It's the fashion to be cynical, and has been ever since there was such a thing as democracy. Didn't the Greeks, who invented it, also give us the Cynics?
How little has changed since Sophocles. Here is Oedipus the King early in the play, still sighted yet already blinded by his pride, delivering his verdict on the great game of politics:
What madman's game is this:
To go out hunting crowns
unbacked by friends and money
when crowns are only won
by many friends and well-crammed money-bags?
The cynical king could be one of today's pundits making his election forecast by tallying up which candidate has raised the most money and bought the most friends. The more the pursuit of power changes, the more it remains the same.
But there was one day in this long, long electoral season that was the exception to all the rest, one day when the campaign had ended but the second- and third-guessing had not yet begun. There always is. It's the day when the only poll that counts is being taken in blessed silence, voter by voter. It is election day itself.
All the empty slogans and tawdry commercials that had muddied the innocent air for weeks are cleared away, like the remains of a raucous party that has gone on too long.
For 12 blessed hours, from 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 in the evening here in Arkansas, the polls were open and it was the people, not the politicians, who were calling the shots-on everything from who will be governor to whether we'd be allowed to play bingo in a church hall.
(FYI, this state' charity-bingo amendment yes, it took a constitutional amendment to enact it did pass. Overwhelmingly. We may be agin gambling, but we try not to be damn fools about it.)
One might not have suspected it from the campaign finance reports, but here the people rule. That phrase about Regnat Populus on the state seal turns out to be more than ornamental.
There is something majestic about a free people going to the polls one by one to determine their future. I was the 451st to vote at my friendly neighborhood polling place Fire Station No. 10 in no longer so little Little Rock.
It took me six minutes flat. From the time I arrived till I put the "I Voted" decal on my jacket. I could have saved a minute or two if I'd wanted to fill out my ballot on the fender of the antique fire truck kept at the station instead of waiting for a booth. It was all something out of a Norman Rockwell magazine cover.
I may never vote early again. Whenever I'd tried it in recent years, it took not minutes but hours. But that was before we elected a new county clerk. Now the folks running the election from the courthouse are as competent as the poll workers in the neighborhoods always were. Elections do make a difference.
It still wasn't easy to cast my ballot. But that was my problem, not the system's. For the first time I felt a certain sympathy for Dr. Strangelove, the mad scientist who had all that trouble controlling his flapping arm in the movie. Because it took an act of will, unaccustomed as I am to voting Democratic, to vote for all the Democrats our conservative editorial page had endorsed this strange time around.
An image of Peter Sellers as Herr Doktor Strangelove trying to control his aberrant arm flashed through my mind. Would I have to use my left hand to guide my voting one?
The spirit was willing, but the flesh resisted. Hey, I'd been president of my college Young Republican chapter. A still small voice, whether from above or below I don't know, whispered: Treason!
But I did it and I'm glad.
I told my Republican conscience it wasn't so much a vote for the Democrats as a message to this state's Republican Party: Nominate better candidates!
I wound up voting against the kind of candidates our Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, once called the Shi'ite wing of the party. I told myself it was really a vote for a better Republican Party here in Arkansas.
The same message was apparently being sent by disaffected Republicans cross the country. If it's received, and acted on, in this defeat will lie the seed of future victories. That's what elections are for to let the people straighten out the parties. Regnat Populus!