We are told that the election cycle is fourteen months long, but we know better. The 2012 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been ongoing since the last ballot was counted in 2008. We are living in an era of the perpetual campaign, where each policy is declared, each speech is delivered, each press conference completed with one eye turned toward the next election campaign and, usually, the other eye turned toward its funding.
Assuming it was ever real, the notion of electoral downtime, of productive governance, mindful that a day’s evils are sufficient thereof and that futures are dealt with as they arrive, appears to be over. So too the idea that one runs for office in order to serve by representing the desires of the voting populace. When they elected Michael Bloomberg to a third term as New York City Mayor, few if any Gothamites believed they were voting for an executive declaration against giant soft drinks, about which their thoughts were neither sought-after, nor deemed relevant. When Americans voted Barack Obama into the White House on the strength of genial “post-partisan” rhetoric and promises of transparency, they surely did not expect him to use his congressional advantages to ram through an impossibly complex, constitutionally suspect piece of health care legislation—with a promise that once we saw it, we’d love it—over the objections of 68 percent of the country.
Actual public service, and even the creation of policies in-line with the thinking of the majority, has become almost incidental to the full-time job that is holding-and-keeping a public office in the era of fly-by social media and the ideologically stocked News Marts that are, so to speak, open-all-night. At the risk of sounding cynical, which is not my intent, there is no longer any sense of certitude that whoever emerges the victor of today’s election will care about advancing any interests beyond his own.
Barack Obama has already indicated that he prefers congressional end-runs to constitutional processes, and should he win re-election, he will be freed from concerns about polls or popularity, free to all the more forcefully insist that the rails of the republic run his way or not at all. Mitt Romney is currently tracking on Obama’s old lines of bi-partisan cooperation, but given the deep partisan divisions within the country and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s already stated unwillingness to “work” with a President Romney, how long will it be before he too decides that paternalistic know-betterism is preferable to messy, slow-moving democracy. If Romney ends up following Obama’s imperious bent, should we be surprised?
The feeling of many is that today’s election is the most meaningful in the nation’s history. More than once in my email I’ve found a missive saying, “okay, I know everyone always says that every election is the most important in their lifetime, but this time I really think it is . . .”
It is not. The election and its outcome is important to the day, of course, but not to forever. Over the course of the past few weeks, I have either been taken to task by some who wished me to declare for Romney or be thought forever weak, and by others who find me overly-brusque in my Obama critique, with both sides fomenting unwanted mental images of bulls and steaming snouts.
But when I cast my vote today, I will do so while pondering ten years worth of praying the Divine Office and those psalms that so perfectly reflect the human condition. As we read them, pray them, we encounter ourselves and the world around us, over and over again. We come to see that while everything seems fresh and fiendishly important to us, there is truly “nothing new under the sun”. Everything happening around us has happened before. Civilizations have come and gone and yet this relationship with what is divine continues, and God’s hand is always present within all that occurs, if we stay alert to it.
We believe that we are the cleverest, most advanced, and therefore most blessed society that has ever lived, and that may be true. But it was true for all of the cleverest, advanced, and blessed societies that passed before ours, usually in tumult. We think that what is before us, solid and material, is real but in fact it all fades away in an instant, should the atoms cease to move. And those spin by the intention and will of God alone, not by anything we do.
As is all too demonstrably true in my own life, spending time with the Divine Office does not prevent us from getting overly caught-up in what is trending before us, but when passions take hold, or anxieties, and the steam begins to arise from our own bullish snouts, the Office helps. We regain our equilibrium when Vespers or Lauds comes around and their psalms—uncannily as they so often do—show us how the hopes and despairs of a single day have come before, and dissolved like dew before the constant reality of Christ.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
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