No doubt everyone is relieved to have the election behind us, even if some of us are less than ecstatic about its result. The president-elect and Democrats in Congress very much want to move forward, talk about the future and get busy on their agenda. After all, the oceans aren't going to stop rising on their own.
Of course, how we move "forward" (quotation marks are necessary because one man's forward is another man's backward) depends very much on how we view the larger meaning of the election. Was this a vote for radical leftwingery or a vote for moderation? Is the electorate pro-liberal or merely anti-Republican? What did voters have in mind? What do they expect?
The nice thing about such questions is that you actually get real debate about them, and we'll be hearing lots of that in the weeks and months ahead. But there are other questions no one ever asks, in part because our political discourse is choked with stupefying clichés and gassy assumptions about what matters and what doesn't.
So while the election is still fresh in our minds, let us look at some of the goofy assumptions and buzzwords that defined so much of the coverage discussion this year.
Ever since the primaries, Democrats have been promising to be "agents of change" (which kind of sounds like a brand of James Bond villain; watch out -- he's an agent of C*H*A*N*G*E). It's a weird quirk of our television-soaked culture that we think change is a good in and of itself. The phrase "change the channel" is a ubiquitous explanation for voters' desire to be done with President Bush. Fair enough, but change has no moral content. Winning the lottery is change, and so is catching a ball peen hammer to the bridge of your nose. The desire for change for change's sake is the stuff of children and attention-deficit disorder.
Speaking of children, the national obsession with the "youth vote" is one of the great embarrassments of deliberative democracy. Why is the participation of youth so vital? According to "youth activists" themselves, it's because they bring so much "passion" to politics. Passion, again, is not necessarily a good thing. Mobs and small children are passionate. There was a time when voting was supposed to be a matter for sober, mature reflection. Now it's more like a fashion statement. "In America," remarked Oscar Wilde long ago, "the young are always ready to give those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience." The only difference now is they get to vote.
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