American voters clearly expressed their anger yesterday handing control of the House to Democrats and leaving the Senate, it appears from pre-dawn news, hanging in the balance. Probably for weeks.
It is now the Democrats' turn, between today and January, to jockey for committee and subcommittee chairmanships and other accoutrements of power while the first woman speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, figures out how to overcome 12 years of bitter division created by the Republicans, and find a path to legislative cooperation and compromise between the parties.
Don't expect that to happen just because Ms. Pelosi is a Democrat and a woman. Her party and gender do not mitigate the fact that she is, above all other descriptions, a politician in Washington where bribery, corruption and political thuggery are coin of the realm.
If the new, Democratic-controlled House spends its time on retribution, on impeachment of the president and hearings into misdeeds of the previous Congress, it will be as though the Republicans won this election. What we need is immediate and demonstrable progress on a new strategy for Iraq, on universal healthcare and the dozens of other important issues that have been neglected from the start of the Bush administration.
But I really came here today to say something else...
Yesterday morning was my debut vote in the state of Maine. Unlike New York City, there is no waiting line here, even when the polls first open. There are far fewer people (the total population of Portland is no more than that of Greenwich Village) and so my name was found on the list in a moment and I liked marking a paper ballot, which I’ve not done in decades. However…
As I approached the doors of my precinct, candidates assaulted me with grins, handshakes and greetings. It was like a receiving line at a formal dinner; I had the sense this is a required ritual. “Be sure to vote,” each said. “Don’t forget to vote.”
What the hell else would I be there for? I resented the last-minute electioneering which I had believed is not allowed. I’d never seen it in New York. (Well, once a campaign worker was handing out fliers at the polling station, but other arriving voters and I pummeled him verbally until he fled.)
Inside, a poll watcher answered the question, explaining that candidates may stand within a specified number of feet of the polling place and may speak with voters as long as they do not hand out literature or say, “Vote for me” or “Vote for Mary Jones”, etc. But it is obvious when you walk past the line, that’s what they mean.
By election day, haven’t we had enough campaigning? As I drove to my precinct, I thought over the choices I’d made, asked myself if I was certain, and considered the sadness I feel (when I’m not pissed off) that although we – Americans – have a system of selecting leaders many countries can only envy, I have no confidence that it works anymore - that all elected officials aren't there to pull off a coup as magnificent as that of Billy Tauzin.
[You remember Billy Tauzin, right? He's the representative from Louisiana who held a key position in shepherding the Medicare Part D bill through Congress - the bill that forbids Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for better prices. Two months after passage of the Part D bill, Tauzin announced that he was quitting Congress to become head of PhRMA, the powerful pharmaceutical trade group. It was estimated in some quarters that his annual salary began at $2 million.]
Whatever my (well-earned) cynicism regarding our representatives, I still like exercising this Constitutional right to vote, and making it a private rite too – a few minutes of quiet to appreciate that I live in a country where my voice might still count.
It is a small point, but don’t you think candidates should be required to leave us alone with our thoughts on this one day when elections are held?