So. Here we are. Welcome to the Apocalypse.
Two candidates, similar in many ways. One lost, one won. It's democracy. And democracy is, in its very nature, a gamble.
That's why there are still concerns about Iraq's future, because they could elect a religious fanatic who will try to form a theocratic state. (Sidenote: Contrary to prevailing opinion, that's not what we have here at home. No, it's not.) And the risk of Iraq falling back into a form of totalitarian oppression is there, no question. But that's the nature of democracy.
The reason democracy was considered so insane by the aristocracy of Old Europe is that it trusts the people to make a decision based on who they want to represent them to the world. The blue-blooded upper classes of Europe saw this as the pinnacle of foolishness, because the lower classes, in their opinion, didn't have any idea what was in their own best interests. They "needed" their "betters" to make the important decisions for them.
American colonists decided that this was wrong. Taxation without representation was unacceptable because it assumes that those being taxed did not need to have a say in why the taxes were imposed and what the money was used for. It assumed the the masses were not able to govern themselves.
The masses thought differently.
Fast-forward about 230 years. Our national consciousness has grown under the ideals of Lincoln's government "of...by...and for the people." We the people have governed ourselves thusfar. Some leaders we've chosen have been great for the nation. Others have been disastrous. But the important point is that WE chose them. We didn't need help. We didn't need the opinion, advice, or approval of any other nation. We did it because it's our government.
And now we have the 2004 election, where an astonishingly high voter turnout showed that the American democracy is still firing on all cylinders. America wins.
Four years ago, we had a presidential "split decision." The electoral college--a system devised by the Founding Fathers to ensure that more Americans mattered to political candidates, and that they visited the less-populated rural areas as well as the densely-populated urban ones--went to Bush (barely), and the popular vote went to Gore (not-quite-barely). For years, there were cries of "selected-not-elected" and "not-our-president." For years, opponents of the Administration used their First-Ammendment rights--rights still just as strong as ever, rights that have never and will never be taken away--to protest this president, using Gore's higher number of actual votes as evidence that he wasn't chosen by "We the People."
On Tuesday, an actual 50+1 majority of American voters chose President Bush. The president also won the Electoral Vote. For the first time in 16 years, a presidential candidate won an actual popular majority (neither Bush had done it before, and Clinton couldn't do it in two elections). The American people have spoken. They have chosen for themselves.
One question I've heard several times in the past two days, from people here and abroad, from people I think are insane and others I think are quite lucid, is: How could (the American people/Southerners/those bloody Yanks/those cowboys/Middle America) be so stupid?
And I have to admit, when that word hits the floor, the echoes I hear stretch back over two hundred years. "How can they decide to elect that man to lead them? He's from a backwater rural area. He has no finesse, no nuance. He certainly has rubbed world leaders the wrong way. Who does this G. W. think he is? How could these provincial, ignorant people be so foolish?"
I believe some American Kerry supporters are still having trouble accepting that democracy is, after all, a wager. You ante up, tossing power, authority, and responsibility into the pot. You place your bets on one out of a handful of people. You win, or you lose. But those are the rules.
To put it another way: If you don't believe that the American people have the right to choose the "wrong" person to lead them, then you don't believe in democracy. Period.
Some may be quick to ask, "Gee, Dave, would you feel so magnanimous about the whole thing if GWB had lost?" And the only honest answer I can give is, I think so. I hope so. (Maybe all my years of being a Cubs fan have taught me to deal with defeat. Granted, the stakes are much higher in this particular game, but winning and losing have universal elements. Pertinent to this discussion is the axiom, "if you don't want to risk losing, don't play.") Because at the end of the day, I believe in democracy, and I'm willing to play by the rules.
I didn't like Kerry's plans and policies, by and large, and I didn't trust him to guard this nation's sovereignty. But, as I told my family several times, if Kerry is elected, then this nation has made its choice and will get the president it deserves. The same can be said just as cynically for Bush. But it was the nation's choice. And the nation chose.
To those who are mourning the death of freedom today, take heart. Democracy is freedom. And democracy--sweet American self-government--won on Tuesday.