The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 6, 2012

Our View: Election Day is done, but debate doesn't end


The Free Press

— The 2012 election is over, and the mad rush to Canada promised by voters on the losing side has yet to materialize.

We hear it every four years in the days leading up to Election Day. Life spent living under a presidential administration deemed unlivable inspires many Americans to promise they'll leave the country. But they stay, anyway, seethe for a few days, then look forward to four years hence when they can, perhaps, rectify the situation.

Our advice, for whichever side you're on: Consider yourselves lucky. You are an American, and Americans abide by elections. Our losers exit gracefully and pledge good will toward the winning side. Our winners congratulate the vanquished on their spirited opposition, and both sides promise to work together to do the will of the people.

Sure, before long the bitter arguments return. We're not perfect. We know that. But at least nobody gets shot at dawn.

Today, two days after another bitterly fought presidential election, is a good day to take stock of what's behind the American election process. And it's important to take note of the fact that Tuesday's result isn't the end of the story.

In truth, almost immediately after the final bullets fell during the American Revolution, debate began over the meaning of it. And more than two centuries out from the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, we are still going back and forth on what that means, too.

It began between the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans. It was central control versus local and regional control. It was individual rights versus collective rights. There were fights over competing versions of self-rule, with a Washington faction championing a strong central government and a Jefferson/Madison faction believing that a strong central government only traded one tyranny (British) for another.

Today, in 2012, nothing has really changed on the basic arguments and counter-arguments. We still fight over different versions of self-rule, the meaning of equality, of citizenship, of freedom.

The electorate is more or less evenly divided between liberals and conservatives. Perhaps Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph J. Ellis, author of "Founding Brothers," put it best when he wrote: "We have been chasing our own tails in an apparently endless cycle of partisan pleading."

So today, partisans are either ecstatic or angry over the results of the presidential election. Closer to home, a great many Minnesotans are either happy or upset over the results of the marriage amendment.

In America, one election is never really the end of the story. So relax, congratulate the other side, and remember. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We'll be chasing our own tails for a while longer.