Well, here we are again, America.
If you’re loving politics right about now, I suspect it’s because you’ve come to view it as a sport, or as a necessity from which you have become somewhat detached emotionally. Right now is the time in a campaign season when even those of us who used to watch election returns when we were kids — late into the night, long past our bedtimes, well before we knew what exit polls were — are ready for it to be over, even as we try to make every day that’s left count. I. Can’t. Wait. For. It. To. Be. Over. That’s the temptation, the frustration, and the anxiety. It’s that time in the election cycle where you want to cry, scream, or move to a planet without elections. It’s the time when it seems nearly impossible to have a reasoned conversation about politics. Emotions are so high. Propaganda is so sharp. Positions are so burrowed in. So many people have a stake in a win — whether for ideological or financial reasons, or to save face or to otherwise look or feel good the morning after. Or the afternoon of the recount.
Think, for instance, of Christine O’Donnell, the Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware. She won fairly in a primary. And she has since been ceaselessly ridiculed. Criticizing policy ideas is one thing; raising questions about her record and qualifications is only due diligence. But the attacks here go way beyond these. How dare she argue on national television — and at a young age — for sexual responsibility? Or how dare she say that the First Amendment does not include the establishment of a wall between church and state?
(Never mind the fact that it actually doesn’t.) This is overreach.
And then there is Ohio, where Rep. Steve Driehaus’s reelection campaign is faltering. In an attempt to save his seat, he’s making an outrageous legal bid to stop the Susan B. Anthony List from running some billboard ads against him. The SBA List, a pro-life political action committee, has been campaigning in earnest against Democrats who have represented themselves as pro-life but voted for the health-care bill anyway. The billboard they had ready to roll weeks ago in Driehaus’s district said that he voted for taxpayer-funded abortion. When Driehaus voted for the bill, there was incontrovertibly no prohibition in it against government-funded abortion. An executive order with limited standing had not yet been issued. And then, since it was issued, abortion-funding openings have been revealed, giving exposure to the problem that the likes of SBA List had been highlighting all along: There is not, contrary to conventional belief, a universal prohibition on taxpayer-funded abortion. (Which is why House Republicans have pledged to pass one.) The SBA List’s point is a legitimate one — but, as in the case of NPR and Juan Williams, some people would rather shut down a controversial view than allow a civil discussion.
It’s sometimes hard to tell the truth from the lies, especially when partisans are in constant attack mode. And yet: It’s worth the effort, even in each of these emotional, trying, tiring days. Perhaps this year more than ever; because we see on the campaign trail some genuinely competing worldviews, offering voters a real choice. There are Americans who haven’t participated in politics for years who are contributing in myriad ways this year, because they see the values they treasure slipping away. They see their country and their culture slipping away, from responsibility to dependency.
And they know that, as much of a struggle as it is — being ridiculed and shouted down and taken to elections commissions and even, sometimes, forced into court — it is worth it. In an essay called “Democracy and Authority,” Jacques Maritain wrote of his fondness for pluralism in democratic life. The 20th-century philosopher wrote that “a just pluralism seems to furnish the most normal remedy for the difficulties inherent in all democracies. We know, indeed, that evil and foolishness are more frequent among men than intelligence and virtue.” He went on: “Furthermore, experience shows that in politics (as in all spheres where the affective dispositions and the collective interests play an essential role), persons of education and refinement are no less often mistaken than the ignorant; the errors of the latter are vulgar, those of the former are intellectualized and documented, like the persons themselves. In these matters, if the central virtue of the leaders is political prudence — which is rare and difficult to acquire — what matters most in the rest are right instincts.”
Right instincts are resonating on the campaign trail this year. That’s why so many candidates who are not your usual political fare are coming within shouting distance of many an entrenched officeholder. Some of them will win. Some of them will lose. But they all recognize that the fight is a good one to have. Anthony Weiner should have a challenger. Barbara Boxer should have a hard-fought reelection struggle. New York congressman Maurice Hinchey, an embarrassment in office, really could and should lose his reelection bid. And a Harry Reid or a Lisa Murkowski — or whoever your incumbent with a sense of entitlement is — would be exposing his or her foolishness by being angry and bitter because he or she has a fight on hand. For there is a prudence in the American voter who truly appreciates democracy and his role in it — and it’s unmistakably present this year.
As much as I can’t wait for the results to be in!
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at [email protected]. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello.