As of this coming Tuesday, I will have voted in nine U.S. Presidential elections. I cast my first vote in 1980 and haven’t missed a polling day since.
I also worked at the national level on four of those campaigns, on the road doing advance work – going ahead of the candidate and developing rallies, speeches and appearances.
So, it’s probably no surprise to you that I am a political junkie – I watch the coverage semi-compulsively. I talk about trends and developments. I read tea leaves.
And, boy, has this year has been different from others in my experience. It’s been so vitriolic. Mean-spirited. Unkind.
Yes, the political junkie in me knows that we have a history of divisive and ugly campaigns. In 1884, the major campaign slogan of Republican James G. Blaine referred to opponent Grover Cleveland’s apparent fathering of a child outside of marriage – “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” Cleveland, in return, campaigned on: “Blaine, Blaine, The Continental Liar From The State of Maine.”
Thomas Jefferson referred to John Adams as “hideous hermaphroditical character” in the 1800 campaign, and Adams retorted with a slur on Jefferson, “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
Makes “apology tour” and “flip-flopper” seem rather tame.
But aren’t you tired of it? Exhausted? Limp with campaign fatigue?
Is this really what we Americans want?
I don’t think so. I think what we really want is to come together.
On September 12, 2001, Washington, DC, had changed. Walking down the street, everyone made eye contact. Folks connected with one another in grief and disbelief while in line for coffee, or when buying the newspaper. But we also shared a solid resolve that we could pull together and emerge stronger as a nation. I was very proud of our President, George W. Bush, when he stood on that debris pile in New York with a megaphone and spoke from the heart.
I felt like an American, united with other Americans.
In 2004, I was asked to help organize the State Funeral of President Reagan. As the motorcade slowly snaked from the National Cathedral to Andrews Air Force Base, I watched as men and women in suits, and construction workers in dusty boots, and poor women holding the hands of small children stood at attention with their hands over their hearts as the procession went by. Regardless of age, or race, or gender – people came together to honor one man’s service to the country. I was in tears about two blocks into the ride, moved by the outpouring of goodwill by we Americans.
In 2006, Gerald R. Ford died and I was called to help pull together his State Funeral. There was a different tone and feel to this event, mirroring President Ford’s down-to-earth style. Yet, thousands of Americans stood in line in the cold to pay their respects in the Rotunda of the Capitol. And the Ford family was there throughout, shaking hands and thanking each and every visitor. Mrs. Ford took a drive through her old neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, and people spontaneously lined the streets to wave and greet her.
Once again, I was moved to see that we Americans not only love to come together,but need to come together, around something that unites us.
In 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, I saw the same thing. There was eye contact, there were smiles and nods – even if you didn’t know who had voted which way. There was a sense that America had once again united and was stronger as a result.
Last week, with the horrible destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy, I saw the same thing – people in New Jersey and New York and Connecticut, helping one another. Those of us in other places doing what we could to help those in need.
We came together, as Americans at our best.
Which is why I cannot for the life of me understand the forces that would divide us.
We are such a stronger country when we come together. We are better people when we are one, and realize the interconnectedness between the Iowa farmer and the Massachusetts WIC recipient. Between the Seattle software engineer and the teacher in Mississippi.
On Tuesday, I will vote, and I urge you to vote, too. Vote for the candidate of your preference, for President, for Senate, for House, for Governor, for city and local officials. Truly, I don’t care for whom you vote.
By voting, you will be engaging in something very dear – the right of Americans to come together. To be Americans. Together.
And, knowing me, I will be moved to tears one more time knowing that a worker on Alaska’s North Slope will be casting her ballot along with a real estate manager in Florida and a social worker in Montana and a business owner in Virginia and an at-home mom in Indiana and a rancher in Oklahoma. All coming out to exercise the most American of our rights. The right to vote.