Yes, you can restore sanity (on Tuesday)
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My wife has always believed in the power of rallies, marching bands, parades and anything that smells of pomp and pageantry. Unlike me, an unabashed cynic when it comes to these things, no one looks forward to Fourth of July fireworks more than she does. Name any American spectacle and chances are, she's a fan of it.
That's why she'll be in Washington on Saturday to attend the recently merged "Rally to Restore Sanity" and "The March to Keep Fear Alive" hosted by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Two of our three sons are driving down from Philadelphia to attend the rally. The foreign exchange student now living with us also accepted my wife's invitation to go to Washington this weekend for "a taste of the American experience."
As if sensing a Tocqueville-like element was missing from an already busy schedule, my wife also arranged to rendezvous with a politically active Canadian couple she knows. Perhaps encouraged by her Canadian friends, she's embraced the gospel of political moderation in recent years.
Though we're both Democrats, my wife considers me a political "radical" cut from the same cloth as "that awful Keith Olbermann," a gross simplification I haven't really done much to disabuse her of, I suppose.
Earlier this week, she spread several sheets of poster board on the dining room floor to make the signs she and our foreign exchange student will hoist at the rally.
The first sign she made reads: "Thomas Jefferson Was a Deist and Thomas Paine Was an Atheist. Just Saying ..."
When I gently point out that Jefferson was actually a Unitarian at the end of his life, she scoffed at the distinction.
Her next sign was prosaic to the point of dullness (an opinion I was smart enough to keep to myself): "The Massachusetts Health Care Reform Was Bipartisan. Mitt Romney Was Governor."
Things got snappier with her next sign: "If You Don't Like Gay Marriage, Then Don't Get One."
My wife was particularly proud of a message that had been floating around in her head for a few days: "Competition and Free Trade + a Social Safety Net." I suggested that many of her fellow economists might consider that sign incoherent, but that only encouraged her to make it.
Though my wife is a descendant of John Adams, who was Jefferson's rival, she is an even bigger fan of Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Treasury secretary. Hamilton died in a pistol duel with Aaron Burr, Jefferson's vice president.
On some occasions, like when they were slandering, dueling and bearing false witness against each other, the Founding Fathers were just as unreasonable as the modern politicians who invoke their names today. Too bad Comedy Central wasn't around at the dawn of the 19th century to make fun of them. America could've used a "Rally to Restore Sanity" around the time of the stolen election of 1800.
I won't be at the rally this weekend because, unlike my wife and sons, I'm not feeling particularly reasonable or optimistic about our democracy going into this final weekend before the midterm elections. Consequently, it would be hypocritical of me to travel to Washington to pretend that simply being "reasonable" will redeem our broken politics.
Now is a time for righteous indignation at our possible future, not less of it.
Demagogues are poised to take over governors' mansions, state legislatures and possibly the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday simply because a plurality of Americans aren't "enthused" enough to vote.
There's a lot of disenchantment with President Barack Obama and the Democrats. It has opened the doors for the return of those to power despite their lack of ideas or a track record of effective governance.
While I'll readily concede that the rhetoric of political disputes has gotten out of hand in recent years, the differences between the philosophies of the two parties has never been this stark or extreme in my lifetime.
The incompetence of so many highly ideological candidates to govern once elected will become obvious, and very quickly. Those who choose to sit Tuesday out have to ask themselves: How did we think our democracy would function after allowing those with an expressed hatred for government to take over?
Jefferson and Adams hated one another until they reconciled near the end of their lives. Though Jon Stewart wasn't around to facilitate it, they somehow managed to work their way through their mutual antipathy. The Enlightenment brought out the best in a young nation trying to grow beyond political passions and absurd theories.
If the "Rally to Restore Sanity" lives up to its billing, the thousands attending and the millions watching on television will help restore sanity to where it can do the most good: the ballot box.
First Published October 29, 2010 12:00 am