BOSTON (CBS) – The talk of the town these days goes something like this: Don’t mention it. Stifle yourself. Put a cork in it. Dummy up. Many of us share similar angst about letting anyone else know how we’re feeling about…you know what. Rather than risk the wrath of presumed friends or hard to scuttle relatives, it is now suggestible NOT to reveal who you plan on voting for in this election. Not since the heady fun days at Fort Sumter have so many Americans apparently been at each other’s throats over “that man in the White House” or who wants to replace him. So many are blowing up long standing bridges (still in the figurative sense thankfully) over party affiliation, favored candidates and just about any issue you can think of. But surprise— this is not a new phenomenon. A quick look at American history proves it. Just read what folks were writing, saying and screaming about Adams, Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln. This country’s early history of political battling makes current day campaigning seem like Sesame Street. I realize we’re now fighting tooth and nail (or beak and claw) over a certain Big Bird so that may not be the best comparison.
You get the point. Any bumper sticker or yard sign is likely to put you on the outs with that wonderful neighbor from whom you borrowed lawn equipment. Not to mention the blowback received when posting political opinion on Facebook or Twitter. Sadly, the only safe use of social media might be announcing what you had for breakfast, how much you love your cat or why Justin Bieber matters. Write that you’re in favor of one guy or find the other guy not to your liking and be ready for a virtual assault. Warning, you could wind up friendless!
Despite this media driven muck, I offer up two tiny shreds that inspire hope. If you saw coverage of the Al Smith Charity Dinner in New York City last week featuring President Obama and Governor Romney exchanging witty self-deprecating jokes about themselves and their political agendas, then you probably have a hunch that all will be OK. Both men delivered lines written for them by crafty writers and they did so with heart as well as pretty good comedic timing. For one short evening, both candidates set aside their vast disagreements to focus on the fine work done by the Al Smith organization and similar charities. It was a brief but defining moment that made this old fashioned patriot writing about it rather proud of the president, the governor and all of us lucky enough to be Americans. A fleeting moment for certain, but reassuring nonetheless.
And the other reason to refrain from despair? My close friend and spiritual mentor Rabbi Larry Bazer and I got to talk the other night about the tenor of the times and Larry, who recently returned from a year-long tour as a top chaplain for our troops in Afghanistan, mentioned that he always offers a quiet blessing upon entering the voting booth. His point being that America, despite our shortfalls and challenges, stills sets the standard across the globe in terms of democratic ideals. She provides her citizenry with rights and opportunities that few nations on earth will ever match. Voting, for my friend the rabbi, is a sacred act, a precious possession deemed more valuable thanks to the thousands who have sacrificed so much to defend our right to vote, express opinions and make a difference. Pretty awesome stuff when you stop to think about it. We need to remember that before, during, and after Election Day, the country will be here and her people will matter.
If I were to invent a bumper sticker for general distribution, it would have a simple message, positively acceptable to all factions and unlikely to cause an argument or risk harming any relationships. It would read, “Americans—we’re all in this together.” After all, we most certainly are.