This column was written before a vote was counted, so I do not know who, presumably, was elected president yesterday. What I do know is that this has been one hell of a slam bang election season. Assuming the lawyers don't over-litigate the results, pay no attention to the sissy, panty-waist, good government, sanctimonious, upstanding, highly principled, furrow-browed, chin pulling, thoughtful, easily shocked commentators, who complain about lying candidates, robo-telephoned slanders, whispering campaigns, stuffed ballot boxes, biased reporting. This is what a muscular, healthy democracy (or a constitutional republic, for you semantic, constitutional purists) looks like when it cares about the outcome of an election.
This is the kind of election our Founding Fathers and their first and second generation sons actually ran from Adams to Lincoln. They accused each other of treason, atheism, sexual misconduct, miscegenation (interracial copulation and child-bearing) and whore-mongering. They attacked the wives and children of the candidates. They set up newspapers for the express purpose of lying about their opponents. They wrote nasty anonymous letters. They gave whiskey to the voters. They traded offices for votes. They played off class against class, the monied against the poor, the bankers against the farmers. They fought duels, sometimes to the death. They may have written a high-minded constitution, but they fought elections about the same way that a New Orleans pimp keeps his women in line and fights off his competitors. And they approached the voters about the same way those prostitutes approached their customers.
The Founders and their early progeny were men who had known a lack of liberty before they had fought and bled to gain it, who knew that their form of government was not secure and fought at the ballot box with the desperate ferocity that attends such uncertainty. To the question: What price liberty? Their answer was: Whatever it takes. If their vision of a constitutional republic could only be gained by the exploitation of whiskey, calumny and vote fraud -- then that is what they would use to win the day. Because they were not willing to lose the day.
And if Americans, today, have that same sense of urgency and desperation about their government (on both sides), why should we be any less bold and ruthless than our honored ancestors?
Good government types have complained for decades about low-voter turnout. Well, now they have got their higher turnout. All it took was : 1) a previous election decided by a split Supreme Court decision, 2) an opposition party that spent the last four years nurturing a righteous hatred of the president, 3) an economy that could not protect our best manufacturing jobs and risks not being able to protect our best information technology jobs, 4) the slaughter of 3,000 American citizens on our own soil by foreign religious fanatics backed up by hundreds of millions of their co-religionists, 5) a bloody and inconclusive war fought for reasons that half the country couldn't understand, 6) a president who could not explain his vital war beyond the level of repeated slogans, 7) an anti-Christian bigoted cultural elite who run most of the national organs of communication (Hollywood, the music industry, New York publishing, the television networks, the major newspapers) joining with the opposition party in personally demeaning the president for three years, 8) a billion dollars spent by special interests and foreign billionaires, 9) a quarter billion dollar industrial-strength two-party voter registration and get out the vote effort, 10) a president with a stubborn, in-your-face, attitude about policy and values that maximized the frustration and anger of the opposition, 11) a verbally sneaky challenger who accused the incumbent of everything under the sun (and several things beyond the purview of our solar system) and 12) a level of European intervention not seen since the French and Indian War or the War of 1812 (in both of which, the level of intervention constituted a formal state of war with America.
When not much is seen to be at stake, only the solid citizens come out to vote. But when, as now, much -- perhaps all -- is seen to be at stake, the more fluid citizens flow into the election booths. While they may not bring much political knowledge or historic memory with them, they bring a passion that almost deranges the electoral process.
The national psyche might not be able to take their unstable presence in every election. And if things calm down, we may not see them again for quite a while. But I am just radical enough to believe that whatever their effect on the outcome of the election, the system needs a good jolt once in a while. Those of us in the political class need the stuffings knocked out of our smug complacency every generation or so. And, by God, I feel unsmug as I write this election morning.