Paul Greenberg

Congratulations, Mr. President. You fought this election out on your principles and your ground -- the politics of identity, whether ethnic, class or partisan -- and prevailed. Early in the night. There was no contested cliffhanger. There was no extended legal struggle a la Bush v. Gore in 2000, the presidential election that threatened never to end. There are no demands that the Electoral College be abandoned in favor of some French-style popular vote. And no hard feelings. At least no more than the usual cavils. Call it a happy ending. Four More Years! Though they may be only four more years of the same drift, of staying the course, of Steady As She Goes -- down.

After an election that was supposedly going to change everything, nothing seems to have been changed at all. The political pendulum has hardly swung. The political landscape seems just the same as it did the day before the election: a divided government presides over a divided people. A map colored red and blue of this one nation indivisible would show it just about equally split between Obama and Romney voters. Very well. Divided we stand, too. This country has endured far sharper divisions and not just endured but prospered and advanced.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the savvy Frenchman who toured Jacksonian America, left us more than a perceptive impression of that one era. He left us a sanctuary and height from which to view and appraise the workings of all of Democracy in America, to use the title of his two volumes of inexhaustible perspective on American politics, culture, and the American spirit in general. He left us a sense of proportion, which is always lacking immediately after a presidential election. Even one like this, which has proved neither the End of the World nor The Coming of the Messianic Age, depending on which partisans were doing the prophesying.

Today would seem an especially good one to recall Tocqueville's description of the great flood that is every American presidential election -- and its anticlimactic aftermath:

"Long before the appointed moment arrives, the election becomes the greatest and so to speak sole business preoccupying minds. ... The entire nation falls into a feverish state; the election is then the daily text of the public papers, the subject of particular conversations, the goal of all reasoning, the object of all thoughts. ... As soon as fortune has pronounced (the outcome) this ardor is dissipated, everything becomes calm, and the river, one moment overflowed, returns peacefully to its bed."


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.