Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2002 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan 5763

Paul Greenberg

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The storm before the calm | If anybody will be happier than the frazzled campaigners themselves to see this election end, it's got to be those of us covering their spin, dish, and even occasional acts of grace.

Me, I can hardly wait for Tuesday. For Election Day is a welcome calm between two storms -- the endless campaign and the endless analyses of the results.

Unfortunately, after the 36-day, post-election election two years ago, there's no assurance the campaign will end with the election.

Who knows what will prove this year's version of butterfly ballots and hanging chads? Both parties are already mustering battalions of lawyers ready to rush to the front at the first sign of anything actionable, if not before.

Not that we inky wretches should be complaining. We signed up for this -- the interviews, the last-minute charges and counter-charges, the smell of the crowd, the roar of the greasepaint, the mixed metaphors and even the occasional shining moment. Which is why the concession speeches remain my favorite part of a campaign. Nothing says so much about character.

And isn't every campaign a test of character? It tells us how much simple, human dignity each campaigner is willing to sacrifice for success. If you really want to know somebody, watch him run for public office. It's almost as good a test as sharing an inheritance with him.

In these last few days before Election Day, the hurricane of solicitations, argumentations and general fulmination reaches its peak. It's enough to make an editorial writer, whatever his abstract devotion to republican principles, a fervent believer in monarchy -- the absolute kind with never anything so distracting as an election.

At this point in the campaign, nothing sounds better than a simple, uncomplicated monarchy with a simple, uncomplicated way of dealing with any opposition. ("Off with their heads!")

But then, in the midst of this wistful fancy, there occurs a comparison Churchill once made. Monarchy, he said, is like a great ocean liner, sailing smoothly across the horizon, seemingly invulnerable. But one well-placed torpedo may send it to the bottom without a trace. While democracy is like a raft, pitching and rolling with every wave. But, because it reflects the will of the people, it's darn near unsinkable. You stay afloat in a democracy, but your feet are always in the water.

Despite all the grousing about election madness, democracy is worth the hubbub. (Every election season, democracy is the hubbub.)

This is supposed to be a momentous election, which is what the newscasters always say when they're trying to hold your attention till the commercials. But only a couple of dozen seats in the House may really be contested, thanks to the incumbents' way of carving out safe seats for themselves. And whichever party winds up nominally in control of the Senate, Congress should remain closely divided.

Sure, it matters who'll get to organize the Senate, especially when it comes to approving judicial nominees. The notion that the judiciary is above politics was out of date by the time Thomas Jefferson tried to keep John Adams from appointing a fellow named Marbury justice of the peace in the District of Columbia.

Mr. Marbury didn't get his commission, but, when the case reached the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall, that sly genius, got his opportunity to establish the American principle of judicial review. Which was worth any number of elections. Mr. Jefferson won a battle -- no, a minor skirmish -- but John Marshall won the constitutional war.

The most fascinating races may take place out in the states, and each one is fascinating in its own way. That's the beauty of having 50 different laboratories of democracy plus the District of Columbia, not to mention the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and assorted territories. Our politics is as varied as our geography. Both may be continental in their sweep but local in their peculiarities.

Every election is a kind of national Rorschach test. Commentators see in the results what they want to see. Every election is also a kind of psychological read-out of the electorate. We'll have a better idea of where America is, not just politically but culturally, even if it's split down the middle or somewhere off in the blue yonder.

The more you think about what elections can reveal, the less you may feel like grousing about them.

Still, it happens every even-numbered year: I can hardly wait for the election -- to be over.

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