I’m on the road again, Chicago this time. (Come catch my talk at Columbia College on Thursday if you’re in the area.) But wherever I go, there’s a certain through-line to the travel experience—not only the ritual airport ceremony of exposing one’s gels and liquids, but the fact that I watch the morning news on TV when I’m traveling, and only then.
On the morning of election day, that meant a big dose of network TV’s reflexive skepticism about democracy.
When I tuned in, an NBC financial reporter was reporting a no-news story: Wall Street, the reporter said, wasn’t giving money-watchers any strong sign that the election’s results will matter much to investors. Cut to bright-eyed local reporter: I’ve been doing my own research, she said, and it appears that the market will go up a bit if the Republicans win and down a bit if the Democrats do.
Translation: I have no data to back this up, but vote Republican if you want to increase your stock-market earnings.
Meanwhile, my husband told me he heard another reporter say that California’s voter turnout will be low because the top offices aren’t really contested.
Translation: If you were planning to vote against the Governator, don’t waste your time trekking to the polling station.
I like the way my husband put it Tuesday morning: “The feasible miracle would be if people actually got up out of their chairs to vote despite the drumbeat of people telling you it’s futile.” That seems to sum up the challenge of citizenship, 21st-century style: to turn off the soundtrack of cynicism and discouragement long enough to recognize that democratic action is indeed possible.
Today, as I met with groups of activists and students, people were testing out a cautious optimism, gingerly, like maiden voyagers trying to get their sea legs. Something happened, they seemed to be saying. Can we trust it?
Well, the feasible miracle didn’t manifest in the California gubernatorial contest. Although actual results will be updated in coming days, authoritative estimates put the total at 37.5% of eligible voters, the vast majority of whom cast their votes for a big-screen cyborg. But one thing this election shows that numbers aren’t everything: if enough people are fed up, even a small sample will produce a clear result.
On CNN this morning, Tom DeLay was interviewed. He said the Democrats didn’t win, the Republicans lost. I can’t imagine ever agreeing with him again, but as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. His quip makes the challenge of the next four years even clearer: to give voters a positive reason to get up out of their chairs and vote for something.
May that challenge be met.