The whole notion of elections has been swimming in my head lately - partly based on our own fiasco up here of late, partly seeing a right-leaning individual down in the 48 talking about "fighting fire with fire" re: ballot fraud, and partly Travis's comment today about the ballot box "being an weapon of violence."
Maybe because it's because I'm getting more cranky and lawful as I continue to grow up*, but I think I have to disagree somewhat. Pardon if what follows sounds banal... some of us didn't get particularly good Civics and American Gov't classes, and are having to puzzle it out on our own years after the fact.
I think rather, that elections are a substitute for open warfare.
We are a free people, and since the days of the first colonies have always been a diverse people. From rigid Puritans to utopian Quakers, from refined English planters to half-savage Ulster Scots, we were never of a single mind in this land.
We don't - and won't- ever think alike and want the same things from and for our country. But our country can only go one way, and those decisions bind all of us.
And so... we cast ballots so we don't have to shoot each other in the streets. Yes, elections have consequences. Yes, it sucks to be on the wrong side of a sweep. But it doesn't suck as much as having a Sherman "forage" through your farm on the way to your nominal faction head's capitol.
As such, elections only serve their purpose so long as everyone can agree they're fair. When you "find" a box of uncounted ballots, when you throw lawyers at a close race, when you *ahem* ignore the results of a primary - you are, to borrow from the master, "throw[ing] sand into machinery that does not work too well at best."
And keep throwing enough sand, and eventually the thing will grind to a halt. What happens when nobody trusts the elections? What happens when the greater part of a freeborn people comes to believe that no matter what they do at the ballot box, it doesn't matter, because someone has already decided what the outcome is going to be?
Well - one of two things.
The flame of liberty dies and we all either get in line or tune in, turn on, and drop out.... or the liberty tree gets some watering again. Ain't neither of those are things I want to see.
Now... I *don't* think that's happening now. But I think the sense of grievance for half the population had been smoldering since 2000 on this, and only our present President's election has cooled that fire, whatever its other effects. Now over the next two years we get to see what happens on the other side of the isle.
I'll just say this much. I think that the line from elections to open civil warfare is not a continuum, it is a state change. After that line of open hostility is crossed - yes, deception, guile, all manner of low down dirty deeds become the order of the day. Prior to crossing that line, you do everything possible to avoid doing so. And that includes being as squeaky-clean, transparent, and willing to abide by unpleasant results as necessary, to preserve the integrity of the process.
Two final observations.
One. Some things are not up for negotiation. Some things can not be abrogated by popular demand. Best advice I ever heard on that front..draw your line in the sand now. Know now, in times of calm, precisely where it is, and why, because if that time comes, the passion of the age will confuse your reason.
Two. As Paul notes, Washington was convinced a year before the declaration that separation from our British brethren would become necessary. Adams, as I recall was of the same opinion, long before it became popular. And yet there was a year of humble entreaties and petitions to reach peace. Again, and again, and again.
And that was as it should be, for posterity does judge us not only by our ends, not only by our means, but also for our forbearance, and our honest, sincere work for a peaceable resolution. If the kettle does boil over one day, let it not be said that all the pain and suffering and tears and misery that flowed from it could have been avoided, had not we been a bit more reasonable.
* I sure hope they don't yank my bard class for that. Maybe if I leave the dishes in the sink a while longer or plan yet another move I can keep my "chaotic" points... :)