Beaufort News

Election circus an important process

I don't believe in early voting. To me, it's like opening your presents the week before Christmas. Something is lost by making up your own schedule.

(Besides, early voting doesn't allow you to walk around with that superior "I voted" sticker all day. Really, is there anything better, aside from a college diploma, to rub in the faces of your dumb friends? "Be counted, you civic philistines!")

I love Election Day. The signs. The stickers. The long lines. I love the pageantry of it all, the passion. Even when my guy or gal doesn't win, I feel better for being part of the process. Election Day allows us a shared public theater.

Thus, I'm happy South Carolina doesn't offer early voting. I will be out with the masses tomorrow. Of course, ask me Wednesday what I think about early voting; I might be in favor of it.

I'm both eager and anxious for tomorrow to arrive. It seems like this election has been going on for the past four years, which is amazing, since representatives only serve two-year terms.

Whatever happens tomorrow, we will either have a bunch of new members of congress or a plethora of new cable news pundits. I'm not sure which is better.

This has been the year of Aqua Buddhas and witches, bearded Marxists and bearded Alaskans, mob loans and demon sheep. And that's just the senate! While our national discourse has probably suffered, at least our national vocabulary has some new additions.

(Even NPR got pulled into the election-season frenzy. Dear politicians, if you insist on taking out your misdirected anger on the venerable radio network, please defund "Prairie Home Companion" but leave "Fresh Air" alone. Seriously, does anyone not find Garrison Keillor annoying? Thank you.)

It seems that too often these days we dwell on the trivial and the absurd ... but for no more than six hours a story. Chalk it up partly to the insanity of our times; a recession brings out the desperation in people. Blame, too, the rapid nature of 21st century news, which insists that headlines change every 20 minutes. No wonder it feels as if we've packed four years of bickering into six months of campaigning.

While you're at it, blame yourself. When most people get their news from cable networks or blogs or satirical comedy shows or blatantly partisan news sources or Twitter, the line between facts and talking points gets blurred. (According to a statistic I just made up, 1 in 4 cable news pundits are seriously considering running for president in 2012. Keep that in mind before you decide to trust what they say.)

Where's the inspiration? Where's the passion? Elections are supposed to be about ideals, but this election is more to be about the process of elimination.

It's certainly not about issues. Not really. Elections never are. Ninety percent of us sort of know where we stand on everything. No one has ever said, "You know, I used to be against abortion, but hearing him speak so passionately for it, I think I've changed my mind." There's probably only 10 percent somewhere in the middle that are still swayed by the best campaign commercial.

(Note: That 10 percent undecided are the real independents. Independent does not mean you agree 100 percent with a party platform but just don't want to commit to that specific party; that's like a guy living with his fiancee but still calling himself single because he hasn't gotten married yet.)

For the rest of us, it all comes down to, A. The order in which we prioritize the opinions we already hold (Does defense trump social issues? Is national debt more important than jobs?); B. Convincing us to be afraid (or not be afraid) to choose someone new; and C. Inspiring us to actually vote. The rest is just political soap opera -- albeit incredibly interesting and engaging political soap opera, but noise, nonetheless.

What does all of this mean? We could save some time in two years and start the campaigns in, say, late September. Six weeks should give everyone enough time to figure out who they want to vote for.

Not that it will happen. It's not a good sign when candidates start positioning themselves for 2012 a day after the last presidential election. Oh well, as long as Washington, D.C., has to beg us for our vote, we still hold the power.

That's why I'm excited for tomorrow, whatever the outcome. Don't let the crazy shouters fool you; no matter who wins, this is democracy at its finest. It's not always pretty or dignified, but it's important. We should all be able to agree on that.