It is hard thinking time for Democratic and Republican voters
across America. The ballyhoo of Stage 1 of the presidential
campaign, including the early debates, the media domination
the news, and the getting-to-know-you period of the various
candidates is now concluded. In a matter of hours, voters in
Iowa will attend evening caucuses to register their choices,
and a week later, voters in New Hampshire will go to the polls
over a full day to make their choices.
Do I need to say aloud that much is at stake in this election
for every American?
Do I need to say aloud that the office of president of the
United States is a uniquely important office?
The Super Bowl, World Series, Final Four, all-star games are
sports events most of us follow vicariously. The Academy
Awards are observed as rites for celebrities in the movie
business. Professional athletes and movie-TV actors are paid
enormous sums of money to entertain us. They are followed
in magazines, and on radio and TV. Our relationships with
them are almost entirely vicarious. There is nothing wrong
with this; it is part of the contemporary cultural experience
of most Americans. Other Americans derive vicarious
pleasures from reading books, including mystery novels and
literary works; or from listening to music, popular and
classical, and playing records by favorite artists. Some
Americans watch ballet or opera. There are many pastimes in
21st century culture which are part of our lives. And again. in
many cases, large sums of money are paid to those who
The “political” part of our lives, however, are not truly
The United States began as an experiment in self-government
226 years ago under its present constitution. With several
amendments and numerous social adjustments it has survived,
grown and flourished to the present day. It has been tempered by
a profound civil war, two world wars, many regional wars and
a “cold war.” In most wars, the nation was victorious; in some
wars, not victorious. Millions of Americans have worn the
uniform of their country, bravely fought for it, and in some cases,
died for it.
At the outset, only some Americans could vote. Today, all
Americans can vote. But throughout the 226 years, and into any
future that can reasonably be foreseen, the government of the
United States has derived its legitimacy, functioned, and
presumably was directed by “the consent of the governed.”
That consent is always an indirect one. There are national
elections every two years, and presidential elections every four
years. Elected officials can be replaced or returned to office.
The programs of the major political parties can likewise be
affirmed or rejected.
In recent years, the rise of media and other communications
technology has come to dominate or overshadow the preliminary
stages of the election process. This is not entirely a new
phenomenon. Beginning with the 1860 election of Abraham
Lincoln, the latter half of 19th century elections were dominated
the use of the media technologies available in those turbulent
Civil War and post-Civil War times.
The 2016 presidential election cycle is turning out to be another
transformational moment in this nation’s unique history. The
precedents and “rules” of recent cycles appear to be suspended
or even overtaken by something new. Of course, until actual
votes are counted, we won’t know just how much this is so, or
even if the early indications are true, but I think every American
voter needs to be prepared for something new.
As recent very close elections have powerfully demonstrated,
every single vote does count. And I always point out, even if a
person chooses not to vote, that represents a de facto vote for the
eventual winners. A vote, turning the cynics among us aside,
is the one true power every adult citizen holds in his or her own
Everyone has their own reasons for the vote they cast, or for
not voting. It is not for any of us to judge those myriad of
motivations. But in each case, especially in a time such as this
one, a vote comes after some hard thinking.
I do not fear being called simple-minded when I say once again
that when most Americans choose a president, they ultimately
choose not only a person they agree with, but someone they feel
they want to see and hear every day for the next four years.
On that proposition rests the world’s oldest and, to date, most
significant republic. Long may it survive and prosper!
Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.