O beautiful for voting booths! Early on a misty election day I became a little teary-eyed while walking into our precinct polling station through a low forest of brightly-covered signs. That happens to me every two or four years on a November Tuesday because I am so glad to be in America where-so I imagine-individual citizens diligently make up their own minds, contemplating not what their country can do for them but what they can do for others.
When I looked carefully at the ballot and marked it, I was living the dream that my immigrant grandfather-Louis the Pioneer, we call him-had when he came to America, a land flowing with baseball and elections. How he loved this country, particularly because he had grown up in Russia, a pre-World War I evil empire! How I love this country, where we can freely worship and work as we build families and businesses!
An ugly reality sunk in during the afternoon and early evening, as exit polls and preliminary returns showed the undecided or apathetic responding to Al Gore's proffering of something for every targeted voter. We are now a divided nation. Many of us (some affluent folks as well as many with below-average earnings) have become dependent on the government for biweekly bread. We can no longer be disinterested jurors, making free choices about what is right. We condemn urban practices like passing out cigarettes to homeless guys in return for their votes, but officials indirectly pass out stuff all the time in return for votes.
But at 8:45 that evening, during the Bush celebration/wake in front of the beautiful Texas capitol building, I climbed to the top of a tall, multi-tiered grandstand used by television folks doing interviews and standups. One interviewer, assuming that Al Gore had won, asked me a sneering question along these lines: "Looking at the returns, would you agree that compassionate conservatism hasn't much of a future?" As I began to answer, a roar from the Bush crowd indicated that Florida, press-declared earlier as a Gore conquest, was once again in play. And that's when the real drama began.
Standing among Bush volunteers as midnight approached, my love affair with America resumed. I know many of them and know that they are not serving to get cushy jobs. Few of them will head to Washington if George W. Bush wins, and those who do will probably find themselves in cubicles smaller than the ones at dot.com start-ups. But they want to promote their ideals, as do many Gore volunteers. America is about making money, but it's also about turning down gold-filled opportunities to do what you love and to work for those you love.
Of course, all kinds of ideals are found within the unlikely coalition that makes up the GOP. Actress-of-sorts Bo Derek and Las Vegas's Wayne Newton stepped onto the stage, with Mr. Newton asking for 10 seconds of silent prayer in which everyone could "tell that Greater Being how much we need George Bush." He then grinned, said "there's nothing like prayer," and offered these words of farewell: "Keep the faith on behalf of Bo Derek and myself."
The Bush volunteers were jubilant in the early hours as networks declared their man the next president of the United States. They were shaken later as the Bush lead in Florida shriveled and a recount became inevitable. But there's nothing wrong with a recount of a close election, if it's an honest recount. If boxes of votes appear out of nowhere, if people who say they made a mistake when voting are given new ballots a few days or months later, if armies of lawyers create mischief and mayhem, then we have a problem.
Why am I not surprised when Gore campaign chief William Daley gracelessly suggests that he will use every legal trick imaginable if Democratic electoral frustration isn't alleviated? What do you do when people take what is beautiful and twist it and stomp on it? Many in what's become known as the Greatest Generation, including my father, gave up slices of their lives-some sacrificed their entire earthly futures-for a cause bigger than themselves. How have we come to a time when power trumps principle?
My suggestion is this: All of us, Democrats and Republicans, should stand up against would-be dictators who use a media drumbeat to incite mob action with the goal of subverting the Constitution. This is a wonderful country that God has blessed, and to give up on it is to think too lightly of His blessings. When some of us have anxiety attacks during this uncertain period, we can be certain that God is still active. America the beautiful: God may shed His grace on this country in a way that will make us cheer, or He may do it in a way that will make us cry, but He will do it.