Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What if we were patriotic even after election day?

One thing is clear in our nature. If Americans aren't fighting somebody else, they will fight themselves.

If you want to have some real fun, go down to the local party election headquarters this election day morning. Bum around for a long while, stare at length at the people making the phone calls frantically pleading with people to go to the polls, stand in front of the red and blue posters, paw through the piles of brochures and literature on their respective candidate.

Then with your hands casually thrust deep into your pockets and rocking heel to toe, stand in the center of the room and say in a loud voice.

"Soooo, who's running?"

There's no sense of humor on election day, unless you count those down-home metaphors Gunga Dan Rather used to make - he had the last election "Tighter than the lug nuts on a '55 Ford" and Bush's lead "Shakier than cafeteria Jell-O."

Chances are, you have already figured out that John McCain really isn't the guy who starred in "Die Hard," and that Barack Obama and Tiger Woods really aren't the same guy at all. It's actually true though, that Sarah Palin is not a real person but only a character fabricated by Saturday Night Live to lift sagging ratings. Youbetcha.

The campaign has been going on for, what, say 20 months or so now, though it seems like 20 years. Thanks to those who insist that he is a terrorist, you know Barack's middle name by heart even though you can't recall those of your own children; and thanks to those who would like to machine gun his campaign down, you have imprinted on your memory each of McCain's jet crash dates of 40 to 50 years ago, but you somehow forgot to set the clock back this Sunday morning.

I get the feeling that after all of this, there are still some questions about the candidates that haven't been answered, some essential part of them we really don't yet know; but we have all we are going to get, and most of us think we know more than enough.

So today we will go vote, if we haven't already. (Or at least roughly 60 percent of us who could vote will - goodness knows what the rest are doing instead today, or what color the sky may be in their world.)

You've probably even stopped talking to your neighbor whose yard sign doesn't match yours.

It's election day, what we have waited through all of the rhetoric, mudslinging and talking-head TV to get to.

For all the mess we may make of it, it is still the most beautiful and compelling moment in all the world of current affairs, and still the grand experiment in self-government for all nations to aspire to. If you care to live in "the shining city on the hill" that Reagan once spoke of, you have to keep the windows clean. That's voting.

It somehow inspires us to become more American. No matter how busy our own lives may be, nothing will stop you from getting to the polling place, standing in line if necessary and enduring whatever frustration ensues from the dillweed in back of you who just can't be made to realize that we are sooo clearly right in our choice, and he is by default obviously and totally wrong.

We will clutter our yards with thickets of red, white and blue signs. Stick silly buttons to our clothes. Maybe volunteer to work the grassroots, write letters to the editor, and take it upon ourselves to see that those around us in need have a ride to the polls.

For a while, we will stop whining about the Cylones and Hawkeyes and the price of whatever it is that is wicked pricey and the fact that kids today are going to heck in a handbasket and who should have won American Idol and who does the state government think they are telling us where we can smoke anyway huh huh?!

For a moment, we are not even Democrats and Republicans. In that line, we are Americans.

You don't hear much about that, outside of a couple of holidays for the post office. It's almost like people are embarrassed of the fact most of the time, or maybe don't think about it at all, except to grumble when they make us stand up and take our hats off for that song at the start of the ball game.

Oh, we do become American alright, when we are under attack. For a couple of weeks we trot out the flags and support the troops like crazy and donate to causes and write country songs about how the US of A is going to kick everyone else's sand-sifting butts.

But that goes away fast, doesn't it seem? Are we even remembering our soldiers are still out there for us?

When challenged, we come together and get very American. But when we aren't united in fighting someone else, it seems like we have to fight each other. It shows when the political campaigns get muddy. We say we don't like it, but we sure encourage it.

We get the patriotism back, for election day. We are proud to exercise our democratic right and responsibility. It inspires us to talk to each other about what we think our country should stand for. It gives us hope for change and courage for better days ahead for ourselves and our kids and all those in more dire need than ourselves.

It's powerful stuff.

But what about tomorrow? When the signs are gone and we have come down from our initial elation or depression to win or lose?

What if we could be as committed, engaged and, well, American, as we are on election day... every day?

Why might go to a city council or board of supervisors meeting to talk about poverty or immigration or bike trails or whatever we see as collectively important here. Or we might make the same time off work every week to go volunteer in the local school as we managed to make to go vote today.

Because those things are part of self-government as much as is deciding who will park his tucus is the Oval Office in DC.

We might watch out for each other a little more, demand a little louder that people we elected work in bipartisan fashion to really do what they promised us. We might call or write or visit the people we elect, because we realize our responsibility doesn't end at the exit door to the polls once every four years.

We might not forget to send a care package or a Christmas card to some soldier far from home. It might be a little cooler to wave a flag and be proud of who we are (There are more Mexican flag stickers on cars in Storm Lake than American ones) and to answer back when the rest of the world, which always turns to us for help, then trashes us.

At this moment, I can't tell you what will happen as the votes are counted tonight, nor do I have any desire to sway your vote now.

I just wanted to share my wishes about tomorrow - that we can somehow come together and be not just Democrats and Republicans, but Americans. Youbetcha.