Another election night in America is in the books, and it's safe to say the American people shook things up a bit, did they not? The United States Senate is securely in the hands of the Republican Party, and there are still two outstanding U.S. Senate races that look to increase that advantage. Their already dominant numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives are swelling, and they could end up with the largest House majority since the administration of President Herbert Hoover in 1930. Two embattled Republican governors survived tough challenges in Florida and Wisconsin, and three "blue" states – Illinois, Massachusetts and, inexplicably, my old home state of Maryland with a 2-1 registration advantage for Democrats, chose Republicans to serve as their new governors. Republicans control 67 state legislative chambers, more than at any time in their history, breaking a record of 64 chambers that has stood since 1920. They control both legislative chambers in 27 states, and they control the entire legislature and the governor's office in 23 states. The Democrats, conversely, have complete control in only seven states.
Although, as a voter, I was a participant in the process as I try to be every time, regardless of whether or not the candidates or ballot issues of my choice stand a chance of winning, I most enjoy my role as an observer, particularly post-election.
Incidentally, to those who declare that their vote is meaningless and question whether or not they should even go to the polls, I offer a thought, and no, it has nothing to do with all the elections that were decided by a scant handful of votes, or even one vote. I vote to honor my ancestors who were denied that right for centuries, and the men and women who fought and died so I can exercise that right. That is reason enough.
With that, as an observer, I am always amused at the "irrational exuberance" of the victors, to borrow Alan Greenspan's infamous phrase, and the equally irrational despair of the losers in an election cycle. Politics is often likened to sport or warfare and, judging from the emotions it generates in those who are invested in it, I suppose those are apt comparisons. The passion we show for our favorite "teams" is not unlike that of a sports fan, whose reaction to victories or defeats reminds us that "fan" is shorthand for "fanatic". I think we all understand the emotional impact of war on the victors and the vanquished.
I had an epiphany years ago, however, which freed me from allowing my emotions to get the better of me during campaigns and elections, and I owe it to a longtime friend who was instrumental in my political appointment to the Bush Administration in 2001. He was describing to me the fervor and frenzy surrounding him at a political rally he attended, and he said he was suddenly struck by the notion that these people were showing more passion toward a political candidate than they probably demonstrated in church on Sundays. His comments rang true with me, and my pastor made a similar observation one Sunday about how much more demonstrative we are at football games than we are during the praise and worship portion of the Sunday service, when we are supposed to be giving thanks to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the unmerited gift of eternal life. Because of those revelations, and the maturity of my faith since then, my perspective on the electoral process has changed, and for the better.
So here's some unsolicited advice from an observer on how to handle the outcome of Election Day 2014.
To the pundits at MSNBC, I say to you, be of good cheer! You've made a handsome living excoriating a Republican-led U.S. House for their unwillingness to let President Obama have his way, and now you have the Senate to blame as well. You can continue your one-sided diatribes for the next two years, and your limited viewership will never question you.
To the pundits at Fox News, you have also hit the jackpot! You now get to report on the infighting between the various factions of the GOP, especially as the leaders of these factions position themselves for a run at the presidency in 2016. Every one of them will seek an audience with you to appeal to your massive viewership, so your salad days are ahead of you.
To the conservatives who are elated over the election's outcome, be gracious in victory despite the temptation to strike back at those who have called you everything but a child of God for at least six years now. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for those independent voters who landed overwhelmingly in your corner this time, and who are looking to you to see how you handle success.
To the liberals who believe the world has come to an end because of the beating your candidates took at the polls, have a little more faith in the process, and in your fellow Americans. Your cries of impending doom, declaring the election results are a precursor to a new era of oppression for women and minorities, are an insult to our system of government and the benevolence of the American people. If you're making these inflammatory accusations simply to keep your base of supporters energized, then I ask you to consider the cost to our national unity, and whether or not planting the seeds of rage and reaping a harvest of hate is a necessary price to pay for the political power you seek. If you truly believe your own incredible prognostications, then I suggest you get out of your hermetically sealed environment and encounter some real people, rather than the caricatures you've derived from social media and the limited information silos in which you've voluntarily ensconced yourselves.
Come to think of it, that's good advice for those on the other extreme of the political spectrum as well. The rest of us are justifiably proud of the progress we've made as a nation, yet we're still determined to make it better, and while we may have different ideas on how to get there, and we may discuss and debate those ideas, we want the same outcome for ourselves, our families and our communities, and we are confident we'll figure out a way to make it work.
To the political consultants and marketers who persuaded their candidates to deploy fear-mongering ads and flyers in the final days of the campaign to spur women and minorities to the polls, I suggest that you owe your employers their money back. The spectacular failure of your efforts is a sign that the American people aren't as manipulable as you thought, and that perhaps they've had enough of the incessant racial and gender demagoguery that has robbed our public discourse of any substance or presumption of good will.
To the winning candidates, I offer my heartfelt congratulations. I know first-hand how hard you worked, and it must be sweet to finish on top. Savor the victory, and take some time to reconnect with your family, especially with the holidays approaching. The time will come for you to roll up your sleeves and get to work, and when that time comes, remember who you work for, and why they elected you. Don't let your new-found notoriety cause you to stray from your purpose, and certainly don't put other agendas, not even your own, above the agenda you offered to your constituents, and for which they put you into office.
To the losing candidates, I understand your pain. I've run a hard-fought campaign and lost. It was humbling and took me years to get over it. It wrecked my finances, hurt my family, and drove me into depression. My head wasn't in my work, and I eventually changed jobs hoping to be reenergized again, but it was a futile gesture on my part. I made plans to run again in four years, but I had to shelve them because I was unemployed, and my pastor told me it was time to focus on my family and not on salvaging my pride. We're still dealing today with the financial impact of the campaign debt I personally incurred. No one, it seems, wants to hold a fundraiser to retire the debt of a losing candidate. To those who went down to defeat this week, I encourage you to disengage from politics for as long as it takes, and get back to real life and people who care about you for who you are, not for what you can do for them. Long-time Democratic political operative Donna Brazile wrote one of the best commentaries I've read about being on the losing side of a campaign, and I recommend it to defeated candidates, their families and their staffs, all of whom need some encouragement after a tough defeat.
To all Americans, I would remind you that politics is important, but it is by no means the most important thing in our lives, nor is it the most effective means at our disposal to make our lives better. Change happens when we change ourselves, our families and our neighbors, not when it is dictated from the top down. It is the way we conduct our daily lives, not who we periodically elect to public office, that makes the biggest difference in our communities, and it is in recognizing our common humanity and our shared dreams that we make real and lasting progress.
Finally, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that God isn't surprised by anything that happens in the political arena, and there is nothing that occurs on His watch that isn't intentional, even if we don't fathom His intent. Excessive exhilaration or discouragement over an election fails to recognize that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and our trust and, ultimately, our joy is found in His unchanging nature and his unfailing love. Psalm 146:3 says, "Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save." If we truly believe He is who He says He is, then we will never be too high or too low, no matter how the votes are tallied, because the God who awakened us on Tuesday morning was still in office the next morning, and every morning after that, and His term never expires.