Temper the vote
On fired-up voting, faulty history books, and getting along in a democracy
The claws always come out at election time, and there never seems to be a shortage of doomsaying among those who follow politics as a substitute for other meaningful concerns. But both election denialism and democracy-could-die fatalism, there seems to be mounting evidence that lots of people believe that we lurch not from election cycle to election cycle, but from existential crisis to existential crisis.
■ How much would our rancor be reduced if politics were taught in history books and classes not as the momentous achievement of big, discrete goals (like the Great Society, the New Deal, or the institution and repeal of Prohibition), but rather as the dynamic interplay of people trying to exhibit and demonstrate some level of decency and sagacity?
■ People talk about campaigns "peaking too soon", when in reality, we merely fixate on early November as the time to take the voting public's temperature. Those ebbs and flows of popularity are non-stop; public opinion is always in motion. Thus, it's not so much a matter of "peaking too soon" as it is "taking the vote at an inopportune time".
■ There really are decent, well-motivated people in office and campaigning for a seat at the table. There always have been. And while they may quite well engage in some of the discrete movements, it's more the case that they make decisions within an ever-evolving environment, and we should look more to their overall quality of judgment than to the specific policies they talk about.
■ The more we approach questions of politics as if they were either-or events, like a soccer match or a baseball game, the less inclined we are to appreciate the process itself, and how important keeping that process clean really is. It's far better for 100% of the people to get 60% of what they want than for 60% of the people to get 100% of what they want.
■ It isn't natural to get excited over the premise that one should embrace disappointment in 40% of the outcomes. But, to an extent, that's the point: Normal people ought to have many other sources of excitement in life than politics, and we should be comfortable with a lot of results that don't leave us cheering. Being moderately ambivalent isn't an altogether bad thing if it means that compromises are being brokered and many varied interests are being served.