Jewish World Review May 21, 2010 / 8 Sivan 5770
The Morning After
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Now it's all over but the shouting and demands for a recount. Tuesday's primaries across the country have sounded the raucous overture for this year's production of "The Midterms, 2010."
Once again the high old time and low ordeal that is a political campaign has been concluded with a maximum of passion, if necessary the drummed-up kind, and a minimum of civilized discourse. Democracy marches on, perhaps over a cliff.
Or maybe onward and upward. Hard as it may be to conceive of such a possibility on the usual, bleary morning after a spirited election. That's the thing with democracy: You never know if it's going to produce one of those rare moments of exhilaration or another small flatus. You casts your vote and you takes your choice.
Every election begins in foreboding or enthusiasm, depending on your party's chances, and ends in disappointment or hope, depending on whether your candidate wins or loses. Or maybe on your age. It's a little like falling in love; the young of all ages exult in it while the old of all ages resign themselves to just getting through it. Much as they would any other sick spell.
If anyone is more relieved than the candidates to have a long primary that seemed even longer over with at last, surely it is those saddled with the job of covering it, trying to analyze it, and steeling themselves for the runoffs. Whoever came up with the idea of majority rule, and therefore runoffs even in party primaries, may not have fully appreciated/apprehended that, in this game, the extra innings may only extend the pain.
It happens every campaign season here at the newspaper -- the candidates come in, the candidates go out, and the interviews go on. Usually they're painless for all concerned, at least outwardly. (Thank goodness for Southern manners!) Though the thought does occur during some of these tete-a-tetes that this interview may be only a prelude to a long and undistinguished career of public disservice on the candidate's part. Many of the interviewees may not be all that impressed by the interviewers, either, and for good reason.
At least we in the perfidious Media, formerly the obnoxious Press, are not asking for a place on the public payroll, being a sufficient drain on a private one. Nor do we have the guts to risk the rejection that every bid for public office entails. You have to admire even the least promising of our callers for their sheer courage. Especially if they have enough sense to realize that their losing may be not only a distinct possibility but a just desert.
Yet, no matter how dreary many of these interviews become, there arrives a moment, sometimes more than one, that refreshes, affords hope, and generally makes us almost ashamed of our cynicism. I say almost. For journalists are basically shameless. Then suddenly we realize we've been interviewing quality. Or at least promise. As hard a time as we in the press may have recognizing it, there is still idealism out there. More impressive, it can show up even in a politician. Most impressive of all, it may be teamed with an appreciation of the sordid realities. We live for those moments. And they do occur.
It doesn't take much courage to sit up here in the bleachers -- or in a skybox if you're with one of the elite newspapers or more popular television networks -- and make acidulous observations from on high.
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Sir, we inky wretches are well rebuked. Our respects, and respect, to you. You were great copy in your day--and have been ever since. Even when some try to reduce you to a cartoonish caricature. Much like Cousin Theodore in "Arsenic and Old Lace," digging the
Today it is not agreement or disagreement that has become the standard response to politicians but unwavering ridicule. Which is to be regretted, much as some of them have earned it. The danger is that all of politics will be reduced to another episode of "The Daily Show." When irony becomes so thick and unwavering, the entertainment becomes only episodic, and the politics only an excuse for comedy rather than the rightful concern of grown-ups.
The problem -- well, the big problem -- with the pols who troop through this newsroom every campaign season is how careful many of them are to say nothing worth disagreeing with. They seem to have never met a platitude they can't echo. They go through their list of talking points rather than talk. They stay On Message, all right, like a kid who always stays in his room. Because the outside world might hurt him. His may be a safe life in his little cave, but is it living?
On this morning-after, a thank you to all those who dared run for public office, and especially to those who are licking their wounds today. If there be grace in politics, if Gentle Reader is looking for some rare glimpse of courage and generosity in a political campaign, of sacrifice and true faith, then look for it in the concession speeches.
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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