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Perishable Thoughts — May The Best Candidate Win

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 4, 2008

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Speech before the House of Commons on the Parliament Bill
By Winston Churchill
November 11, 1947

As Americans head to the polls, it is worth paying mind to Churchill’s words as they embed within them a deeply conservative warning of the dangers posed to society by utopian schemes.

It is easy to find fault with our electoral system. The recent campaign was not particularly enlightening but campaigns rarely are. Franklin Roosevelt ran pledging to reduce budget deficits and accused Hoover of “reckless and extravagant spending”… In 1960 the Presidential debate focused on a few tiny islands called Quemoy and Matsu and the issue of whether the US would defend Taiwan against invasion or also defend these small outlying islands. William Henry Harrison was elected President in 1840 after a campaign that established little except that he drank not wine but, rather, “hard cider.”

One would think it enough to ruin us but it turns out that Adam Smith was on to something when in response to a young man who believed that the loss of its American colonies would “ruin” Britain, Smith explained that “there is a lot of ruin in a nation.”

In America, these deeply unsatisfactory campaigns are, in fact, our quadrennial miracle.

Despite wars, depressions, natural disasters and any number of panics, on Tuesday November 4, 2008, a miracle unprecedented in human history will occur. For the fifty-sixth consecutive four-year term, a President will be chosen.

Should Barack Obama win the election, as the polls indicate, then as American Enterprise Institute put it, “this will be the twenty-third time power has shifted from one party or political philosophy to another.”

The vast expanse of human history offers no more inspiring example of peaceful transition.

Whether you are or are not a fan of President George W. Bush, know that he has quietly established a precedent that can only do America good. He has established a “Presidential Transition Coordinating Council,” which is an original and official effort to make the transition between the outgoing President and the incoming President quick and effective. The world moves too fast now to first start getting up to speed after an inauguration. We need key nominees, especially in national security areas, nominated, vetted and confirmed quickly.

This may wind up being a crucial part of the Bush legacy. The world works in strange ways and two hundred years hence when the Iraq war may be just a history lesson, Presidents may still be appointing their Transition Coordination Councils.

In America our Presidents have a dual role. They are our chief administrators but also the symbol of our polity. We have no King or Queen to serve this function and so, just as the young Elizabeth about to be anointed Queen in being crowned was transformed into the vessel of British nationhood, so our Presidents, in taking the oath of office, pick up the great American narrative.

This has, from the beginning, been Barack Obama’s great strength. Think what one will of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, the possibility that a black man would rise to be President of our country is the completion of a long journey of expanding opportunity in America. Although there are those who will vote against Obama because of his skin color, it speaks volumes about our country that, for many, we would say for most, his skin color is a reason to vote for Obama, not against him.

Of course the election is not yet over, and one would be foolish to assume too much. There has been much talk of the supposed “Bradley Effect,” in which voters are hesitant to tell pollsters that they don’t support a black candidate lest they be perceived as racist, this may cause the polls to overstate Obama’s strength among the voters.

Late-breaking issues such as the publication of comments Obama made about the coal industry earlier this year may swing a key state such as Pennsylvania and change the dynamics of the race.

The accuracy of polls depends crucially on the accuracy of their estimation of who will show up at the polls and actually vote. When all the numbers are in, don’t be surprised if the composition of the voting population changes less than many expect.

Finally, in the quiet of the voting booth, voters may focus on different criteria and opt for the war hero whose character was tested in ways unimaginable to most of us as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

We hope that all those who have taken the time to educate themselves on the candidates and the issues will go and vote. It is always the case that the candidates’ claim that the election at hand is the one that will decide our course unto eternity. On one side paradise and the other doom and despair. Yet we are more optimistic. We believe the Republic shall endure even if our candidate doesn’t win.

Educated participation in the process is vital though. Not only on Election Day, but every other day. For Presidents and members of congress once elected are powerfully swayed by the sentiments of the people. We try, with our little Pundit here, to provide useful gist for the intellectual mill so that this community can make a meaningful and valuable contribution on Election Day and throughout the year.

Much of what is written about politics is wrong. You will often hear people speak of how horrible it is that everyone doesn’t get out and vote. Yet it is actually a great sign of civic strength. Societies where everyone feels the need to vote are often those in which a change of parties can be a matter of life and death. In politics it is better to follow Talleyrand’s admonition: “Surtout, pas trop de zele,” — typically translated this means, “Above all, not too much zeal.” In the George W. Bush/John Kerry election, turnout hit 60.7% of the eligible electorate. In the Adolph Hitler/Paul von Hindenberg election of 1932 in Germany, turnout was 86.2%, and that was not a sign of civic health.

The Churchill quote we focus on today reminds us of this always-useful question: “What alternative, precisely, would you propose?” Democracy is messy and the winner is not always the better candidate, but it is the best way we have for all to get along together — and that, in essence, is what politics is all about.

As one watches the election results, it is worth remembering that democracy is not just an election. There are multiple ways both directly and through associations to both promote “change” and to hold back undesirable “change,” and if one is still unhappy, well the founders gave us a chance to throw out every member of the House and a third of the Senate in just two-years’ time.

May the best candidate win and may God protect the United States of America.

The quote can be viewed here:
Winston S. Churchill: his complete speeches, 1897-1963 (Google Books, snippet view)
By Winston Churchill, Robert Rhodes James
Chelsea House Publishers, 1974
8,917 Pages, Pg 7,566

The Yale Book of Quotations (Google Books)
By Fred R. Shapiro, Joseph Epstein
Contributor Fred R. Shapiro, Joseph Epstein
Yale University Press, 2006
1,067 Pages, Pg. 154

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (Google Books)
By Suzy Platt, Library of Congress
Congressional Research Service
Barnes & Noble Publishing, 1993
520 Pages, Pg. 83

Full recorded proceedings of the Parliament Bill, Nov. 11th, 1947 from Hansard:
http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1947/ nov/11/parliament-bill#column_207

(Quote is contained at the top of this hyperlinked page, once loaded)
The quote can be purchased here:
Winston S. Churchill: his complete speeches, 1897-1963
By Winston Churchill, Robert Rhodes James
Chelsea House Publishers, 1974
8,917 Pages, Pg 7,566

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