Lessons Learned from Election 2008
Updated 9 July 2014
What is politics but the shared process of conducting our lives together. By politics, we seek, reach or accept agreement. Of course, politics is often a struggle since we do not always agree so agreeably. However, we do relish in our finest hours those conclusive moments as in a presidential election when after lengthy struggle, we acknowledge the outcome we collectively reached. Accord rejoices in the practicality of peaceful and productive transition; otherwise, we would bloodily clobber one another in the streets.
On the 2008 election night recently past, the excellence of John McCain’s concession struck us as did Barack Obama’s victory speech. Both contenders for the presidency articulated the same fundamental values that we share as a people. Upon their words, we become suddenly refreshed because our candidates conversed and quickly shared their conversation. Though they spent sixty days in arguing their differences, now they reciprocate in praising one another. These all too infrequent occasions of public declaration are far more significant than mere, stale convention. They reiterate the bedrock of our common political existence: despite the divisiveness of partisanship, we as a people have reached a decision, this time a clear one.
The decision is a historic one, McCain acknowledges; a defining moment, says Obama. We are a country of opportunities where all things are possible. We have needed to right injustices, but have made great strides; America can change. Times are difficult with enormous challenges ahead. We are all Americans regardless of our diversity; we must and can come together. The USA inspires patriotism, and we can resist the partisanship of the past. We never quit: we can do what we must; yes, we can. As a nation among the nations of the world, our greatness shines out to others because of the enduring power of our ideals.
And in a capstone and conclusion, McCain and Obama call upon God to bless us as a people and nation.
Would it not have been better to reach this fundament of accord at the start instead of the end of so protracted a campaign? Why did we behave as if “campaign” meant real armed skirmishes and forced battle? Why is it that so great an accord on the fundamentals of our political existence stays bottled within us until finally, in the desperation of no other alternative, we see our differences as minor to necessary unity? Why do we spend so much time in division and angry discord? A common explanation is that politics is rough and tumble, yet only if we make it so. Are we not, for the most part, adults, who need not wrangle as we often see feisty children do? Can we not learn the lessons that ought to come with maturity?
We have observed the readiness of some partisans to boo even the harmony expressed by their own champion. Alice Walker in her “Open Letter to Barack Obama,” November 5, 2008, rightly attributes to our fear, humiliation and pain the damage that we do to one another. She wisely says, “learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise.”
Let us work and become our better selves, acting upon the concord expressed in the wondrous words of our leaders and turn them into reality. How different we may become in our polity!
We closely read the U.S. Constitution and our state’s constitution. We read them at least annually to remind ourselves of who we are. We see our place in energizing these old yet living documents. Alongside the executive President, the legislative Congress, and the judicial Supreme Court, we are the fourth branch in our systems of shared power and responsibility. We are in the thick of government, not apart from it. We as a people set into operation the other branches’ functions and can shape their actions.
We see that government, especially in our rights extolled, is a matter of mutual respect and service. We serve, and in turn, others serve us. The breadth of politics, beyond the limits of mere voting, awakens our thoughts and actions. We want candidates whom we choose on the bases of their ability and principles. We set criteria for those we elect and study candidates to make the best possible choices. We share our study with others in neighborly conversation. We monitor our representatives as they define, address and solve problems on our behalf. We communicate critically with those in office so that they know our expectations and they relate to us what is possible for the whole body politic.
The communications media become our true ally. They exercise their extraordinary press freedoms with as much honesty, objectivity and resourcefulness as they can muster. They provide pertinent evidence and deeper analysis that challenges our thinking and enlarges our knowledge. We cannot live without a daily dosage of meaty reporting and features and the significant issues of the times, current and ensuing. We test our quest for knowing deeply and acting rightly against what both challenges and deepens our understanding. We change and shape our minds with reason.
Ultimately, we realize that we are one people, whom neither a distant government nor intrusive government can save. Instead, we discover the common ground that best serves us all and allows us each to fulfill our potential. Civility has become our mantra as well as our practice. We savor and extend our own abilities; we appreciate the benefits of others’ abilities. We are giving and grateful in receiving.
We become puzzled how life could have been any different in those days before we put a knowing accord foremost in our lives.
This article is a revision of one first appearing on Helium. com. I remain indebted in origin for many of my ideas to Aristotle’s Politics, especially the early sections of Book III on citizenship.
Contemporary texts used are widely available on the Internet. See McCain’s concession speech, Obama’s victory speech, and Walker’s open letter to Obama in The Root.
© 2008, 2009 by Roger Sween.