Well, here we are again, America.
If you're loving politics right about now, I suspect it's because you've come to view it as a sport, or as a necessity from which you have become somewhat emotionally detached. Right now is the time in a campaign season when even those of us who used to watch election returns when we were kids -- late into the night, long past our bedtimes, well before we knew what exit polls were -- are ready for it to be over, even while making every day left count. I. Can't. Wait. For. It. To. Be. Over. That's the temptation, the frustration and the anxiety.
It's the time in the election cycle where you want to cry, scream or move to a planet without polls. It's the time when it seems nearly impossible to have a reasonable conversation about politics: emotions are so high, propaganda is so sharp and positions are so entrenched. So many people have a stake in a win -- whether for ideological or financial reasons, to save face or to otherwise look or feel good the morning after -- or the afternoon of the recount.
Think, for instance, of Christine O'Donnell, the Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware. She won fairly in a primary, and since then she has been the subject of ceaseless ridicule courtesy of by pundits, journalists and talk-show hosts. Criticizing policy ideas is one thing -- raising questions about her record and qualifications is only due diligence. But the attacks go way beyond pale. How dare she argue on national television for sexual responsibility? Or how dare she say that the First Amendment does not include the establishment of a wall between church and state? (Never mind the fact that it actually doesn't.)
And then there is Ohio, where Rep. Steve Driehaus' re-election campaign is faltering. In an attempt to save his seat, he's making an outrageous legal bid to stop the Susan B. Anthony List from running some billboard ads against him. The SBA List, a pro-life political action committee that exists to elect anti-abortion candidates, has been campaigning in earnest against Democrats who have represented themselves as pro-life but voted for the healthcare bill anyway.
The ads merely point out that Driehaus, by voting for the bill, essentially supported taxpayer-funded abortion; a hard look at the facts of the legislation will support this view. There is not, contrary to conventional belief, a universal prohibition on federal-taxpayer-funded abortion. (Which is why House Republicans have pledged to pass one.) The SBA List's point is a legitimate one -- but, as in the case of NPR and Juan Williams, some people would rather shut down a controversial view than allow a civil discussion.
It's sometimes hard to tell the truth from the lies, especially when partisans are in constant attack mode. And yet, it's worth the effort, even in these emotional, trying, tiring days. Perhaps this year more than ever, because we see on the campaign trail some genuinely competing worldviews, offering voters a real choice. There are Americans who haven't participated in politics for years now contributing in myriad ways, because they see the values they treasure slipping away. They see their country and their culture devolving, from responsibility to dependency.
And these people know that, as much of a struggle as it is -- being ridiculed and shouted down and taken to elections commissions and even, sometimes, forced into court -- it is worth it.
In an essay on "Democracy and Authority," Jacques Maritain described his fondness for pluralism in democratic life. The 20th-century philosopher wrote: "A just pluralism seems to furnish the most normal remedy for the difficulties inherent in all democracies. We know, indeed, that evil and foolishness are more frequent among men than intelligence and virtue." He went on: "Experience shows that in politics ... persons of education and refinement are no less often mistaken than the ignorant ... In these matters, if the central virtue of the leaders is political prudence -- which is rare and difficult to acquire -- what matters most in the rest are right instincts."
Right instincts are resonating on the campaign trail this year. That's why so many candidates who are not your usual political fare are threatening many an entrenched officeholder with losing their seat. Some of them will win, some will not. But they all recognize that the fight is a good one to wage. Sen. Barbara Boxer should have a hard-fought re-election, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York, an embarrassment in office, really could and should lose his re-election bid. Sens. Harry Reid and Linda Murkowski, Rep. Anthony Weiner -- whoever your incumbent with a sense of entitlement is -- would be exposing his or her foolishness by being angry and bitter because they have a battle on their hands. For there is prudence in the American voter, who truly appreciates democracy and his role in it, and that common sense is especially present this year.
As much as I can't wait for the results to be in!