Paul Greenberg

And so Americans stick with the devil we know, rather than switch to an alternative untried by tested by history. Even at the risk of extending the tumult and uncertainty of a presidential campaign for another 36 days. Or longer.

No wonder Election Day itself, that calm between two storms, is so welcome. It has the air of a civil sabbath, of a nation called into solemn assembly from coast to coast, a day of rest between the campaign and an aftermath that could prove just as contentious. It's a 24-hour respite from all the sound and fury.

People do get carried away. And the final days of the campaign do little to ease our spirits. On the contrary, emotions are roused to a feverish pitch as Americans are told the decision we reach at the polls will be the most important one of our times. Without a clear winner, the furor is just extended.

During the campaign, the election may be depicted by both sides as a final battle between good and evil. "We fight in honorable fashion for the good of mankind; fearless of the future; unheeding of our individual fates; with unflinching hearts and undimmed eyes; we stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord." --Theodore Roosevelt at the convention of his new Progressive Party in 1912.

Having been enlisted in so noble a cause, how go back to politics as usual once the votes are in?

The remarkable thing about a hard-fought presidential campaign is not the depth of the passions aroused, but how readily they are soothed afterward. The best defense against allowing the emotions of a presidential campaign to extend beyond Election Day is not some theoretical reform of the electoral system but the good sense and self-restraint of the American people. There still is such a thing, isn't there?

When it comes to continuing the rancor of a presidential campaign the morning after by fighting over the election results, perhaps the fault lies not with our electoral system, but with ourselves -- and how readily we are ruled by our passions.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.