The Corner

Politics & Policy

Waiting

The opening lines of The Making of the President 1960, by Theodore H. White:

It was invisible, as always.

They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that Nixon had five votes certain—and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort, for Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable—invisible.

By the time the candidate left his Boston hotel at 8:30, several million had already voted across the country—in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible, but it was certain that at this hour the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic if it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world—the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal—all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make the particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.

John J. Miller — John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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