As I write this column we are in the stage of the presidential campaign similar to that period just after the pilot of a transcontinental flight announces he is on final approach and just before the landing gear is deployed. There is a sense of serenity before the wheels drop and the captain throttles up the engine to control the descent toward the tarmac. This brief period of time lends itself to reflection about the long-distance political flight we've been on the last few months.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens in "A Tale of Two Cities," it was the best of elections; it was the worst of elections. The two presidential candidates performed well, giving voters not only a real choice between policies (taxes, Social Security, health care, stem-cell research and foreign policy), they also articulated vastly different visions for America and offered diametrically opposed leadership styles.
Yes, there was the usual hyperbole we've come to expect of every political campaign, from dogcatcher to the highest office in the land. Perhaps the exaggeration was a standard deviation or so above the mean this year. And yes, there was the usual distortion and misrepresentation we've also become accustomed to in American politics, maybe even two standard deviations above average this year. Not praiseworthy but certainly nothing to become hysterical over.
What made this otherwise best campaign season also "the worst of elections" and made this year's presidential campaign an ominous portent of the future was the new level of litigiousness and dema?goguery. As I write, we don't yet know whether litigious wind shear will create a catastrophic downdraft and produce an electoral disaster or whether the presidential election will land without incident late Tues?day night or early Wednesday. Will America be greeted sometime Wednesday by a clear winner emerging to greet voters as their next president or will we see legions of lawyers descend the gangway with legal briefs in hand? That's why this year, for the first time in many political descents at the end of presidential campaigns, I sit clutching the armrests with white knuckles as I wait for this campaign to finally get on the ground.