But there is a reason hardline Republican[s] stand firm. Many of their supporters want them to hang tough. One man, selling bread and vegetables, told me: “I hope he wins, I don’t want a Democrat in, the people in power now are extreme lefties, our country was founded on conservatism.”
So Mark Mardell, reporting on the Virginia gubernatorial, for the BBC.
In itself, that is worth a moment’s historical reflection:
- upending one’s whole lifestyle, to sail across the wild Atlantic, in hope that the new colonies offer a better life than Stuart England?
- revolting against the Hanoverian monarchy, looking to evolve a better form of government?
- heading out, across the Appalachians, through the Great Plains, across the deserts and mountains, from sea to shining sea?
- building a Republic, based on original principles that all men are created equal, entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?
Such radicalism (radix implying deep-rooted change) is “conservative”? Even in the squirarchical Old Colony?
No: that doesn’t quite tally with the reality.
Yet it goes further.
In the fastnesses of the (old) York night, Malcolm was wakeful. Sometime after 2 a.m. (GMT) he found himself watching the Washington Post‘s minute-by-minute update of the Virginia race.
At the beginning of his watch, Ken Cuccinelli was ahead by a margin of just a couple-of-percentage points. The big (and the big-for-the-Democrats) precincts were just checking in. With each update, the margin narrowed. Around 2:25, with Cuccinelli still nominally ahead, Fox News called it for Terry McAuliffe. ABC and NBC followed. By 2:45 or so, the lead changed. Only then did the Post call it for McAuliffe. By the English dawn’s early light, McAuliffe was two-and-a-half percentage points clear. This, the Post maintains, is a “narrow” victory.
As Malcolm has said before, his addiction to US Elections goes back to that long night of 9th November 1960, in a Dublin basement flat, trying to decode, through the AM atmospherics, what AFN was reporting as results came in. Even that was foreshadowed back in 1953, when his Dear Old Dad explained his interest in the Presidential: “This is important”.
If neck-hairs now bristle, you’re an addict
There is that purple-prose opening of T.H.White’s classic account, The Making of the President:
… though the powers of the office are unique, even more spectacular and novel in the sight of history is the method of transfer of those powers-the free choice by a free people, one by one, in secrecy, of a single national leader.
Whether Americans have chosen this leader well or badly is of the most immense importance not only to them but to the destiny of the human race. Yet, well or badly done, no bells ring at any given hour across the nation when the voting is over, nor do any purple-robed priests wait that night to anoint the man who will soon be the most powerful individual in the free world. The power passes invisibly in the night as election day ends; the national vigil includes all citizens; and when consensus is reached, the successful candidate must accept the decision in the same rough, ragged, and turbulent fashion in which he has conducted the campaign that has brought him to power.
White’s metaphors ring true. There is a mystic element as any great, free election winds its course to a conclusion: the collective of individuals making a choice. It is, perhaps, Jungian:
… in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.
Vox populi, vox dei
The voice of the people is the voice of God? We can quibble, as wikipedia does, whether that was William of Malmesbury or Alcuin to Carolus Magnus — though that latter is actually a denial:
Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.
[Don’t pay attention to those who say “The voice of the people is the voice of God”, for the unstable masses are ever on the verge of madness.]
Nice word, that tumultuositas. It goes beyond the more usual Latin word tumultus. It implies something more than “commotion”. When Cato uses the adverb tumultuose, it may need to be rendered as “with panic and wild alarm”.
Alexander Pope, another Tory, brought Horace’s Epistles into the eighteenth century (though here referring to theatrical claques) and went with Alcuin:
All this may be; the people’s voice is odd,
It is, and it is not, the voice of God.
To Gammer Gurton if it give the bays,
And yet deny the Careless Husband praise,
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
Why then, I say, the public is a fool.
That view, that the popular view was not to be trusted, persisted down to the last century and beyond (hence the resistance to plebiscites, with some justification). The US Electoral College (a vestige of the old post-colonial oligarchy) still filters the popular will. After all, Al Gore in 2000 had a half-million majority in the national popular vote.
There were two Vox Pop reactions to the Virginia election which, to Malcolm’s mind, seemed a trifle bizarre.
- First, there was the GOP spokesman who went public to blame his party’s performance on the “polls”.
Well, yes. People are, as Alcuin deplored, unreliable. However, we may infer that the complaint was more about the public opinion polls, particularly those in the Washington Post, publicised in the run-up to the election. If so, Physician, heal thyself. Those polls were reflecting response to the government shut-down, engineered by the Tea-party types in Congress, and endorsed by candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
- Then there was the lady, bewailing the way the numbers were slipping away from Cuccinelli, who declared she was “praying for Virginia”.
Ho hum, my dear! Even in your philosophy, any divinity out there has her/his universe to run. Stuffing ballot-boxes doesn’t appear in the job-description.