekiel Polk (grandfather of President James Polk), was thrown out of North Carolina for his atheism.  Polk’s will shows him to have been a believer in God and probably a Deist; nevertheless, the powerful Presbyterian divines of North Carolina told Ezekiel to pack up and move west.


Isn’t it ironic how every generation of Americans who arrive on these shores fails to recognize the consequence of religious freedom?


If I can practice my faith as I please, others who follow after me can, too.


This is a dynamic with which we Americans struggle, and sometimes our presidential elections mark our progress toward this truth.  The election of Catholic John Kennedy in 1960 was one such moment.  To think now that my parents worried over voting for Kennedy because he might take orders from the Pope!


Perhaps the struggle is a necessary part of American tolerance, in that this our core is a living thing, protean and not easily handled by its very nature.


So today we celebrate the fact that this time around Mormonism was not a factor in Romney’s defeat.  We celebrate the election of Tulsi Gabbard, who also, by the way, is the first of two American female combat veterans to be elected to Congress.  The other is new Illinois U. S. congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth.


And a little reminder here to those intrepid but foolish friends and family who bet me that Romney would win, when I have been trying to tell you since last election day that Barack Obama would serve two terms, and certainly I have been writing since then from the point of view of my certainty.


What is the reminder?  Didn’t I predict four years ago that our first female president will be someone who served in Iraq?  So keep your eyes on Tulsi and Tammy.


Final note:  the title of today’s piece comes from “Election Day, November, 1884” by Walt Whitman:


This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now,

I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s

choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the

main, the quadriennial choosing,)”


The Election of 1884 was just as nasty as ours in 2012.  Grover Cleveland, not destined for greatness, was elected president.  Whitman’s party, the Republican Party of Lincoln, was now suddenly out of power for the first time in two decades.  But Whitman found cause for celebration.


November 7, 2012





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2 Responses to “America’s Choosing Day”

  1. If elections can’t be bought, why are both candidates stooges for bankers? In denial of that fact, who received trillions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to repair their self inflicted wounds in the marketplace? Both parties were/are equally generous to their benefactors. I view the dispute between Reps and Dems much like the struggle between Nazis and Communist, if only both could loose and freedom could win.

  2. Well, of course, elections can be bought. In fact, the 1960 election was, via the collusion of Mayor Daley of Chicago, in some sense “bought.” Read White’s “Making of the President 1960.” White states frankly, first up, that nobody, including journalists like himself, cared what the American people thought. The political/opinionmaker conviction at the time was that they, the elites, told ordinary Americans for whom to vote. And by withholding information, in some sense they did.

    We live in a very different America. This election was not bought. Look at the stock market today. The problem for lawmakers is that our very smartest go where the money is–places like Wall Street–and therefore excel in outwitting legislation intended to curb them.

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