Sunday, November 09, 2008

...And THIS Is Shinola

My mother forwarded me a lovely, affectionate column about post-election manners written by Gail Collins. Indeed, it is a time for compassionate speech among neighbors, for intelligent conversation and affection.

The national elections are over, and there is exulting and gloating, griping and sulking. People who were calling the President-elect a socialist and a terrorist as recently as November 3 are now praising him, to get themselves on the right side of history if nothing else. There are some who accept political defeat with grace, and others with hypocrisy. Some genuinely wish success for the next administration, as indeed we all should; others are anticipating the inevitable reality check when actual government begins.

My comfort in the final weeks of this campaign has been John Keane's 1995 biography of Thomas Paine. There are many reasons I admire Thomas Paine and have wished for more of his spirit in 2008. Consider this, from Keane's introduction:

[Paine] counted himself among the modern believers in the originally Greek idea that what makes us clever, language-using animals is our ability to rise above the contingencies of time and place and know the nature of things. Paine nevertheless pointed to modern humans' bad habit of forgetting those same circumstances. We moderns continually attribute universal importance to our own particular ways of life and we therefore have an alarming tendency to boss ourselves and others, using sticks and stones and bigoted words, into accepting our preferred version of the world. Paine despised bossing, and he had a fine ear for language masquerading as Truth. "Bastilles of the word" was Paine's phrase for needlessly haughty language, and he consequently wrote as it it were the duty of the citizen, and certainly the political thinker and writer, to be on the lookout for hubris. He prodded and poked at it wherever it appeared, his overall aim being to encourage individuals to become citizens capable of thinking, speaking, and acting clearly and confidently in public.

[From Thomas Paine, A Political Life, 1995]

The citizens of the United States stepped up this year, turning out to vote in unprecedented numbers. Let us keep the bar there, please, and even raise it even higher. We might expand our notions of national service to include helping our elections process (more volunteers working the polls or being non-partisan poll-watchers) on election day, and one more important thing for all the other days: detecting and calling out horseshit. Seriously. Political horseshit is every bit as dangerous as terrorism if not more so, and you don't need to be military age or in good physical shape to do the job. It was cheering to see that this year, for a change, the politics of smear, fear, and outright lies, did little to help any candidate. It sank Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Whenever Obama went personally negative, even his popularity sank. It's a hopeful sign.

Maybe we're starting to tell the difference between smear and shinola. If Thomas Paine is watching from heaven - well, to begin with, he must be very surprised! - but I hope he is also smiling.

1 comment:

quid said...

A smear belongs on a bagel. Or is that a schmear? I forget.