By the time you read this, we should know who the next president is. At least, I hope so. Another Florida hanging-chad debacle might be more than America’s creaky democracy can take, particularly after an election as contentious and as loaded with expectation as this one.
Whatever the outcome, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, whoever winds up in the White House, he won’t be a harbinger of the end of the world—or even, I suspect, the country’s downfall. The world has a tendency to keep on turning. And America has weathered worse crises—although the worst, it’s sobering to think, was triggered by the election of an Illinois legislator with little executive experience and a reputation for eloquence.
Things may get ugly for a while, but Washington will eventually settle down to business as usual. And, as bad as that may sound, it isn’t such a horrible thing. If America is “exceptional” for anything, it’s political continuity. Two-hundred-plus years and we’re still working off the original set of blueprints, more or less. France, in that same interim, has been through five republics, two emperors, that unfortunate Vichy business, and several Bourbons. (I’d need a drink, too, after all that.)
So, whether you’re a McCain supporter bitterly clinging to the conviction America just elected a commie or an Obama voter dealing with dashed hope, don’t despair. The wounds may be fresh, but give it time. Consider, too, the example of another recent election that supposedly pitted paradigm-altering “change” against a candidate that, some argued, represented “more of the same.” I’m speaking, in case you’ve forgotten, of Knoxville’s 2003 Mayoral election. Obviously, the stakes were much smaller, but there are some interesting parallels: Rogero combined Obama’s background of grassroots community organizing and the supposed handicap of a foreign-sounding name while Haslam faced questions over his political inexperience and ties to a previous administration known for its divisive, imperious nature.
By the end, the debate devolved to competing cries of “class warfare” and corporatism. Much like McCain and Obama, the barbs between Haslam and Rogero never quite turned personal. But their supporters were certainly willing to wallow in the mud. It may be forgotten now, but the tenor in 2003 was every bit as acrimonious as 2008. Each side portrayed the other as a caricature, oblivious to the fact that both candidates actually had a fair amount in common.
Fast-forward five years and the bitterness and anger seem silly in retrospect. Rogero is a department head in Haslam’s administration, some of her staunchest supporters from five years ago now sing the mayor’s praises, and he coasted through re-election without facing a serious challenge. That’s not to say things will go so swimmingly in the wake of last Tuesday, only to point out that, after a heated election, cooler heads tend to prevail. In that light, I expect we’ll all be back here four years hence, having the same tired arguments again. Who knows, considering Isa Infante’s re-election challenge to Haslam, 2012 might actually make for a more interesting—or at least entertaining—presidential election. Whichever party loses will face a crisis of confidence, and both McCain and Obama are bound to disappoint the more extreme elements of each party’s increasingly unwieldy coalition. Splinter parties on both sides may be a possibility.
Whatever happened on Tuesday, this election has been historic. An African American candidate may or not have gotten the nod, but being the odds-on favorite in the home stretch is a pretty stunning achievement in its own right. Perhaps, someday soon, a woman will run for the same office without having to read articles debating her cleavage, or her shoes.
Oh, and as for Bush, can the new president send him to Poland? Please?