- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“How will ‘they’ steal this historic election?” How many times have you heard this skeptical statement in the waning days of campaign 2008? If you’re like me, you’ve heard too many Americans voice distrust of their fellow countrymen.

Sadly, with good reason. The past 18 months of this cantankerous campaign have not been civil. Will the next 48 hours follow suit? It is no secret that some are expecting the worst of us. No matter the tug of war outcome.

As the U.S. seeks to promote democracy across the globe, the world is watching to see how well we practice what we preach. Will we watch 2000 or 2004 redux? In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Virginia?

The NAACP seems to think so, as they challenged the Virginia State Board of Elections, charging a lack of voting resources in minority areas.

My daughter was concerned and skeptical, for example, when the Virginia voting screen showed the name of the party, not the names of her preferred presidential candidates, before she pushed the “cast vote” button.

“I don’t like that. I wanted to see the exact names of the people I voted for,” she said.

Hmmm. Me, too. But the polling official I called over to the booth assured me that my ballot was recorded correctly.

We do, after all, vote in a bellwether state that portends the first electoral sea change since 1964.

“Only in America” can you win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College grand prize. And only in America can we show the world how “all men [and women] are created equal.”

As messy as it has been, this historic election has presented a showcase for democracy, as a biracial man and a conservative woman have risen to a place to contend for the highest offices in the land.

That’s welcome progress.

This presidential contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain could have been well been remembered for its hateful, divisive and distrustful tone.

But the election itself may yet tell a more unifying story — if everybody, on both sides of the banter, behaves and accepts the outcome peacefully.

If nothing else, we can thank this season’s candidates for electrifying the electorate, especially young voters. Even though they might have done so by slinging some pretty expensive, scary mud in the two-year process, now is not the time to move to Montreal.

Nor is it the time to hole up in our houses and speak of “them” and “they” others.

Both political camps share responsibility for this sordid state of separateness going into Election Day, when fear-mongering and race-baiting rhetoric pitted so-called “real Americans” against “elitists.” The low moment in the campaign arrived when Mr. McCain’s brother likened the Northern Virginia environs where I live to “communist country.”

So much so that I did not see a single sign or campaign worker canvassing for Mr. McCain during the 80 minutes I stood in line at my polling place in Alexandria on Tuesday morning. Only a few more were present when I accompanied my daughter later.

A missed opportunity? Surely. Maybe they were still undecided.

However, what I did witness as I watched and listened to voters yesterday happily belie the nastiness seen at political rallies, in cyberspace and on talk radio. I saw and I heard “One America” exercising its democratic rights, no matter which way “they” cast their ballots.

“They” may lose.

Despite the misleading robocalls, the false fliers and maddening commercials, the overwhelming majority of the electorate persisted politely, positively and enthusiastically. Most standing side by side came to recognize a common goal and a common camaraderie — we are at our core lovers of liberty. To respect your vote is to respect mine.

A blond, blue-eyed woman, holding the door for my daughter and me Tuesday, smiled and said “we girls have to stick together.” We? How sweet the sound; “we” haven’t heard that much since 9/11.

Check it out: A democrat — small “d” — is “somebody who believes in or supports democracy or the democratic system of government,” not a political party.

Blind, irrational partisanship did not rule the day. Blue vs. red distinctions did not seem so evident in the record-breaking long lines that would test the patience of Job even though they were anticipated. My cousins, for example, waited for 3 1/2 hours under cloudy, misty skies in the Maryland suburbs.

“We talked a lot, but we strangely we never mentioned politics,” one St. Louis man told an NPR interviewer about his “pleasant” voting experience.

Others, who spoke of proudly carting their young children or elderly relatives to the polls for generational posterity, echoed his “can we all get along” sentiments.

Mind you, I did listen to the extreme ends of the political dial, where Rush Limbaugh or Amy Goodman resides.

“Yes, we can.” Respectful strangers of conflicting political stripes met their neighbors, and together they discovered that we are privileged “living in America.”

We, Americans all, enjoy a history that includes the peaceful transfer of power.

That’s no “SNL” parody.

What we’ve needed most in these United States is a leader who can heal our superficial divisions. Some are praying for a landslide either way, so the next president will have a mandate, and there will be no room for skeptical shenanigans.

By the time you read this, you will know what I don’t know as I am writing — the name of the 44th president of the United States of America.

No matter who reigns victorious — Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain — no doubt tears will fill my eyes. Either way, I will be overcome with joy or sorrow and a fair amount of disbelief.

I will not be alone. Half the country will join me to celebrate, or half will join me to cry or curse about the election outcome.

Surely, cackles of “foul” and “fraud” will sound loudest from every sector.

This is why I make a plea for peace and unity “at this defining moment in our history.”

How else do we as a nation come back from the brink of such hatred, distrust and divisiveness but to remember that “they” are us?

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