Desperately searching for a new angle, the national media is now reporting that National Public Radio upset 4-year old Fort Collins, Colorado girl Abigael Evans by its political reporting on the presidential race. In response to this latest pre-electoral crisis, NPR issued a statement: “We must confess, the campaign's gone on long enough for us, too. Let's just keep telling ourselves: ‘Only a few more days, only a few more days, only a few more days.’" NPR felt compelled to apologize for the national election, capturing in this glib episode the national frustration with electoral politics. Instead of ignoring this temptation, NPR indulged it, prompting a question from this citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and registered voter: what the hell is wrong with you?
This writer’s Facebook account is blowing up with friends who are cleansing their hands, and thus, their consciences, of the whole sordid affair, as though they are somehow above it all. It’s messy, they proclaim, full of accusations, counteraccusations, and distortions of truth, and awash in money provided by corporations and social conservative elites (I am looking at you, Koch Brothers) on one hand, Hollywood and social liberal elites (now I am looking at you, George Soros) on the other. There is no sense of compromise. There’s no bipartisanship. The other side is wrong and we cannot wait to crush them. Et cetera. And now I am asking all of those people: what the hell is wrong with you, too?
This is more or less the way the system was designed. We all signed up for it, some of us by swearing oaths to it, others by the happenstance of birth and accepting the benefits, obligations, and protections provided by the American constitutional arrangement. Don’t like the system? Find a different one and pack your moving van, or move to an ungoverned space like Mali or an uninhabited Pacific island and sign off from society. Or change it. Think the electoral system is too heavily influenced by money, and that Citizens United was a miscarriage of justice? Change it. Amend the Constitution. It is an available remedy, and it has happened seventeen times post-ratification in our glorious national history.
Examine the alternatives to our supposed corrupt, unworkable system that apparently is grating on our last collective national nerve. Russia experiences pandemic corruption in every election, and President Putin enjoys the unrestrained authority to arrest protesting musicians for exercising an internationally-recognized (at least in nonbinding “soft law” (Gersen, Jacob & Eric Posner. "Soft Law: Lessons from Congressional Practice," 61 Stanford Law Review 573 (2008))) basic human right. Venezuelan election outcomes are predetermined, Arab Spring democratic reform has enjoyed mixed returns, and meaningful self-determinative political rights do not even exist in Saudi Arabia, Burma, and dozens of other African and Asian states. Even in France, the election of President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 resulted in localized riots and post-election violence. By contrast, the most controversial American electoral outcome in decades was decided by a federal court (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000)). Power was transferred without a shot fired, and perhaps only modest damage to American’s faith in institutions. Certain ideologues may have objected to the outcome and methodology of Bush v. Gore, but in a system as stable as the American one, everyone accepted the result as binding.
Moreover, while every generation in American history certainly can claim its share of challenges, those that our nation will face over the next four years measure up in quality and quantity against the yardstick of history. The security challenges alone are legion: arresting the deficit, energy security, managing the challenges presented by a nuclear-aspirant Iran, Afghanistan transition, an increasingly unstable Pakistan, delicate relationships within NATO and the shadow cast by an increasingly irritable and belligerent Russia, an unpredictable China with its excessive maritime claims, narcoinsurgency in Mexico, and the consequences of the Arab Spring. Now is not the time for lethargy, if ever it was. Now is the time to hitch up our national suspenders, if you value our future and love our country. Now is the time to have robust, meaningful national discussions on revenues, energy, new national security and national miltiary strategies, force structure, international engagement and alliances, and systems procurements.
I do not fault young Miss Evans for election fatigue. Her consternation may have been borne as much of a delayed naptime and frustration over the future of Sesame Street as true political exhaustion and yielding to the challenges of the 21st century political environment. NPR, on the other hand, ought to be ashamed of itself for folding like a house of cards and yielding to the culture of political cynicism. So should the legions of Americans who have declared that they are tuning out of politics until after the election. On the contrary, now is the time to tune in more than ever, as a matter of civic duty. Our national direction depends in part on the outcome of our elections, and it remains the responsibility of people who care about America to pay attention, stay engaged, and vote our consciences. The defeatist attitude on display by certain elements of our body politic would cause Churchill to smirk and Jefferson to roll over in his grave. Buck up, America – elections are important, and you can let your hair down next Wednesday.